Sunday, June 26, 2011

Please welcome Mary Schoenecker

Could you tell us about PROMISE KEEPER, the characters and the plot line?

PROMISE KEEPER is the third book in my contemporary Maine Shore Chronicles series. A vibrant sense of place continues as the setting of mill towns and seaside villages of coastal Maine. Steeped in tradition and filled with ethnic characters, the series are suspenseful tales which straddle the genres of cozy mystery and sweet romance. At the beginning of Promise Keeper the theft of a valuable painting leaves Art Gallery Director, Paul Fontaine a gunshot victim, forcing him to recuperate at his father’s seaside home. Paul’s father, Jacques Fontaine faces serious health problems and family friend, Tantè Margaret comes to keep house for father and son while Jacques’s new wife is away. Add to the scene Paul’s torment over a relationship with Suzanne, the art collector who loaned the missing painting to the gallery and mystery mixes with romance. The characters drawn from two families, the Chamberlains and Fontaines, carry through each installment of the series mixing mysticism and faith with surprising results in each book. In Book One, Finding Fiona a time travel element gives a turn of the century twist, for Paul’s sister, Maddy Fontaine adding a history-mystery mix to that plot. Book Two, Moonglade continues where Finding Fiona left off, adding murder and mayhem to romance for Tante Margaret’s adopted daughter, Claire Chamberlain.

What inspired the novel? What was the seed for the story?

To tell you what inspired Promise Keeper and the first books in the series I must go back to the beginning of a search for my grandmother’s roots which took me from the Gaspè Peninsula in Canada to Biddeford Maine. My grandmother came to that mill town with her family in 1880. The seed for a story came from a mural on a Chamber of Commerce wall in Biddeford depicting a nineteenth century woman tending a spinning frame in the local cotton mill. When I finally found the actual lithograph of the original drawing, circa 1845, and received permission to use it in a book, two years of research and writing had taken place.

How did you write it? Over a long period, or did you have the story in mind?

The writing of all three books took close to five years. I planned a trilogy that would have the same characters and setting, but would introduce new people and places in each book. My French Canadian family background certainly influenced the character traits and dialog unique to an area of Maine which has a large French Canadian population. Adding a setting of Florida’s West Coast to Promise Keeper was definitely a personal choice that began at the start of the novel in 2009.

Tell us about your writing background. How did you start writing novels? What was your journey to publication?

Getting published is one part luck, one part talent and one part persistence. You have to have all three and I certainly had the last one. I had a strong work ethic and even though I had taken early retirement from a teaching profession, I was convinced you should never put a date on your dreams. My writing fiction began with a middle grade novel, The Red Cockade. It won prizes and was chosen by a small publisher as the history component of an NEH grant proposal, but the grant was not received. Another publisher kept the manuscript for over a year; their editor encouraging me, but ultimately that editor moved to a different firm and then came my first rejection. I put the book on a shelf but I didn’t lose hope. I switched gears to writing adult fiction. I got much needed help from writer’s organizations, critique partners, workshops and conferences. Four Summers Waiting was my first successful historical novel. One of my sons had completed a genealogical search for his ancestors which provided inspiration for me to write a story fictionalizing the lives of those ancestors. A treasure trove of luck was finding authentic family letters and diaries which provided a cultural framework for my novel. Several letters and diary excerpts were used in the story line. It took five years of research and writing before I received a contract from Five Star/Gale publishing in 2005. That contract came just shy of my 75th birthday. The first edition of Four Summers Waiting published in 2006 was followed by a Large Print edition in 2007.

What are you working on now?

My readers have often suggested that a constant character in my series, Tantè Margaret, deserves a story of her own. Tantè is an important secondary character in each book of the series, but she finally will be the protagonist in an untitled book I have just begun.

Where can readers find your books?

My books are found in Libraries throughout the nation; something I’m very proud of because from the beginning I have acknowledged libraries and librarians for their tremendous help and support of my writing endeavors. Both books, Finding Fiona and Moonglade of the Maine Shore Chronicles series were given second editions in Large Print by Thorndike Press in 2008 and 2010. They are available on and Barnes & Noble com. and can be ordered by any Book Store. Four Summers Waiting rights reverted to me and now is available as an ebook on Kindle. The third book in the contemporary series, PROMISE KEEPER will be released in October of 2011. Its beautiful cover can be seen on my website and I look forward to receiving an Advanced Reading Copy before June.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Interview with Author/Editor Denise Dietz/Mary Ellen Dennis

Interview with Author/Editor Denise Dietz/Mary Ellen Dennis
By Jacqueline Seewald

DeniseDietz is a much published author who also happens to be the acquisitions editor for Tekno Books, the book packager for Five Star/Gale. Denise recently had a new historical romance come out from Five Star/Gale entitled HEAVEN’S THUNDER: A COLORADO SAGA. You can check it out at

You can also find ordering information on Amazon as well as Barnes and Noble online and Borders.

Hi, Denise, thanks so much for joining us today at the Author Expressions blog. First, let me congratulate you on the excellent review HEAVEN’S THUNDER received from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.

Question: Could you tell us a little about the main characters in your new novel and also about the plot line?

I think the best way to describe Heaven’s Thunder is to quote some of the cover copy:

Mary Ellen Dennis’s spellbinding new saga encompasses the Cripple Creek Gold Rush, the union rebellions of Mother Jones, and the birth of silent movies.

Fools Gold Smith, born in the “cribs” of a mining town, raised in an elite parlor house, idolized as silent-film heroine “Flower Smith,” is the central figure in this precisely detailed chronicle. Equally memorable is John “Cat” McDonald, an outlaw’s offspring, a rodeo star, and silent-film hero “John Chinook.” Then there is Kate Lytton, wealthy, pampered granddaughter of a Denver entrepreneur, who becomes embroiled in the 1913 Ludlow coal strike. Their interwoven stories make for a compelling novel, rich with a vibrant sense of time and place.

From life on cattle ranches to the drawing rooms of the wealthy, from the bedrooms of bawdy houses to the wooden platforms of the Ludlow Tent Colony, the author paints not only rooms but intimate portraits of the husbands, wives, sons and daughters who walked their space. From parlor girl, pauper and prospector, to patriarch, plutocrat and profligate, the characters are very much alive. Filled with the essences of its setting, blending love, hate, passion, greed, self-sacrifice, human frailty and strength, Heaven’s Thunder is an authentic tapestry of its time.

Question: Do you envision this novel as a stand alone or part of a romantic series?

For now, it’s a stand alone. It took me 10 years to write my saga and 12 years to market it. The Big Pub House editors said they loved the evocative writing but, “Nobody likes sagas.” When I mentioned Lonesome Dove, The Thorn Birds, John Jakes’ North and South (Heaven’s Thunder has been compared to all three), Barbara Bradford and Anya Seton (plus a dozen other bestselling generational saga authors), NY said, “Those are the exceptions.” I said, “Why can’t I be an exception?” and was told, “Because nobody likes sagas.”

Question: What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Widowed at age 35, I moved to Colorado Springs. I chose Colorado because of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, even though I don’t agree with her “philosophy” and didn’t know anyone who lived in Colorado. I then began researching my adopted state and learned that two actors had drowned in the Colorado River while filming a silent movie.

Wow, I thought, wouldn’t that make a good book?

My second thought: Of course, I won’t kill off my hero and heroine.

My third thought: Silent films were shot in Colorado???

I gave my characters a backstory, starting with their parents and their births. I do that for all my books, before I start writing them, but Fools Gold Smith and Cat McDonald really tugged at my heartstrings, and I knew I had to tell their stories from the very beginning—before they began their careers as silent film stars “Flower Smith” and “John Chinook.”

The “very beginning” was the 1893 Cripple Creek gold rush.

Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels?

My most popular mystery series stars diet guru Ellie Bernstein (in the first book, diet club members are getting killed off at goal weight), but I’ve always wanted to write romances. I started with a paranormal time-travel, HALLIE’S COMET, published by Five Star in 2004 (it’s now up at Kindle). In 2007 I reinvented myself as historical romance author Mary Ellen Dennis, whereupon Five Star published THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER, inspired by Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman. “Landlord” received starred reviews and was chosen as one of Booklist’s Top 10 Romances of the year. I sold the paperback rights to Sourcebooks and the novel will be reissued this August, along with an 1875 circus historical: THE GREATEST LOVE ON EARTH.

: What made you start writing?

In the third grade I wrote a story called “The Pencil Who Grew Up To Be a Stub.” We were supposed to write a one-page story with an ink pen. I wrote a 5-page, first-person story with a pencil (my protagonist) and received a failing grade. In high school I wrote and illustrated a children’s book, HERBERT THE GIANT, about a giant who lived in a town of nearsighted people. No one knew he was a giant until a peddler who sold glasses came to town. Publishers told me they liked the concept but “the words were too big.”

Undeterred, I wrote short fiction and penned my first [adult] book when I was a lecturer for Weight Watchers. As people were weighing in, I thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if there was some maniac running around murdering skinny people? With that thought, THROW DARTS A CHEESECAKE, the first in my 4-book “diet club” mystery series was born. I don’t always write in my head, but I once overheard someone say that Miss America had to be very intelligent (as well as beautiful). After a silent snort/chortle, I began writing a story—in my head—called THE LAST GREAT AMERICAN BEAUTY PAGEANT about a male beauty contest (with a twist). This was 15 years before the first TV reality show. The horror/suspense story is now at Kindle for 99-cents.

Question: As acquiring editor for Tekno Books, what advice would you offer to those newbies who have novels they would like to submit for consideration?

It sounds like a cliché, but telling rather than showing will land you in the rejection pile fairly quickly. If a writer tells me about a character, I feel no emotional connection. Another no-no: Please don’t make your heroine TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) by having her check out a noise in a dark basement without, at the very least, a rottweiler by her side. Be careful about overusing a word. Check your manuscripts for “just” and “well” and “that.” Tied with overuse of a word would be dialogue tags like “You’re so funny,” he laughed. You can’t laugh and talk at the same time. Try it. Nor can you talk while you are grinning or (my favorite) exploding: “I swear I didn’t do it!” she exploded. I get an image of Wile Coyote landing at the bottom of a steep cliff. Speaking of animals, I don’t like animal tags: growled, brayed, chirped, crowed, etc, and be careful of eyes. I like them to stay on one’s face, not drop to the ground (where they could get stepped on) or sweep the room. And if your character tosses her head, make sure somebody is there to catch it.
I like to give new writers the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. I wrote a scene set in an opulent NYC apartment for my women’s fiction novel, Soap Bubbles (published by Five Star Expressions, now at Kindle). I described the living room in detail, including the eclectic collection of paintings on the wall. It was written from the POV of my soap opera star protagonist. An author I admired read the chapter and complimented me on my narrative; said she felt like she was there. Then she said, “But how does Delly FEEL when she looks at the room?” I rewrote the scene, keeping all my details. Except, when Delly looks at the wall she wishes she could step into a painting. Here’s the rewrite:
"Delly stepped into an enormous living room and blinked at the brightness. The walls and ceilings were pure yellow, the floor a highly-glossed parquet. An eclectic mixture of paintings crowded the walls. Delly recognized Andy Warhol, Peter Max and Renoir. Her gaze lingered on the Renoir, and she wished she could step into the painting. In a Renoir there were no cameras panning for a close-up, no directors screaming for another take, no rejection. Renoir’s flowers have no smell, but they don’t die. Renoir’s people have no smell, but they live forever. Once she had believed that actors lived forever."
Note that I managed to get some of her backstory into one paragraph. This is also an example of what I was talking about before: showing vs. telling. I could have said: “Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe print reminded her of her last acting role,” and that wouldn’t be wrong. But it doesn’t really tell you how Delly FEELS. Can you see the difference?

Denise, thanks so much for being our guest today. You’re a fine writer and editor and we’re honored.

Those of you who have comments and/or questions, please know that they are welcome. So feel free to join the conversation!

Monday, June 13, 2011

History of Pocket Watches

Pocket watches were manufactured as early as the sixteenth century. They were first worn around the neck, and were quite large, because of the size of the spring-driven mechanism, which required a cylindrical case.

By the 19th century, watches became smaller, and were commonly carried in the pocket, by both men and women. Because they were considered luxury items, only ladies and gentlemen of means could afford them, but toward the latter half of the century, with the advent of railroads, personal timepieces became more common, and grew to be an indispensable item for railroad engineers.

The first time that men wore wrist watches was about the time of WW I, when field officers wore them as a matter of convenience. Before that, wrist watches were considered a feminine item, even though women wore pocket watches around their necks just as men did, before the advent of wrist watches.

I have a ladies' watch, an heirloom from a 19th century relative. It resembles a man's pocket watch, with a gold chain for wearing around the neck. The design on the cover is feminine, but I'm guessing, from what little I learned about the wearer, that she never thought of the watch as anything other than what it was, a practical item to tell her when to take the roast from the oven.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Setting as Inspiration

Focusing on the setting of a book can add layers of depth. Sometimes, it's as if the setting is another character. You don't have to live there, but visiting is definitely a help. So is having someone who does live there who can answer questions, from what trees line the streets to what color the deputy sheriff's uniforms are.

It's important to be accurate with your setting. I lived in Florida for over 3 decades, in Miami and in Orlando. They're both Florida, but each has its own flavor. However, sometimes, I think authors simply want a place to plunk their characters, and they might do some rudimentary research. Google Maps can get you down to street level. You can research sunrise and sunset times, and what constellations will be visible in the night sky on any given day. But what any reference source can't give you is what it feels like to be there.

I've read numerous books set in Florida that totally ignored the climate. Trust me, the Florida climate is NOT to be ignored. For at least nine months of the year, simply walking from your front door to the street is enough to film your body in sweat. Then, there are the 3 PM thunderstorms for at least half the year. Leaving things like this out of a book will misplace the trust of reader familiar with the area. If they can't trust you to get the setting right, how much else will they not be willing to accept.

When I moved to Colorado a year ago, the change from central Florida was monumental. And, being new, I had a heightened sensitivity to the nuances of the terrain and climate. There's the altitude. Cooking pasta or boiling an egg is a totally new experience. Living in the mountains means your vehicle is covered with red dust—or mud if it's rained.

It was only logical to incorporate what I was learning about my new home into a new book by making the heroine a transplant as well. Because she's sensitive to the different environment, it's logical for her to share this information with the readers, so they can pick up on the flavor of the setting.

DANGER IN DEER RIDGE is set in a fictional town that just happens to be very much like where I'm living, but I definitely didn't want to set it specifically in my town. It's much easier to manipulate things you need to include in scenes if you're not locked into well-known landmarks. For example, if my characters go into a local restaurant and I need something on the menu that the "real" restaurant doesn't have, I can add it to my "similar" restaurant's menu. If I need a few more shops, I can create them. And I don't worry about getting the streets right.

Not to say that setting books in real places doesn't have its own advantages. Michael Connelly and Robert Crais write about Los Angeles, and I enjoy trips down memory lane when I read them.

Just remember, setting should go beyond landscapes, shops, streets and temperatures. It includes the types of people your characters will run into. How they dress, how they talk. The local population here bears little, if any, resemblance to that of central Florida. And even though these characters might only populate the background of a book, they're going to add to that sense of place.

Terry Odell writes romantic suspense. Her latest series, featuring the covert ops team of Blackthorne, Inc., includes When Danger Calls, Where Danger Hides, and Danger in Deer Ridge. Visit her website, her blog, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.