Friday, January 27, 2012

Perfect Users of Words

     Down cellar,old timey, sing small, mitten money, hike off, kissen' cousin, grass widow

Today's youth would probably not use words like these or perhaps even understand some of them.  Many are colloquialisms, but I have always been intrigued by twentieth century words such as these.I began to collect such words about ten years ago in my "writers notebook" along with character and settings photos and plot ideas. I purchased a book in 2005 called Informal English by Jeffrey Kacirk. It was both entertaining and a useful addition to my reference shelf.Kaccirk's paperback of alphabetized colloquialisms had an extensive bibliography and ended with a quote from Walt Whitman's lecture, "An American Primer":
     "Americans are going to be the most fluent and melodious-voiced people in the world,
                               and the most perfect users of words."
 Whew!  Of course that was written in mid-nineteenth century, but I believe most  writers today are indeed striving to be 'perfect users of words'. I've blogged before about the strength and beauty of words, but I am presently looking for inspirational books to start my New Year with better health and more vigor for the craft.
I might have found a good source in a contemporary writer's newest  non-fiction book, One Perfect Word by Debbie Macomber. I have not read it yet, but one reviewer says it has both spiritual and practical applications. I do know that it encourages the reader to focus on "a perfect word each year." It is on my 'to read ' list.
I do not feel I've given justice to the ideas of those who are striving to be perfect users of words, but hopefully next month's blog will have more depth and be a dight longer.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interview With Karen McCullough by Jacqueline Seewald

Karen McCullough is the author of eleven published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. Her most recent releases are MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS, a paranormal romantic suspense now available in most electronic formats, her Christmas vampire story, A VAMPIRE’S CHRISTMAS CAROL, and A GIFT FOR MURDER, published in hardcover by Five Star/Gale Group Mysteries. She invites visitors to check out her home on the web at and her site for the Market Center Mysteries series,

Question: I understand A GIFT FOR MURDER will be available in electronic formats in February and as a mass market paperback from Harlequin Worldwide mysteries in June. Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and hero of your novel?

Answer: The main character in my mystery, A GIFT FOR MURDER, is Heather McNeil, assistant to the director of the Washington, DC, Commerce & Market Show Center. As assistant to the director, she spends a lot of time dealing directly with the exhibitors and attendees at the various trade shows and conferences that are held in the Market Center, fielding their complaints, helping them solve problems and just listening. She’s in her mid-twenties. She likes the job and feels fortunate to have it, since it pays reasonably well and the work is interesting. Heather is intelligent and sharp-witted, but the feature that makes her both good at her job and good at solving mysteries is that she’s the kind of person who makes others feel at ease, so they talk to her more than they would with other people.

Heather’s love interest is Scott Brandon, a former D.C. cop recently hired to be part of the Market Center security team. Scott’s past is a bit mysterious. Although he’s smart, well-spoken, and physically fit, he left the police force under a cloud, something he doesn’t like to talk about. He’s told Heather that he failed to keep his mouth shut when it would have been a better policy to stay quiet, but he doesn’t talk about the circumstances.

Question: What is the genre of your novel? Why did you select it?

Answer: Mystery, with a touch of light romance. I’ve always loved mysteries. I grew up reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys before I moved on to Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, and Ellery Queen. The puzzle aspect of mysteries has always fascinated me.

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

Answer: I worked as an editor for a series of trade publications for ten years or so, which means I attended quite a few trade shows. It always seemed to me that a trade show would make a fine setting for a mystery. It has a very limited time period and a limited number of people attend, including many who’ve known each other for a very long time as friends, competitors, even lovers, sometimes all at the same time. Plus the stakes are high for exhibitors at trade shows; many will write the bulk of their orders from retailers at the show or soon thereafter. It can literally make or break a business.

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

Answer: Sure! I’ve published in a number of genres, ranging from fantasy to suspense to mystery to paranormal to romance. A lot of my books cross genres. I have two romantic fantasy novels, WITCH’S JOURNEY and WIZARD’S BRIDGE, published with ImaJinn books. My first four published books, three romantic suspense and one straight romance, were published by Avalon Books in the early 90s. I’m working on digitizing those to make them available as ebooks. I’ve had a number of other romantic mystery and suspense novels published since then, as well as a couple of paranormal stories. Of those, several are now available as ebooks, including romantic suspense novels, A QUESTION OF FIRE and SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and the paranormal romantic suspense stories, MAGIC, MURDER AND MICROCIRCUITS and A VAMPIRE’S CHRISTMAS CAROL. (My only vampire story!)

Question: What are you working on now?

Answer: I’m writing the sequel to A GIFT FOR MURDER right now. It’s tentatively titled WIRED FOR MURDER and takes place at a business technology show and conference.

Question: What made you start writing?

Answer: Wow, it was so long ago, I’ve almost forgotten. From early childhood, I’ve always had stories floating around in my head. My very first attempt to write one down happened when I was around 10 and wrote a Nancy Drew type mystery story. It was all of three pages long.

It wasn’t until much later that I started writing seriously. It was kind of an evolutionary process. I spent almost 15 years as a computer programmer/analyst, but when I burnt out on that, I began writing software documentation to make a living. From there I moved onto writing articles for computer magazines, then broadened out into writing more general interest articles for a variety of publications and ended up as an editor for several trade publications. Somewhere in that same time period I tried my hand at a few stories, and had a bit of success selling them to small presses. One of them, though, kept growing and growing until it was a novel. A very bad novel, but a novel nonetheless. That one will never be published. But the bug had bitten and the seed was planted to deep. haven’t been able to stop writing since then.

Question: What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: Develop a thick skin. This is a tough business. If you’re writing for publication, be prepared for lots of rejection. And don’t think that being published once means the end of it. Even once you’re published, rejections happen, bad reviews happen, etc. It’s not a profession for the timid.

I also strongly recommend a critique group or critique partners while you’re writing those first few novels. It’s hard to see your own errors and helps to have others who can show them to you.

Don’t rush to get the first thing you write out to market. Once you’ve finished the first draft, let it sit a while, then go back to it. You’ll likely find all sorts of ways it can be improved, when you go back through it again after some time.

Question: Excellent advice! Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novels?

Answer: A GIFT FOR MURDER is currently available in hardback from the standard online sites, like Amazon and B&N. I’ll be releasing it in ebook form in February, and then it will be available as a paperback from Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries in June or July. My two fantasy novels are still available in both paperback and electronic formats, either from the publisher, ImaJinn Books ( or through Amazon, B&N and other online booksellers, as is a romantic suspense, SHADOW OF A DOUBT, available from the publisher, ( or the online booksellers. Most of my other available books are ebook only at this point, and available from Amazon for Kindle, B&N for Nook and Smashwords for other formats.

As for WIRED FOR MURDER, I hope to have it finished by the end of February, and from there it’s up to my editor and publisher.

Thank you, Karen, for being our guest at Author Expressions. We wish you continued success with your writing career.

Comments for Karen are welcome!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Interview with Nancy J. Cohen

Today our guest blogger is Nancy J. Cohen, an award-winning author who writes romance and mysteries. Her popular Bad Hair Day series features hairdresser Marla Shore, who solves crimes with wit and style under the sultry Florida sun. Several titles in this series have made the IMBA bestseller list, while Nancy’s imaginative sci-fi romances have garnered rave reviews. Her latest book, and tenth in her mystery series, is Shear Murder from Five Star. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who’s Who in U.S. Writers, Editors, & Poets.

Joyce: Good morning, Nancy, and thanks for joining us here at Author Expressions. Let's get right to the questions. When did you start to write and how long did it take you to get published?

Nancy: Ever since I can remember, I’ve been writing. At first, it was poems and short stories. I began the submission process quite young, but it wasn’t until grad school that I decided to write a novel.

I bought a book called Structuring Your Novel and that’s how I learned. One of the most important things I did to boost my career was to join Romance Writers of America and attend conferences and monthly chapter meetings. I wrote six books before one sold. My first title, Circle of Light, won the HOLT Medallion Award. I switched to mysteries four books later when the bottom dropped out of the futuristic romance market. Thus began my Bad Hair Day mystery series featuring hairstylist Marla Shore, who lives in South Florida and solves crimes when she isn’t busy running her salon and dating Detective Dalton Vail.

Joyce: What genre or sub-genre do you write? Why did you choose this genre?

Nancy: I write humorous mysteries and sci-fi romance. I enjoy plotting the mysteries, figuring out the relationships among my characters, and incorporating Florida issues into my stories since this is where they take place. But I also love the tales of adventure I can spin when I write romance. Anything can happen in these stories that take place on other worlds, and although the focus is on the developing relationship between hero and heroine, the plots are full of political intrigue, suspense, and danger. My cozy mysteries focus on relationships, too, and the conflicts among the various suspects. Florida is a great setting with its rich and varied ecosystems, distinctive small towns, and diverse populace.

Joyce: What motivated you to write your latest book and what’s it about?

Nancy: Shear Murder is the tenth book in my Bad Hair Day mystery series. It’s the culmination of a personal journey for my hairstylist sleuth, Marla Shore. It’s about weddings and new beginnings. Just when Marla is planning her own nuptials, she gets caught up in another murder investigation. Marla is a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the matron of honor—the bride’s sister— dead under the cake table. She has a lot going on in her life, but when Jill pleads for her help in solving the case, Marla can’t refuse. It’s a fast-paced tale with humor, romance, and suspense as Marla races to find the killer before her wedding day arrives.

As for what inspired this story, I wanted to give my series a happy ending. My fans kept asking when the next Marla Shore mystery would be coming out, but my former publisher had cancelled the series. As the markets changed, I decided to finish this book to give readers the closure they deserved. So I really wrote it as a response to readers and in gratitude for their support. I hope they are pleased with Shear Murder. It was a delight to write, and I had fun bringing back all the secondary characters that we’ve grown to know and love. And now that I have a new publisher, it doesn’t have to be the end.

Joyce: Tell us about your other works and where readers can buy your books.

Nancy: The Bad Hair Day Mysteries have ten titles. Killer Knots and Perish by Pedicure are the most recent before Shear Murder. They can be found at any online bookstore in multiple formats. Silver Serenade, my latest sci-fi romance, can be bought directly from The Wild Rose Press or elsewhere online. This story is about a beautiful assassin and a desperate fugitive who join forces to catch a terrorist and prevent an intergalactic war. My backlist romance titles are at Backlist Ebooks, or are listed on my Amazon Author Page. This is your best site to locate all my works. And of course, check out Shear Murder.

Joyce: How do you write? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Is it your characters or your plot that influences you the most?

Nancy: I’m a plotter, most definitely. I do my character development up front, filling in their info on some tools I’ve developed, and then I’ll work on research and plotting. Once the story is in my head, I’ll write the entire synopsis. This acts as my writing guideline.

Joyce: What is your typical day like?

Nancy: I do my writing very early in the morning, taking exercise breaks, until around ten or so. Then I spend the rest of the day on marketing/promotion. That can consume all of a writer’s time. This is when I’m on a roll and the story is flowing. If not, the writing part may take longer. I set a daily quota of five pages a day or twenty-five pages a week. Once the book is done, I do several read-throughs for line editing, consistency, etc. Usually I have time free in the afternoons if I have plans with friends, but I’m fortunate to be able to write full-time.

Joyce: What has surprised you about being a published author?

Nancy: It surprises me how many people come up to me and say they have an idea for a novel. Either they are under the mistaken impression that I am dying to write it for them and split the millions we’ll make, or they want to know right off the bat how to get an agent and submit their masterpiece without being willing to do their homework.

Joyce: What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?

Nancy: I love feedback from fans. That’s what keeps me going. I save all the mail I get and it inspires me to keep writing. The least? All the marketing we have to do. It’s never enough, and it takes hours from the time we could spend writing.

Joyce: How do you do research for your books?

Nancy: Some of the research for my mysteries is based upon personal experience. Re the settings, I visit the towns in my stories and take detailed notes and photos. I ask a retired police detective to verify my crime related facts and have attended Citizens Police Academy. I’ve visited beauty schools, trade shows, salons, and more to learn about the hairstyling profession. Probably one of the most interesting experiences was at the Russian shvitz, where I ran around in a swimsuit with my notebook and camera under my towel. I’ve visited a biohazard waste disposal facility, an aquaculture center where they breed tilapia, and joined a fitness club, all in the name of research.

Joyce: What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Nancy: Reading, outlet shopping, fine dining, cruising, cooking.

Joyce: What advice would you give aspiring writers today?

Nancy: Follow the 3 P’s: Practice, Professionalism, and Perseverance. Know the marketplace. Join your professional writers organizations and attend conferences and workshops. Networking is crucial in this business, and writing is foremost a business these days. It’s not enough to write a good book. You have to be market savvy, establish yourself in the social networks, and meet as many people in the industry as you can.

Joyce: What will be your next project?

Nancy: My next book will start a new paranormal romance series based on Norse mythology. Warrior Prince is book one in The Drift Lords series. I've written three books so far in this universe, and I'm eager to share these stories with readers. After I get this project going, I’ll turn my attention to another mystery.

Thank you so much for inviting me to appear on your site.

Joyce: Thank you for joining us here on Author Expressions, Nancy. Come back any time.


Shear Murder

Who knew weddings could be murder? Hairstylist Marla Shore is weeks away from becoming a bride herself when she walks down the aisle as a bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s ceremony. Things take a turn for the worse when the matron of honor ends up dead, the cake knife in her chest. Now what will they use to cut the cake?

Watch the Book Trailer


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Leave a comment during Nancy’s blog tour in January and enter to win a set of Paua shell jewelry and a signed copy of Shear Murder.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tighten up your Prose

By B.D. Tharp

Is your writing flabby? Are there too many words that don’t really move the story along? Need some advice on how to tighten things up? If you’re like me, the answer is YES. A writing buddy shared an editing tip sheet with our group several years ago and it really comes in handy. We need reminders occasionally and this one you can print and put on your wall or tack board.

BACK: Often a given if the subject of the sentence is doing one thing and then does another. Also note in the example, down was unneeded.
Jessie shook her head as she gazed back down at the child.
*Jessie shook her head as she gazed at the child.

TO BE: Another example of wordiness.
He needs to be scrubbing.
*He needs to scrub.

DOWN: If the verb implies down, "down" is unnecessary.
She sat down in the chair.
*She sat in the chair.

UP: If the verb implies up, "up" is unnecessary.
He stood up.
*He stood.

OUT: If the verb implies out, "out" is unnecessary.
The cloth was spread out over the table.
*The cloth was spread over the table.

THEN: If an action follows, "then" is implied.
He aimed the gun then fired.
*He aimed the gun and fired.

THERE: Generally weak and should be removed when possible.
If there are men that close--
*If men are that close--

BEGAN - STARTED: He lifted the pen and started to write.
*He lifted the pen and wrote.

FELT - FEEL: Weak words can often be replaced to create a clearer image
The chill of the night air had little to do with the cold she felt.
*The chill of the night air had little to do with the cold swirling inside her.

BACK - RETURNED: Sometimes "returned" can signal going back to a previous action.
He turned his attention back to the raging storm.
*He returned his attention to the raging storm.

PASSIVE VOICE: Various methods of torture developed by his ancestors were contemplated by Thomas.
ACTIVE VOICE: Thomas contemplated various methods of torture developed by his ancestors.

INSTEAD: Often unnecessary. It's a given that he didn't land on the chair if he landed on the floor.
He'd land on the floor instead of the chair.
*He'd land on the floor.

TO THE: Often causes wordiness
The door to the office.
*The office door.

SUDDENLY: Seldom needed. If it's the next action, writing it as such often eliminates the need for the word.
Suddenly the bull lurched forward.
*The bull lurched forward.

BE -ING: Sometimes makes for longer, weaker sentences.
I suppose I should be thanking you.
*I suppose I should thank you.

COULD: Determine if the sentence conveys the information without it.
He could see her walking toward him.
*He saw her walking toward him.
*Even better: She walked toward him.

WAS (and other linking verbs): Signals a possible weak sentence that can be punched up with a stronger action verb.
His only fear was--
*He feared--

WOULD: Determine which sentence is stronger and if "would" is needed. Sometimes it is might be.
Occasionally, he would catch her watching him.
*Occasionally, he caught her watching him.

SEEMED: Use only when you want to create an image of doubt.
Andrew's presence seemed to dominate the camp.
*Andrew's presence dominated the camp.

THAT: A word we all overuse; sometimes it's necessary, often it's not. Always try the sentence without it and see if it means the same.

JUST: Another word we overuse. Try some of the synonyms like merely, only.

Enjoy the writing journey, my friends. And please share your tightening tips, too!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Speaking of Shoes

Today I’m blogging about shoes. And Oh what shoes! I saw a pair in a museum in Venice. Just looking made my feet hurt.

In early modern Venice, around the mid-fifteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries, the footwear of Venetian women drew the eyes of every visitor downward, and no wonder. Chopines, the impossibly high clogs considered the latest fashion, were worn by any woman who could afford them, usually courtesans or the wealthy, as they were hardly attire for a cleaning woman or baker's daughter.

The shoes were made of wood or cork, with leather or man-made material for the tops. The platforms were frequently decorated with jewels and extravagant designs, and sometimes tassels hung from the toes.

Women wearing chopines had to be supported either by men or servants so the wearer would not slip or fall as they strolled along the Grand Canal to see and be seen.

There is controversy over just where the style originated; some say it came from China, where the women prided themselves on small feet, an indication of wealth and helplessness. Others argue the fashion came from the Turkish baths, where women wore slightly elevated shoes.

No matter the origin, the fashion eventually died out, and I suppose today spike heels would be considered just as dangerous, especially if strolling on cobbled streets and crossing the Rialto Bridge.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Discoveries and a New Book

On Friday morning, as you open Author Expressions blog and scan down to see who is writing and what she has to say, I'll be flying to India, staggering through an airport to change planes and landing in Trivandrum after almost twenty-four hours, still vertical as I wait in line to show my passport, nod when the customs officer glances at the number of stamps, number of visas, and my age. (They always check my age--perhaps they expect me to keel over from exhaustion, which I am sorely tempted to do.)

Thanks to a wonderful group of readers and libraries, I am able to travel to India each year to visit friends, catch up on some local art, and eat a lot of Indian food (three times a day usually). And I call this research. And it is. I sit on a bus and ride around Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala, gazing out the unglazed window and soaking up ideas for locations to use in my next book. Sometimes a figure catches my eye and I know that would be a great character in a story--just the way he looks back over his shoulder, shifts his turban and grasps his cotton bag--but more importantly I know he will contribute some twist to the story.

I keep a journal during every trip, mostly for notes of ideas and shorthand for story ideas. Rereading these after I return recalls the feelings and imaginings I had at the time and I fall more easily into writing the story.

A couple of months ago I had an image of a young woman running down a city street at night in her bare feet and glancing back over her shoulder. I knew who she was, some of what had happened, but not what would happen to her. I have to see that street during this visit, and I have to see it at three a.m., which is a terrible time for women to be out and about in an Indian city. But I have friends, and I figure I can manage it.

Trivandrum was hit with an unusual rainstorm this December--a typhoon/hurricane instead of the light drizzle that usually shows up in November, as the tail end of the monsoon drifts back over the state of Kerala and out to the Arabian Sea. That rain will play a part also--the wildness of the storm, so out of character for this time of year, has something to give.

Piece by piece the story is emerging. Somewhere in here is a child, a little girl, who knows something, and a young boy/man who is always eager to help. Seeing the innocent in danger always makes me nervous, so I'm not sure how this part will play out.

It will take a while--a few months, at least--before I know the whole story, but I know it's waiting for me, on one street or another, in the corners of Trivandrum. And I will ferret it out over the next three weeks while I'm in India. And then I get to write it.