Friday, May 24, 2013

Historical Introduction

May I introduce  the lovely young lady on this cover, Maria Onderdonk. She is waiting for her husband to be, Civil War surgeon, Henry Simms, to return from battle. Henry and Maria are the great, great grandparents of my Simms children.

Set in New York and Washington City, Four Summers Waiting  weaves a Civil War epic that emerges as a love story. Maria, daughter of a parominent Long Island widower, steps out of a dutiful-daughter role after a year of family mourning. Her best friend, Carolyn, involves her in an Abolitionist meeting where she meets medical student. Henry Simms. As the nation is swept closer to war, Henry courts Maria through letters. Strong parental sentiments and wartime incidents involving memorable characters weave conflict through the story as Maria struggles to balance her sentiments with her father's opposition to the war. When Henry is about to open a medical practice the War of The Rebellion begins.

I tell about the relationships of divided families in the "Author's Introductory Notes" at the beginning of Four Summers Waiting  introduced as the new, eBook third edition of my historical novel. Authentic diary excerpts and letters chronicle the struggles and hopes of Maria and Henry. I have tried to stay close to the real lives and the social milieu of the time, without losing the trauma of that tragic and terrible time in our nation's history.

The eBook is offered at Smashwords with a coupon code MJ28J until May 28, or you can find it at Amazon's Kindle store at a bargain price.

The story was my first writing success, published in first edition hard cover by Five Star/Gale, and second edtion in Large Print by Thorndike Press.

Monday, May 20, 2013

How to keep readers turning the page

How do you keep readers turning the page? When a story starts with tension and keeps the tension up at the end of each chapter, the reader wants to know what happens next. I've lost many hours sleep because something happened at the end of a chapter that leads into yet another issue or problem to be solved. But you've got to let the reader breathe. Resolve one issue before piling on another.

Well written dialog moves the story quickly, as well. Let's face it, we humans often speak in fragmented sentences. Best friends or spouses of many years can finish our sentences for us, because they know how we think. A little exposition mixed in helps set the stage, and action makes it real, so don't just have talking heads. This is hard for me, because often I hear the dialog in my head very clearly, but the scene is not as vivid - yet!

Readers now want to start right in the middle of the action. They get to know the character as they read how that character deals with the mess they are in.  In the case of a murder mystery, death has to happen in the first couple of pages, so the protagonist can start the hunt for the murderer. Along the way they will discover the who and why. The reader gets pulled into the mystery and wants to figure out who done it.

Avoid data dumps. This sounds like something we authors should all know, but it's tempting to set the stage, fill in the back story, then proceed to what's happening now. Readers won't stick around long enough to get to the story if the build up is too long. We live in a fast paced society and we go from one thing to another. It's no wonder ADHD is so common, we are jamming as much as possible into an eighteen hour day and we seldom stop to consider where we're going. We just know we've got to get there and fast! Mark it off the "to do" list and go on to the next one. Readers want to be  immersed in the story on the first page.

By making the main characters three-dimensional, flaws and all, we can give the reader someone to care about. Even the antagonist needs to have at least one redeemable quality, so he can be a character people will love to hate and maybe sympathize with - a little. If the reader doesn't care about your characters then they can put the book down and maybe not even finish it. The main character in FEISTY FAMILY VALUES is a conceited snob. BUT underneath she has a heart of mush melon. Few people like her, but many come to understand her. There's an itty bitty bitch in all of us. 

Surprises and emotion are vital! Don't make the story too easy to figure out, surprise the reader with twists they don't expect. And if they are going to care a lick about the characters we have to show how they feel. Readers find pieces of themselves or their lives in stories, commiseration for shared experiences, justification, validation, hope and even comfort. If Annabelle in FEISTY FAMILY VALUES can learn to fight back after years of abuse then maybe I can, too. Let the readers feel right along with your characters.

Make the reader a part of the story. Use all five of the senses, not just sight and sound. If the reader can relate to the wonderful smell of bread baking they will want more. If the creaky old house your characters live in is real to the author, it will be real to the reader. They will want to visit it, to smell the mustiness and touch the smooth bannisters where hands have slid hundreds of times.

And don't forget humor. Readers have to laugh as well as cry. 

Good stories with strong characters, vivid scenery and intense emotions keep me turning the pages. How about you?

--> A lifetime resident of the Midwest, B.D. Tharp graduated Magna Cum Laude from Wichita State University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications, Women/Minority Studies and Fine Arts.  Her award winning women’s fiction novel, Feisty Family Values, is available on her website, Watermark Books, and Feisty Family Values was chosen one of the 150 Kansas Best Books, a finalist for the USA News Best Books of 2010, and winner of the J. Coffin Memorial Book Award for 2011. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interview with Author Judy Dailey by Jacqueline Seewald

Judy Dailey has an amazing resume. And no, I’m not exaggerating. Read on:
Award-winning author Judy Dailey grew up on an 80-acre organic farm in Indiana. Now she lives on a 1,200-square-foot urban farm in Seattle, Washington, with four chickens, a dog, and her husband. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Judy earned an MBA from the University of Washington and a certificate in compost management. She has been a pilot, skydiver, spelunker, bicyclist, skier, and night-time sailor. She managed a multi-million dollar grant fund for affordable housing. She handcrafts salami, beer, and ricotta cheese. But her greatest challenge is eradicating the gray garden slug. Animal, Vegetable, Murder is her first traditional mystery. You can follow Judy on Facebook or find a recipe for haggis and eggs at

Judy, before we begin, I want to congratulate you on the excellent review your mystery novel received from BOOKLIST.

Question: What made you select the title and genre of your novel? 

Answer: Animal, Vegetable, Murder is a humorous cozy, but that’s not what I started out to write. After accumulating a stack of dark, edgy, blood-drenched manuscripts in the bottom drawer of my desk—and a slew of rejection slips, I realized the mysteries I enjoy are fast-moving and funny. So I decided to write something I would like to read. Well, duh! I’m embarrassed it took me five years to figure it out.

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

Answer: After my daughter left home, I quit a pretty nice job to write full time—not a truly brilliant decision. To economize, my husband and I decided to grow as much of our food as we could. We live in the city, so we dug up our whole back yard and planted vegetables. Then Seattle legalized urban chickens. I ordered newborn chicks from a hatchery in Missouri and ended up with six really cute babies living in a box in my office while I dealt with the rejection slips for my latest gritty thriller. Then the chicks turned in to sullen adolescents with an attitude, who flapped out of their box and pecked the keys off my computer. I decided to move them to our guest bathroom while my husband built a henhouse. After they had been in the bathroom about five hours, I checked on them and discovered chicken poop everywhere—floor, walls, heater vent, toilet seat, and soap holder. At that very moment my sister, who is a published author, telephoned. I started whining about rejections, and she offered classic advice, “Write about what you know.” I said, “Right now, all I know about is chicken poop.” And she said, “Well . . .?” Thus, Animal, Vegetable, Murder was born.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your latest novel?

Answer:  Sunny Day Burnett is 30-years old and a new widow. After growing up in the back of a station wagon with hippie, drug-dealing parents, she yearns to put down roots. She inherited her grandmother’s home in an exclusive Seattle neighborhood where she created an urban farm. Her wealthy neighbors scorn her vegetables and hate her hens. Then she finds the body of a Mercedes salesman in a patch of organic Swiss chard. Worse yet, he is clutching a picture that could rip her life apart.

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

Answer:  Five of my short stories have been published in magazines. My biggest thrill was selling a mystery to Women’s World, but they mixed up the layout and it was published under another person’s name.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  The Goat Cried Murder, which is the next book in my Urban Farm series. Sunny Day is a new mom with a big problem—she can’t nurse her infant daughter. She adds a goat to her urban farm so she can feed her baby organic milk. The goat discovers a murdered jogger, and then a masked man tries to strangle Sunny.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I’m one of those people who started writing stories as soon as they could hold a pencil. I am drawn to mysteries because my mother died under mysterious circumstances when I was five-years old. I’m always asking myself what really happened.

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

Answer: One of the speakers at Left Coast Crime, whom I greatly admire, said she had written 17 novels before her first one was published. I started feeling like a success because I had written only eight before I sold Animal, Vegetable, Murder. My point is—writers keep writing.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: Animal, Vegetable, Murder is available now from most independent booksellers and, of course, online from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. People who would like a signed copy can buy one directly from my website at The first chapter of Animal, Vegetable, Murder is also posted on my website (

Note: Judy is available to respond to comments and questions from readers and fellow authors.

Friday, May 3, 2013

One More Step in Making a Series Live

I don’t remember the first time I heard the admonition, Don’t judge a book by its cover. I have always felt I was open minded and tried not to be judgmental when evaluating an idea or meeting someone new. But when it comes to books, I think I do judge a book by its cover. And I’m not the only one.

I didn’t come to this conclusion until it was forced on me. There’s nothing like having someone point out the obvious for waking me up. And that’s what a friend did recently, when she pointed out that the covers for the Mellingham books don’t look like they’re part of a series. Really? Maybe that’s because someone who knows nothing about graphic arts designed some of them. Me.

I have had four publishers for the Mellingham series, four publishers with four different design groups designing covers in hard cover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, and large print. Coherence was not anyone’s goal, and it showed. Since I put the books up on Kindle and Nook, I had to produce covers for them, and these are the ones that have been hanging around for a couple of years. But no longer.

Thanks to a good friend and wonderful designer, the Mellingham series, two of which were published by Five Star, now have a set of covers that tell the reader/buyer that these books belong together, and in this order.

I have had to give up the belief that all readers are like me. If I want to read a book on a particular topic, or by a specific author, I don’t care what the cover looks like. But not everyone goes to the bookstore, or library, or on line, with a list of books to corral. But even I don’t do that all the time. I browse just like anyone else; I pull books off the shelves if I like the look of the cover.

A good cover tells the reader the kind of book to expect. No reader will find a buxom 1950s female form sprawled on the cover of a Mellingham book in the style of Mickey Spillane. Nor will a reader find what one editor called “the cookbook cover,” an array of little hints about clues, on one of my books. That isn’t me and that isn’t Mellingham. There is humor but it isn't the defining feature of the book. The stories move from light to dark and sometimes swing back and forth.

The new covers do exactly what a cover should do. The covers tell the reader that this is a traditional mystery story, set in a small New England town, with little blood or gore. It is not a thriller or a violent series. These are stories about place and the kind of people who live in small New England towns.

A good cover is the result of a designer who “gets” the story. My publishers have all had good designers who “got” the story, but after so many books and so many different designers, it was time to make the covers uniform as well as informative. And now they are, with grateful thanks to Kathleen Valentine and her many talents.

Presenting the covers here also brings me near to the end of a process that I've been documenting here on Author Expressions. The Mellingham series has offered me as a writer challenges--how to continue this series while developing a new one and writing other stories that are independent of both? How to keep the series alive without a publisher? How to promote a series in this new publishing world?

There are a few steps left, and I'll be reporting on those also on Author Expressions. But right now I'm enjoying the new look of the series and enjoying the feeling of a fresh start.