Friday, July 31, 2015

Summer Reading: Mavens of Mystery by Jacqueline Seewald

Summer is the perfect time to spend some time vacationing or just relaxing. Sit in the sun, lie on a chaise poolside, rest by the ocean or a lake, or under the shade of a tree, sip a cool drink, and read a book.

Mysteries remain one of the most popular genres for summer reading. The current issue of AARP Magazine features a wonderful article entitled “Murder, She Wrote.” It discusses the most popular women mystery writers. None are young. Each has a popular mystery series. Who are these most popular women writers of murder mystery fiction?

Janet Evanovich (latest book WICKED CHARMS),
Tess, Gerritsen DIE AGAIN,
Sue Grafton X IS FOR…,
Sara Paretsky BRUSH BACK,
 and the Queen of Suspense herself—Mary Higgins Clark, THE MELODY LINGERS ON

Lots of good summer reading on this list. But what about some of the excellent women authors that write for small independent presses and provide us with quality mystery series but don’t get as much publicity because they are not with the big publishers?

I have read two of these writers so far this summer and intend to read many more. I recommend Patricia Gligor’s Malone series, her latest novel MIXED MESSAGES being a perfect summer read. Check it out on Amazon. Nancy J. Cohen writes the Marla Shore hairdresser (Bad Hair Day Mysteries) series. I recently read BODY WAVE--another enjoyable summer read to check out on Amazon. I also recommend the 4th in my Kim Reynolds librarian sleuth series THE BAD WIFE.                                    

If you’re in the mood for the latest in Southern gothic romantic mystery, I can recommend two--Susan Coryell’s BENEATH THE STONES and my own just released novel DARK MOON RISING. Both can also be checked out on Amazon.

As a reader and/or writer are there any books you would like to recommend for summer reading?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Family Inspires

I just returned from my family's 60th reunion. I am the only first generation survivor of my parent's children. I am the youngest of fourteen children. My family gathered with the grandchildren and great grandchildren of my siblings at a luncheon in Saratoga Springs, New York. The photo below is my immediate family of children grandchildren and great grandchildren, with six not present!You can easily spot the only white- haired person in the group,standing with hands folded and sandwiched between husband Tom, and my eldest, daughter, Monica. All of the cousins who attended  with their children and grandchildren made for a very large group. Hold that thought as I tell you how this family inspired my writing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Fine Art of Faking It

As a graduate student, I volunteered in the conservation laboratory at the Cincinnati Museum of Art. I wanted to gain some experience in what painting and artifact conservation was all about and decide whether I wanted to go in that direction. My biggest impediment: lack of a detailed knowledge of chemistry. To become adept at any kind of art conservation, I’d need to know a lot about solvents (how to use them and which ones are dangerous to human health), paint pigments and their properties, and the science of materials. You have to know what something is made of before you can restore it to its original condition.

I didn’t go into conservation for my career, but I developed a lifelong interest in restoration and conservation of artifacts and its related field: the detection of art forgeries. Hence the evolution of Burnt Siena, my new mystery set in Italy (Five Star, June 2015). Flora Garibaldi, an Italian-American conservator, takes her first job with a respected firm of painting conservators in Siena. Thinking she’ll get to use her advanced training, she is dismayed to find herself mixing gesso and applying gold leaf to picture frames (the very tasks I did during my apprenticeship in Cincinnati). Then Flora discovers her bosses, the Lorenzettis, are supplementing their incomes by smuggling antiquities and forging paintings.

At the heart of the story is a kouros, a Greek statue of a young man, that Marco Lorenzetti is sculpting. Is it based upon a stolen ancient statue, and if so, where is the original now? Will the copy receive a fake patina and be sold as an antiquity for millions of dollars? No matter what happens to the statue, someone stands to make a lot of money.

Flora collides head on with a well-known art historical dilemma: when is a copy just a copy and when is it a fake? It all depends on what happens at the point of sale. If a replica of a famous painting (or a statue) is offered and purchased as a museum-quality replica, a reasonable sum changes hands and everyone knows where he stands. If the same painting is passed off as the work of an Old Master, then everyone loses: the museum or collector pays too much, the viewers are hoodwinked, and art history as a discipline is compromised. How can you understand the development of a famous artist when some of the paintings on museum walls may not have been created by that artist?
Then there is the problem of antiquities smuggling, an ongoing problem in many countries from Central America to Italy. As long as clients pay ridiculous sums for original art (for example, the J. Paul Getty Museum paid nine million dollars for a kouros that many experts believe is a forgery), unscrupulous men will rob tombs and loot archaeological sites for financial gain.

In the sequel to Burnt Siena (under construction), Flora joins an international team of experts to hunt under the city of Rome for art stolen during World War II by the Nazis.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Characters, Characters, Characters

What makes a good character driven novel work? Three-dimensional, flawed, quirky main characters. One of my favorite books with amazing characters is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. For example, there's Scout, our tomboy lead who relates the story of that time. Her older brother, Jem, who antagonizes her as well as protects her, like most big brothers do. There's Atticus Finch, a widowed father, lawyer, and man who finds himself fighting for a black man's life during a time when the rights of the African American were few.

The secondary characters are just as real to us, Cal the maid, Miss Maudie next door, Boo Radley the recluse, the sheriff, the prosecutor, and the family that accused a black man, Tom Robinson of assaulting a white woman in the deep south.

This story is filled with childhood discovery, loss of innocence, racial conflict, and the struggle for justice in an unjust time in our history. Ms. Lee brings it all to life on the page through the interaction of her characters. Everyone has a part that builds the tension and makes us want to read more. I've read this novel many times and even though I know how it ends I have trouble putting it down once I've started. We're drawn into the adventures of Scout, Jem and their friend, Dill over three years during the Great Depression.

With the publication of GO SET A WATCHMAN, also by Harper Lee, the interest in MOCKINGBIRD has resurfaced. Reviews are mixed and I haven't read it myself, but it's a testament to the place in the reader's hearts for characters in a story they love.

That's the challenge the author must rise to. Make the characters in the story real and someone a reader can relate to. How do we do that? Great dialog, vivid descriptions, timely issues that create emotional responses, the use of all the senses. Where do we find these interesting characters? Personally, I find them at work, the grocers, on-line, family, friends...add a little imagination to stretch the truth of the day to day (which is often mundane)...ask the "what if" questions...make them likeable but flawed (because no one is perfect) and "wham" you have characters people want to get to know more about.

Sounds easy, doesn't it? But it really isn't. We have to get to know the characters ourselves, understand their motivation, where they've been and where they are going, and then we push their limits - just like life does to all of us. It can be fun, frustrating, but it is seldom easy. Find that special something that makes the character stand out - Scout only wore dresses when she had to. She'd fight and roll in the dirt if the situation warranted it. She was the consummate "tomboy." Personally, so was I, and that makes her someone I can relate to.

What do you want your readers to get from your characters? In FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY the readers see that family is more than blood and when illness strikes those we love we fret and pull together to help. They might see themselves or someone they know in similar situations and realize they aren't alone. There are ways through the tough times and people who will be there if we need them. And there's silliness, too, because we all do or say goofy things from time to time. I guess that makes us all "characters" in our own story.

Authors, I wish you godspeed on your writing journey. I hope you meet lots of feisty characters along the way.

To find out more about Bonnie Tharp's books go to

Friday, July 10, 2015

Interview With Author Maris Soule by Jacqueline Seewald

Greetings! Today I have the pleasure of interviewing author Maris Soule. She was born and raised in California, taught high school art and math for 8 years. She was lured to southwest Michigan after marrying the blue-eyed redhead of her dreams. Together they built the house they lived in for 27 years, raised two children, owned, bred and showed Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and created a mini-farm with horses, pigs, goats and lots of other critters. She didn’t start writing until 1980 and initially didn’t plan on writing romances, but she loves a happy ending. That’s also what she likes about writing mysteries. The good guys win in the end. Soule and her husband now live near Lake Michigan in the summer and Florida in the winter.

Question: What is the title and genre of your novels?  Why did you select them?

I have two mysteries out this summer. (Didn’t plan it that way.) One is A KILLER PAST. The other is EAT CROW AND DIE. The title for A Killer Past was more or less dictated by the story itself. (If you read the book, you’ll understand.) Originally I was calling Eat Crow and Die a Murder of Crows, but my editor told me there were too many books with that title and to come up with something new. So I went on FB and asked for suggestions. When Eat Crow and Die was posted, I knew that one would be great. It continues the “crow” theme in my titles and clearly indicates it’s a murder mystery.
Question:   What inspired these novels? How did they come about?

The question of “What would Lara Croft be like in her 70s” inspired A Killer Past. For Eat Crow and Die, I’d left P.J. Benson (the protagonist in the P.J. Benson mystery series)  wondering if she was pregnant and her boyfriend, Wade Kingsley, about to lose contact with his son. Added to that, a few years ago a boat blew up not far from where our boat was moored. Since Wade had a boat, I thought, Why not blow up Wade’s boat and kill a few people? Especially if that would make Wade the key suspect.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroines and/or heroes of your novels?

Mary Harrington, in A Killer Past, has spent the last 44 years of her life trying not to garner attention. Most people see her as a nice, old lady who goes to the gym regularly, is a widow with a successful son and a beautiful, 18-year-old granddaughter. Little do they know what Mary did in her 20s. However, when she puts two gang members in the hospital after they try to mug her, Sergeant Jack Rossini, begins to suspect there’s more to Mary than anyone knows.

P.J. Benson is a CPA who seems to attract trouble, starting with a man dying in her dining room (The Crows), which is when she meets Deputy Wade Kingsley. In As the Crow Flies (the second book in the series) she manages to put her life in dangers again, and now, in Eat Crow and Die, she feels she must prove Wade didn’t cause the boat to explode, killing his ex-wife and her new husband. After all, Wade is the father of her unborn child, and she doesn’t want him put in prison.

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

I’ve mentioned my two earlier mysteries, The Crows and As the Crow Flies. Prior to switching to mysteries, I had 25 romances published. Two were RITA finalists, others won or placed in several contests for romances.

Question:   What are you working on now?

I’m working on three stories. One is a suspense set in Alaska. That one’s ready for final edits. I’m also working on a short story that will pick up P.J. and Wade’s lives after Eat Crow and Die, and, of course, include a mystery. And finally, I’m in the initial thinking stage of a mystery set in a Florida retirement community where homes are being broken into, and my main character is the daughter of a burglar.

Question:   What made you start writing?

I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember, tried writing in my teens but was discouraged, and didn’t consider it a possibility until I had two pre-schoolers. The house we built was in a rural area with very few nearby neighbors, and most days my mental stimulation was “Sesame Street,” “Mr. Rogers,” and books. One day I read a mystery with a romantic sub-plot that caused me to say, “I could do that.” To which my husband said, “Then do it.” It took me three years to learn the craft, and I’ve been writing ever since.

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

READ. Read what’s being published nowadays. WRITE. Write what you enjoy reading or what you feel passionate about. LEARN. Learn the craft. Read how to format a manuscript, write a synopsis or query letter. Know how to submit. And finally, PERSIST Keep trying. Keep learning. Keep submitting.

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

Both books are available now as hardcover and e-book
Barnes & Noble: (for hardcover of A Killer Past only)

For more information about me, go to:

*Maris is available to respond to comments and/or questions.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Pick a Peck o' Posts by Susan Oleksiw

When I began writing a blog, I had no idea what I was doing, or that I was making choices in how to approach a regular (or, more often, irregular) blog. I have been writing on my own website and here, on Author Expressions, since 2010, and have made choices without realizing I was making them. There are many ways to write a blog, and if you're like me, you gravitate to one form or another.

First, and most obvious, is the ongoing series of posts on writing and related topics. As published authors, we have struggled with the numerous aspects of finishing a manuscript, and our blogs cover developing and working with ideas, crafting a first draft, plots and subplots, developing characters, editing, choosing the perfect title, and working with editors as well as writing and vocabulary. These posts are most often discussions by the experienced for the benefit of the less experienced, or those curious about how their colleagues are coping with the same problems. Here I might include a link to a longer discussion, one that makes me look intelligent for even knowing about it (like this one

Second, and equally popular, is the blog on the publishing world today. Gone is the dream of finding a Maxwell Perkins to mentor us, and ever present is the vivid reminder of the power of Amazon in all its permutations. Self-publishing has changed the landscape as much as any earthquake or crashing meteor could. We all learn from these posts because the experience of publishing today is new and jarring and totally unpredictable. Once again, these posts can be discussions by the experienced to the less experienced, but are also just as likely to be one author describing a discovery for the benefit of others. In today's publishing world, we are all less experienced. But whatever they purport to be, they give us the opportunity to talk about our books. (See, like this paragraph, where I point you, the reader, to the cover of my most recent book.)

Third, and sometimes overwhelming in it appeal, is the more intimate post about the personal experience of writing--the angst, the stumbles, the surprises, and the wonderful friends and writing groups who see us through the worst. We are all human, and these posts are sometimes the most comforting because they help me, at least, feel less stupid and inept as I make my way through a career with no clear footpath through the forest of publishing. I don't write these often, but I'm grateful to those who do. But when I do write them, I get to post photos of me and my friends talking about books, like this one with me and Lea Wait.

Fourth, and surprisingly tempting, are the posts that are mostly about our personal lives, and these are
little more than letters to friends with photos and gossip. These can be fun if we can make our lives interesting. But since I've never been a fan of Trader Joe's (yes, I know, there's something wrong with me), and get bored sitting in Starbucks watching other people typing furiously or staring out the window chewing on a muffin, I leave these posts to others. I actually find the posts interesting, even if I can't tolerate the experiences myself. Interesting. When I do write one, I usually veer off into a bit of history or someone else's hobby, like this photo from a man who likes to visit post offices throughout the United States.

I've tried focusing on one type of post but learned early on that my mind (and tastes) wander, so my blogs tend to be full of whatever has captured my imagination at the time, including today's topic, categories of posts for writers.

And while you are pondering this, my best wishes to all for a happy Fourth of July.