Friday, July 21, 2017

Book Reviews Please!

Do you ever feel like a beggar when you're asking readers to write a review? 

Yes. People are busy and forget, so it doesn't hurt to remind them, right? It still feels a little like begging to me. But without reviews how will new readers find our stories?

A good review is priceless!

Therefore, I will continue to ask everyone to write them. Reviews create a buzz. It's called marketing, and it takes time. But Buzz sells books. Personally, I love when a friend tells me about a new book they enjoyed. It goes on my "to read" list, or in my Kindle, or they sometimes even share the book. That's always fun. Many of my books have been through the hands of family and friends before I donate them to the library.

What about a bad review?

That's an excellent question, right? The fact is our stories will not appeal to everyone. I cried when I got my first bad review, but I noticed something resulting from it. A bad review can promote discussion, and that is the best way to learn about new books - Word of Mouth!

Do you write reviews?

OMG, yes. I try to review every book I read. I, too, occasionally forget though, then I feel terrible for a moment until I write it. Stories that stick with me are easy to go back and write reviews for, and I don't mind doing it a bit. If it has been too long, I pop over to Amazon and reread the synopsis and that generally brings it back to me. If I just can't remember I will reread it before I write a review.

Where do you write or read book reviews? is always good, but my favorite is Anywhere that you purchase a book, you can usually write a review -,,, Kobo, GooglePlay, etc. You can also post reviews on social media - Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and many more that I don't currently subscribe to or haven't used yet.

Do you always write a good review? 

No. But I share my likes first and stay professional and concise with my dislikes. Again, not every book will resonate with every person. And sometimes as authors, we are asked to review a book that needs additional work/editing/, etc. When that happens, I write the author directly and explain what I am thinking - not for the world to see. We all deserve an opportunity to improve upon the story before it is in front of the masses.

Enjoying the journey, talking to authors.

Don't forget to help authors by writing book reviews.
Amazon Author Page

Friday, July 14, 2017


Sheri Cobb South is our special guest blogger for Author Expressions. Be sure to check out her wonderful mystery novels on Amazon, B&N Online, and many other booksellers.  And now, here’s Sheri.

First of all, the title of this article is false advertising: No one else can write like Mary Stewart, any more than they can write like any other author. Still, her books do have certain elements in common, and these can be adopted in order to evoke the tone of that heyday of romantic suspense. So, without further ado, here are my Top 10:
#1. Be British. (Well, rats. Moving right along . . .)
#2. Give your book an exotic location, and describe it vividly. Mary Stewart took her readers on literary jaunts not only to her native Britain, but also to France, Austria, Greece, and Damascus. I credit her books with giving me a lifelong craving for travel, so it’s only fitting that my own book follows the itinerary of a Mediterranean cruise I took with my husband a couple of years ago, including stops in Italy, Greece, and Turkey.
#3. Set your book in the late 1950s or early to mid-1960s. This was when Mary Stewart and the romantic suspense novel were at the height of their popularity, so setting a book there is, in essence, returning to the genre’s roots.
#4. Give your book a young but intelligent heroine, who narrates the tale in the first person as it unfolds. I realize there are readers for whom the first-person point of view is a deal-breaker, but in a suspense novel, the almost claustrophobic constraints of this point of view give a greater sense of immediacy and danger, as it eliminates the “middle man” of a third-person narrator who stands between the heroine and the reader. And while young/ingenue heroines have fallen out of fashion in recent years, the heroine’s youth means we can forgive her for errors in judgment that would be eyeroll-inducing in a more mature woman.
#5 Plunge your heroine into danger through accidental, even random, circumstance: she sees something she’s not supposed to see, she’s inadvertently given something that belongs to someone else, etc., and at first she may not recognize the significance of the event. (It’s interesting that romantic suspense heroines seem to share this element with many of Alfred Hitchcock’s heroes—a plot device Hitchcock dubbed the “MacGuffin”; perhaps it’s no coincidence that there is a significant overlap in Stewart and Hitchcock’s peak years.)
#6 Give your book a hero with something to hide, preferably something that ties into the mystery. Perhaps the heroine isn’t sure if he’s a good guy or bad guy, but even if she never mistakes him for the villain (or, if she does, soon realizes her error), he may still be a bit of an enigma that she must “solve” along with the mystery.
#7 The developing relationship between the hero and heroine relies on sexual tension rather than sex. Granted, part of this is because of the time Stewart was writing, but I think it makes sense in this genre in a couple of other ways, as well. For one thing, there’s the matter of trust: If she things he might be the villain, or otherwise fears she can’t trust him, she would be stupid to go to bed with him. Later in the book, any trust issues may have been resolved, but by this time the sense of danger is heightened. If her life, and perhaps his too, is in danger, and they stop everything for five to ten pages of hot sex, they probably deserve whatever the villain has planned for them! (But at least they’ll die happy? Hmm…)
#8. Let glimpses of humor show through. Besides helping maintain sexual tension (especially in the absence of actual sex), humorous moments allow readers to catch their breath between dangerous/suspenseful incidents.
#9. Sprinkle literary references throughout your book. I think it is this, more than any other element, that lifts Stewart’s work over the other romantic suspense authors of her day. It’s also the one I found the most daunting. Fortunately, the fact that my heroine was an English teacher meant she would have a knowledge of literature at her command. Furthermore, my own background as a writer of Regencies meant I was familiar with the Elgin Marbles and Lord Byron’s vociferously stated opinion of Lord Elgin’s removing them from Greece, both of which made their way into my book.
#10. Begin each chapter with an apropos quotation. Three words: Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. This can be time-consuming, but I’ve found readers respond to it very well. It gives them a little “mystery” at the beginning of each chapter, as they form their own theories as to how the quotation will relate to the action, and then read on to see if they were right.
 And there you have it. Even if my tips won’t turn you into Mary Stewart overnight, I hope they will enhance your reading of romantic suspense novels, or assist you in writing your own.

Note: Sheri's latest novel is in the Mary Stewart tradition:

Comments for Sheri welcome here!

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Sweet Spot for Book Length, by Susan Oleksiw

The annual survey by Smashwords turned up some interesting information. After I got past the news that Romance was the best-selling genre and mystery/crime fiction didn’t even make it to the top ten, I got hit with the most popular word length. Best-selling Romances are 90,000 to 110,000 words. These books are much longer than the average crime novel, and certainly longer than my first.

The preferred length of fiction in the mystery and crime fiction category has been creeping upward since the 1970s, if not earlier. When Walker Publishing published its mystery line, the standard length was 72,500. An editor I spoke with at a conference was adamant that manuscripts were expected to come in at that length, not over and not under. That’s less than 250 pages in a five-by-eight inch hardcover book. At the moment I have two recent mysteries sitting on my desk. The first is 497 pages and the second is 573 pages. Each page is still the standard thirty to thirty-five lines, with up to eight to eleven words per line. Is this necessary?

When I pick up one of the new mysteries that makes me feel I should head to the gym for some muscle building, I wonder if it will be good enough to justify all that paper (yes, I read on paper). Most of the classics I’ve read aren’t nearly as long as today’s typical mystery novel.

Many of what we consider classic works are satisfyingly short. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) tells a graceful and riveting story in 180 pages. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899), about a woman coming to know herself, is even shorter, more novella than novel. George Orwell only needs 96 pages in Animal Farm (1945) to condemn the corruption of society and politicians. James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956) needs only 176 pages. Shirley Jackson needed 214 pages in We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). Marilynne Robinson topped her at 219 pages in Housekeeping (1981).

These are novels we don’t forget, but they are also typical of some of the best writing in English. They are pared down and to the point. A sprawling novel like Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852-1853) has many more story lines (and needs 1,036 pages), and was written under different circumstances (serialization). But A Christmas Carol (1843) does the job in 80 pages.

The sweet spot for hard-cover crime fiction, I am told, is about 85,000 words. Cozy paperbacks tend to be shorter, coming in at 75,000 words. When I consider what I read and how I choose books, I find I sometimes select a title that is shorter than the long nonfiction or fiction work I just finished. I don’t want a steady diet of 300 or 450 page books.

I like variety in what I read as well as in what I write. The first Mellingham mystery, Murder in Mellingham (1993), came in at 88,000 words, and the most recent one, Come About for Murder (2016), came in at 72,000.

 To find more of my books in their various lengths, go to:

To learn more about what I'm writing, go to

Friday, June 30, 2017

Author Sharon Ervin on the Technique of Using Lurches

Author Sharon Ervin is our guest blogger today. She offers a piece on “lurches” and how writers should use them in their work.


       “What is an emergency?” Katy asked. Her friend Beth nodded solemnly. Both of their four-year-old faces were smeared with sweat and concern.
       “An emergency is something that usually happens suddenly and needs quick action or snap decisions.” I thought that was a good response, coming on the fly like it did.
       They frowned, linked arms and left muttering. A while later, they were back, still puzzled.
       “If there was a rhinoceros in the kitchen,” Beth asked, “would that be an emergency?”
       “Yes,” I said, my sincerity matching theirs, “a rhinoceros in the kitchen definitely would be an emergency.”
       “I thought so.”
       At a writers’ workshop once, the leader asked if we sometimes get “in the zone,” and write merrily along, producing humdrum prose. “What you need to do from time to time,” she said, “is lurch. Surprise your readers. Surprise yourself. Lurch.”
       I wrote the word in block letters on a card and placed it above my computer as a reminder to: “LURCH!”
       Katy and Beth had demonstrated what a lurch contributes to humdrum. Lurches come in many forms. They don’t have to be a dead body dropping from the sky to land at your feet, although that would be a good one, it can be anything out of the ordinary, unexpected, joyous or awful, simply unexpected or outrageous, like a rhino in the kitchen.
       Individual writers need lurches. They can be unforeseen, as in a car accident, an airplane crash, a bullseye bird dropping, a stumble, a kid panicking in a swimming pool, a fellow diner choking on his steak. There are all kinds of lurches, all of which catch the reader––sometimes even the writer––by surprise. A lurch is good for keeping us alert and awake.
       All of us––both readers and writers––enjoy the occasional wake-up call. As writers, we need to not disappoint.
Sharon Ervin 
Author of MEMORY, her twelfth published                        
romantic suspense, and JACK SPRAT COULD, 
coming in August, both from The                                              Wild Rose Press and both generously                                      seasoned with lurches.

Comments for Sharon welcome here!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Accidental Surprises

Have you ever been surprised when you went back and read something you wrote and realized there was a deeper meaning than you realized?

Such a happen circumstance is truly a gift.

An author buddy of mine recently received a couple of reviews that talked about the deeper meanings in her story. The character doesn't just solve a murder she learns more about her self, other people and society as a whole.

She admits to not deliberately trying to delve deeper into the character's psyche, but it was a natural result of the protagonists journey in the story.

When we force a deeper meaning on our readers it often comes off forced, preachy and false to the story. When it organically occurs everyone is happily surprised.

If we truly understand our character and allow their true "feelings, heart, gut and spirit" to appear on the page then magical things happen. We have to let go and let the character do their work. Be the scribe. Be the empath. Be the tool for the story to flow through.

Sounds esoteric doesn't it?
Creating a world of characters and making them come to life is magic. It comes from deep within the creative heart and mind. Much of what we channel is on a subconscious level and a wonderful surprise when it works on the page.

Have you ever experienced these surprises? 

Have your readers commented on them in their reviews? 

Let us know - it will inspire us knowing the magic still happens, we just have to be open to the possibilities and that them flow through us.

Enjoy the journey, my writing friends. It can be amazing.
Don't forget to keep good notes.
Amazon Author Page

Friday, June 9, 2017

Interview with Brenda Hill by Jacqueline Seewald

Today I am interviewing another Five Star/Cengage author.
Multi-published Brenda Hill studied writing at several national institutions including Gotham Writers Workshop NY, and the University of Iowa. Certified in Written English, she served as acquiring editor for an indie press and leads a critique group in SoCal. In addition to her novels, she wrote short stories for a national women’s magazine and a literary anthology,
The Talking Stick. She offers tips on writing and editing on her website: Brenda is sharing details of
her new venture with us.

Q: Brenda, you’re primarily a writer with several published novels. Why did you decide to venture into something so drastically different as publishing an e-magazine?

A. I sometimes wonder myself, Jacqueline, but by nature, I’ve always loved to try something new. I’ve lived in several states, and even in writing, I’ve explored different avenues. While primarily a novelist, I’ve been CEO of L. Cooper Press, a service for writers. We do websites, 3-Chapter Analysis, 1st Chapter Editing, and we assist writers who wish to self-publish but do not care to do everything themselves. I also wrote short stories for a national woman’s magazine and restaurant reviews for my SoCal newspaper. When I thought of a magazine for writers and readers, it seemed natural to go for it.  

Q. How did you get the idea?

A. I lead a critique group at a restaurant in Redlands, CA, and several of us arrive early, to have a bite to eat and to socialize. One evening several weeks ago, we celebrated a member’s newly-published fantasy novel.

One member, an older gentleman, examined the book. He congratulated the author. “Seems like everyone has something published except me,” he said, passing the book to the next member. “Makes me feel like a third wheel on a couples date.” He smiled, but I could hear the longing in his voice. I thought of my early days of writing when I desperately wanted to say I was an author.

One member suggested he try short stories, but that presented a problem: where to send his submission.

An anthology? Good idea. Some writers associations publish a yearly anthology, but they only accept submissions from their members. 

Magazines used to be great avenues for writers, but today, with only a few accepting fiction, the opportunity is greatly reduced. Many writers clubs across the county have their own emagazines, but again, they accept submissions only from their members. And they’re funded by dues.

That’s when I wondered if I could establish an avenue where writers could submit their stories and articles. An e-magazine open to anyone across the country would be a perfect solution. And I would offer it as a free download to anyone with access to the website.

Q. I believe our readers would be interested in how you handled the financing.

A. I decided against a business loan or funding by a large corporation. That could mean delays in opening, and both could ask for submission approval based on age-old publishing standards. Instead, I wanted the freedom to accept stories I, and the other editors, felt readers would enjoy.

So I wondered how I could fund my great new idea without constrictions. While I was considering the possibilities, another member mentioned the contest he’d recently entered, and excused the high submission fee as a possibility for his fiction to be read. A submission fee! Of course! I could use my own funds to begin the process, and ask for a low submission fee from the writers for operational costs. Then perhaps later, the magazine could accept ads.

Q. What terms are you offering writers whose stories you accept?

A. In our contract, we stipulate we have all rights for six months after publication. After that time, the author may publish the story on his/her website or even submit to another publication, but we retain the right to keep the story in that issue, which would be archived and available to anyone as a free download.

Q. Do you have a website yet?

A. Absolutely. Interested writers can read our guidelines, and if they have any questions, they can contact me from the site:

Brenda Hill

*Questions and/or comments for Brenda are welcome here!

Friday, June 2, 2017

What's in a cover? by Susan Oleksiw

One of the thrills of being a published writer is opening up a box of books and seeing your name on the cover. There’s no better feeling. (Well, perhaps signing a contract.) When I opened the box of free copies for the mass market paperback by Worldwide Mystery for the third Anita Ray novel, For the Love of Parvati, I was both thrilled and intrigued. This is the third edition of this book in the series, and the only thing the covers have in common is the color green.

I look to a cover to tell me what the book is about—violent, romantic, humorous, part of a series, frivolous, historical. If the cover doesn’t match the content, I’m disappointed and may never read anything by that author again. I put a lot of faith in the cover as well as the first few pages. I worry about the covers of my books, especially the Anita Ray series.

Not everyone wants to visit the sometimes chaotic world of India, so I want the covers to draw in the reader, to show the beauty of the landscape and the culture. The three covers for For the Love of Parvati have succeeded in conveying some of the qualities I want readers to get while reading.

The design on the jacket for the hardcover was done by Deirdre Wait, for Five Star. I got to see it before final approval, and I loved the cover. Every detail related to something in the story, but nothing could be considered a spoiler for the reader. The images captured the atmosphere of this part of South India during the monsoon, as well as the isolation of an old estate in the hills.

The cover for the trade paperback used a format that a designer worked out for me. She found a frame, in this case a marble inlay window, in which I could place an appropriate photo I’d taken in India. I gave her a few images and asked her to pick the one she thought would work best within the archway. Once again, the designer chose an old mansion outside a city, though you can’t really tell that from the cover. (For those who have looked closely and might be wondering, the building is now part of a school, which explains the blue sign on an upper balcony.)

The third cover, for the mass market paperback from Worldwide Mystery surprised me. It was different from the first two, but fit the story perfectly. The cover shows an old wooden bridge crossing a wide, rocky river in the hills. The remote mountain location, the wild water below the bridge, and the gray monsoon sky promise the story within.

Covers go through lots of permutations before a designer is fully satisfied. I was fortunate to have a chance to review a sample cover for the first Anita Ray book in the series, Under the Eye of Kali. I made a few suggestions, which the designer agreed with, and I was fully satisfied with the results.

I’ve had successful covers for the Anita Ray books, perhaps because the setting of South India inspires artists and designers, and there are now thousands of images available for use. The photos chosen for my books have always been spot on. But the designers have stayed close to the story line, and that means the covers are true to the story inside.

You can find my Anita Ray series here: