Monday, August 29, 2011

Please welcome Keith Cronin

Will you tell us about ME AGAIN, the characters and the plot line?

ME AGAIN is the story of two young stroke victims - Jonathan and Rebecca - who meet in a hospital. Jonathan has been in a coma for six years, and has lost his memory. Rebecca's personality has been radically changed by her stroke, making her a stranger to her husband. They are drawn together by how badly they fit in, and by the fact that they each understand what the other is going through. Ultimately they've got to decide what's more important - who they used to be, or who they can become. Although the book explores serious topics, there are a lot of funny moments. I'm going for kind of an "American Nick Hornby" vibe, with a mix of serious emotions and self-deprecating humor.

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

ME AGAIN grew out of an unfinished short story that I had abandoned and forgotten about. But I keep all my files, and one day I was idly re-reading some drafts I hadn't looked at in a couple of years, and I really fell in love with the voice in that story fragment. So I started thinking about how I might expand it into a larger story.

There were a couple of main inspirations. The Tom Hanks movie Castaway left a big impression on me - I thought that the incredible effort he made to get home only to find the world had moved on without him was just unbelievably heartbreaking. So I put Jonathan in a similar position, having him come out of a coma from which he was never expected to awaken, only to face a group of family and friends who had already made peace with the idea of him being gone forever. And to make things even harder, I took away his memory, but gave him an oversized conscience. He feels guilty about not remembering these people, so he tries to disguise that fact, and pretends to recognize these strangers who seem to know him all too well.

My other main character's situation was inspired by a real life scenario. Years ago, I had a friend whose sister had a stroke - a young woman who was recently married. The stroke changed her personality dramatically, leaving her young husband confused and alienated. I always felt that was such a heartbreaking, seemingly no-win situation, and the thought of it haunted me over the years. So when I began drafting ME AGAIN, I put Rebecca in a similar predicament. At the time I didn't know how major a character she would be, but ultimately Rebecca's conflict - and eventual transformation - become the climactic focal point of the book. That's what's so exciting about fiction: you never know where it will take you, or what it may teach you.

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

As far as having the story in mind, I was basically fleshing out a "what if?" premise, not really sure where it would take me. And because I am an overly ambitious idiot, I began working on ME AGAIN while I was also in grad school working on my MBA, and working a fulltime day job, and spending many weekends on the road touring in a band. To say I was stretched thin would be an understatement, and in the long run it probably slowed down the process of completing the book. There were also times when Real Life intruded and halted the book's progress entirely, but then when I'd return to it, it would seem more fresh and new to me, so maybe that was not entirely a bad thing. All told, it took about two and a half years to complete.

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

Both my parents were journalists, so writing is in the family DNA. But I didn't start to get serious about writing until my late 30s. I took a job as a technical writer, writing computer manuals, and discovered that some of my coworkers also dabbled in fiction. That made me curious, so in the late 90s I started studying the craft of fiction, and made several abortive attempts at writing a novel before I wised up and decided to start by taking smaller bites. I then shifted my focus to short stories, and managed to publish a few. But in my heart I wanted to write book-length fiction, so I finally finished my first novel, a mafia comedy, and secured a major agent around 2005. I had some nibbles, but ultimately the book went unsold, so I went back to the drawing board.

I started ME AGAIN in 2006, and began querying agents in the summer of 2008. I got another major agent, but pitching the book during the awful economy of 2009 was an uphill battle, and she finally gave up on the project. I was ready to throw in the towel myself when an online acquaintance from Backspace - a discussion forum for writers that has been my most valuable resource for many years - reached out to me and offered to refer me to Five Star, with whom she had published her first novel. I was in "what the hell" mode, so I sent them my manuscript, not thinking much about it. Next thing you know, they made an offer! I think sometimes you have to let go of something before it can actually happen for you. I would just like to get a little better - and a lot faster - at knowing when to let go!

What are you working on now?

I'm in the early stages of a modern-day, rock n' roll re-imagining of a classic 19th-century novel. But I'm one of those people who doesn't like to jinx a work in progress by revealing too much, so that's all I can tell you!

Your website tells of your other creative talents. Tell us about yourself.

Ever since seeing The Monkees on TV as a little boy, I wanted to be a drummer. So I followed that dream, and immersed myself in drumming at an early age. I was playing professionally by the time I was 14, and went on to study music at Indiana University. From there I embarked on a roller-coaster music career that has taken me from cruise ships to theme parks, from biker dives to giant arenas. In the late 80s I toured with guitar hero Pat Travers, and in the 90s I connected with E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons, and I played in his own band for the past 15 years, until his death this summer. Working with Clarence was an amazing experience, and through my association with him I was also able to perform and record with Bruce Springsteen. I still can't believe Clarence is gone, but am immeasurably grateful for the amazing experiences I had while touring with him.

Where can readers find your books?

At the library! Five Star specializes in selling beautifully made hardcover books to libraries, so if you want to check out my stuff without spending your hard-earned money, try your local library. (And if they don't have ME AGAIN, please ask them to consider ordering it.) But you will also be able to find my book at your favorite online booksellers, such as Amazon or IndieBound (a great site that will direct you to independent bookstores in your area). The book should be available the second week of September.

I'd like to add that 25% of everything I make from ME AGAIN is being donated to the American Stroke Association. Stroke is the third leading cause of death, and the leading cause of adult disability. My hope is that my little what-if story can do something to help change that, while still managing to entertain people on airplanes and beaches.

Links for additional information:


Video book trailer:

Friday, August 26, 2011

Writers are often thought of as wordsmiths. We experiment with words.  We change, delete, substitute, alter and embellish words. If infamous doesn’t do the job in a sentence, maybe villainous would or how about ill-famed ? It’s a good thing the English language is flexible! The basic wisdom learned from writer’s workshops is ‘you shouldn’t stop to revise’, but many authors have their own marked idiosyncrasies.  I’m committed to overwriting as I go. I could be labeled a quintessential experimenter because I continually go back to the pages I’ve written and tweak, change, delete words and reconstruct sentences. Admittedly, it slows my writing but that’s my style and it grows from what to leave in and what to take out. “Start over until it sings” could be my by-line.

Author Elizabeth Lowe says ‘Voice is the writer’s fingerprint.’ Much of my voice and style is inspired by past experiences – family, people I’ve met, journey’s I’ve taken. I try to establish my voice through my characters. When people learn that I was the youngest of nine sisters and four brothers, their eyebrows lift. “Ten girls!” they say, “There’s your book. There has to be a story in that family.”

Actually, there is something from my maternal great grandmother in the first book of my contemporary Maine Shore Chronicles series. In Finding Fiona, the character, Tanté Margaret’s grandmér Hetty is prescient, a seer, and healer. In French she was called a  Guèirsseur. There is a Scot in the time travel twist of Finding Fiona’s plot and if grandmér Hetty had been Scottish, she would have been called a ban-lichiche. Perhaps you can tell that I love to find foreign words that fit into my story line. My readers have told me they like the ethnic characters found in the Chronicles series, and especially they appreciate the French and Gaelic phrases sprinkled through the dialog.  Book Two, Moonglade takes up where Finding Fiona left off. It is a blend of mystery and romance with the same regional flavor and strong family dynamics.

Chronicles series Book Three, Promise Keeper will be released from the publisher, Five Star/Cengage on  October 21st.  It explores the bonds of family and the resiliency of the human spirit. Danger and intrigue foil protagonist Paul Fontaine’s search for a stolen painting and the woman who donated it to his gallery. Tanté Margaret continues as a secondary character- but a very important one- she is the Promise Keeper in Book Three. My readers’ favorite ( so they tell me)  continuing character in the series is Tanté  Margaret, the  reluctant clairvoyant.  

Tanté finally has a book of her own in my current work in progress. She is a woman of faith and her point that her gift is from God is one that I could also make. I feel that my writing has been a gift from God. I’ll close with a paraphrased quote of Eric Liddell shared by my friend and fellow author, Sharon Irvin – “When I write I feel God’s pleasure”.  In French, I would say moi aussi. Me too!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Journal Writing: The Real Deal

Journal Writing: Valuable Resource for Writers

by Jacqueline Seewald

When I taught creative writing both at the university and high school, one of the course requirements for students was to keep a journal. I feel it’s an excellent source of inspiration as well as a resource for writers.

What exactly is a journal? It’s a record, an entry-book, kept regularly, though maybe not everyday. These entries are dated and honest. We can use journals to describe things, increasing our powers of observation. For example, we can describe places: houses, sidewalks, backyards and streets, cities. Consider your journal as a travelogue. Describe people, interesting or unusual, the ordinary too.

Jot down snatches of conversation. Think of your journal as a treasure trove or jewel box in which to place gems (quotes, pithy ideas, epigrams, insights, puns, nutshell wisdom). Write a little; think a lot.

Consider your journal as a laboratory for experiment. View your journal as a new wardrobe. Try on different styles. See what suits you, what fits and what doesn't. Think of your journal as a psychoanalyst's couch or a confessional. Explore your depths, dreams, fantasies, truths, sins. Regard your journal as a tape recorder attached to your brain. Record your thought associations, stream-of-consciousness. Consider your journal as a confidante. Much of your journal can provide fine raw material for future writing.

When I was teaching English at the high school level, I wrote in my journal regularly. A lot of those thoughts, comments, and description came into play when I wrote THE TRUTH SLEUTH. Many readers have commented that this romantic mystery novel has the vivid ring of veracity about it. Not surprising since the book is the real deal.

Do you keep a journal at present? If so, does it prove helpful? If not, is it something you might wish to do in the future?

Friday, August 12, 2011


Great Food
By June Shaw
I live in south Louisiana and am accustomed to Cajun dishes. Some readers of my humorous mysteries ask why I haven’t set my series in our area. Of course we have interesting characters, a unique culture, and fabulous meals. But my protagonist wants to travel—just like me. She and I like to see various places while we still eat great food. That’s why her hunky sometimes-ex lover that she tries to avoid owns a chain of Cajun Delights restaurants. And some of his restaurants happen to be opening in places she travels—and she is horrible at avoiding tempting dishes and men, but—
Here’s the thing. Some people joke and say every Cajun dish begins with a roux. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, a roux is a mixture of almost equal parts oil and flour stirred over a low fire until it turns golden brown. It’s what thickens and darkens our gumbos and stews and many other dishes. And it’s not actually used for everything—not cake anyway.
You might start with a small roux, such as 3 T. flour and 3 T oil, although some people make them much larger, maybe 1/3 C. of each. Roux can be saved in the refrigerator for quite a long time. You’d cook a roux in a heavy pot and after it’s uniformly brown, add onions and other desired seasonings, stirring until transparent, and then add needed liquid.
Here’s one recipe for a Chicken Stew: 1 large hen, 3 onions, 1 bell pepper, 1 large T. cooking oil, ½ cup flour, green onions and parsley, salt and red pepper to taste. Cut up the chicken, chop bell pepper and onions very fine. Brown the chicken in hot oil. Remove the chicken and add flour. Stir until this mixture is light brown. Add onions and pepper and cook about five minutes. Then add the chicken and one quart or more of boiling water. Season with salt and pepper and when almost done, add green onions and parsley. Stir the stew as it thickens to prevent burning. If you like mushrooms, add a can toward the end. Serve this dish over rice. Yummy!
Stuffed Crabs: 1 C. crab meat, 1 large onion, 2 T. flour, 2 T. cooking oil, 1 C. stale bread broken into pieces, ¼ C. chopped bell pepper, ¼ C. chopped celery, 2 T. parsley, ½ C. water, salt and pepper to taste. Make a golden brown roux with oil and flour. Add bell pepper, onion, and celery; cook five minute. Add water and cook till thick. Add crab meat and cook about 15 minutes. Add bread and chopped parsley. This will stuff about four crab shells. Sprinkle them with bread crumbs and brown in the oven. Terrific!
Actually I am not a woman who enjoys staying in the kitchen, although my mother and her mother loved to cook. So does my squeeze Bob.
Bob is a terrific Cajun cook, so when I want some of his great recipes to include in my books, I ask and he writes them. You can find samples in the first two books in my series, RELATIVE DANGER, which is now also available on Kindle and Smashwords for just 2.99, and KILLER COUSINS, available in hardcover and soon an e-book, Be looking for DEADLY REUNION, the third book in my series, in July. In this murder mystery, a class reunion takes place on a cruise ship in Alaska. I loved doing the research.
Have you ever eaten Cajun dishes? If so, what are your favorites? Have you tried cooking any?
I love to eat but keep busy and like faster dishes. That’s why I offer my Oven Dressing, which my family loves, on my Web site, Lots of people down here spend hours preparing dressing, but my great recipe lets you throw everything raw in a casserole and stick it in the oven. I hope you’ll check it out. Thanks for letting me join you today. June
Here’s a link to my first book in the series, which can be read on an e-reader. Deadly Ink nominated it for their David award for Best Mystery of the Year:

Monday, August 8, 2011

History of Coffeehouses

Coffee houses first appeared in Europe in the 17th century, probably in Venice. Ottoman traffic with the Venetians brought the shops to the island, and the idea spread from there. In 1652 the first coffee house in England was started in Oxford, and run by a Jewish businessman. The building still exists, and is now known as The Grand Café.

Because my current work-in-progress is set partially in Warsaw, I was interested to learn that the first Polish café, as coffee house were called, was in Warsaw, begun be an enterprising courtier in 1724.

Charles II tried to discourage the patrons of coffeehouses, insisting the gathering places were filled with disgruntled citizens who spread rumors about the present monarch, but citizens ignored the warning and flocked there in droves, assuring the owners of a handsome profit.

Women were banned from most coffeehouse in Europe, especially in England and France, but Germany, for the most part, allowed women to join in the pastime.

In London, Jonathan’s Coffee House posted  stock and commodity prices, a list that eventually evolved into the London Stock Exchange.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, coffee houses became the preferred gathering place for artists and writers, so with the advent of coffee shops in bookstores, the trend continues.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Writer at Home

As soon as I knew I was going to be a regular member of the Author Expressions blog I started a list of things to write about and came up with the expected topics, but as the list grew, I thought perhaps I should introduce myself and give readers an idea of how I think and what matters to me as a writer. I scribbled down a list of eight things, and as I looked it over I could see that this list pretty much defines my life as a writer and has for several years. But then I looked at the list again and to me it seemed like a classroom exercise--how to be a dutiful writer.

While I was mulling over what to do I came across a notice that the University of Virginia has put online tapes of readings by William Faulkner. That got me thinking about the many voices of writers in this country and the many places they lived. And of course, that sent me into another room to locate an old book that belonged to my mother called Literary America (Dodd, Mead, 1952). This book is full of photographs of the homes and settings of American writers, and Faulkner's section includes five photographs of homes that lurk in the background of his stories. The grand house where Miss Emily might have lived enriches my feeling for the story and its characters.

Thomas Wolfe's section has a photograph of his mother's boarding house in Asheville, NC, which I visited with friends. The guide told us that young Tom, after a certain age, had no room or bed of his own. Instead, every night he wandered through the boarding house looking for a bed that was empty. When I told this story to another friend, she said, Well, yes, you can see it in his sentences that seem to go on forever, sort of wandering and meandering until they just stop. I look at a writer's home now with a very different eye.

I frequently come across another book, American Writers at Home (Library of America, 2004), which includes photographs of the writers' desks and work rooms and, often, of the writers working at their desks. Eudora Welty sits up straight and types with her arms outstretched. Hemmingway's table in his writing room sits beneath a mounted head, with french doors open to a bright, sunny day.

I love these kinds of books because I think we are shaped by place, not just as people but also as writers, and because I'm endlessly curious about how other people go about their work. My work space isn't nearly as serene or beautiful or messy as some. But I suppose it does reflect me. Every writer needs a space of her own (if not a room, as Virginia Woolf insisted), and I am fortunate to have a room of my own, which I usually share with the dog.

My desk has changed over the years, but whichever one I have, be it a long picnic table, an old vanity table, or my father's old desk, it sits in the same spot, giving me a view of the front door through one window, and a view of the sidewalk (if I stand up a bit and crane my neck to see over the printer). I keep the surface clear as much as possible, trying to stack papers neatly while I'm working.

The best part is that I'm surrounded by books, perhaps too many books, since many of them sit on the floor and on stools waiting to be read or put away. I have a comfortable chair to sit in, which desperately needs to be reupholstered, and another chair that the dog likes to stand on (when I'm not around to stop him) so he can see out the window.

This is my space, and I come here all times of the day and night to work. It's always ready, always set up for what I want to do. I like the calm, the dedicated space, the familiarity of the place. When I've finished a book or a story, I rush around trying to tidy the place up--a sign that I really have finished the job. I weed out old papers, make stacks of books to pass on, and make lists (I do love lists) of things to get done in the next few weeks (I never finish them all).

This is my setting, the place where I will be writing the next Anita Ray, working out the details of a new series character and her life, writing short pieces like this one for Author Expressions, and daydreaming. I'm a big believer in daydreaming.