Friday, June 27, 2014

Mystery,Mystery- is more better?

My book club is called Books and Banter. I  like that title so much I may use it for my personal blog, some day soon. One of the books our book club recently read and discussed was A Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. It fit right in with my love of mystery, so I was happy to lead the discussion. It was Penny's eighth installment in a series of nine books by this talented, award winning author.

A Beautiful Mystery still features Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete de Quebec investigating a murder, but in this story, the victim is found in a remote monastery of cloistered monks, Saint Gilbert in the wilderness.  I enjoyed this book as I did the others in the series.

Most of Ms. Penny's books are set in the village of Three Pines, instilling the trust and friendship of the village characters in beautiful prose.  Her writing is lyrical and she always uses setting to support the theme. I think she does so brilliantly.The murder victim in this story revived my memory of the famous Dionne Quints of Canada, and I thought Penny had contrived a good plot, but after reading  installment number nine,How The Light Gets In,  the  sub-plot of police based corruption connected to government conspiracy, seemed unbelievable. Yes, it made the last third of the book suspenseful, but then the ending seemed contrived.

Louise Penny has one more book in the works, due out in August.She titles her last book, The Long Way Home.  I would like to read more about the eccentric and memorable characters in Three Pines village, and I hope I'm not disappointed., but I'm beginning to believe the notion that the quality of writing fades with  too many books. I hope not. For mystery lovers who would like to read her books in order, they are:

  1. Still Life
  2. A Fatal Grace
  3. The Cruelest Month
  4. A Rule Against Murder
  5. The Brutal Telling
  6. Bury Your Dead
  7. A Trick of The Light
  8. The Beautiful Mystery
  9. How The light Gets In
My own trilogy, Maine Shore Chronicles, a blend of mystery and romantic suspense is still available. The last two istallments, Moonglade and Promise Keeper are still selling in hard cover, but if you didn't catch the first book, Finding Fiona before it went out of print,you can read them all together as Ebooks in my Boxed Set Trilogy available on Amazon.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 20, 2014

What We Can Learn from Miley Cyrus and James Patterson by Jacqueline Seewald

How do writers become bestselling authors? Publicity seems to be one crucial element.
To get fans, writers have to become known in the first place. Miley Cyrus has done outrageous things to draw attention and it’s worked for her. Ironically, she’s been criticized by fellow performers who in their heyday were just as outrageous in courting publicity. Donald Trump has observed that there is no such thing as bad publicity, only publicity--which draws attention to an individual and his or her work. In the case of writers, publicity traditionally would be accomplished through the efforts of a publisher who has a PR staff that solicits significant reviews and promotes an author through numerous channels. But nowadays, this is often not the case. Also, many writers are currently self-publishing their work. This too changes how publicity can be obtained.

In the current issue of AARP Magazine, James Patterson wrote an article entitled “The Book That Changed My Life.” Was he talking about something shocking and contemporary? Perhaps a bible on how to obtain recognition and publicity?  Not exactly. He was actually discussing one of my favorite books: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, written in1759. Novelists in that era weren’t afraid to be different, original and creative. As Patterson observes, Laurence Sterne broke the rules of fiction writing and created a masterpiece. Maybe we can’t all be that talented, but who’s to say? Patterson says that authors shouldn’t write to any pre-conceived formula. We need to express what is unique to ourselves in our own way. By writing work that stands out from the herd, we can get recognition and acclaim.

As for me, I have a recently published YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER  from Astraea Press to publicize which I hope will draw readers--not solely teenagers either.

  THE BAD WIFE, 4th in the Kim Reynolds mystery series, is collecting some very good reviews. You can check them out on Amazon:

Two historical romances are currently available from SteamEreads:


Winner in the “Some Like It Hot” writing contest



Tea Leaves is a Regency novel previously published by Five Star/Gale in hardcover and Thorndike Press in hardcover large print. This novel received a cover blurb/endorsement from Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick. Mary Balogh provided editorial suggestions early on as well.

Forgive the commercial message. Getting back to the subject at hand, Miley Cyrus is a fine performer. She behaves outrageously, but in the end, it will be her talent by which she will be ultimately judged. That is true of all artists including writers.  James Patterson who is a mega bestselling author provides us with the key to success. We must be unique and original, not imitative in our writing. However, promotion and publicity won’t hurt either.

What are your thoughts and opinions on this topic? Is there anything you recommend from the perspective of reader and/or writer?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life

I just finished reading THE LITERARY LADIES GUIDE TO THE WRITING LIFE by Nava Atlas.  A writer friend of mine told me about one of the metaphors Madeleine L'Engle uses about letting her ideas simmer slowly, with several pots cooking at once, she drops ideas in each one until the pot is full and then brings it to the front of the stove. That's the story she begins to write. I really enjoyed it!

[On Writing] "To work on a book is for me very much the same thing as to pray. Both involve discipline... Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear." 
~ Madeleine L'Engle

Some of the authors that Atlas shares with us include Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Charlotte Bronte, Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, Virginia Woolf, Edith Warton and many more notable women writers. What I found most amazing was from the mid 1600's to today all women writers struggle with writing time, developing a voice, recognition of their work, fighting inner demons, handling rejection, making money and finding inspiration. They found their stories in not only day-to-day issues, but global ones as well. From letters and interviews we learn a lot about these classic authors. And personally, it warmed my heart to see that we still share the insecurity and the heady excitement as such esteemed authors.

[On Reviews] "You read these things, you hear them, you face them as you would face any misfortune, with as much good grace as you can summon. Success or failure, you go on to the next piece of work at hand." ~Edna Ferber

We're all familiar with Uncle Tom's Cabin, A Wrinkle in Time, My Antonia, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Little Women, A Room of One's Own, just to name a few of the notable works we've been hearing about since we were children. Many we've read or seen the motion picture, so the stories and characters are familiar.

[On Writing] "Risk is essential. It's scary. Every time I sit down and start the first page of a novel I am risking failure." ~ Madeleine L'Engle

I like to think that what Jacqui, Susan, Maggie, Mary and I are trying to do at Author Expressions is similar. Sharing our experiences and encouraging other authors along the path. I hope you'll ask questions, share ideas and concerns with us and keep the discussion going. And if you get a chance to read this book, it's a good glimpse into the lives of some of the greats.

Enjoy the journey my author friends.

Friday, June 13, 2014

"I’m Not A Forensic Anthropologist… But I Play One In Fiction"

Jacqueline Seewald:

Hi, I previously interviewed Jen J. Danna for Author Expressions when her first mystery novel was published. Today, she is our guest blogger. As a scientist specializing in infectious diseases, Jen is part of a dynamic research group at a  Canadian university. Her true passion, however, is indulging her love of the mysterious through her writing. Together with her partner Ann Vanderlaan, she crafts suspenseful crime fiction with a realistic scientific edge. Her Skeleton Keys blog at has been listed by ITSGOV and as one of the top forensic blogs on the web. Jen lives near Toronto, Ontario with her husband and two daughters, and is a member of the Crime Writers of Canada. You can reach her at As a mystery author myself, I find her writing fascinating. Okay—here’s Jen!

Everyone wants to have their own angle when they write a novel—something unique to interest readers. But when constantly told there are only a handful of constantly recycled universal storylines, writers need to find their own take on those stories. Be it a background in law, an interest in quilting, or a love of military history, a great way to pull readers into your story is to share your love of the topic with them.

In my case, it’s science. I’m a scientific researcher in my day job at the same university that awarded me my Bachelor of Science degree. And while I have 20 years (or maybe more *cough cough*) in the business of infectious diseases, it’s the science of forensics that really caught my attention.
So, for fun, I taught myself the field of forensic anthropology (yes, I hear you cry, that’s fun? Actually, it is for me…). I’ve always found it fascinating how experts can tell the story of a murder victim given nothing more than their skeletal remains. The idea of someone who speaks for the dead like this fascinates me. Thus Dr. Matt Lowell, forensic anthropologist, was born. Matt is paired with Trooper Leigh Abbott of the Massachusetts State Police because someone who speaks for the dead needs someone to stand for them. From a burial ground of torture victims in DEAD, WITHOUT A STONE TO TELL IT, to the remains of a young woman, tossed away at a landfill in NO ONE SEES ME ‘TIL I FALL, to arson victims in A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH, or the discovery of a victim in a long forgotten Prohibition-era speakeasy in the upcoming TWO PARTS BLOODY MURDER, Matt and Leigh are a formidable team, dealing with what can be the messiest of the dead in their relentless drive to find justice for their victims.

As part of learning this background material, I’ve blogged on the topic of forensic anthropology and forensics on my Skeleton Keys blog for more than three years. Every week we cover a new topic (note—I say ‘we’ because my writing partner, Ann Vanderlaan, stands as editor for all my blog posts) around the basics of forensic anthropology, forensics, or the discovery of historic remains.

The Forensics 101 series of blog posts may occasionally have been unintentionally misleading. I’ve been called by the CBC here in Canada, when they were looking to interview a forensic anthropologist. Recently I was contacted by a gentleman who acquired a real human skull and was looking for someone to examine it for age, sex and race. In both cases, I was very honest about my background—I’m not a real forensic anthropologist, I just play one in fiction. In the case of the skull identification, the gentleman was aware of my background, but allowed me to take a stab at it anyway (for those who are interested, it was a male, of American white heritage, between the ages of ­­40 and 45, based solely on pictures of the skull and without any of the post cranial skeleton for confirmation). So sometimes, the role you play in fiction can become the roll you play in real life.

Whatever your passion, find a way to embed it naturally into your writing. The readers who share that love will find you and will stay with you for the long haul.

Thanks, Jen for providing us with this wonderful discussion. Comments and questions are most welcome!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Keeping Up with Your Characters

The hardest part of writing crime fiction has turned out to be something I didn’t expect, and something I’ve only now, after nine novels, started to think about. Working out some of the clues in the third Anita Ray novel, For the Love of Parvati, taught me some important lessons about keeping up with my characters. 

In graduate school I read through all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels without ever being troubled by the woman’s age, or her failure to age along with the world around her. The elderly woman of the 1930s accepting invitations to weekend parties in the country was the elderly woman of the 1950s exploring the new housing developments on the edge of the village. In contrast I also read Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series, and enjoyed the subplot of the inspector’s personal life, including the challenges of dealing with his growing children.

When I started writing the Mellingham series with Chief of Police Joe Silva, I hadn’t considered how his life would change. He was a man in his fifties when he walked onto the page, and I thought I would find enough murderous business while he was in that decade to not worry about anything else. I was wrong. He fell in love at the end of the third book in the series, Family Album, and his beloved came with a ready-made family.

Things have evolved differently for Anita Ray. I hadn’t given much thought to her getting married and starting a family, but I assumed that would happen, and was waiting for the right setting to develop. But again, I was wrong. Instead of the traditional passage, Anita becomes more deeply involved in photography. She appeared as a photographer in the first line of the first story, and in every adventure she’s using her camera to solve crimes.

Anita uses a Pentax because I use one. I have my eye on another camera but that will have to wait. Meanwhile I find myself trying to keep up with Anita. She’s curious, so she has opened her camera to see if there’s anything wrong inside. Professional guidebooks always warn against this, but Anita doesn’t take advice. And apart from the advice for beginners, professional photographers like to know their equipment intimately. This was a challenge for me, but I rose to it and opened my camera and took a look inside.

Anita looks at everyone and everything as though she were looking through a lens. This gives her distance and a sense of the narrative of what she’s looking at. To her everything is an image, and everyone is telling a story.

For a while Anita has had a gentleman friend, someone her aunt doesn’t approve of. This has provided me with numerous opportunities to play with Auntie Meena’s prejudices and frustrated dreams as a mother and marriage broker. But the man in question is leaving Anita in Book 4, and will not return as her beloved.

Anita runs a photography gallery, which brings her a modest income and gets her out of her aunt’s Hotel Delite, with its attendant duties and mini crises. I have mounted two photography exhibits for a local library gallery, so I know how much work it takes. I’ve also submitted to juried shows (and been accepted for a few).

I’m keeping up with Anita, but just barely. For each story I have to learn about and do more with my camera. Usually when writers talk about characters getting away from them, they mean the characters say unexpected things. With Anita, she veers off in directions as a photographer that make me scramble to keep up. She forces me to learn, and perhaps in the end I’ll be as good a photographer as I think she is.

For more about Susan and the Anita Ray series, including links to her books, go to