Monday, August 18, 2014

Motivation & Courage

"Way down deep, we're all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them."
~Jim Davis

"Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway. ~John Wayne

It takes a lot of courage to stay motivated as an author. With the popularity and availability of self-publishing and e-publishing many more authors have the opportunity to get their stories out there.

Now there is more competition than ever before. There are fewer traditional publishers (they've been gobbled up). Millions of books are being published each year but only a dozen authors are millionaires and a small percentage of the rest make a living with their writing.

Why do we do it? Because we're story tellers. We're compelled to write, not one book, but another and another, and so on. It is our craft, our passion and defines who we are.

For centuries artists, scholars, scribes - by whatever name you use to describe us - have gone to the page to create. That page may be paper or computer screen, but it is still a blank canvas for us to show you what happens.

It is said that everyone has a story inside them. I can see that. But many never write the story down or it's never complete. It takes courage to follow the story to the end. It takes motivation to fill the empty vessel.

We sometimes feel afraid to proceed. The "What if" question is not only a story tool, but it's an impediment to the writer. 

"What if no one will publish it?"
"What if readers don't like what I have to say?"
"What if I can't find the words to finish the story?"

There are so much more to writing than just having an idea. The expression of that idea, the investment in the characters, plot and flow that we have to make is like child birth. Something wonderful is happening inside and someday it will be mature enough to breathe on its own. It takes months and months (sometimes years) to be ready for the world. Before it is born we'll nurture it and build it up so that it can stand alone in the world. Then we'll tell everyone we know (and even those we don't know) how beautiful our baby is - and hope that the world will agree.

We can't be afraid. We must write. We must tell the story.

Bonnie Tharp’s novel, Feisty Family Values was published by Five Star Publishing in hardback and released in February 2010. Patchwork Family was released in paperback by Bell Books Publishing in March of 2014. You can find out more about Bonnie & her books at

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When a Computer Stares at You by June Shaw

Today Author Expressions is pleased to welcome as our guest blogger veteran author June Shaw. Her writing is well-known to fans of both mystery and romance novels. And now here's June!

What do you do if you get to your computer, ready to become “The Next Greatest Author in the World”—and all it will do is stare back at you?
Your fingers want to touch the keyboard and start striking keys that will make the story you’re creating work well in all areas. You must start in the exact place that will draw readers in. Your very first word and first line must be perfect. Make readers care. Doesn’t something have to happen right there, something that’s going to ensure that they won’t put your book down until the last sentence, and they’ll be shouting, “I want more!”
Certainly you need to create characters who fly off the page, who your readers will care about and not want to leave. They have to be perfect. No, actually they shouldn’t. Your main characters must be likeable but with flaws (so you can’t think of any? Look around, or inside yourself.) Your female lead has to be beautiful (if you’re writing romance), and a striking alpha male would go with her. Mysteries will give you much more leeway for creating people. You’re going to want interesting secondary characters, but only in longer works. Short stories won’t allow space for developing them, even if they start to become so interesting that they’re creeping into the most important spot and taking over your work. If that happens, what will you do with those people? Toss them out like candy wrappers? Consider using them as main characters in another story? So then which story will you begin working on now?
Besides these people, your novel will need a well-balanced plot. This story line will have to race and peak at certain parts and in other places let readers catch their breaths, but just for a second, before you race toward the showdown and slam on the brakes at the end.
After you complete this one-of-a-kind yet not too different masterpiece, you’ll have to let it sit. How long? Half an hour? Two days? A week while you take a well-earned cruise, until you remember you can’t afford one?
Whenever you can’t stand the wait any longer, you get back to your work of art. Only this time, something’s happened to that first sentence. Surely someone hacked into your computer and replaced your enticing draw with dull words. You yourself wouldn’t read beyond this, so what can you do? Start all over of course. Decide that your whole work must have poured out of your fingers well before your first cup of java reached your system, and all of the words you jotted must be thrown away and new ones put in? Or possibly you can force yourself to read the entire work again, this time making your soul bleed while you struggle to improve each word before you type it, all the while knowing that after you finish many drafts of this work, you will need other eyes (that don’t belong to your family) to decide whether these readers agree that it’s good.
Or should you plot before you start? When your fingers are striving to hit the first word in your tome, should you draw them back and make them wait? Possibly if you use a pen and legal pad, you could see where to begin your story and where peak and valleys might go. But a pencil and notebook might work better so that you can erase and feel more like you did when you were accomplishing so much back in school.
Maybe you should just wait awhile till an idea strikes. Surely a better idea than the one touching your mind will come up next week. A month from now will give you time to consider what type story or novelette or novel you really should write.
You have one major decision to make. Do you want to be a writer?
If so, then when that blank screen that wants the first page of your book or the first sentence of your next chapter stares at you, instead of just staring back at it, you will do something, something that will further the writing career you chose. Write a word. Make a list. Come up with names if you must. Jot down all the awful things that could possibly happen to make your character’s life miserable, even all those that don’t make sense. See which ideas excite you, and go with them.
Or set your fingers on your computer keys and begin typing. Write a title or a sentence to start or go on from where you stopped. They can be changed later.
Keep typing.
The thing to remember is you wanted to write. You’re stronger than a blank page, no matter how threatening it may look. What comes later might seem overwhelming, but won’t be if you start. Keep going. Strike those keys. Beat that screen. You will thank yourself for being a winner.

Thank you, June! Anyone with questions or comments for our guest author, please feel free.
You can also find out more about June and her novels at:

Friday, August 8, 2014

August Heat: Summer Reading Recommendations by Jacqueline Seewald

Last month, I blogged on the topic of summer reading. This month I want to take that a step further. With people going on vacation, sitting at beaches, pools and on cruise ships, many individuals enjoy relaxing with a good book. And there certainly are a lot of them being published. So I’ll suggest several novels I’ve read so far this summer and particularly liked. I’m asking that you join me in suggesting books that you recently enjoyed reading—or your own novels if you’re a fellow author.

My husband and I both appreciated John Grisham’s SYCAMORE ROW. I left a review for the novel on Goodreads and Amazon. This novel is supposed to be a sequel to the critically well-reviewed A TIME TO KILL. In my opinion, it’s even stronger. Grisham’s greatest talent is in writing beginnings with a powerful narrative hook. But this novel never wavers throughout. Characterization and plotting are excellent. You simply don’t want to put the book down. It’s a serious, thoughtfully written novel.

Another novel that we both enjoyed and just finished reading is THE CHASE by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. This is a fast-paced humorous caper which follows THE HEIST, another O’Hare/Nicolas Fox novel. Yes, the plot is outrageous and improbable but it’s still fun. We enjoyed both books in this new series, but I think THE CHASE is the better of the two. The series is gathering steam and I hope it continues.

I’ll also recommend my own most recent books:

The fourth Kim Reynolds mystery THE BAD WIFE (and yes, she is very, very bad!) was published by Perfect Crime Books. It is available both in print and e-book editions.

My Regency romance TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS received an excellent blurb endorsement from Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick which appears on the cover of that novel, published both as a hardcover from Five Star/Gale and in large print from Thorndike Press. Mary Balogh also read this novel and offered helpful editorial suggestions prior to publication. SteameReads has published this novel in a newly edited e-book formats.

I won SteameReads “Some Like It Hot” romance novel writing contest with my sensual Georgian romance THE CHEVALIER. That novel was published and is also available in all e-book formats.

My “clean read” YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER was recently published as an e-book in all formats by Astraea Press. This YA novel is a good reading experience for mothers and daughters to share. It’s not just for teens. Although a romance, it's also a coming-of-age novel, the main theme being family values.

Finally, I will mention my book of short stories, BEYOND THE BO TREE, published as an e-book by Authentic Press.
I collected together some of my best diverse stories for reader enjoyment. The first story in the group is a free read.

Okay, now here’s your opportunity to share the books you think will make for good summer reading. Don’t be shy! Comments/suggestions are welcome here.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Finding the Story in the Experience

Over the years I've taken a lot of photographs, mostly in India. But I've also missed a lot of good ones too. My favorites are usually those of people engaged in traditional work, exhibiting skills and practices that are no longer commonly known. Perhaps I should have been an anthropologist, but I find writing about them in fiction enormously rewarding. A recent story I wrote grew out of this combined interest in photography and traditional work.

I always stay in the same hotel in Kovalam, India, and, if I'm lucky, the same room. From the terrace I can see the ocean, beaches, people passing by, and, best of all, the men climbing to harvest coconuts. I've been watching this process since 1976, when the climbers visited the lots across the street from where we lived in Trivandrum. But only from the terrace of a hotel have I managed to get photographs that show the work of the harvester.

The government of India is concerned that fewer and fewer men are taking up this profession, despite good pay for good climbers. The government has invited ideas to make climbing easier for newcomers interested in the job, but most of the ideas have been as foolish as the climbers are agile. Inventors have proposed special ladders, cherry-picking machines, and the like. Their emphasis is on safety, which is understandable. Still, the equipment is absurd compared to what humans can do, and would be almost impossible to use in many locations where the trees are growing.

Traditional climbers use only a band made from a strand of the palm leaf to anchor their feet. They climb three and four stories with nothing but their physical strength to keep them on the trunk of the palm tree. And they carry a machete at their waist. These knives are heavy to carry and to wield. At the top of the tree they hold themselves in place with one hand and cut down the coconuts with the knife in the other.

These men are a marvel, but their skill is not as rare as one might think. An autorickshaw driver invited me to meet his family. We drove to his home and there, as I chatted with his wife and daughter, he offered me a drink. When I thanked him and said yes, he turned and climbed the coconut tree leaning over his one-story house. It was the most natural thing in the world for him to do, apparently.

I've watched these men climb and harvest since 1976, but not until I began talking about them with the hotel manager did I learn about their lives. As a young (well, younger) man he knew several as friends, and he could explain aspects of the profession few others knew about. The more he talked, the more I could feel a story taking shape. I wasn't sure what it would be exactly but I knew there was one in there.

A couple of months later, after I returned to the States, I wrote "Perfect in Every Way," a story about Anita Ray and a climber who works for Hotel Delite. The story concerns an older climber who marries a younger woman. I sold the story to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, which has published a number of Anita Ray stories.


Anita's current investigation, in For the Love of Parvati, explores another aspect of Kerala, the pilgrimage season and practices for visiting Sabarimala, a holy site open to men and women of all faiths (with some restrictions on age for women).

I writ some of my best stories sitting at a desk at Hotel Aparna, glancing out the window at the ocean, the climbers, crows, and the occasional tourist taking the stairs to the roof of a nearby hotel.