Friday, October 24, 2014

. Settings and Wars - Patriots and Patriotism

FOUR SUMMERS WAITING  was my first published print book. Its setting was Long Island,New York, 1861 Washington City, and the battlegrounds of Virginia. . It is a Civil War saga that emerges as a love story between my true Simms family ancestors, Maria Onderdonk and Henry Simms. Maria and Henry exhibit spirit and courage as they struggle through epic events of a nation at war.
The book has had three editions, 1st, Large Print, and presently is an eBook available on Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, Apple and Kobo.

Almost a century before the Civil War,  teen-aged Patriot, Joseph Onderdonk, (Maria's ancestor) lived on the farm land of Long Island, NY during The American Revolution. The Cow Neck  Long Island Patriots were one of the first groups to organize and declare their desire for independence from England. Joseph exhibits exceptional courage during the terrible time of British occupation  of New York. in my story THE RED COCKADE. I revised and published  this story with the hope that it would inspire Young Adult and Adult readers to learn about early patriots who helped establish our nation. I also wished it would inspire patriotism at a time when it is sorely needed by many adults in our country.

The thought that both books had similar settings, and  that both contained true ancestors and real people and events from two different wars fought in our country didn't occur to me until I began to think about a theme for this blog.  The creator of both beautiful covers for my eBooks  is a gem. She is Patty Henderson at: .

At a time when most young people have Iphones, Ipads, tablets and laptops, either of these books will be a good choice to impart a little history to our country's future citizens.

Four Summers Waiting was chosen for Thorndike Press's "Clean Reads " series. Need I say more when you are thinking of gifting today's teens with a love story?
The Red Cockade was chosen for an NEH grant, but it was put on a shelf when the grant was not received. I hope the revision will be enjoyed by all ages.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Tips On Creativity

The "Ten Tips on Creativity" was created by author and writing teacher, Emily Hanlon in 1996. I have it posted on the tack board above my desk and refer to it often. (Not to be reprinted without permission of the author.)

  1. Don't think. Our best ideas emerge as a spark or image. Like dreams, they make little sense. 
  2. Creativity is cyclical. You will not be creative all the time. Creativity has its own internal rhythms. Listen to yours. 
  3. Nothing kills creativity faster than criticism. Good critiquing leaves you inspired, not deflated.
  4. Spend time listening to your Inner Critic. By becoming aware of its foul jabber, you can challenge its roadblocks. 
  5. Being a creator is risky business. Learn to push ahead even when you are afraid. Learn to love the risk. 
  6. Don't be afraid to fail. Every successful creator fails. Failure means you've uncovered a path that does not work.
  7. Don't be afraid to write garbage. "Garbage" writing is the rich, fertile ground that allows your work to grow!
  8. Nurture your creativity. It is as fragile as a budding flower. 
  9. Be passionate. Creativity is passionate. Passion is creative. 
  10. Learn your craft and write! The more you write, the better you get. Successful writers are disciplined writers.  
 I met Emily Hanlon in 1999 at a writers retreat. She guided me onto the fiction writer's journey and I haven't stopped the ride. She is a terrific writer, teacher and all around super human being. 

About this week's blogger:

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 Belle Books Publishing in March of 2014, and continues the story of a very feisty family. You can find out more about Bonnie & her books at

Friday, October 17, 2014

School for Scandal

I’d like to introduce Sheila York who is our Guest Blogger today on Author Expressions. After a long career in radio and TV, Sheila York began writing novels combining her love of history, mysteries and the movies. Set in glamorous, dangerous post-war Hollywood, her series features screenwriter/reluctant heiress/amateur sleuth Lauren Atwill (and her lover, private detective Peter Winslow) chasing killers in the Great Golden Age of Film. You can read or listen to more about Lauren and No Broken Hearts, the fourth book in the Lauren Atwill mystery series, at
Okay, here’s Sheila!

School for Scandal

I love scandals. When I hear or read about one, I have three thoughts: “Could I use this in a book?” “Would it work in the 1940s?” and “How could I make what happened even worse?”
Bear in mind, I mean a good scandal. I don’t mean modern-day celebrity gossip: Doping, divorcing, gaining 10 pounds. There are rarely dramatic possibilities in the predictable.
‘Novel’, after all, didn’t come from the Latin for ‘heard that one before.’
Three of my four Lauren Atwill mysteries were inspired by scandals, even if by the time I finished, you wouldn’t recognize the source.
For NO BROKEN HEARTS, I had a (really) vague idea that the story would involve Lauren’s being loaned out to a second-rate studio by Marathon, the major studio with which she’d just signed a contract. During the period of the ‘studio system’, studios produced films on their own lots using talent under often long-term contracts. Those contracts permitted the studios to loan out the talent, who’d have no say in the matter. They could refuse, but then they’d be suspended without pay. Or sued. Or both. Studios could keep their stars in line – even to the extent of making them get married or break up with lovers the studios deemed inappropriate – by threatening to loan them to second- and even third-tier studios.
My amateur sleuth’s screenwriting talents have for years been relegated to script-doctoring because she compromised a promising career trying to save her marriage to a philandering star. Promised her first screen credit in years, Lauren would be rightly furious about being loaned out. And then immediately scared that somebody’d noticed that recently when she signs on to ‘doctor’ a film, somebody dies. Those kinds of whispers could kill a career in a hurry, especially a struggling one. There is no place more superstitious than Lauren’s Hollywood.
It was a start, but I’d need a murder.
Hollywood took care of its own with a singular intensity in the Golden Age, the studios having so much invested in their stars. Studio publicity teams crafted stories to fit movie fans’ fantasies and handed them to reporters and magazine writers, who mostly played along. There wasn’t as much profit in humiliation back then. Not that reporters were higher minded. And not that there weren’t magazines that wallowed in tawdry sex stories (we meet one of these photographers in NO BROKEN HEARTS). But for mainstream publications, writers (and their editors) knew which side they wanted their bread buttered on, and it wasn’t the side that hit the carpet. For those who cooperated, the perks were substantial – cash; invitations to premieres, parties and yachts; exclusive stories; being welcomed as a friend by he-man stars and beautiful women.  (Note the blurb for the story inside about Gene Tierney’s ‘Switch to Sex’. It’s not likely to deliver the implied steam. By the way, the actress on the cover is Dorothy Lamour.)
The scandal that inspired me to NO BROKEN HEARTS is a Hollywood rumor from the Golden Age of Film that a legendary star (whose name I won’t repeat because I doubt this story) once killed someone in a hit and run. Because there was a crushed fender and witnesses with a license number, one version of the story goes, the star’s studio forced an underling to confess to being behind the wheel and to serve manslaughter time by giving him money, promising him future employment, and making clear they’d make sure he never got another job in Hollywood if he didn’t. And the star let them do it.
How could I make all that even worse?
Well, first off, it wouldn’t be a hit and run. It would be murder. Premeditated, brutal murder. And the studio would cover it up. Lauren would of course find the body. And be threatened to keep her mouth shut. But being Lauren, she wouldn’t cover up for a killer. Soooooo, there’d have to be a reason she couldn’t go to the police. What if the star were not only someone she adores, but also someone she believes is innocent? What if he claims he didn’t do it, and she saw things at the crime scene that make her think he’s telling the truth? If she talks, at best, she’d ruin him and end her own career as well. At worst, she could end up sending an innocent man to the gas chamber.
What if she couldn’t trust the police? Could they be involved in the cover-up? Police corruption was endemic in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Film. Payoffs, cover-ups, frame-ups. And Hollywood was awash in bribe money. (While the scandal pictured in this headline isn’t Hollywood-related, it’s one of my favorites. It turned out cops planted the bomb because the guy was investigating police corruption for a private citizen. Fortunately, they failed to kill him.)
What could be worse than knowing a killer is out there, but you’d never work again if you opened your month and you might ruin an innocent man, and you couldn’t trust the cops to find the killer? The killer could decide the best way to save himself is to kill the witness. That had possibilities.

*Sheila is giving away 20 copies of No Broken Hearts on Goodreads  
 (register to win until October 31)!

 Comments or questions for Sheila are welcome.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How to Provide Focus for Fiction by Jacqueline Seewald

Whether authors of fiction write short stories, plays, poetry or novels, theme is an essential component, just like characterization, plot and setting. The theme of a work is an idea or message that stretches throughout providing it with focus, cohesion and connection.

Themes are universal and therefore reoccur. Often they are sociological or cultural in nature. For instance, I recently read a thriller novel in which the theme was conspiracy theory, common in suspense genre. Fiction writers often pull their themes from nonfiction and then write faction. Dan Brown and Brad Meltzer are two very popular suspense authors who do this. Shakespeare used the underlying theme in his plays that appearances are deceiving. People and events are not what they seem to be. This works particularly well in theatre but just as effectively in mystery and suspense fiction.

Good fiction writing needs a cohesive theme to hold the work together. The lesson is generally about life or humanity and is preferably implied rather than stated outright. The show-not-tell rule works well with theme. One way to convey theme is through recurring use of symbolism. Hawthorne and Hemingway were both particularly talented in that regard.  So was F. Scott Fitzgerald. All three used color imagery/symbolism to denote and develop a theme.

In YA lit, the theme is often coming-of-age. However, there may be more than one theme, especially in a novel. My YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER published by Astraea Press is a coming-of-age novel, a book about family values,
a romance and an allegory:

.Romances concentrate on the theme of finding true love. For example, my short story collection BEYOND THE BO TREE is a series of stories themed on romantic relationships.

However, even with romance fiction there are often secondary themes. THE CHEVALIER, my prize-winning historical romance set mostly in the Scottish Highlands at the time of the second Jacobite revolt, is bound up with themes of war and political conflict:                 

Mysteries are about finding solutions and discovering the truth about puzzling situations such as solving murders and imposing order where there was chaos. There are often socially significant secondary themes in crime fiction. For example, in my co-authored novel THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY
 the theme of bullying is significant. Jim who is short for his age is bullied by an older boy. His search for a murderer also interconnects with the theme of bullying.

GONE GIRL coincidentally has a similar theme to my mystery suspense thriller THE BAD WIFE, underscoring the fact that you don’t always know or understand the person you marry.

All types of writing benefit from a theme which serves as a fundamental connective component. Fiction without a theme lacks focus, like sailing in a rudderless ship. It will eventually flounder and sink.

What themes do you as a reader or writer consider significant?

*Note: More of my blogs are available for reading at:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tailoring the Panel

After my first mystery novel was published in 1993 (Murder in Mellingham), I had to confront my fear of facing an audience of readers and talking about writing. A row of three people in chairs facing me could feel like an audience of a thousand, and all of them critics. But I swallowed my fear and learned to speak no matter what.

Like many other writers, I developed a set of presentations that seemed to work and stuck to them. People in the audience listened, most stayed awake for the entire event, and a few even bought books.

The more I spoke to audiences, however, the more varied I knew my presentations had to be. Audiences are different, and I try to get a sense of their interests before I proceed. I usually have a good idea what the audience will be like based on the venue, but not always. As a result, I have a few options that I test out on the people sitting in front of me, to make sure they're interested. If not, I move on to the next option. This is true for panels as well as individual talks. These are the options I consider the most important.

Reading a passage from my most recent book. Some readers in the audience love to hear the writer read a few pages, and will even ask for this. Others will get up and walk out if anyone starts reading to them. I recently read a few pages on my recent book, For the Love of Parvati, and since then I have heard from people who bought the book because of the reading.

Talking about process. A friend approached me recently to tell me about a reading she'd attended where the writer talked about the story in her book and then read from it, several pages. She said nothing about how she wrote it. My friend was not happy.

Talking about research. Writers can't always explain where story ideas come from, though we try hard. But we know exactly how research feeds into the story. People are fascinated by how we learned something and the details in a story. In Friends and Enemies I write about the paper manufacturing industry in Massachusetts, and readers are fascinated by an industry they've taken for granted and knew little about.

Talking about publishing. Some people find this topic endlessly fascinating (mostly other writers) and they don't mind sidetracking the entire evening into this area. If the audience is agreeable, the speaker or panelists can accommodate this.

Talking about the academic world of crime fiction. Mystery novels and crime fiction have entered the academy and are now the subject of scholarly study. Once in a while I will mention an interpretation from a scholarly paper and someone in the audience will want to know more. A discussion around the idea of the Great Detective can be fun for everyone but not always.

Talking about different types of mysteries. Many readers come to panels to learn about other writers they might like. The results can be haphazard, so I sometimes move the panel into a discussion of the range of mysteries and the various categories. This is when I see people taking notes.

Talking about the world of the writer. Writing is a job, a desk job without the benefit of co-workers (other than our characters) to interrupt us and ease the stress of a scene not going well. We hear no applause when we finish a story or get a promising note from an agent or editor. We work alone. The glamorous world of conferences is still a world of work. Conferences are expensive and few writers can afford to go to more than one or two a year, particularly if they are far from home. Writers have to live like other people--we do the dishes, vacuum up the dog hair, wonder if we forgot to pay the electric bill, and pray it doesn't snow on the night we have to drive an hour for a talk. In short, people often like to hear about the glamorous world of the writer and are secretly relieved that we're ordinary people like them.

Whenever I set out to do a panel or give a talk, I'm always a little anxious but I'm as curious about members of the audience as they are about me. We explore each other's interests and find common ground, and there we have the most fun talking about mysteries.