Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reading and Reviewing

On these sultry summer days it has been my pleasure to soak up the sun on the Gulf with a good book, or two, or three. I walk the beach first, to strengthen my body for the long trip ahead for husband, Tom & me. We are traveling to Hawaii for the commemoration of WW2's surrender aboard his ship, The Missouri. Tom was a very young sailor when he first boarded that ship, and we are  excited to be a part of the  70th celebration on September 2nd. I plan to bring my kindle on the long flight to Honolulu.  I hope to tell you all about  the ceremony and our week on Waikiki  when we return.  In the meantime, here are  reviews of a couple of books that were not exactly "beach reads", but good reads, especially if you like historicals. the first is a short review I gave to convince my book club to select  it.
This  review  is for The Light Between ML Stedman. Honesty, faith, love and morals, with a little bit of mystery are all found in this story about Tom and Isabel, who become caretakers of a remote lighthouse in Australia. A small boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a live baby. Therein lies the plot, and you will want to read it  to find out what happens. Descriptions are beautifully done, helping me to learn much about Western Australia. It is plot-driven, yet the characterizations are real and memorable. Well written, poignant , sometimes heart.wrenching, The Light Between Oceans was so memorable, I would rate it highly and recommend it.

The following is a review I posted in Goodreads.
's review 
Aug 13, 15  ·  edit

bookshelves: currently-reading 
Read in July, 2015

Award winning author, Gaynor has written a sweet story, historically accurate,and vividly described. It is a subject which I had no knowledge of, the plight of East London's orphaned and/or crippled flower sellers.The author weaves the story of two long-lost sisters, Florrie and Rosie whose lives took different paths. The first part is told from Florries's perspective. Next we meet a young girl, Tillie Harper who leaves her home to take a job as assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw's home for Watercress and Flower girls. The houses originated in Chapel hall until Shaw could find rented homes for the many flower seller children he took off the streets of London. The homes were based on the real-life ones established by John Groom in that era. It is a sentimental tale, with many amazing coincidences. Although the existence of these flower sellers was one I had no prior knowledge of, it was a redeeming story, heart wrenching, but historically significant with a poignant plot which I enjoyed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Revising is the best part of writing

My first draft of a novel usually hurtles along like a runaway train. It has roofless cars and faulty brakes and is headed for disaster.  I recently finished the sequel to Burnt Siena. It’s called Umber Rome, and takes my characters through the catacombs of Rome on a search for Nazi-looted art.

I tend to write quickly in my desire to get the basic story on paper and then spend a great deal of time revising. Draft one is a road map. It is essentially a detailed outline of my characters, my plot, and my setting. But it isn’t finished; it needs fleshing out.

How to go forward with Umber Rome? I thought about adding an additional point of view, since my novel was already in the third person, told from the POV of my protagonist and her policeman boyfriend. More research was needed on the history of the catacombs, how they formed, and the underlying geology of the city of Rome. Flora’s job in art conservation needed some more detail: what did her day-to-day work involve?

Then I went back to some of my favorite editing advice gleaned from two Sisters in Crime workshops led by Nancy Pickard and Donald Maass.

Nancy Pickard is an award winning mystery author and frequent speaker.  Nancy’s revision system builds upon what she learned from a book called Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting  by Robert McKee. “CASTS” is Nancy's acronym for “Conflict, Action, Senses, Turn, and Surprise.” The goal is to have all five elements in each long scene or chapter. “Turn” is defined as a change in the mood or perspective of the POV character, due to say, an event or a new piece of information. “Surprise” is something unexpected, either for the POV character or the reader: “I hadn’t thought of that!”

Donald Maass runs his own literary agency in New York and is a frequent speaker at writer’s conferences. In his book Writing the Breakout Novel he discusses how careful planning and revision can make an author stand out from the crowd. He also wrote an excellent, one-page article, “Building Microtension into Every Scene” in the September 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest (thanks, Molly MacRae!). Maass has great suggestions on how to see your own work in a new light and then make it better. A few are: 1) What would your character never, ever, do or say? Now make the character do or say that. What happens to the story? It gets more interesting. 2) Pick a passage of dialogue and increase the tension between the speakers. It can be friendly or hostile, worried speculation or mild disagreement, “or any other degree of fiction.” Milk the emotions of the characters, and increase the reader’s level of engagement.

Other questions my critique partners have suggested to ask of every scene and chapter: Does this belong in the story? Does it advance the plot, or slow things down? Does it make the reader skim ahead? Then either revise or remove the section.

Is my character fully reacting to what is happening around her? Sometimes she is passive when she needs to show emotion or take action. Force her to take over her scenes, react both appropriately and inappropriately, and move the story along.

Can I make this situation worse? Look at key points in the plot, where everything goes wrong. Increase the stakes, put the characters in more danger, and increase the tension.

Every author has her own system. What are some of your favorite revision strategies?

Friday, August 21, 2015

What to do with a bad book review?

I recently read a good article called Confronting Bad Book Reviews. It sited some famous novels and quotes by now famous authors, but a portion of the subtitle text really grabbed me:

Just celebrate you are being noticed, and be sure your name is spelled right.

I've heard that any publicity, good or bad, is good for the author. Case in point, author Jonathan Franzen. There was some seriously bad publicity that went out around his semi-biographical novel The Corrections and Oprah's Book Club in 2001. Fourteen years later he's still selling books like hot cakes, my fellow authors. He's still all over social media and the news. So, perhaps bad publicity is better than no publicity?

An author mentor of mine wrote a dynamic book (Petersburg) about the Russian revolution era. I loved it. But one reviewer felt some of her facts were not correct and slammed her for not doing a proper job of research. Like a good author, she did not debate with him, but she was crushed. We all know how much of our "blood, sweat and tears" go into our stories, so when someone doesn't like what we've written - it hurts.
Book reviews are an author's link to the reader, but is their good opinion vital to our craft? We all want our stories to be heard, to touch our readers, to be enjoyed and passed along - it validates what we spend hours of our lives creating. But not everyone likes the same things and every author has a different voice, so we can't possibly please all.

What we can do is write the best story possible. Edit it. Rewrite it. Edit it. And if it is good enough a publisher will give us a contract and publish it. That IS validation that we have written something the publisher thinks is worth taking a chance on. And that's pretty darned good.

After Feisty Family Values hit the book shelves I poured over every review. I do enjoy a good review and most of mine have been good. When a reader gave me a bad review and didn't explain it I can't help but wonder what I could've done to make the story work for them, too. Sometimes people just don't like "contemporary" novels, or novels about non-traditional families, or maybe they hate cats, or wrecked their car that week and had to walk to and from work in the snow uphill both ways. We may never know why a story works for one person and not another. We will get good and bad reviews. What to do? I'll read them, try to learn from them, and keep writing the best I can. How about you?

To find out more about Bonnie Tharp's books go to  

Friday, August 14, 2015


Joyce Elson Moore is our blogger today on Author Expressions. As some of you know, it was actually Joyce who started this blog some years ago.

After a brief teaching career, Joyce turned to writing full time and has since reached a widening audience with her books, most of which reflect her background in music.

Among other awards, Joyce’s medieval romance, Jeanne of Clairmonde, won First Place in the FWA Royal Palm Literary Awards. Another novel, The Tapestry Shop, (Five Star/Cengage), won a medallion in the Popular Fiction Category from Florida Book Awards, sponsored jointly by Florida State and the Humanities Council.

Excerpts and reviews of Joyce’s books are on her website:

And now, here’s Joyce:

My new mystery The Stockholm Castle Mystery, recently released by Five Star/Cengage, features Johan, a 17th-century lute player appointed by an eccentric queen mother to solve a murder mystery. It’s an historical cozy, the first of a planned three-book series. I kept the title simple, like favorites from my youth. I knew that a Nancy Drew book, with a title like The Mystery at Lilac Inn, was going to be a treat. I read her books curled up in a wicker chair on our front porch. I was no longer a Florida girl, fanning away the summer days, waiting for school to begin. Instead, I was beside my favorite sleuth as she drove her convertible down twisting lanes hunting for clues.

 The plot of this mystery series generated, as some do, from a chance reading I came across. The Silver Bible is an ancient codex housed in a Swedish university. A little of the book’s history is known, but the manuscript went missing for a period of time. I was interested enough to delve further, and discovered that after the Thirty Years War it resided in the Stockholm castle. Further research only whetted my appetite to learn more, and from there, my imagination took over and a mystery was born.

 My sleuth is a man with a past. I won’t spoil the book for readers by revealing details, but he became the Swedish queen’s lute player. From there the plot unfolds. A romantic interest complicates the plot. She is the queen’s astrologist, and quite a gal she is. I had fun writing this book because some of the characters were like old friends by the time I finished the final draft. Luckily, they are still with me as I complete this next book.

My previous books were historicals. The Tapestry Shop, another Five Star/Cengage book, won a prestigious award from Fla. Book Awards. Because of this, it is permanently on display in the library of the Florida governor’s mansion. I have three historical fictional biographies written under a pen name, Elizabeth Elson. They are my Women in History Series. These books were carefully researched, and while they read like fiction, they closely follow the real events that made them the women they were. One of the novels is about Julia, the Augustus’ daughter, and her little-known affair with Marc Anthony’s son. The next portrays the life of Theodora, an empress most famous for quelling the Nika riots. The last in the series is about Cosima, Franz Liszt’s daughter, and the musical geniuses whose lives she shared.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that The Stockholm Castle Mystery is also now an ebook, making it more accessible to readers across the globe. Publishers Weekly said the mystery was a delight to read, so I’m hoping mystery fans think the same.

I’m making final revisions on the second mystery in this series. It takes place in Brandenburg.

Joyce’s Advice to fellow writers:

You write, and write, and then you decide to submit. You get rejections, and you keep writing because you have to write, because you have stories in your head. Characters are waiting to come alive and take you into their world.

Write. Take classes. Write. Read, read. Get a thousand eyes to read it. When you’ve finished your novel and think it’s the best it can be, join a group like NovelPro. Expect honest critiques. Revise and revise. Writing is revising.

Where to find Joyce’s books:

The Stockholm Castle Mystery is available in hardcover and as an ebook on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as your favorite independent bookstore.

Thanks, Jacqueline, for inviting me today. I’ll respond to comments and answer any questions readers may have about the book.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Marketing and Promotion Sites by Susan Oleksiw

A recent discussion on the Five Star list prompted me to take a look at what passes in my life for book marketing and promotion online. I hadn't really given it much thought, taking on bits and pieces over the years as part of being a writer. Now was the time, it seemed, to take a look at where I go to sell books or get my name out there. For the last few years I've focused on the Anita Ray series, and with a new book coming out in April 2016, now is a good time to review my approach.

I drew up a list of the sites I think of as part of my online presence, something I would never have imagined in the 1950s, when I first started writing (yes, I was a teenager in the dark ages). This list is longer than I expected. Some of this online business I enjoy and some I don't, so I do what makes sense to me.

I still believe strongly in bookstore and library events, and any other opportunities to meet readers face to face and learn about their interests. That said, here are the sites I have come to frequent unevenly, and find useful. Your experiences may vary, but there are plenty of sites to try.  Yes, I have a webpage, which always needs updating and tweaking.  Yes, I have a blog, which I try to post to once a week.

Author Central Yes, I have an Amazon author page where I get to gnash my teeth over the occasional snarky review.

Goodreads This site is for readers to connect with books and, if they're interested, with the authors of those books. I post the titles I'm reading along with reviews, and occasionally other readers comment on the reviews. I've also heard from authors who have appreciated what I have posted about their work. I have an author page and occasionally answer questions. If I join a group, I join as a reader. It's considered bad form to push your own books on groups set up to discuss other topics but you can set up a group to talk about your own work. I do giveaways for ARCs, in exchange for reviews, knowing that most people won't review the book but they may pass it on to a friend.

LibraryThing  This site is similar to GR, and can be useful for reviews and giveaways.

The Reading Room This site is a little different from the two above. It began in Australia, in 2010, and claims about 1.4 million members. It also includes the option of giveaways, but I especially enjoy reading the articles collected there.

Wattpad This is a site for posting stories for others to read. Most of them are written by unpublished writers but they attract readers who will then follow the writer and search for other stories or books by the author. Margaret Atwood posted something to the site and got a tremendous response. She wrote about the site also.

Pinterest This site allows you to post images in as many different categories as you want, such as food, flowers, or whatever. Here I post articles I have enjoyed, mostly on writing and publishing, and Indian recipes. I started one on book covers and then neglected it.

Twitter I have used this a handful of times. If I have something pithy to say I usually inflict it on the television while I'm washing dishes. This site has a lot of material directed to self-published writers but I enjoy some of the articles.

DorothyL I enjoy this chatlist for the variety of people who post and the book titles I come across. There is sometimes too much conversation about television.

Short Mystery Fiction Society This is a very interesting group of writers of short fiction who offer solid information on publishing including new venues, how-to articles, and general support. Some of the members have published over a thousand short stories and willingly share advice and opportunities.

Facebook  I have a number of friends who live in other parts of the country and overseas, and I am grateful to FB for letting me stay in touch with them. There is little to no chance that I'm going to sit down and write a letter, print out photographs, and head off to the post office at least once a week in order to stay in touch with them. FB has allowed me to remain close to friends I rarely see. FB has its flaws but it also has its strengths. I announce books, blog posts, and events, but I'm otherwise interested in the general conversation among members/friends.

When I first began writing this post I thought it would be quick and easy, with just a few sites listed. I'm surprised at the number, but I know that other writers have far more sites they visit. I check in with certain blogs and occasionally leave comments, and I always appreciate comments on mine (like this one).

Marketing and promoting a book through the Internet is a time-consuming process. But it is for me a lot easier than promoting my book back in 1993. My publisher, Scribner, sent out review copies only to the big guys, and the rest was up to me. If I wanted more reviews or more anything, I had to call each individual newspaper and ask for an interview or the name of someone to send a review copy to, or buy a list of libraries and send out 2,000 postcards. In 1993 I sent a postcard and personal note to every single library in Massachusetts, and another thousand cards to other libraries in the US. I did the same for my next book, in 1994. No one sends postcards anymore.

Writers will always have to take a role in selling their books, and for many of us it will never be easy. But I'm willing to use whatever technology is available, even if I'm not very good at it. I count myself lucky to have the option and the support of a good publisher, Five Star.