Friday, December 30, 2016

Interview with Author Phyllis Gobbell by Jacqueline Seewald

I’m interviewing Phyllis Gobbell who, like me, writes a little bit of everything, books, short stories, creative nonfiction, and poetry. She has received awards in both fiction and nonfiction, including Tennessee's Individual Artist Literary Award. She is an associate professor of English at Nashville State Community College, where she teaches writing and literature. On any Tuesday night, you will find her meeting with her writers group that began thirty years ago. She plays the piano and tennis. She is co-author of two true-crime books based on high-profile murders in Nashville: A Season of Darkness, with Doug Jones, and An Unfinished Canvas with Mike Glasgow. Her narrative, “Lost Innocence,” appeared in the anthology Masters of True Crime. Turning to traditional mysteries, she released the Jordan Mayfair Mystery Series in Spring 2015. Pursuit in Provence was first in the series. Secrets and Shamrocks has just been released. It has received excellent reviews like the previous novel:

“Gobbell’s enjoyable sequel to 2015’s Pursuit in Provence takes Savannah, Ga., architect Jordan Mayfair and her travel writer uncle, Alex Carlyle, to Ireland. Jordan’s keen knowledge of architecture and history comes in handy in her efforts to uncover the truth. Fans of travel cozies will find plenty to like.” --Publisher’s Weekly
“A visit to the verdant Irish countryside is marred by murder. The second in Gobbell’s travel series is filled with delightful descriptions of Ireland and offbeat characters…”--Kirkus Reviews

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel? Why did you select them?
Secrets and Shamrocks is a cozy or traditional mystery or amateur sleuth mystery, whichever you prefer. Jordan Mayfair is on another adventure with her travel-writer uncle in a small town in Ireland. In some of the promo, I say that “secrets are as plentiful as shamrocks,” and that about sums it up. Shamrocks come into play, also, as one of the Irish legends resonates in the present day mystery.

Question: What inspired this novel? How did it come about?
It is the second in the Jordan Mayfair mystery series. First Jordan and her uncle, Alex, traveled to Provence, where I’d been on a couple of occasions, and I chose Ireland for the setting of this one because I spent three weeks teaching in Thurles, the same little town featured in the book.

Question: Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine of your novel?
Jordan Mayfair is an architect from Savannah, Georgia, who had just turned fifty in Pursuit in Provence. She had raised five children as a single mother, and the last of her children had just left for college. Her travel-writer uncle had his first book deal and needed Jordan to go along with him on the trip to Provence, so she did, stretching herself, and in some ways re-inventing herself. Now she and Alex are visiting friends from long ago in Georgia, Colin and Grace O’Toole, who own a B&B where a cast of eccentric characters are staying. And everyone seems to have a secret, plus there is a murder, of course. Jordan can’t keep from getting involved! And Paul Broussard, the charming patron of the arts from Pursuit in Provence, makes another appearance.

Question: Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?
Besides Pursuit in Provence, I wrote two true-crime books about high-profile cold cases that were solved in Nashville, one after ten years, one after thirty years. Mike Glasgow and I collaborated on An Unfinished Canvas and I wrote A Season of Darkness with Doug Jones. After those true-crimes, with all the meticulous research that they involved, I was ready for something much lighter, and I’m having fun with the Jordan Mayfair Mystery Series.

Question: What are you working on now?
I’m almost finished with Treachery in Tuscany, the third in the series, and – you guessed it – it’s set in Italy, mostly in Florence.

(How exciting! My younger son and his family vacationed there this summer and loved the area)

Question: What made you start writing?
It seems I’ve been writing my whole life. I remember cutting out the words in the “speech bubbles” of comic strips and filling in my own words. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had something I wanted to say! I tried to write a novel when I was in the 6th grade and got about 30 handwritten pages before I realized how awful it was. My first published works were articles for family/parenting magazines when my children were young. I also wrote a children’s book at that time, The Magic Click, about seatbelt safety. I had short stories published later. My passion is fiction – though I’ve found it harder to get published than non-fiction.

Question: What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?
Write what you love to write. I don’t have good advice about publishing, but hard work and perseverance do seem to pay off. If you have something you want to say, the act of writing, the process and the result will give you a good feeling (maybe not money in the bank, but satisfaction). I tell my creative writing students that I read everything I write out loud, and if I don’t love it, it’s not ready for anyone else to love.

Question: Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?
Secrets and Shamrocks is available on Amazon in hardback and e-book. 

Readers, you can request this lovely novel at your local libraries as well.

Comments and/or questions for Phyllis are appreciated.

Friday, December 16, 2016

How to "Connect" with Readers?

How do authors "connect" with readers? That's a great question, isn't it? 


Here are some ideas for you to try. Not every method works for every author or genre, so see what works best for you.

The obvious: Use Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.).
  • Be social, not just a salesperson
  • Share your expertise (i.e. hobbies often have popular forums to participate in)
  • Blog or Video-log or Podcast (the key here is participation - be seen and heard)
Don't forget the old-fashioned way of networking, too.
  • Press Releases to local news and magazines (don't forget regional and national, too)
  • Approach book groups (book clubs often pick a genre to read so find one that reads what you write) 
  • Find the niche that will gain the most from the theme of your story (i.e. knitters or quilters often like to read stories about their craft) and offer to speak to their group about their subject
  • Local and Regional bookstores (independent, chain or university)
  • Speak at Libraries or participate in local author events, workshops or conferences
Okay, this is by no means an exhaustive list, this is just to give you food for thought.

Once you do have an opportunity to speak here are some tips on how to "connect."

                                                               LISTEN WELL

  • Have a conversation with the audience (what is your favorite book? what is your favorite character in literature?) Don't just be a talking head!
  • When and if you get around to talking about your own book ask them questions
    • How did the story make you feel?
    • What has been your experience with the story's main theme?
    • What part touched you the most? 
    • Did the story create a question in your mind that was NOT answered? 
Now, I hear there's something out there called Social Currency. Basically, we need it. I'm told the way to get it is to remember the following when you write or speak to readers.
  • People talk about things that make them feel good. 
  • People want to feel sharp and in-the-know.
  • People like stories that are smart and funny and don't make them feel behind the times. 

Don't forget to Smile. Make Eye Contact. Laugh at yourself. Be yourself. Share.

Have a Safe and Happy Holiday everyone!

Bonnie (BD) Tharp is an award-winning author of women's fiction, with novels FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY.  Also, the author of Kindle ebook short stories: THE CROSSROADS & EARL DIVINE.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Mystery Fiction: The Long and the Short of It by Jacqueline Seewald

I enjoy writing fiction. I’ve written a number of mystery stories which have been published by a variety of magazines and anthologies. I’ve also written mystery novels which are also published traditionally. The question often arises: which length will best suit a particular story?

Generally speaking, if you are planning something long and expansive with numerous characters and several intertwining plots that could ingeniously connect at the denouement, a mystery novel would be a preferable choice.

However, if you are planning a focused tour de force, think in terms of a short story. You should make the effort to decide on your intent in advance. Poe has told us that every scene in a short story needs to move the action forward. In a mystery story this is particularly true.

In a mystery novel, it’s typical to build well-rounded main characters who have a backstory. Even murder suspects usually get the full treatment. The short story writer of mystery doesn’t have the same luxury. The details must be swift and telling strokes. Each sentence and word needs to be purposeful. In a real sense, the mystery story is more of a challenge for writers and readers. It demands greater discipline. In the mystery short story endings are often clever twists that surprise the reader. The mystery novel is more of a puzzle with clues sprinkled along the way. The readers will pit their intellect against that of the author.

Descriptions of setting are of necessity more detailed in novels. In THE INHERITANCE, my new novel from Intrigue Publishing, the Midwest town of Bloomingvale serves as the setting or backdrop with a unique character all its own. This is typical of the cozy mystery where setting is well-established and details important in the story’s plotline. THE INHERITANCE is a stand alone traditional mystery with romantic element.

In my short stories, even in my longer novella “Letter of the Law” published by SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE, details of setting are somewhat limited. The plot is straightforward and the murder suspects also by necessity limited in number. This novella was initially much longer, but since it was to be published in a magazine, I needed to shorten it considerably and cut some of the detail and secondary character development.

SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE recently followed up with another story “Spirit of the Law” that continues to follow the young attorney sleuth and his graduate student assistant in solving yet another murder case:

If you’re a pantser rather than a plotter, my advice is still to write a short plot summary. This works well for both short stories and novels. A short plot summary allows you to be flexible and make changes as you write. It also helps in lending focus to your plot line. Sometimes short stories can develop into novellas or novels. Other times you believe you have the makings of a novel but discover that there isn’t enough material for one. Doing some advance planning helps with such decisions and saves frustrations when writing scenes.

Also it helps to make a list of characters by name and provide a brief description for each, known as a character bible. For THE INHERITANCE, in addition to the main characters, there are a number of local residents who are possible suspects, and each character needed some backstory. This also helps avoid contradictions.

In my crime story “Our Neighbors Ourselves” for the new anthology BREWED AWAKENINGS, there are four main characters, each has a backstory, most of which remained in the character bible but nevertheless influenced how the characters behaved in the story’s development. It’s important that the writer know the characters well so that each detail of description, dialogue and action is meaningful.

Whichever type of mystery writing you choose, I wish you much success!

Comments and/or questions welcome.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Little Free Libraries, by Susan Oleksiw

On my daily walk through the neighborhood I take note of the changes and additions, sometimes stopping to take a photo. Over the last few years I’ve noticed one addition that I especially enjoy. Several residents of my town have joined the Little Free Library program, and we now have four libraries in my zip code, plus one that's an independent. That’s not a lot for a small city of 40,000 people, but it makes us part of a worldwide movement.

According to the official website, “in 2009 Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, built a model of a one room schoolhouse” as a tribute to his mother, a teacher who loved to read. He added books and an invitation for passers-by to take one. The general invitation is to take one, and leave one. Todd wanted to build as many little libraries as Andrew Carnegie built large ones, over 2,500. It didn’t take Todd long. He reached his goal in August 2012, and by November 2016, he reached the amazing number of 50,000 Little Free Libraries throughout the world.

Why am I telling you this since you probably already know all about these little gems? I use my daily walk to think through the story I’m working on. This is when I try to set aside my frustrations and let my unconscious go to work on its own. Often my thoughts begin with a common lament, which goes something like this. Even if I figure out what’s wrong with this plot, what difference does it make? Is anyone going to read this thing? The reports on books sales and publishing waver between dismal and awful, so why expend so much energy? But sometimes I read that book sales are surprisingly but suspiciously resilient. I have no idea which one to believe? Will anyone care if I give the world another book?

And then I come across a new Little Free Library. I don’t know about you, but these things cheer me up enormously. They are inspirational in their demonstration of the belief that people care about books and are fundamentally honest. I always stop to see what’s inside. Right now most of them in my area are offering children’s or young adults books, a few novels, and some nonfiction, including travel. One includes a lot of self-help books, including how to choose wine. I have borrowed and donated books, and expect I will do so again.

I usually keep on walking, making a mental note to return later to leave a book and borrow one. But no matter how I feel when I first see the Little Free Library, I always feel noticeably better as I walk on. I forget about my lament and my story problems, and take in the world around me. Once again, books have changed how I feel.

For more information on this movement, and to check out the number of little free libraries in your area, go to

And if you're so inclined, check out the newest Joe Silva, and leave your copy for others to enjoy.
You can find a copy of this and other books by me here.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Telling Stories with Paint by Sarah Wisseman

Recently I had the wonderful experience of a week-long oil painting class at Arrowmont arts and crafts school in TN. My instructor was Sandy Miller Sasso, and she was terrific. Our subject: “Evocative Still Life.” That means going beyond fruit and flowers, setting up a still life with objects that carry special meaning for you, the artist.  Sandy described the process as rather like being a stage manager: you control background, lighting, and placement of important objects. Things in the foreground are painted in more detail; things in the background blur a little, fade into the distance. You create a mood, and hopefully a story.

Here is one of Sandy’s paintings:

She told us the pendulum symbolizes constancy and steadfastness in a world of chaos.

I have already found much refreshment from painting. It is also the perfect activity when my writing is blocked. I think working with color, shape, and texture in a physical sense uses a different part of the brain, but the creative process is similar. You start with a plan, but the plan changes as you work, and it’s important to let serendipity, or even mistakes, take over at times. Just like a character starting a conversation in your head, the paintbrush can have a mind of its own.

Although we were invited to bring objects from home, we also improvised with objects around Arrowmont’s studios.  I fell in love with a bone, and this is what happened when I painted this still life two days after the election:

 What does it mean? Perhaps how ephemeral things are, especially favorite pets like the little cat (made of wood, so not permanent in the archaeological record) or the African seed pod (the tall brownish-red object turned on a wood lathe into a vase). But bones, in the right environment, can last a very long time…

I look forward to incorporating these experiences into my fiction writing.

Friday, November 18, 2016

What are your reading habits?

Writers are readers, too, so I'm curious, "What are your reading habits?"

Before we decided to be writers we probably read all of the time, fell in love with characters, their stories and were motivated to join the club. Am I right?

As children, we probably didn't enjoy everything we had to read for school - but beginning in middle school that seemed to change for me with TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. When I realized that many of my favorite films were based on books I couldn't wait to read them. Everyone knows the books are always better - but sometimes the filmmakers and actors get very close.

Once I realized you could borrow books from the city library, where they had thousands more than my school did - it became one of my favorite places to be. The hardest part was deciding which books to read, the stack was always a foot or more high. 

One of the first books that struck a chord with me as a young adult was THE IVY TREE by Mary Stewart. I loved the story, the suspense, the characters and the romance. I read everything she wrote after that. Since then I've read hundreds and hundreds of books by terrific authors in various genres.

My favorite times to read are on rainy weekends. Bring me a quilt, a cup of tea and a book and I'm content. Reading before I sleep each night keeps me from rewinding the days' tapes and having to relive the day all over again. Some days you only want to live once. There is a drawback with reading before bed, if you can't put the book down then you lose precious sleep. Sometimes it is worth it! Reading THE NIX by Nathan Hill made my nights a little shorter for over a week - and I don't begrudge a single moment. 

When I received a Kindle for Christmas a few years ago it became my traveling companion. No more listening to my seat mate (unless I wanted to). I could read for hours and not be afraid I'd finish too soon or lose the book before it was completely read. When I was traveling for work I would take paperback books and leave them in the airport or hotel lobby when I finished. Don't you love to share a good story? 

Whether you are a writer or a reader you no doubt love to share good books with friends. Enjoy the journey my friends, and I hope you read lots of wonderful books along the way.


Bonnie (BD) Tharp is an award-winning author of women's fiction, with novels FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY.  Also, the author of Kindle ebook short stories: THE CROSSROADS & EARL DIVINE.

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Tale of Two Covers: THE INHERITANCE by Jacqueline Seewald

My latest novel, THE INHERITANCE, will be published by Intrigue Publishing on December 1st. The novel is a mystery that combines elements of the cozy with romance and suspense. As of now, the novel is available as a Kindle book on Amazon for pre-order as well as in a print edition:
Also available at:
as well as many other booksellers.
The date of publication was pushed forward because the publisher decided to change the cover art. I’ll display both covers here for comparison. Here is the original cover art:

Here is the new cover that the publisher intends to use:

Here is a little about the novel:
Jennifer Stoddard, a thirty-five-year-old widow with an eight-year-old son, receives a surprising letter which will change her life. Jennifer’s grandmother has passed away and named Jen as sole heir to her estate. To claim her inheritance she must return to Bloomingvale, the town in the Midwest where she grew up. Jen is informed by her grandmother’s attorney that to inherit she must meet the condition of living in her grandmother’s house for two years. Since the estate is substantial, she agrees. However, there are those who will stop at nothing to make certain that Jennifer does not inherit.

Late that afternoon as Jen left the house and started to drive away, a strange sound whizzed across the open front car windows from the driver’s side through the passenger side. She was startled by the sound. Her heart began to pound. Jen glanced over at the thicket of overgrown shrubs and trees to the side of the grounds that led back into woodlands. Had the sound been a bullet? If so, it had nearly hit her. Her hands shook on the driver’s wheel as she took off at high speed.
One block away she heard the police siren and saw the flashing lights. She groaned. Not again! He signaled with his hand, pointing his index finger for her to pull over. It was all she could do not to burst into tears.
Grant Coleman approached the car like a gunfighter in a spaghetti western. “I thought you learned something the first time,” he said. “Guess I was wrong. License and registration.” He held out his hand with a bored, impatient gesture.
“I have a very good reason for speeding.”
The smile was more of a smirk. The man was infuriating! “I’ve heard them all, but you can try.”
“As I left my grandmother’s house, a bullet passed through my car. I had the windows rolled down. So they weren’t broken, but it just missed hitting me.”
He stared at her. “Maybe it was a kid with a Beebe gun. Are you certain it was a bullet breezing by you? How familiar are you with weapons?”
“Not familiar at all, but I know what I heard.” Jen swallowed hard. “I think someone might have intended to shoot me.”
He let out a loud laugh. “In Bloomingvale? I doubt that very much.”
“So you’re not taking this seriously?” She folded her arms over her chest.
“Admit it. You’re just looking for an excuse to keep me from writing you another ticket.” His intense gray eyes bore into her like the steel blade of a dagger.
Jen raised her chin and stiffened her spine. “You are so wrong. Why don’t you check the area near the house, just to see if you can find anything.”
“Waste of time.” He leaned toward her and she felt his breath on her cheek which caused her to shiver. “Tell you what I will do though. I won’t write you a ticket this time because that’s the most creative excuse I’ve ever heard.”
“So glad I managed to amuse you,” she said.
Jen watched him drive off. He was probably still laughing, the sexy jerk. Several people had come out of their houses and were staring at her. Jen managed to restart her car and drove off before others gathered. She certainly didn’t want to make a spectacle of herself. Letting out a shaky breath, Jen wasn’t certain now if she’d really heard what she thought she had. A professional law enforcement officer didn’t think anything of it. She supposed it might have been nothing at all. Maybe it was a child with a Beebe gun as he suggested. But try as hard as she might, Jen couldn’t convince herself.

Which cover as a reader would attract you more?
Which cover seems more appropriate for the novel? 
Your thoughts and opinions appreciated!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Publishing and Its Vagaries by Susan Oleksiw

About a year ago those of us who publish with Five Star learned that things were changing. I thought this meant the end of the Anita Ray series, and wasn’t sure if I could continue it with another publisher. To my surprise, I sold the two books in the series to Harlequin, for their worldwide mystery club. The Wrath of Shiva came out in mass market paperback on November 1.

The Anita Ray series is an object lesson in the vagaries and subjectivity of publishing. When I began writing the series, I struggled with defining the lead character, Anita, and her setting, Hotel Delite. I wanted the mix of Indian and non-Indian people because even in villages I encountered variety and extremes in population. Anita emerged in a short story I sold to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. “A Murder Made in India” appeared in October 2003.

I had trouble selling the first book, wrote another, and after a while sent that to Tekno/Five Star. Then came the fireworks. Marty Greenberg, co-founder with Ed Gorman, had medical problems, and his wife, Roz, took over. She bought the manuscript. Then he died and she fought for control of the company.

Through changes in editors, Five Star took three more Anita Ray mss. Harlequin bought the first, Under the Eye of Kali, for their worldwide mystery line but turned down the second one. I kept writing, and then as editors changed again and again at Harlequin, I decided to try another Anita Ray. I sent in the third book in the series, For the Love of Parvati. The editor inquired politely, “It looks like there’s another one in the series before this. Can we see that one too?” I sent in The Wrath of Shiva. Yes, the one turned down earlier. The editor bought both titles.

I don’t yet have a pub date for the third book, but I look forward to another gorgeous cover. And in a few months, I hope to interest Harlequin in the fourth Anita Ray, When Krishna Calls.

The point of all this is to remind myself and other writers that there is no order or sense or logic to publishing. Editors make subjective decisions every day over every manuscript even when they think they’re being rational and logical and calculating the odds on sales. Whenever I think about this I could feel better or worse, but mostly I feel the door is still open. I don’t know what will happen to the Anita Ray series, but I know there is still opportunity out there.

The fourth Anita Ray story, When Krishna Calls, has drawn a few four and five star reviews and seems to be doing well. It is the only book I've written that has not received a review or mention in the big reviewers: PW, Kirkus, or Library Journal. Despite that, readers and librarians manage to find it.

You can find the Anita Ray books here  and the lovely new paperback of The Wrath of Shiva here.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Setting the Stage in the First Two Pages by Sarah Wisseman

Several years ago, I attended a conference where authors were invited to read two pages to New York agents in a round table setting. I read two pages of my first Italian novel, Burnt Siena (then unpublished). It begins like this:

Hunger fought with worry in the pit of her stomach as she ran down the stone steps bowed in the middle by thousands of feet. The massive front door of the Archives clanged shut behind her.

Flora crossed the courtyard and stepped into Banchi di Sotto Street, dodging a garbage truck as she turned north. She had no intention of returning to work on this warm Saturday afternoon. Her plans included lunch at the apartment, followed by an espresso and a gelato—hazelnut and chocolate—at her favorite cafĂ©. And she was dying to talk with Ernst and discover what had spooked him. 

Flora hurried toward the Piazza del Campo. Crooked pavers pressed on her thin soles while petunias and marguerites nodded at eye level from every window box. She ignored the pigeons fluttering in the eaves and brightly colored laundry drooping on lines strung between windows above her head…”

One agent’s reaction: “Well, obviously you’ve lived in Italy and want us to know that. But I don’t care about your character and don’t want to read any more.” The other authors received similar criticisms. I came out of the session depressed, wondering what on earth those agents wanted and how to make my first two pages more compelling.

How do you set the stage and draw the reader in? Must you have a chase scene or a body on the first page? Burnt Siena is a traditional mystery, in some ways a “cozy” set in a foreign country. The setting is luscious, memorable Siena, one of the most beautiful cities on earth. The Italian scene could hardly fail to take a central place in the story, which revolves around the protagonist’s discovery that her bosses are smuggling antiquities and forging paintings instead of practicing traditional art conservation. You could say the beauty of the surroundings makes a nice foil for the corruption taking place in Flora’s workplace.

The two pages I read were from the first chapter, a short chapter that sets the stage and ends in Flora’s discovery of her dead roommate’s body. My goal was to draw the reader into the foreign setting, create some tension about what is going on in Flora’s job, and convey her horrible shock at finding Ernst below the balcony of their apartment. To do all that, I took four pages instead of only two.

Yes, those first two pages are crucial for capturing the kind of agent who is looking for the next Dan Brown blockbuster. But not everyone wants to write--or read--a thriller. There’s hope for authors who write the sort of novel that readers are sorry to finish. Readers who know how to savor a good book by donning pajamas, pouring that glass of wine, and travelling to another place from the comfort of a favorite chair.