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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Admired People of 2013

The days leading up to the new year are always my favorite. They give me the opportunity to reflect upon the last year and to prepare for the coming one. I always enjoy the television shows about the most influential people of the year, and I always get misty-eyed when I see all the faces of those who passed away.

I didn't want this year to come to a close without weighing in on my own Most Admired List of People in 2013. Though I am not Catholic or Methodist or Jewish, there are people of those faiths on this list. Some people you have no doubt heard about, and others who you probably haven't. But all have influenced the world in a positive way in 2013.

#1 : Pope Francis

I've never been to the Vatican and will never be privy to the inner workings of the inner-most circle. But it has to be nothing short of miraculous for a Pope to lead followers in new directions, modernizing the church and banishing the old order. I admire Pope Francis for leading his people into a path of brightness. He will no doubt be recognized as one of the greatest popes who ever lived.

#2 : Nelson Mandela

It's easy to focus on those who have done us wrong in one way or another, and many of us stubbornly hold onto old prejudices and beliefs. Imagine how difficult it must have been for a man who was not treated as a man but as something less, to be imprisoned, forced into hard labor, beaten down both physically and mentally... To emerge victorious. Mandela showed the world what it is to forgive. His life was an example of a beacon that refused to be extinguished, and of a light that I hope will last far into the future.

#3 : Neelley Hicks

Neelley Hicks works for United Methodist Communications. In the past, she has worked toward eradicating malaria in third world countries and on improving the life of the poor throughout the world. She is now working on Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D), a project that can revolutionize the world as it brings the Internet, cell phone technology and computer technology to the poorest of the poor in the least advanced countries. She works tirelessly, giving of herself, her energy and her time, to improving mankind.

#4 : Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein is the CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Washington, DC). I've known him for about twenty years and for almost ten years, he has mentored me. I know I am not the only one he mentors; he gives of his time and his energy without judgment, and he's shown patience when most folks would have been tempted to throw up their hands. Yet he never asks for anything in return. His work through JCCGW and personally is far-reaching and life-changing.

#5 : Mickey Gregory

Mickey Gregory is the Executive Director of the Lumberton Visitors Bureau in Lumberton, North Carolina. She works tirelessly to improve Lumberton and Robeson County, pulling together business leaders, community organizations and individuals from all walks of life. She seems to be everywhere at once: from early in the morning until well past evening, seven days a week, she is attending community events, making telephone calls, giving talks, answering emails - and never taking "no" as a final answer. She is undoubtedly one of the key players in taking Lumberton from a farming community into a new, exciting era as a tourist destination.

#6 : Mary Ann Masters

Dr. Mary Ann Masters is an Optometrist but she is on this list because of her vision for the Arts. She resurrected the Robeson County Arts Council, which had been dormant for several years, and has spear-headed efforts to revitalize Robeson County, North Carolina as an arts community. She has pulled together artists from theatre, the visual arts, the literary arts and more, helping to develop events that attract tourists from around the country, and profiling the vast talents of artists and artisans in this community.

There are many people, both well-known and obscure, both great and small, who help to make their communities and the world around them a brighter, better place to live. I salute each and every one of you!

Who has made a difference in your life this past year?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Ten Books of 2013

Earlier this year I began working with a publisher to edit books. I have also been hosting various virtual blog tours at www.bookemnc.blogspot.com. As a result, I've had the great fortune of reading new books by authors I hadn't discovered before. I look for superb storytelling, compelling plots, and characters I love (or love to hate). And I must admit that 2013 was filled with romance and romantic suspense genres! So here's my list of the Top Ten books I read this year (with click-thrus to the pages on amazon):

1. Through the Oracle's Mist by Aedan Byrnes

2. Saving Sandra by Shane Hayes (not yet released - to be released in the spring of 2014)

3. Ghost Lover by Liza O'Connor

4. Selkie's Song by Clare Austin

5. Captured Lies by Maggie Thom

6. Spirit of the Revolution by Debbie Peterson

7. Going Back for Romeo by L.L.Muir (and the entire Muir Witch Project series)

8. Stealing Fire by Susan Sloate

9. A Love Through Time by Terri Brisbin (and the entire MacKendimen trilogy)

10. The Laird by Sandy Blair (and the Castle Blackstone series)

What were the best books you read in 2013?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Drama and Conflict

People who know me well know that I dislike drama and conflict in my own life but such is not the case in writing. Regardless of the genre, the story is propelled forward through conflict. Without it, there's no point in reading it. Even inspirational books weave stories of conflict and drama through them, if for no other reason than to show the reader how they can come out on top in similar circumstances.

With suspense, nothing can be easy. And as the story unfolds, the noose must become tighter and tighter around the protagonist's neck until the reader doesn't know if that character can survive.

For years I had a sign in my office that read:

"She was born. She died. And somewhere in between, she encountered something so frightening and so threatening that she did not know if she would survive."

It's that occurrence that I write about in my suspense/thrillers. It isn't the story of how they were born, their early years, the things that happened to them that were good or heartwarming or positive - It's the conflict, the taking of an average person and placing them into extraordinary circumstances. It's the page-turning suspense and twists and turns that pulls the main character deeper and deeper into an abyss that seems impossible to climb out of. That is the stuff of suspense.

In The Tempest Murders, Detective Ryan O'Clery is working a serial murder case. He's a police detective so the case doesn't affect him personally, right? Well... not quite. He falls quickly and passionately in love with television reporter Cathleen Reilly, who appears on the scene to cover the unfolding homicides. But nothing can be easy in suspense. Through a wicked twist of fate, the relationship between Ryan and Cathleen is in danger of falling apart - just as he discovers a link from the killer to his own family. The serial murders are personal - and Cathleen is the killer's next target.

As the noose closes around Ryan, Hurricane Irene is barreling toward the coast, capturing Cathleen, Ryan and killer Diallo Delport in its grasp - and against the formidable winds, rain, flooding and devastation, three people battle for their lives.

Purchase The Tempest Murders from amazon by following this link. It placed as one of four finalists in the 2013 USA Best Book Awards!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Finding Contentment

On Tuesday, I posted a blog about being overcommitted and frazzled, particularly at this time of year. I received this tip, which I'm passing on to those women who contacted me, admitting they, too, suffer from overcommitment and the inability to say "no".

I was told to take two sheets of paper. At the top of one sheet, write:

Things That Make Me Content

At the top of the second sheet, write:

Things That Result in Discontent

"Happiness" is a term that seems to be elusive; when I ask women if they are happy, more than not they respond with, "What is happiness?"

But ask what makes you feel content, and the reaction is quite different.

Something that makes me feel content each and every time I do it is writing. That tells me I need to continue writing.

Something that causes discontent is being manipulated into doing something I would not ordinarily engage in.

For example (because I realize that last sentence was rather vague): I received an invitation in the mail to an engagement party - only the invitation appeared to have come from ME and it was at MY home at a particular date and time. I knew absolutely nothing about it. After making a number of phone calls, trying to run down the source, I found out that a party had indeed been planned without my involvement or consent and several dozen people had received their invitations on the same day that I received mine. Not wishing to blow a bad situation completely out of control, I put on my big girl panties and hosted the party. On the outside, I might have appeared calm or accommodating. Inside, I was seething. The party cost me time and money, and I already had other plans, which I had to cancel.

Lesson: put the brakes on manipulation. Others will try it; there's no doubt about it. But it does not make me content to be manipulated so whatever conscious decision I need to make to prevent it from happening has to be on my front burner.

Let me know if you try the "Content" and "Discontent" columns, and whether it becomes the first step to organizing your life the way it should be.

And I'll continue to post tips as they come in.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tis the Season... To Be Frazzled

There are just two weeks left in 2013. New Year's Day is always my favorite holiday. I spend the time leading up to the new year contemplating what my goals and resolutions were for the current year and establishing new goals and resolutions - and plans for achieving them.

This year as I look back on 2013, I realize what everyone else has been seeing all along: I am frazzled and completely overcommitted.

I am a people pleaser, which means it is very difficult for me to say "no". I have become an expert at staying so busy that I have no time for myself. I give away my time to friends in need, to authors in need, to volunteer groups, to animals, to people in all walks of life who lean on me on a daily basis.

I had an ah-ha moment this past weekend when I had a rare opportunity to read a magazine - and read an interview with Maria Shriver, in which she mentioned the number of women she's met who say they don't have time to wash their hair. For the first time that I can remember, I realized I am not the only one who is in this boat.

Women today are asked to do more than ever before. I know women who work long hours at high-powered and high-stressed jobs and who routinely go through fast food drive-throughs on their way home from work, because their family is waiting for their dinners - one woman in particular who has a stay-at-home husband, and she's still responsible for the cooking (or fast food pickups), the cleaning, the child-rearing, AND the bread-winning.

I know women sandwiched in between raising their own children and caring for their elderly parents who have moved in with them. I know women who must serve as nurses, spouses, mothers, caregivers, cooks, housekeepers, chauffeurs, secretaries... in addition to working full-time jobs.

And I know other women who work two jobs in an attempt to make ends meet, which is a constant challenge of juggling bills and "robbing Peter to pay Paul". One woman is working six days a week in a full-time job and has had to take on a second job on her only day off.

I know other women in their 50's, 60's and 70's who thought at that stage in their lives they would be taking it easier, coasting into or enjoying retirement, and instead are learning new careers, reinventing themselves, and stretching themselves to the breaking point.

So I know when I come up for air and take a rare look around me that I am not the only one who has ended up on a treadmill that goes ever faster. The question is how to rearrange my life so that I am not the last in a list - a list in which I rarely get toward the bottom - but near the top, or as many of my friends are striving for - at the top.

I have tried saying "no" and people are insistent. If I don't personally step in, this dog will die. Or that person will encounter catastrophy. Or someone else will be unhappy. Or angry. Or upset. Never mind that it means I won't get lunch that day, or that I won't have time to go to the bathroom, or I won't have the opportunity to rest for five minutes, or the exercise routine I just decided yesterday had to happen - won't happen for another year. Or two years. Or three. Or maybe never.

It has reached the point where everything I do, I must give up something else to do it. And that "something else" is always something for myself.

Yet I know I am not the only one. By far.

Are you finding yourself in this same boat? If so, I'd like to hear from you. I'd like to know if you managed to get off the treadmill, how you did it. If you're struggling, what you're contemplating doing. Where you find support.

In the coming weeks (if anyone is interested) I'll post what I'm doing to get balance in my life. And in six months or a year, we'll see if I am successful. It's my New Year's Resolution, after all. And they never fail... do they?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Through the Oracle's Mist


Today's special guest is Aedan Byrnes. There is no simple description for Aedan. Obsessive, dreamer, reclusive, compulsive, outdoorsman and wordsmith would be among the list if one were started. The displaced Gael lives in the upper Midwest with family between jaunts wherever the road takes him. A frequent traveler, he is as likely to be found rock climbing or spelunking as sitting fireside dreaming or aimlessly floating away.

A lifelong lover of words and writing, he claims a diverse reading appetite and his writing reflects the myriad influences. A self-proclaimed 'reader's writer', he looks for the emotional and the sensory in word combinations, not just the visceral comprehension of phrases in the stories he crafts and his love of all things literary shines through.


ABOUT THE BOOK

In the blackest night, with the moon and stars to guide him, she would always be there waiting…

Cyrenna thought she died the day she watched Tynan and his brothers jump through the banishment portal in an act of solidarity with Rigor. Little did she know, it would be the first of many deaths she would experience in her quest to claim his heart. She would surrender not only her immortal soul, but a mortal one repeatedly. Through a deal with the great Oracle, she has multiple mortal lifetimes to change the direction of her future and have a chance with Tynan.

Her journey spans the ages from the GenPei War in Japan and the Silk Road west, to Cromwell, the Three Kingdoms and modern times, bringing her one step closer to forever until she makes a misstep. Then, the burden falls to Tynan. The only thing that is absolute is her fervent hope that he will come, but there’s one big problem.

Through it all, he doesn’t so much as know her name.






AN EXCERPT

How many times can a man be broken? How many times can a man die and never have it be final? How many lost loves or lost chances at love will it take to undo any chance of ever becoming whole? In the purest sense…only one. Nothing I could imagine or ever endure would compete for the absolute punishing agony of her folding me into her arms to comfort me and hearing her whisper…

“I know.”

Two words. Who knew that two words would be all that it would take to loose the storm? Hardly two words really, only five letters. Five little letters with extreme power. Five little letters to rob Zeus of his most lethal bolt, focus the strike, and rend me in pieces. The surge had pushed past my pride and leaves me sobbing for the loss I had yet to experience. A loss I knew would take my breath, but I cannot die. How cruelly ironic that death has become my sole wish now?

My internal emotional upheaval is a flash storm out of place beneath the cloudless sky. The cacophony of my noisy tears and transition scatter the small creatures for miles. I have no control and shift without grace. Rage and pain coalesce to an explosion, angst roaring as the internal battle is waged and the war lost before the call to arms is done sounding. My thunderous eruption screaming against the fading light, with a rising silvery moon and shimmering stars to bear witness to my destruction. The metamorphosis from man to beast is abrupt. I shift, not with the flexing of bone and the stretching of skin, but with the crack of a gun blast and a single pull to form. It is razor wire across my senses and I am bloodied raw without a trace to be found.

A testament to her, she stands still. Not frozen, but placated to let me render the fury that must come out as I cannot hold it in. The beast from within is enormous, but not big enough to hold so much. I warned her. I told her. I had made her aware almost cruelly that first time I let my inner wild out that this day might come…could come…would come and that it would be ushered in on an unseen tide that would sweep our perfect world away. I had wanted her to be afraid. She wasn’t. She had believed, but had also naively assured me that the day would be long into the future and we would enjoy the time until then.

She had been wrong. There was nothing to say now. ‘I’m sorry’ would be a hollow sentiment and ‘I was wrong’ would do nothing as the last thing I would want to hear and know about this was that I had been right.

LEAVE A COMMENT - AND WIN A PRIZE

Aedan will be awarding one of two journals (with the winners' choice of covers) to two randomly drawn commenters and an Erian Crest necklace as a grand prize to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour.Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:



Twitter: @AedanByrnes


Friday, December 13, 2013

Musings on the Reviewer's Responsibilities

Last week I received a review on my latest book, The Tempest Murders. The review was complimentary and positive and mentioned no negatives. I should be flattered, right? So what's the problem?

Well, the review was based on the reviewer reading only the first five pages of a 265-page book.

That's right. Five pages.

It prompted me to think of the first five pages I've read of other authors' works. Clive Cussler's book, Sahara, begins in April 1865 in Richmond, Virginia. Yet the bulk of the book takes place in the present day. Many of his writings are slip-stream, the same genre as The Tempest Murders. I can't imagine reviewing that book based on the one scene that took place in 1865.

Yet that's precisely what this reviewer did with The Tempest Murders. Though she praised the first chapter, she admitted in the review that she had no clue why the second chapter began in North Carolina nearly two hundred years later, or what it had to do with the scene from 1839 Ireland. She said the only physical description she had of Rian Kelly was that he had black hair - but she didn't read beyond the fifth page to see whether the character was fleshed out as the story progressed (which it was; I very rarely describe a character in his or her entirety all at once, which slows down the action). If she'd read the synopsis or the back cover of the book, she would have known more than what she admitted knowing in her review.

While I appreciate any and all reviews, it made me wonder: as a reader, what do you expect from a reviewer? Do you read the reviews anticipating or assuming that the reviewer read the entire book? That they've read enough to know if the book gets better, gets worse, wraps things up or falls apart at the seams? Or at least enough to know the plot?

How much of your own reading is based on the reviews of others? Or do you ignore reviews altogether and go strictly by the book's description? Or the author's reputation?

To read more about The Tempest Murders including the plot and reviews, visit this page. The book placed as one of four finalists in the 2013 USA Best Book Awards!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Attraction

Yesterday's post was all about creating evil characters, but there are just as many layers of goodness that can be added to characters we wish to portray as positive. One of the most common threads in a variety of genres is the girl-boy relationship. The entire book can center around their relationship (as in the romance genre) or the relationship could be another thread in a more complicated plot (such as an action-adventure or suspense/thriller).

I just finished reading a book in which the male lead instantly thinks of the girl without her clothes on, the moment they meet. Though the author was attempting to portray the female as a love interest, the affect was sleazy and superficial. It didn't have the desired affect. Why not?

Because we are attracted to people in a multitude of ways, some of which are subtle and some more profound.

Attraction can be depicted with the simple touch of a silky-smooth hand, which creates a surge of electricity in the one the woman touches.

It can be the mesmerizing way the woman runs her fingers through her hair, the man brushes his stray locks off his forehead, the way his collar brushes against the back of his neck or the way a blouse caresses a woman's wrist.

It can be the sensual aroma of a woman's skin, described as spicy or sweet, depending on the rest of the character's persona. Or the fresh or slightly wild scent of a man - perhaps he is an outdoorsman and athletic, or a Wall Street power broker wearing a musk-based cologne.

In The Tempest Murders, Ryan O'Clery is mesmerized by a dragonfly tattoo on Cate's ankle. Her jeans are ankle-length so when she's sitting, the pants ride up slightly, exposing more of the tattoo. She also dangles one stiletto heel as she sits with her legs crossed. Dangling a shoe and exposing the heel of the foot is actually one of the sexiest things men list for a woman to do, according to a recent survey of sexual attraction.

Cate doesn't hit Ryan over the head with her sexuality; yet the most subtle gestures heighten the attraction he has for her. It also heightens the reader's reaction; as any good book progresses, the gestures can become broader, deeper, or more profound, building to the point where the two characters take their relationship to a more intimate level.

Have you read any books where the couple remained with you long after you put the book down? What triggers did each character provide to the other in a subtle but telling way?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Evil Characters

Whether a book is a romance, a mystery, an adventure, a fantasy... There is always at least one thing in common. They each contain at least one character who makes the protagonist's life miserable.

It might be easy to portray an antagonist as something so evil that he or she has no redeeming qualities. In the show, don't tell rule in writing, this could be depicted as a child abuser, animal killer, or spouse abuser.

But sometimes, it's the little things that make the greatest impact.

It could be the way in which a spouse requires all the cans to face with their labels outward, as in Sleeping With the Enemy... When main character Lara Burney escapes from her marriage, we know her husband has found her when all the cans are reorganized with the labels outward.

It could be the way in which a spouse "edits" everything the other says, correcting and requiring them to speak in a specific manner.

Or it could be the way in which a parent turns a deaf ear to a child in need, refusing to hear or respond to their physical or emotional needs.

Every human being is multi-faceted. Sometimes the way evil sneaks up on a person is to portray them as someone we might have liked; someone whose characteristics draw us to him or her. But when we're sucked in, we find there are other layers, terrifying layers, perhaps sociopathic in one extreme or disconnected in another. Perhaps it's someone who seems normal on the surface but who is incapable of feeling pain - and has a quiet obsession with seeing it in others.

There are careers for those who want to live outside normal society. Mobsters, assassins or mercenaries are just a few that come to mind - careers in which the sociopaths are surrounded by others of their own kind. While Hitler undoubtedly laid the groundwork for hatred and crimes against humanity, it took more than one person to carry it out - sometimes those evil characters are found in the guise of doctors, soldiers, or otherwise ordinary civilians - more than 200,000 in all who participated in crimes against humanity under the Nazi regime. We think of a doctor as someone sworn to help save other human beings from pain or death, and yet many have crossed the line into something sinister and evil.

As an author, I must create a composite of each evil character in my book. I have to know as much about the way they tick as I do the protagonist. I have to find their good qualities as well as shine a spotlight on their evil qualities.

In The Tempest Murders, I introduce a character named Diallo Delport. He is a sociopath, a killer, a man who is patient enough to plan his crimes to the most minute detail. He is formidable, physically intimidating: 6 foot 4, 230 pounds, solid muscle. He is also an albino, his eyes a mixture of light purple and cornflower blue, his skin unusually pale. Perhaps a most alarming characteristic is a scar that runs under one eye and continues almost the length of one cheek; a scar that looks like a teardrop. It will be the last thing that many women see just before he murders them.

As an author, I am a people-watcher. When I see a character who disarms me, a character who frightens me or causes me to fear for my safety, I want to know why. The character of Diallo Delport was created in part on a character from the television series Justified. Brilliantly portrayed by actor Neal McDonough, the character of Robert Quarles is chilling, sadistic, mesmerizing, and terrifying.

What evil character portrayed in the arts has made a lasting impression on you?

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday Musings - Love and Hate

Like millions of people around the world, I admire Nelson Mandela and all he was able to accomplish in his lifetime. Perhaps the most profound thing I heard about him over the past few days had to do with a speech he gave at Howard University in Washington, DC a few years after he was released from prison. Students who had been there for that speech spoke of what Mandela meant to them and what they had learned from him.

One student quoted a passage from his book, Long Walk to Freedom, in which Mandela said, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

There are many prejudices in this world. There is hatred of races different from our own, hatred of religions that do not agree with ours, hatred of cultures that vary from ours. There is hatred of people who have more than we do, of those more beautiful than we see ourselves, of those more intelligent or intellectual. There is even hatred of people who remind us too much of ourselves.

Yet what Mandela said is true. We are not born with hatred. It is learned.

Perhaps one of Mandela's legacies is to stop and look at ourselves, to question why we hate, why we discriminate, why we feel prejudices. And to understand that if we can learn an emotion that will destroy not only others but ourselves, we can also learn to love, to accept, to forgive, to embrace.

What did Mandela mean to you?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Musings... Traveling the World

Today marks the start of another virtual book tour. I always enjoy them, because I have the opportunity to connect with fans all over the world.

Today Queen of All She Reads is hosting me with a book review of The Tempest Murders. The book recently placed as one of five finalists in the 2013 USA Best Book Awards in the cross-genre category. Come on over by following this link, read the review and leave a comment for me.

The Tempest Murders is also featured today at Romance with Flavor. Pop on over and read an excerpt from the book.

I feel very blessed to be able to do what I love the most: write. From the time I was a young girl, I always wanted to write full-time. I have always been attracted to suspense and adventure and in recent years as I have connected more with my family's ancestry, I love weaving Ireland into my plots.

What countries and backdrops do you love reading about the most?