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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Standing Alone - a Thing of the Past?

For years, people have asked me to write a series. But I'm one of those people who needs to envision things 100 steps ahead of where I am now before I make a move in that direction.

When Kickback came out, people clamored for more of Sheila Carpenter, so I wrote Ricochet and she made a "guest appearance" in Exit 22 ... But no real series.

When I wrote Songbirds are Free, I had enough material to write a prequel, which turned out to be my award-winning book, River Passage. But still no real series.

So, why now?

First, I did not want to become a "formula" writer. You know the type. The entire series is the same story, just different people murdered. You know what's going to happen and when. I needed a series that could take you, the reader, around the world and through time so you'd never know what's about to happen or which path I'll be leading you down. I wanted to surprise you, enlighten you, engage you.

Second, I needed multi-faceted characters. I needed main characters who were polar opposites but who were tied together through fate or blood. I needed people who could grow and change and be fleshed out over a dozen or more books. People whose pasts rose to haunt them, whose futures were uncertain, and whose presents were totally engaging.

Third, I needed a location that you could feel. One that you could become intimately familiar with, one that would draw you in so you'd feel as if you lived in that house, on that street, in that town.

How did I accomplish this?

Black Swamp Mysteries was inspired by my suspense/thriller, Exit 22, which is my most popular suspense. But it goes far beyond the plot in that book while bringing back the characters we loved, hated and feared.

Vicki's Key will be released in February in eBook format and in March in trade paperback.

It features Vicki Boyd, a CIA psychic spy. Her character is based on a real CIA program and real psychic spies. The side effects she suffers while remote viewing are based on those actually experienced. The detail she is able to describe and sketch is the same level of detail as the best of the best in the psychic program today.

By having a psychic spy as a main character, it allows me to take you around the world - even to remote regions inaccessible by any other means. It will also allow me to take you back in time, as Vicki pieces together events that have occurred in the past but are threatening the world - or her personally - in the present. It allows limitless plots, limitless locales, limitless characters.

But I chose not to have one main character. Brenda Carnegie, Christopher Sandige, and Alec Brodie - all from Exit 22 - have main roles in the Black Swamp Mysteries series also. If you've read Exit 22, you'll remember Brenda as a beautiful but mysterious woman who operates on the wrong side of the law--and who will come toe to toe with Vicki. Chris is a political operative who helps to provide funding for the controversial program - but who also will be involved in some of Vicki's assignments. Alec is Vicki's next door neighbor. Even Joseph Gabucci, the feared assassin, will come face to face with Vicki.

And a new character has emerged as one that reviewers and advance readers alike can't seem to get enough of - Dylan Maguire, an Irishman with a mysterious past whose fate is intertwined in Vicki's.

The locale - the launching point for Vicki's missions - is Lumberton, North Carolina, a real town in the southeastern part of the state. It provides the same level of mystery as the moors of England and the mists of Ireland. The Lumber River winds its way through the county and right through the heart of town. It often overflows its banks, and when the waters recede, it leaves swampland that is almost impenetrable. It's the perfect spot to hide a body... or two.

Stay tuned to future blogs while I tell you more about the main characters and about Lumberton and the mysterious home in which Vicki lives...

And about the murders there.

I hope you'll enjoy Black Swamp Mysteries...

Exit 22 is now on sale on amazon for just 99 cents! Watch the trailer in the upper right corner of this screen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marching to a Different Drummer Boy

I'm probably a week early with this post. After all, the rest of the world seems to be focused on Christmas, gift-giving, and Santa Claus. Don't get me wrong: I like the holidays. I enjoy going to parties and seeing people I haven't seen since... the last party. I enjoy my grandchildren's excitement about Santa Claus. I like Christmas lights (the tackier, the better), the smell of cut trees and getting food in the mail from all my relatives.

But I've never been one to march to the same drummer.

My favorite time of year is just one week behind Christmas. It's the start of the New Year. It's that last week of special television shows about the biggest stories of the year, the most-watched celebrities, those who sadly passed away in 2011, and how our lives have changed since 2010.

But it's more than that. It's laying the past to rest and turning toward the future. It's planning 2012 and all the exciting things I want to happen. And who I want to be.

This blogspot is usually about writing, because I picked writing as my career and I love it. But I don't write for any public recognition. If I did, I'd probably be in therapy right now. I don't write for the money. If I did, I might feel like a failure. I don't write to be social, because writing is a solitary pursuit.

I write for the pleasure. My pleasure in writing it. And the readers' pleasure in reading it.

I have always felt that for the short time I will be on this planet, using up oxygen, water and resources, I should be prepared to give something back. And my small gift to mankind is a few hours of pleasure, of escape from everyday problems, a journey into worlds and times far removed from our own, a time when the rest of the world stands still and all that matters are the moments getting lost in a good story.

In early 2012, my 13th book will be released - first on Kindle and then in trade paperback. It's the first book I've written purely for myself. It's also the most personal story I've told to date.

Vicki's Key is the story of a young woman trying to leave the CIA and start over. Of a woman trying to find herself, looking for love, searching for a future, trying to find her place in the world. It's also the story of a man who leaves all he's ever known to travel halfway around the world to find his future, his place, his destiny. And the story of a remote village locked away from the rest of the world, who suddenly gets the attention of the CIA, and pulls Vicki from the brink of a new life back into the fold...

It's the story of journeys; life's journeys, and how even the smallest decision can place us on paths we never thought possible.

And in 2012, it's my hope that those who read it finds it broadens their horizons, provides pleasure and interest, takes them out of whatever challenges they might face in their own lives, even for a short time... And leaves them feeling just a little better than before they read it.

If you are a writer, why do you write? Why do you choose the books you read, and what do you hope to get out of them?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Importance of Setting

I grew up reading Daphne du Maurier's books and fell completely in love with the windswept moors and granite cliffs that wind their way through her suspenseful books. While reading Jamaica Inn, I could envision the main character trying to get away from the murderer, only to get bogged down in the swampy footholds of the moors in the dead of night. The setting for her books became antagonists in themselves, often hindering the good guys and helping the bad ones.

There was also something mystical about England in the days before electricity, gasoline-powered automobiles and technology. It was a world that was pure escapism, with all the good, the bad and the ugly.

I've had a few ah-ha moments in my life and one of the most vivid occurred when I was planning to move from Virginia (where I'd spent most my life, having been born in Washington, DC) to the southeastern corner of North Carolina. This region was immortalized in the movie, Cape Fear, which was originally released in 1962.

I was searching for an area in which I'd like to live after a driving rainstorm that caused the swamps to overflow their banks. The water was covered with thick green algae and the trees were sunk into the swamps with huge ballooning trunks surrounded by jagged "knees". It made me realize just how difficult it would be for a main character to try and escape a murderer through those swamps. It conjured up images of alligators, leeches, mosquitoes the size of a hummingbird... And those books I loved by Daphne du Maurier.

I had been writing Ricochet, a suspense/thriller that I'd intended to have occur in the Shenandoah Valley. But after that amazing day driving around Robeson County, NC, I decided the only place to have it set was the swampland. I changed the setting and then went back to Robeson County for the setting of Exit 22, which has been my most popular suspense/thriller to date.

Exit 22 has spawned a series, and I am finding as I've been writing books #13, 14 and 15, that I love the swamps as an antagonist - and sometimes also as an ally. In Vicki's Key, set for release in March 2012, the Lumber River serves as both a place in which two lovers fall in love--and a spot to dispose of a corpse later. Secrets of a Dangerous Woman, the third in the series (set for release in September 2012) returns to the swamps as both friend and foe. And Dylan's Song (set for release in March 2013) takes us across the ocean to Ireland.

As part of the research for Dylan's Song, I am planning a trip to Ireland. I am looking forward to visiting such a  mystical place, a place filled with moors and mist and fog... And I will no doubt feel a kinship with Daphne du Maurier while I am there.

Oddly enough (or perhaps not) my ancestors were from Ireland so I am feeling as if I am headed home. I still have distant cousins living there who never left Ireland when my branch of the family emigrated to the U.S. in search of a brighter future. And when I return to Robeson County, North Carolina after that trip, I will no doubt remember why the Scottish and the Irish fell in love with this area so many generations ago. Perhaps it has something to do with the swamps, the misty mornings, the fog that rolls in... And the perfect setting for suspense/thrillers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Reluctant Hero

Reluctant heroes have always fascinated me, perhaps because they are much like you and me. Many times, they've led normal lives, held average jobs, and might even have been sheltered from the ugliness of the world - before they are catapulted into an out-of-control situation in which their lives are threatened.

One of the most vivid reluctant heroes I remember is the role Jon Voight played in the movie Deliverance. He was an average man who worked a job in a suit and tie, and who usually played golf with the fellas on the weekend. Except for one weekend when he joined three friends to canoe down a river before the water was diverted. Early in the movie, he tried and failed to kill a deer because the mere thought of killing was so repugnant to him. But by the end of the movie, his fate and the fate of his friends rested squarely on his shoulders - and he had to face his demons, kill or be killed - and be forever changed in the process.

Throughout history there have been reluctant heroes. A classic is Jimmy Stewart's portrayal of a man who is determined to stay out of the Civil War in the movie Shenandoah:

He makes it clear in the scene above that he spent a lifetime caring for his farm and raising his family, and he doesn't intend to get involved in a war that has nothing to do with him... Until the war comes to roost at his own front door.

Jimmy Stewart and the role of the reluctant hero were the inspiration behind the character of Christopher Sandige in my suspense/thriller, Exit 22. Chris is a city boy, a political strategist, completely at ease with the big city, a computer and a desk. But in Exit 22, he finds himself completely out of his element. He is stranded for the weekend in a small North Carolina town and immediately involved in a double homicide. Now he is on the run.

Unaccustomed to handling a weapon, Chris is a man who has never had a reason to fire a gun - until a sociopathic assassin leaves him no choice. He's forced into hand-to-hand combat in one scene, as the assassin is closing in on him and his lover, Brenda Carnegie, at a hotel. The climactic scene comes as the two lovers are hiding at a country estate, unaware that the assassin has found a way into the home - and is intent on killing them both. Now he must decide whether he has what it takes to kill -- or be killed.

Who do you remember as a reluctant hero in movies or books? Why did their character remain with you long after you finished that last page or watched that last scene?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Femme Fatale

The character of Brenda Carnegie in Exit 22 was inspired by Kathleen Turner more than 20 years before Exit 22 was published.

In 1981, Kathleen Turner starred with William Hurt in the movie Body Heat. Her voice was deep, sultry and hypnotic. It would be the kind of voice that Christopher Sandige described in Exit 22 as "husky, the kind of voice a woman wakes up with but is gone before her lipstick is on" when describing Brenda Carnegie.

In Body Heat, Kathleen Turner sizzles. It was that sexiness that I tried to convey with Brenda Carnegie, the type of woman who instantly has a hold on the man she makes love to... Even when the man begins to wonder if she's operating on the wrong side of the law.

In Exit 22, Christopher Sandige is a political strategist who is traveling south on Interstate 95 when he's involved in an automobile accident at Exit 22 in North Carolina. Stranded for the weekend in Lumberton, he meets Brenda Carnegie and is instantly attracted. Her eyes are such a light shade of brown that they turn amber in some lights, and he finds himself mesmerized by them. The eyes were inspired by this picture.

Even when Chris is pulled into a double homicide and finds himself running from the law and a sociopathic assassin determined to kill him and Brenda, he can not pull himself away from her, preferring to risk losing everything simply to have her.

Brenda is the type of woman who is equally at home seducing a man, tramping through alligator-infested swamps, or using her computer expertise to make millions in illegal activities.

And at the end of Exit 22, I was inundated with requests to bring her back.

Well, now my fans will have their wish.

Exit 22 has been spun off into a series entitled Black Swamp Mysteries. The next book is Vicki's Key, which will be released in March 2012. Christopher Sandige is back and he's looking for Brenda. His obsession will culminate in the third book of the series, Secrets of a Dangerous Woman, due to be released in September 2012.

You've probably guessed that the dangerous woman is Brenda Carnegie... And you'll learn that her illegal activities in Exit 22 were just the tip of the iceberg. Now she has secrets so explosive that she can bring down an entire government.

If you haven't read Exit 22 yet, you'll want to before the next two books are released in 2012. Through October 31, the book is on sale for only 99 cents in the Kindle edition. On November 1, it will return to $6.99.

Thank you, Kathleen Turner, for the inspiration.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Hired Assassin

My most popular suspense/thriller, Exit 22, begins with a hired assassin arriving at the home of a young couple. He is methodical. Precise. Prepared. Logical. He kills the young man without remorse. When his wife arrives home unexpectedly, he must kill her, also. His only regret is he used two bullets when one would have been sufficient, but the double-tap comes naturally to him.

Once he is finished with his hit, he returns to his hotel and spends the evening in the lobby knitting baby booties.

The character of Joseph Gabucci was inspired in part by the role of the assassin in Three Days of the Condor starring Robert Redford. I learned a lot from that movie, released in 1975. It was based on a book entitled Seven Days of the Condor but the timeframe was shortened to ramp up the suspense. It was a lesson I would use many times in the writing of my own books.

The assassin in the movie was played by Max von Sydow. He is mild-mannered, methodical, precise. You would never suspect him as a hired assassin. In his spare time, he repairs clocks. He was hired to kill Joe, the character played by Robert Redford. In the scene below, he is speaking to Joe after he decides not to kill him because he has gained respect for Joe's sense of survival.

It was this character I had in mind when I developed Joseph Gabucci, the hired assassin in Exit 22. I came across his hobby of knitting baby booties quite unexpectedly. I had a visiting author friend, Dirk Robertson, from Scotland. In his spare time, Dirk enjoys knitting and is quite successful with it, launching a business in which his items are sold in the most exclusive stores in the world. I found it fascinating that a man who appeared on the outside to be ready to play rugby could so easily adapt to a hobby as quaint and unassuming as knitting.

When Exit 22 was released, it turned out that the assassin's hobby made him even more terrifying. He crossed over the line to be more of a sociopathic assassin, incapable of feeling, simply killing as a means of making a living, with no remorse.

Since Exit 22 has launched an entire series, you'll see Joseph Gabucci again, and he will become even more terrifying than his initial appearance. He is, after all, a cold-blooded killer.

Who scared you the most in movies or books?

Exit 22 Kindle edition is on sale now at amazon for only 99 cents. The next book in the Black Swamp Mysteries series, Vicki's Key, will be released in March 2012. The third book in the series, Secrets of a Dangerous Woman, will be released in September 2012.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What Theme Song is Your Book?

I haven't posted anything in a long time. Between my fall book tour (cut short due to upcoming surgery), editing Book # 13 and writing Book # 14, I've had a very full schedule.

Perhaps because of impending surgery, I've wanted to become lost in my new series, Black Swamp Mysteries, and the characters, setting, and plot. The series was inspired by the success of Exit 22, my most popular contemporary suspense/thriller. Since the book's release, I've had so many people ask me what happened to Brenda Carnegie, Christopher Sandige, Alec Brodie - and even the assassin, Joseph Gabucci - that I had to revisit their adventures and expand upon them.

The result is a series with an ensemble cast. Think of a television series such as True Blood, where you have some characters rise to the forefront for awhile, then take more of a back seat while others move up. That will be the journey you'll embark upon in the Black Swamp Mysteries series, while all of the characters are forever tied together through something that happens in their lives.

Exit 22 introduced Christopher Sandige as a political strategist driving from New York to Florida when he is involved in an automobile accident at Exit 22 in North Carolina. Stranded for the weekend in Lumberton, he meets a beautiful but mysterious woman, Brenda Carnegie, and immediately becomes embroiled in a double homicide. As they flee from Alec Brodie, the detective leading the investigation, they find a hired assassin hot on their heels as well. While Alec wants to capture them, Joseph wants to kill them.

While writing the scenes between Chris and Brenda, I listened to Paul McCartney's song, This Never Happened Before. Chris had been a workaholic, so engrossed in his work that he came home each night to an empty house and never had time for dating, much less a relationship. But when he meets the mysterious Brenda, he is immediately captivated. There is something about her light brown eyes that could appear almost amber in some lights, her long, wavy copper hair, and her secrecy that intrigues him. She seems to be everything he is not: comfortable with sloshing through alligator-infested swamps on the run, street-wise, living on the wrong side of the law, flying through life by the seat of her pants, not to mention her amazing sex appeal, that he finds irresistible.

The problem, he soon finds, is whether to believe this woman he's falling in love with... Or face the possibility that she is a killer.

This Never Happened Before is Chris' and Brenda's song.

If you chose a scene from your book - or an overall theme song - what would it be?

Exit 22 Kindle edition is on sale only through October 31 for 99 cents (regular price is $6.99). The printed edition is also available. The next book in the series, Vicki's Key, will be released in March 2012 and the third book in the series (as yet untitled) is due for release in September 2012.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Movies Influence Plot and Character Development

Please join me in welcoming Alex J. Cavanaugh! Alex has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He is experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games, and he covers those topics on his blog. His first book, CassaStar, was released last fall and is available in trade paperback and all eBook formats. The sequel, CassaFire, comes out next February.

Movies and books - they really do tie together! Besides the fact I can discuss movies anytime, I think writers can learn a lot from watching films. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Two hours isn’t a lot of time to develop characters in a movie. Some filmmakers don’t even try. (Why bother with character development? Just add more special effects!) We all know one-dimensional characters make for a crappy movie though.

However, when a filmmaker does it right, we get to see great characterization in action. Think of all the fine details: facial expressions; body language; dress; residence; personal items; the five senses in action; etc. (These things can fly past on the screen, so we have to watch for them.) All of those aspects go into developing a detailed character and once we learn to look for them, we can add them to our writing.

Plots are similar. Some storylines are so lame and poorly executed, you wonder who green-lit this mess? (Maybe the director has a photo of the producer with a donkey or something?)

I think we can learn just as much from the bad ones as from the good ones. Those plot holes big enough to drive a bus through - how would we fix them? Films that move at a snail’s pace - what could we do to speed things up a bit?

When the plot works on every level, there’s a rhythm. It hits all the right notes and maintains a good pace. While a book doesn’t move as quickly as a movie, we can still create rhythm with our words.

So the next time someone gives you grief about your movie watching habits, tell them it’s research.

You are now free to move about the movie theater!

Alex J. Cavanaugh
CassaStar by Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science fiction/adventure/space opera
ISBN Print 9780981621067 eBook 9780982713938

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Turning to Books

Please join me today as I guest blog for Book 'Em North Carolina! The theme is how reading and/or writing has influenced or changed my life. Read how I fell in love with reading and later how writing became a lifelong companion.

Leave me a comment and let me know how reading or writing has changed your life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hide Your Face?

Last week I received more than a hundred responses on a blog I wrote about publishers going a bit too far on editorial changes. And it started me thinking about other advice I've received over the years that were a bit... questionable.

My first book was published in 1984. But when I made the leap from non-fiction to suspense/thrillers in 2002, I found it was a whole new game. In addition to the publisher's marketing rep (who was fantastic and taught me quite a bit about the book industry) I also hired a publicist to help me navigate the new world of book promotion.

The publisher of Kickback requested a picture of me, but my new publicist was adamantly opposed. She thought that once readers knew what I looked like, they would not want to purchase my books. This came as quite an eye-opener. She strongly suggested that I never provide a picture for the book (the cover or internally) and never allow my picture to be printed or posted - on the Internet or elsewhere.

As the left hand and the right hand continued battling it out with me in between, the publisher arranged a photo op. The instructions: black & white and I had to look suspenseful. This picture was the result.

Friends thought I looked 20 years older. Fans were ambivalent (though I got many comments about how different I looked in person), the publisher was thrilled. My publicist was furious and thought it was the end of my career because I'd shown my face.

As a dutiful author, I started my book tour and found that it could be quite challenging to continue hiding my face. After all, I needed it to see where I was going.

As more pictures were taken of me at events, I decided I liked this one much better. It was taken at Book 'Em New Hampshire in 2006.

What do you think? Does it help or hinder an author to show or hide their face? How do you think the author's appearance affects book sales?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Promotion Tips

Hi, everyone!

I hope you'll join me today at L. Diane Wolfe's Spunk on a Stick blogspot!

I met Diane several years ago and have been very impressed with her positive attitude, hard work, and talent. She writes books with a positive message for young adults as well as books on book promotion. I'm honored to be writing about my own proven methods for book promotion on her blogspot today.

Diane will also be joining me at Book 'Em North Carolina on February 25, 2012. I've asked her to lead the efforts into the schools in Robeson County, North Carolina, which involves Short Story Contests, published authors judging, and a whole host of activities. For more information, visit the Book 'Em North Carolina website.

See you on Diane's blogspot!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We Want You to Make a Few Changes...

Please join me today for a very special post at Alex J. Cavanaugh's blogspot! I'm sharing something I never have before - what happened when my first suspense/thriller was accepted but only if I changed the main character, Sheila, to a lesbian! Please join me, leave some comments, and enjoy the blog!

Alex, thank you for inviting me!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Learning from Other Authors

I've always believed I could learn something from every person I meet, and that is certainly true about other authors. Below, in no particular order, are some of the things I've learned lately about writing and the publishing business.

Small Blocks of Time Add Up is something I learned from Elizabeth Spann Craig. With so many things on my plate, it's been a challenge to find the time to write, yet those deadlines don't carry any wiggle room. Elizabeth has taught me that spending a few minutes several times a day writing does add up, and it gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of every day. I've used her methods to propel my writing forward when I didn't think I had any time to spare.

A Book Tour Doesn't Have to Involve Travel is something I learned from Alex Cavanaugh, who has managed to be Dancing Lemur Press' bestselling author through blog tours and social networking. With the cost of gasoline skyrocketing, blog tours have been added to my repertoire.

Shifting Your Focus can reignite your inner fire, something I learned from Pamela June Kimmell. Pam journeyed through a dark time in her life during cancer treatment, and her much anticipated sequel to The Mystery of David's Bridge was put on hold. She reignited her passion for writing by shifting gears, writing children's stories, and eventually coming full circle to working on her mystery books once again.

Finding Spunk is something I learned from L. Diane Wolfe, who taught me that sometimes Attitude is Everything. The past few years have not been easy ones in the publishing industry, yet Diane always has a plan, always has a smile, is always positive and encouraging, and always does it with spunk.

What have you learned from your friends?

p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of 12 published books. Find out more about her at

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Do I Do With Him?

I'd like to welcome Bonnie Watson, creator of Wisdom Novels, to my blog this week. I first met Bonnie almost ten years ago, soon after my first suspense/thriller was released. Bonnie is multi-talented - an awesome artist as well as a fantastic fantasy novelist.

When I created Wisdom, I didn't have a clue what to do with him...

White hair, the ability to use magic, this sort of symbolic character that stood between the powers of Light and Dark - I didn’t even bother looking at the beginning of his life until after I’d filled two cabinets with written works as well as a 200 page novel. In the year 2001, I took the first three pages from the book and started another, this time focusing on the main character's childhood rather than his adult years. There were questions that needed answering, and this story was the perfect solution.

Why is the character albino? What limitations does he have involving magic, and where does it come from? Does the harsh childhood he receives shape him into the adult he grows to be? If he's not entirely human, what race is he and where is his kind now? How does a growing Darkness to the north affect the storyline?

I realized as a child, the character should have a simpler name than Wisdom. As the story evolved, Wisdom became a nickname obtained toward the end of the first book, but becomes a regular as evolvement with the issue of slavery threatens to damage his reputation. Thus Wisdom is used more frequently in his adult years, and welcomes a change of title as Prince of the Eastern Clan.

So, a story that originally started with no particular plot, becomes one that involves the first Dark Unicorn, the upset in the balance of Nature, and the fight for survival in a world where settlements have been around less than a century.

Did you start a book and then find you needed to complete the character in order to progress? What process do you go through to make a fully developed character?

About Bonnie...

“I've always enjoyed painting and writing. It started with animals and gradually worked its way to people. It's fascinating to watch a painting come to life from scratch to finish, or a piece of a story develop far beyond the normal complexity of snippets or poetry. Every painting has a story behind it. Every story has a picture to paint. So I'm just an endless beacon of stories for both worlds. The world of Art. The world of Storytelling. There's no living without either."

I've been writing for more than ten years, with Wisdom my first major novel in a concept of two trilogies. You can find my shorter works online through as well as music and artwork. As a freelance artist, I've created various book covers for different authors, web design, posters and more. My goals for the future are to finish the Fantasy Trilogy, then move to Sci-fi and Children's.

Visit me online for sneak peaks at upcoming projects!

Wisdom, Book One of Blue Moon Rising Trilogy, by Bonnie Watson -

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When Writer's Block Becomes a Brick Wall

I'd like to welcome my good friend and an awesome writer, Pamela June Kimmell. I first became acquainted with Pam after her first book, The Mystery of David's Bridge, was released. I love the way she brings the characters to life, and I've been waiting eagerly for the sequel to see what wonderful adventures Bailey will have. You can read more about Pam at or visit her charming and entertaining blog at She is also an amazing artist who has some of her artwork and photography on display at her website. I always use her note cards for those special "Thank You's" all published authors must continually write.

First of all, thanks to my dear friend Trish Terrell for inviting me to write a guest blog here. There were so many things that came to mind to write about, I had difficulty narrowing it down but the “top of mind” thing was passing on my experience with long-term writers block. It wasn’t really “block” as much as “brick wall” in my case!

We all have experienced writers block in varying degrees. I got my worst case of it when I had to go through a year's worth of chemo, which seemed to wipe out all desire to write or be creative in ANY way. That was hard for me because I’m a writer and an artist yet I had no desire to do either of those - I just wanted to stay in bed. Strangely, it took me about three years before I finally crawled back into the saddle and gave it a whirl again, and it was my artwork which pulled me through.

I started a note card business with my oil paintings and drawings and began to become interested again in being creative. It felt good. It felt right. But still, writing was a problem for me. I’d started a mystery series for my publisher with the first book being published in 2006 to moderate success. I had people asking me when the second book would be out - nice feeling isn’t it?! I started the book then became ill. Every time I opened up the manuscript file I just couldn’t write. It was miserable! I was going to lose my audience - who would wait forever when there are so many great books out there?

A good friend of mine who is an exceptional watercolorist and writer sent me an email one day telling me she had decided to write a children’s book. She sent me a few of the poems from the book and they were just so adorable and I realized what FUN it would be to write for kids. I’ve always loved reading to kids and watching their expressions as they follow the story.

I decided to write some short stories, try them out on my next door neighbor’s two little boys, and even illustrate the stories with my own pen/ink/watercolor sketches. Know what? I had a blast writing them. Kids have wonderful imaginations and writing TO that imagination has been a totally fun journey for me. It also got me over my seemingly impenetrable writers block. It’s great to be back and I can hardly wait to have my book in print this Fall.

Next challenge…….finally finishing the second book of my mystery series, which began with The Mystery of David's Bridge. The message in my story here is DO NOT GIVE UP. It may take way longer than you ever thought it would - or it may be awesomely temporary - but writers block is not the towering wall we allow it to be sometimes!

Pamela June Kimmell, Writer and Artist
Author of “The Mystery of David’s Bridge”

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

So You Want to be a Writer...

People often ask me when I knew I wanted to be a writer. It was in 1968 when I won a poetry contest at school and I had to walk across the stage and accept my award – a book.

In 1968, I lived in a 3-bedroom home with two brothers, two sisters, my parents and a dog. We had one telephone that was permanently affixed to the kitchen wall, though in the 70’s we managed to get a long cord so we could actually talk in the hallway. We had one television set in the den and we got five channels if my brother held the rabbit ears just right. I still remember the thrill of watching The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights, because it was in color.

We chased lightning bugs on summer evenings. It was a thrill when the ice cream truck turned down our street, ringing its bell. And an equal thrill when the mosquito truck came through, spewing its fog all over us. We were oblivious to the dangers of pesticides and SPF was a scientific term that we wouldn’t hear about for years to come.

So when I decided to become an author, I used my dad’s Remington typewriter that he’d had since college days. The ribbon could be used only once and when it reached the end of the spool, it had to be replaced. There was no correction. I used a special eraser to correct mistakes, which was time consuming and left smudges on the manuscript.

I bought one ream of paper at a time and painstakingly drew a thin pencil line one inch from the bottom of each sheet so I’d know when to stop typing. I learned if I typed too fast, the keys would jam in the typewriter and I’d have to stop and pull each one back down.

By 1970, my parents knew I was serious about my writing career and they bought me a portable Smith Corona. This was a huge step up. It came with a carrying case so I could type anywhere. It also used a ribbon with a correction band at the bottom, so I could simply backspace over typos.

I completed my first full-length manuscript with that typewriter in 1972. And for the next 39+ years, I would continue the process of writing, querying publishers and then agents when the publisher’s slush piles disappeared. The agents became the gatekeepers for the big New York publishers. Books were purchased in book stores and a few at the local drug store.

Research was done at the library; the Internet wouldn’t be available to the general public for more than twenty years, and wouldn’t go online until 1995.

In the 70’s, I wrote when my son was in his playpen, asleep beside me. He now has children of his own. In the early 80’s, I worked the midnight shift at AT&T and wrote during the day. By then, I’d purchased my first home computer—an Apple III—followed a few years later by a Compaq Portable (which weighed about 40 pounds).

In 1984, my first book was published. Far from being the suspense/thrillers I’d written for years, it was a computer how-to book. It was followed by three more computer books and for the next decade, I churned out teaching materials for a variety of software.

I lamented to my husband once about the struggle to get my suspense/thrillers published.

“You need to be patient,” he chided me. “You want everything to happen overnight.”

“Do you realize I’ve been writing suspense/thrillers for almost 30 years?” I asked. “How long is ‘overnight’ to you?”

It was 2002 before my first work of fiction was published. Since then five contemporary suspense and two historical adventure/suspense have been published. Next year, when my next suspense/thriller is released, it will be 40 years since that initial manuscript was finished.

I’d like to think I hung in there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Juggling Plots, Characters, Publishers and Editors…Keeping it All Straight—by Elizabeth S. Craig

Today's guest blog is by Elizabeth Spann Craig. I first met Elizabeth through the Carolina Conspiracy several years ago. I have been very impressed with her meteoric rise in the publishing industry. Her latest book, Finger Lickin’ Dead, released just last week on June 7th, will be another winner. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011. I know you'll enjoy her post today. Please leave comments and visit Elizabeth's blog, also! You can follow her on Twitter at @elizabethscraig

Juggling Plots, Characters, Publishers and Editors…Keeping it All Straight
—by Elizabeth S. Craig

Currently, I’m working on two different series for two different editors for two different imprints of Penguin—Berkley Prime Crime and NAL.

I’ve also worked in the past for two entirely different publishers (Midnight Ink and Penguin’s Berkley Prime Crime) simultaneously.

Is it hard to keep everything straight and work with different publishers? I’d like to say no, but actually, it’s not easy sometimes.

If you’re about to find yourself in this situation, here are some tips you might want to keep in mind:

Although it’s tempting to compare and contrast your publishers, resist the urge. Comparing publishers is really an apples and oranges thing, unless you’re comparing two of the largest publishers. Publishers are working with different budgets, which means distribution and publicity efforts will be different. If you do compare and contrast your publishers, try not to say anything damaging about them. Publishing is really a very small community and I’ve seen industry gossip backfire on writers…better just to keep any negative thoughts private.

Different editors have different expectations for their writers. Knowing this going in can help prevent any writer insecurity. I’ve heard from some writers who were worried that their lack of personal contact with their editor meant that the editor didn’t enjoy working with them. I can honestly say that, of the three editors I’ve worked with, some really enjoy a more personal relationship with their writers and some would rather communicate with you through your agent. Some editors will ask for outlines for future books, others are happy to have you create without you sharing your plans for the next story. Everyone works differently.

Keeping it all straight:

Series bible—This is the best way to keep your stories straight. My series bible helps me keep track of character ages, traits, habits, hobbies; setting details; and any details of recurring subplots. I know a couple of writers who keep track of these things on an Excel sheet, but I use Word. I type out each character’s name, how old they are, where they live in the town, what they look like, where they’re originally from, etc. Although it doesn’t seem like it would be confusing to write one book, then another, I’ve accidentally had cross-series appearances by supporting characters before I found and deleted them. :)

Be creative on one series while revising the other. I’ve had deadlines at nearly the same time for the different series, but I have to recommend that you try not to be creative for more than one book at a time. So far I’ve been able to finish writing a draft for one series while doing the edits for the other series. Once I did try to do creative work for two series at once…then I quickly stopped. But then, I can’t really read two books at once, as a reader, either. My editors have also been very much aware that I’m working on more than one series and have checked with me in advance when setting deadlines. But if you’re at two different publishers, this is less likely to be the case.

Make sure you review your books before you speak to a book club. Those folks are really sharp, have just finished reading your book, and are prone to asking detailed questions. It’s not fun to suddenly start talking about a character in another series or a plot twist that happened in a different book! I have a detailed cheat sheet for each book. This is, basically, a long synopsis. Sometimes I can’t remember the ins and outs of all the plots (and mysteries can get convoluted with clues, red herrings, and alibis.) These cheat sheets are lifesavers.

Have you got any tips for keeping characters and series straight? Are you writing more than one book at a time? And…thanks for hosting me today, Trish!

Remember to pick up a copy of Elizabeth's latest book, Finger Lickin’ Dead, released on June 7th!She also blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabethscraig

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Cat in the Hat

What does your choice of pet say about you? And what can the choice of pets say about the characters in books?

We're all familiar with pets as main characters. Lassie, Come Home is a classic example, as is Black Beauty. Both plots were centered around the animal. But animals can also play a major role in books as secondary characters, propelling a plot forward without focusing on the pet itself.

Robert B. Parker's series about Jesse Stone is a prime example of the richness an animal can bring to a main character. Jesse's contemplative moments would be more one-dimensional if he didn't have the beautiful but soulful golden retriever with him.

In Lonesome Dove, Gus has pet pigs, which conjures up an entirely different image. Yet both show their tender sides by the way they treat their animals. They also show a glimpse into the type of lover or husband each might be.

When I first began my writing career, I edited manuscripts part-time. The only manuscript I could not finish was one in which the main character, someone we should be identifying with and relating to, began abusing his dogs. The scenes were graphic and heart-wrenching. And in those moments, a door slammed shut inside me and I knew that no matter what this character might do in an attempt to redeem himself, he never would in my eyes. I returned the manuscript and advised the author to rethink how he wants the main character portrayed. Years later, I learned that publishers and agents had the same response, passing on the book because they knew readers would stop reading and never pick up the book again once the animal abuse began.

After I wrote Songbirds are Free, the manuscript went to advance readers for their input. Several readers commented that they could not connect with a soldier in the story. The soldier did everything he was supposed to do, but he simply didn't come alive for them. In the rewrite, I had a dog appear in the soldier's first scene. They had just attacked an Indian village and the dog, skinny, malnourished and confused, was wandering the smoldering village alone. The soldier gave her food and took her in, and the dog became his constant companion. That one act made the character come alive, providing the compassionate impression I'd sought to portray.

I auctioned off the role of a dog in The Banker's Greed, with the proceeds going to the Robeson County (North Carolina) Humane Society. The winner was a golden retriever. The type of dog fit in perfectly with the main character. He was outdoorsy, active, intelligent and fiercely protective. Had the winner been a Pomeranian, a Rottweiler or a Black and Tan Coonhound, it would have changed the image of the main character.

Pets go beyond dogs, of course. Many an evil character owned cats, which humanized the character and made them more three-dimensional, even if their role in the book was an antagonist. What type of cat tells even more: a hairless, a Persian, or an "alley cat" all conjure up different images. And the way the cat interacts with the owner is even more telling; whether they are accustomed to long grooming sessions or they are independent and resentful of human interaction.

What does it say about a character who keeps a python? Snapping turtles, pet alligators, or piranha?

Would that character have a different image if they owned something they could cuddle? Something you could imagine loving?

Yesterday I saw a woman kiss a parrot. It would never have occurred to me to do that. And yet she did without hesitation and the parrot bobbed its head and begged for another kiss.

The way pets react toward certain characters can be telling as well. A perfectly well-behaved cat who hisses and attempts to claw the main character's new boyfriend could be providing a glimpse into a dark side that we are yet to discover. A horse that shies away from him says the same thing.

But when we meet a down-and-out bum living on the streets, filthy, perhaps alcoholic or on drugs, it can also provide a glimmer of hope by showing his tender, special relationship with a dog or cat who simply adores him.

Which books have you read that were made more memorable because of a pet? How did it add to the storyline, and what image did it help to convey about a character?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Make a Wish - or Set a Goal?

Most of us do it consciously once a year: we set a New Year's resolution. It's generally something we want to happen to us during the year - lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more. But what we might not realize is we are constantly making mini-resolutions to ourselves in the form of wishes or goals. And as a writer, recognizing the signs of each can help us create truly multi-dimensional characters.

A wish is something the character wants to happen. It might be a dream of becoming a famous musician, a renowned painter, a globe-trotting actress. Perhaps Life didn't go exactly as that character would have wanted, and she's now stuck in a role for which she never planned or wanted: taking care of a houseful of children, putting her own hopes on hold to help her spouse achieve his, or health issues or money issues that derailed her.

A goal is also something the character wants to happen, but unlike a wish, a goal involves action from the character. The person wants to become a renowned painter, so she takes art classes, dedicates time to her craft, learns how, when and where to participate in art shows and gain public awareness of her talents. To be achievable, one major goal - of becoming a renowned painter - must be divided into smaller goals; achievements that continue her progress forward.

Characters are almost always ones of action. Let's face it, having a character sit and wish for something to happen doesn't make for great reading. She has to get out of her thoughts and do something.

Wishes are passive (waiting for something to happen) but goals are active (making something happen.)

But we can also use the passive wishes as underlying reasons for a character's actions. For example, suppose we have a beautiful and talented woman who dreamed of becoming a famous actress. She's been participating in community theatre, taking acting classes, and learning her craft. Now she meets a man who has money and power. She becomes part of his life - and flash forward twenty years. Now you might have a character who is frustrated. A trophy wife who feels her best years are behind her, Mrs. CEO or Mrs. General who lives totally through her husband's achievements but has none of her own.

Now you have a passive character who has a motive. A motive to strike out at the person who she believes derailed her career, perhaps even her entire life. A motive for murder. A motive for infidelity. A motive for a crime.

In writing, it isn't necessary for the author to paint the entire picture all at once. But the past can surface in small increments, unfolding as the plot unfolds, like a mosiac that forms shape as the reader continues turning those pages. In the end, we don't just have a character who plotted her husband's demise. We have a multi-dimensional character whose motives have unfolded in such a way that the reader feels some emotion for her: sadness, perhaps, maybe anger at her circumstances, perhaps even feel her frustration and urge to take control of a life that has been on auto-pilot.

It's that richness, that depth of character, that helps to propel a character forward. And the clever use of wishes versus goals makes all the difference.

Read p.m.terrell's latest suspense/thriller, The Banker's Greed, to see how characters who allowed Life to simply happen to them take control and change the course of events in their lives--and many others.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

American Idol: What We Can All Learn From It

I have to admit, I am hooked on American Idol. But not for the obvious reasons. Although I love music, I watch the show for the study in human behavior. And I believe no matter what career path you’ve chosen, you can learn a lot to prepare you for success by watching these contestants.

The season starts off with a whole lot of people who think they have talent but clearly do not. It’s interesting to watch people who aspire to be famous singers but who haven’t done the ground work—like learning notes. Others have an incredible presence and the moment they open their mouths, you sit up and listen, in awe of their talents.

By the time the American Idol contestants get to Hollywood, you’re looking at the best that auditioned. Those first two weeks are filled with assembling teams, learning songs, and establishing a music routine that will be performed in front of millions of viewers. For most, it’s the largest auditorium they’ve performed in; for all, it’s clearly the largest television audience.

Some of them fall apart. They are obviously not ready for the pressure, the intense work, the teamwork, the details… You can see it in their eyes when they step onto that stage, falter with their lines, freeze in front of the cameras, the blood draining from their faces.

Others are ruthless, climbing over other contestants—like the ones who booted out one of their team members and refused entry to another because they thought they weren’t good enough. That’s the way those performers would be in real life, too. You can argue the merits of their actions or decry the cut-throat manner in which they operate, but in the end it simply revealed their personalities.

Still others revel in the whole experience. The tougher it gets, the more critiques they stand up to, the stronger they get. They are confident in who they are and what they want to be. They know whatever happens, they will walk away with this experience under their belts and they’ll be stronger, more competitive, and a better performer than the day they walked in.

Those are the ones who win.

As you watch this season of American Idol, you will see some contestants bloom under the schedule, the intensity, the criticism, even the insanity of it all. And though there will be only one declared winner, there will be more than one in reality, just as others who reached the finals have gone on to lucrative careers.

It’s a door that’s opened.

If you’re climbing the ladder of any profession, are you really ready for it? Are you really prepared? Do you have the right attitude? Have you been honest about your personal strengths and weaknesses? Can you blossom under the intensity of fame or fortune?

Because maybe, in the final analysis, being a winner is like riding a roller coaster: we’re all on the same ride. What matters is how we handle it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

When Things are Not as They Seem...

A few years ago, one of my neighbors announced that she knew exactly what time I got up every day.

It seems that a group of ladies walk around the neighborhood at the crack of dawn and they noticed a light came on in my house each morning at precisely 5:30. Realizing that I was still sound asleep at that time of day, I was rather intrigued.

It turns out that I have the Sun-Rise Lamp, a nifty device that wakes you up with light instead of or in addition to, sound. And one of my house guests had set the clock while they were visiting, and unbeknownst to me, it was still coming on each morning at 5:30 and turning off automatically at 7:00 am while I was in another part of the house entirely.

But my neighbor was so convinced that she knew what time "the famous author" woke up each day that she spread the word rather quickly.

There was a time when no one knew who I was and what time I woke up interested absolutely nobody. I wonder if I might look back on that time as "the good ole days" ...

Once my books became successful, it appears that people will grasp at anything they think they know about me as an opportunity to tell others how intimate we are. When my vehicles are in the driveway, they "know" I am home, even if a friend has taken me to the airport and I'm out of the state. When my vehicles are gone, they "know" I am out of town. When I might, in fact, be curled up on the sofa watching TV.

This whole concept of people thinking they know what's going on inside my house or my life so intrigued me that I wrote this into my suspense/thriller, Exit 22. One of the main characters, Brenda Carnegie (who was up to a whole lot of things the neighborhood would have been buzzing about, had they known) had a series of timers in her home that made it look as if it was lived in even when it wasn't. Lights came on and off at all times of the day or night. And a neighbor who walked her dog each night was absolutely convinced she knew exactly which rooms Brenda was in or moving through, based on those lights...

Back in the 1970's I had a professor who always had a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. It was never lit but always dangling. He talked with it popping up and down with the movement of his lips. Several months into the course, he asked the students if he smoked. We all laughed. Of course he smoked. He was never seen without a cigarette in his mouth.

But the fact was, he didn't smoke. Never had. Never even lit one. He didn't own a lighter. Didn't carry matches. Each morning, he put a new cigarette in his mouth because he liked the way it felt there. And he walked around with it all day and discarded it when it got ragged or rained upon.

Look around you. Are things really what you think they are?

Or are things not as they seem to be, after all?