Monday, February 28, 2011

Lights! Camera! Action!

The internal dialogue of a writer:

“It’s going to be a bestseller!”

“No one will like. It will bomb.”

“No—an agent will snatch it off the slush pile, and say, ‘Eureka!’”

Have any of you experienced this internal dialogue? I’m a lousy judge of my own work. As easy as it is for me to judge others’ work, I can’t fathom my own. Critique group feedback may improve a script, but is no indication that a manuscript will sell. Even those who have won prestigious contests fail to garner book contracts. Endemic to the writing life, I careen from extreme optimism to extreme pessimism.

So often, neither extreme happens. I imagine most agent personnel reviewing first chapters or the first fifty pages conclude that most manuscripts are ho-hum. Not without merit, but not enough merit to garner any deal. The manuscripts will go the road of most others—a copy saved on the author’s hard drive, a hard copy placed forlornly by the author on their shelves. Some may opt to self-publish those manuscripts, but if unacceptable to an agent or publishing house, how could it be good enough to self-publish?

If the experts haven’t bought it, why would I presume to know better than those with vast experience in the industry? I dislike arrogance. It is unacceptable to me because within arrogance are self-important pufferies—lies, and I’m much too old to lie to myself. There are exceptions to the rule in self publishing. The other day I heard about a kid who published a YA book on Amazon and sold 450 thousand copies immediately. I don’t know if the kid even tried to get an agent—I think not, knowing that most kids are eternally optimistic and na├»ve. But then, the kid’s dreams came true, with just a little faith. As I said, it was an exceptional experience, which will be replicated by few.

I remember writing my second novel. I kept thinking of it as a movie. Shirley MacLean portrayed one of my leading lady characters. I saw her in the role, and may have subconsciously written the character based on her. By chance, I ran into Shirley MacLean at a cosmetics counter in a mall. Her family is from the Northern Virginia area near where I live. (Her stage name, although not spelled the same, is a tony Virginia suburb of D. C.) At first, I didn’t realize it was her because who the heck anticipates running into someone like that two weeks after Christmas in a shopping mall? We joked about cosmetic packaging. No, I didn’t have the nerve to tell her about my book. Afterward, I took it as an omen, a good omen. I was sure that my book would sell and Hollywood would grab the screen rights, and Shirley would take the role. It was all fantasyland. But then, I write fiction, why wouldn’t I script a winning role for myself?

Because of that experience, perhaps I am overcorrecting to guard against disappointment. I’m focusing on the process and not the result. As a professional (a suit I wear even if I’ve yet to garner the status or profit) I’m distancing and emotionally detaching. I’m writing the best book I can. If it succeeds, so be it, and if it fails, so be it. Will I self-publish if it fails with agents? No.

Internal dialogue:

“Get on stage. It’s time to sing.”

“I’m trying, but I can’t get out of the dressing room.”


“I must have gained weight. I’m stuck.”

“But you’re supposed to be the fat lady who sings.”

“That damn writer fed me too many chocolates. I can’t fit through the door.”

“And how long will it take you to lose the weight, so you can sing, fat lady?”

“I don’t know. Leave me alone, these truffles she bought are great!”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do The Write Thing

I had a blog scheduled for today but when I read about "Do the Write Thing" on DorothyL, I decided to use this opportunity to publicize "Do The Write Thing." My wife has accepted a position at Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand. We will be there from July through October and I feel I should help with earthquake recovery effort.
I want to quote Craig Sisterson: Craig.Sisterson@LEXISNEXIS.CO.NZ
As many of you will know, on Tuesday at 12:51pm NZT the city of Christchurch, which suffered a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in September last year, was struck by another massive earthquake - this time much shallower and more violent. This earthquake is completely different than last year's one, which caused massive property and infrastructure damage, but we were blessed with no loss of life. As of this morning, NZT, more than 100 are dead, and another 220+ missing, and hundreds badly injured. There have been no signs of life from under any rubble for more than 36 hours, which is heartbreaking for the more than 1000 rescuers, from several countries, who are working their way through what is a pretty dangerous environment.

I now live in Auckland, but I went to University in Christchurch, so have many, many friends living in what is/was a wonderful city. As the days go on the people of Christchurch will need a lot of help.  There will be months, even years, of rebuilding, and as of today more than half the city is still without power/water. Organizations like the Red Cross and many others are doing some fantastic work, supported by caring people from all over New Zealand, and all around the world.
I know this is meant to be a mystery discussion group, and I apologize for using it for something else - but I just thought I should share with you some ways you could help, if you felt like doing so. All of us down this end of the world would appreciate it, that's for sure. California mystery writer and Professor Margot Kinberg is setting up a charity raffle - "Do the Write Thing" - of signed mystery novels, to raise funds. Several authors have already donated signed copies of their books, and she is looking for more, so she can create the biggest/best raffle possible. People will enter the raffle by donating to the Red Cross.

If you are a mystery author willing to help out, please contact Margot at
You can read more about "Do the Write Thing" here:

Fate, Luck, and Mastery

When I was a small child, my mom had to stop me from viewing movies in which dogs died or were lost forever. I cried so much that I had a sore throat for a week. Even today, I listen but look away when, in an effort to raise money for animal shelters, the Animal Planet channel shows an abandoned Golden Retriever, a beaten Yorkie, or a kitten tossed out of a car.

obituary_175I watched every season of Meerkat Manor and woke up in the middle of the night dreaming about Mozart, a meerkat whose pups were eaten by a rival for leader position. I mourned every meerkat that was forced out of its family to face almost certain death. I mourned the teenage meerkat, Shakespeare, that died defending his mother’s latest litter.

I don’t know why I spend so much time on animal suffering. I’ve lost grandparents, parents, and a husband. As an RN, I’ve lost patients with whom I’d formed a bond.

Animal life seems so precarious. A sand storm separates a baby elephant from its mother and it follows her tracks in the wrong direction. A tiger picks too low a branch and is killed by a lion pride. Nature is indifferent. Fate determines whether an animal lives or meerkat-photo-04dies, eats or starves.

When I studied American literature, I learned about writers who showed characters coping with the indifference of nature and of man. Although the writing is good and the characters memorable, such literature has not remained popular. In action/adventure stories, the protagonist, usually male, triumphs against overwhelming odds. In mysteries, protagonists often defeat evil with their intelligence, persistence, and courage.

While not denying the importance and existence of these characteristics, I wonder how often individuals are crushed by what could be called fate. A family is thriving and then the husband loses his job. It’s a blow but the family carries on with their goals more or less intact until the wife loses her job. A college student about to go to her graduation bends down to stroke a dog and it bites off most of her face. A man on the way to an interview for the job of his dreams is involved in a crippling motor vehicle accident. In countries outside America, misfortune is even more prevalent.

At a sub vocal level, so much still seems beyond our control. I think that’s why I’m so interested in nature documentaries. Animals strive to hold onto life and thrive but they haven’t been able to stop hunters almost wiping out whole species, or the destruction of the vegetation that sustains them, and they can’t do anything about life-threatening injuries or old age.

Maybe animal documentaries give me an opportunity to deal with grief I’d otherwise try to ignore, and maybe I feel drawn to them for other reasons. I wonder why so many editors and publishers state that they won’t accept stories that deal with the suffering and torture of kids and animals. Clearly, both happen. Readers don’t want gratuitous accounts of either but to ignore it all together—is that wise?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Chat with Sally Golfenbaum

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Hmmm…since I used to fictionalize my diary as a teenager, you are taking a chance on this one, Warren. But I will try to keep it honest. I was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan. My dad built ships, and we grew up playing on huge vessels, from cargo carrying boats to car ferries that went back and forth across Lake Michigan. After a stint in the convent, college in Missouri, and teaching high school Latin, I lived lots of places, working in Pittsburgh PA on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, a brief time in Washington DC, more TV work in Bloomington IN where I got my Masters and met my husband, a lovely Jewish man. Now Kansas City is home, though two of our three grown children give us nice excuses to spend time with them in Gloucester MA, and Costa Mesa California. Our youngest son stayed close and lives in KC.

I’ve written 26 or so published novels in the last twenty-five years, always while doing other things: raising children, teaching philosophy and creative writing, editing bioethics journals and animal health publications. As of a year and a half ago, a nice contract with Penguin has given me the ultimate luxury of writing full time. It’s a gift—and a lovely one.

Can you tell us a little about your writing?

I imagine this question as having two angles—the writing process…or the writing content. I’ll concentrate on the process here. I think every writer has his or her own unique way of getting those words out. Do you agree? I struggle with plot. That initial idea—the synopsis-- that an editor wants to see before sending me on my way— is difficult for me. That’s because books unravel for me in the writing itself. I don’t outline. I breathe deeply and hope the characters take me by the hand and lead me along to the finish line. But one has to have at least a seed of an idea in order to start, and that’s hard for me, those basics—the “who is murdered, who did it, and why?” Sometimes that seed comes from talking to other people, sometimes from magazine articles, sometimes from eavesdropping in Starbucks (!). I’m struggling with that right now as I try to flesh out a plot for the sixth book in the Seaside Knitters series.

But once that idea is real enough to require a little action, I sit down every day and write. Usually it’s in a coffee shop or the library or in nice weather, on my porch. And I write, even if it’s drivel. I can always throw it out, but it’s important to have words captured, for better or worse. When I am totally stuck on what happens next, I will usually throw it out to my writing friend, Nancy, and we’ll toss it around a little. She will remind me that this happens to me in every book and it doesn’t mean I should throw the manuscript away. I am usually short on time since my deadlines are fairly stringent, so near the end of a book, I write like crazy. It would be a lovely time to have a cabin in the woods so I don’t subject family and friends to this period. But I don’t.

From your website bio I deduced that you have written other kinds of novels before you started writing mysteries. What other kind of novels have you written? Do you intend to return to writing that genre again?

I have always wanted to write a stand-alone novel—general fiction-- and should I deviate from the mystery genre, that’s where I’d go. That was actually my plan 25 years ago, but I was never able to finish a book. Then I met a nice Jewish girl from New York who had recently moved to KC—her goal was to write a children’s book, but she, too, never seemed to finish a book. So we decided to join forces and write something together that we would force one another to finish. We went to the bookstore, saw that the Romance category had the most books on the shelves, and decided to try to write one together. Surely a nice Jewish girl from NY and an ex-nun could pull that off. We weren’t very familiar with the genre and the book we wrote certainly reflected that. It was awful. But a NY agent set us straight, told us to write a romance that resembled the old Cheers sitcom—something light and with humor— and said she’d represent us. We did—and she did. And we wrote a dozen or so books together, then an equal number alone. Those were great happy days. We laughed a lot and ate way too many wheat thins.

With so many varieties of mysteries being written, what was it about craft and time cooking mysteries that attracted you to write them?

Actually, it wasn’t crafts that lured me to writing mysteries. I would say I fell into it that aspect of the writing. First, my writing cohort was finishing up a culinary mystery series – and she asked me to help with the last one. She literally taught me how to write a cozy mystery in the process, and I found I really enjoyed it. Then a local publisher invited me to write a mystery series based on a group of women who quilted. And so I did, hanging out with a delightful group of Lawrence quilters who taught me about the craft. And then…my agent from years and years ago read one of the quilting mysteries, contacted me, and suggested I create another series, similar in feeling to the quilters. She explained that craft-based mysteries were very popular at that time. We agreed together on the knitting angle. But the mysteries are as much about women’s bond of friendship and living in a small town as they are about knitting or food. There are four protagonists, actually—one is a lobsterwoman, one a wealthy matron, one a retired nonprofit director, and the fourth a yarn shop owner. So I’ve plenty of directions in which to go, though it’s Izzy’s yarn shop that pulls the women together every week for wine, food, friendship, and their shared passion--knitting.

I’ve read mysteries by Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen (actually Fletcher Flora) that included recipes but I confess that I don’t know when cooking and crafting became such an integral part of mystery writing. Can you tell me when that started?

I don’t know if mysteries were so specifically categorized until recent years. We don’t think of Rex Stout, for example, as writing culinary mysteries, though food certainly figured prominently in some of his books. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was an avid knitter, though we don’t categorize her as writing craft mysteries, do we? So it’s all rather mysterious to me. But in the last 20 years, mystery series specifically categorized as “culinary” or “craft” have proliferated like baby rabbits.

Your writing really engages readers and you have the ability to give readers a distinct sense of place. How do you do that?

Thank you, Warren. I try hard to do that. I spend so much time writing that I want to be in a place I enjoy—that’s one small part of it. I love the coast, the smell of the sea. And I see the town of Sea Harbor (in the Seaside Knitting mysteries) as almost another character in the book, so I try to picture it for my readers and make it as real as it is in my own mind. That’s one of the special things about writing, don’t you think? You can create the loveliest of places, taking out the things that roughen up a place—garbage in the streets and the like—and add in everything you like in your own world. I spend time looking up plants and trees and kinds of fish to make it as authentic and real as I can. I think of it as a movie, but without the scenes up there on the screen. So instead, I try to describe them in words.

With the first of your books that I read, I made the mistake of starting on an empty stomach. Have you thought about putting a warning label on your books: Do not read while hungry?

Ha! You make me smile. I suppose that the scenes with excessive food were written just before dinner time or when I had forgotten to eat breakfast. I do love to eat…and to cook.

You have two ongoing series. Do you alternate between them in your writing? Do the characters or ideas from one series leak over into the other one?

Actually my contract for the first series was negotiated without an agent and I pretty much gave the rights away to the publisher. My agent is looking into getting the rights back so I can continue the Queen Bees Quilters with my new publisher, but I don’t know if that will happen.

On your website you say that and Nancy Pickard are “porch writers” together. What does that mean and how does it work?

I happen to have a nice screened-in porch on the back of my house, and for several summers, Nancy and I have been on the same deadlines, needing to finish books by summer’s end. So we camp out on the porch with our laptops open, and write way, taking breaks to eat or walk about the yard, but porch rules require a “quiet when someone’s writing” rule. It works for us, especially when fighting deadlines, to impose a kind of discipline on the other. Many times I’d have thrown in the towel (laptop?) and stopped writing sooner in the day, but I’d look over and Nancy would still be going at it, so I’d write another hour or two. In winter we gravitate to coffee houses, libraries, or sometimes my house (but inside….).

As a former nun, philosophy teacher and bioethics editor, do you believe your writing reflects your personal values?

I suppose that’s true of all of us, right? Every experience shapes us in some way. I wouldn’t say my books are particularly religious (nor would I say I am), or that they’re philosophical. But those experiences certainly shaped who I am in a broader sense, and, in turn, influence what I write.

Do mysteries in general have value beyond entertainment?

Hmmmm. Another tough question. I think it depends on the reader. Speaking for myself, I read to be entertained. And in my own writing, I don’t pretend to be teaching life’s lessons, though I do manage to get in my views on certain things. And sometimes my characters surprise me with their insight. But in general, I hope they entertain and that readers come back because they want to spend more time with the Seaside Knitters—because they are their friends and want to walk with them through an entertaining story.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished (today!)1/5/11 the copy edits for The Wedding Shawl, the fifth book in the Seaside Knitting series. (A Holiday Yarn came out in November.) It will be released in May, along with the paperback edition of Moon Spinners (#4 in the series). And I am beginning work on the sixth book in the series. I’ve submitted a proposal, but am revisiting it (as I said—this is the painful part for me!). Wish me luck. And thanks so much for letting me visit. I have loved talking with you, Warren, and wish you the very best in your own wonderful writing career.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Managing Writing Time

Managing Writing Time

I’m supposed to be writing nonstop this week and do so without editing. I haven’t found time to start.

My excuses? I really do have some. Yesterday was a granddaughter’s birthday and I made a big pot of chicken and dumplings, enough to serve at a soup kitchen. I never know how many I’ll have to feed. As it turned out there were only 8 adults and, 2 toddlers and 2 babies.

Of course, I had to bake a cake. Certainly not one from a box, it had to be from scratch. And then for those who didn’t want chocolate, I had to make the pie, from scratch. By the time they all left and I cleaned up the mess it was time for Desperate Housewives. I can’t help it, I’m hooked on them. And besides my cousin from Oregon called and we talked nearly an hour and then I told him I simply had to go to see the housewives and what sort of trouble they were getting into.

I got up early this morning and had to go through emails. Yep, had to talk to the Dell guy to get my son’s computer ordered and read all the mail. And I still haven’t finished this blog. But I did work on the stuff for my future web page that a friend is building for me. Shouldn’t this all be considered writing time?

As I sit here typing, I wonder how I should proceed with the novel. Which direction should my main character take? What danger can I lead her to? Should I let her get shot or step into a trap of the bad guys and see how she manages to escape? Really, I can’t do it all for Ellagrace. She needs to tell me what she wants to do.

Tell me how you manage to handle your writing time vs your family time. Maybe I can learn how to ignore my family and write!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Blog by Author Stephen Brayton

Stephen Brayton’s eBook, Night Shadows, was released by Echelon Press on February 15. I asked Stephen to tell us a bit about his book because, like my WIP, Night Shadows is a paranormal mystery. You can find Stephen’s website at and his blog at     E. B. Davis

From Nosferatu to Twilight. From Van Helsing to Buffy. Boris Karloff grunting out of a tomb wrapped in bandages and Brendan Fraser yucking it up with high tech special effects. The Gaslight stalker to Jason slashing his way through numerous teens. Monsters from space to leviathans below the sea. Every year, there are new movies and books dealing with the supernatural or the paranormal. It’s interesting to see what new demon will arise out of the muck or how the next ghost will manifest. Every now and then one stands out. The original “Halloween” and “The Sixth Sense” come to mind. I like the ones where the suspense builds, easing into the scary good stuff.

I also like the books and movies where you don’t see the monster. That, to me, is the scariest type, because I get to let my imagination run wild with the possibilities. H.P. Lovecraft was a master at this. I’ve read At the Mountains of Madness three times and with reading, I understand a little better and enjoy it a little more.

One of the difficult things I’ve run into while writing are questions from agents/publishers like, “Next to which authors would your book sit?” They want me to liken my writing to someone else’s. Yet, at the same time, I’m supposed to have a ‘fresh voice.’ Writers of all fiction genres fall into this gambit of presenting a new version on old themes.

Night Shadows was created from several sources. I listened to a radio show about encounters with shadow beings and thought it an interesting idea. Then I took a bit from Lovecraft and his ancient book, the Necronomicon. Throw in a taste of the shadowy entities from the movie “Ghost,” and a salute to the X-Files, and there you have it.

I loved the research and creating different scenes where the shadows attack. Because, as I mention in the book, shadows are everywhere. In your car, in your house, in an alley, under a tree. If there is a light source, somewhere there will be a shadow. So, what if those shadows move under their own power and start wreaking havoc? You might see shadows a little differently. When writing the book, I wanted to use locales familiar to people. A parking garage, a library, an antique store, an amusement park. Places people often visit. Then I threw in an exhibit of art for my dimensional portal. The room is real, the descriptions are accurate, and if you ever get a chance to visit it, you’ll definitely have an eerie experience.

I also like paranormal stories involving history. The heroes fighting an enemy that has returned every thirty years to seek vengeance. Old journals and manuscripts from those who have encountered the demon before. A psycho killer with supernatural powers is fine, but battling the same forces of evil your great, great grandfather also faced, is so much better.

Night Shadows follows the adventures of Des Moines homicide investigator, Harry Reznik and FBI agent Lori Campisi as they fight a madman’s release of killer shadow creatures from another dimension. Each has their own personal issues: Harry is stressed out with the spate of recent murders and his wife is pregnant, while Lori struggles with a strange childhood amnesia that might be connected to the current case.

Is this something brand new in the concept of the paranormal, supernatural, or horror? Yes and no. No, because there are recognizable elements from other stories, but yes, because I’ve combined those elements into something a little different.

Please check out Night Shadows and I hope you’ll enjoy it. Thank you.

As primarily a mystery reader, I’m interested in Stephen’s main characters, their investigative roles and personal dilemmas. His portrayal of the shadow creatures intrigues me from a writer’s perspective. Download a copy of Night Shadows, at Omnilit.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dos and Don'ts in Starting A Book

Dos and Don’ts for Starting a Book

Don’t use more than one exclamation point ! ­­— Okay two at most — on the first page. As a reader I will assume you don’t know how to describe emotion in words!! No doubt, I will be wrong some of the time, but my experience suggests that I will be correct the great majority of the time!!!

Don’t change fonts in an attempt to pique my interest. As a reader I’m interested in words, not software mechanics.

Don’t introduce a new character every page and a half. I will be unable to remember and tell them apart.

Don’t start chapter one with a scene that would fit very well in the middle of chapter three. A friend and quite a good writer once started her book with a very well written description of a woman coming home and playing with her cat. She got consistently good feedback from critique group members until it came to me. I told her the opening would probably entice the entire universe of six people who speak English and are absolutely fascinated by the idea that a woman might have a pet cat. (And, being a forgiving soul, the writer still talks to me.)

Don’t ignore or be completely bound by traditional grammar. Poor grammar, (as well as spelling, punctuation, and formatting) is a turn off but a skillfully used sentence fragment or irregular grammar in dialog that fits a character can be powerfully effective.

Don’t “head hop” from one character’s point of view to another’s rapidly unless you have mastered the technique. Going from unknown baddie to heroine/hero can work extremely well, especially if large sections of the book are told from each point of view and if the transition between them is clear.

Don’t make your heroine the least interesting person in the book. If she floats along passively like a twig in a flowing stream why would anyone want to spend time with her?

Don’t repeat my frequent mistake of not giving enough information about a character. Just because I know all about my characters, their history and how much pocket change they carry, does not excuse me from sharing needed “obvious” information with readers.

Don’t repeat my other frequent mistake of changing a character’s name in mid-story.

Finally, don’t ask why there aren’t any dos.

What persuades you to put a book down before you finish page one?

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I never knew what writer’s block meant. When I worked long hours and had a young family, I was a weekend writer. Sometimes I’ve belonged to writing and critique workshops and have written short stories or chapters to remain part of the group. Criticize and be criticized was the way to go. I’ve belonged to writing classes where members write to prompts. Whatever the occasion, I wrote. I certainly didn’t produce deathless prose or poetry but I could decide whether to work with it or put it aside because it needed more time in the subterranean caves I call my mind.

However, approximately three months ago I couldn’t put pen to paper for a short story. I had ideas for a novel but was unsatisfied with the way the plot was going and kept scrapping the first forty pages.imagesCA5GPFO3 Usually I don’t seriously criticize plot until I have problems with the middle. If I were as much a drama queen as a few of my fictional characters, I could have declared my life over and turned to drink but I decided to immerse myself in my social life and in reading.

A couple of days ago, a past unresolved and toxic relationship was resolved when I dealt with it indirectly instead of trying to confront it head on.

Viola. All those characters that have been walking around inside my canstock1814082brain, talking and acting out little scenes, for as long as I can remember reappeared, brighter and more active than ever.

Now I have half a dozen short stories in the works. I’m getting them down in longhand first on yellow pads—has to be yellow pads. Then I type up a first computer draft so I can take my time revising and editing.imagesCAG9CZI8

I’ve no idea what causes other people’s writer’s block but I know what caused mine this time.

Do you have a favorite method for escaping writer’s block?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nina Wright Interview

Nina Wright came to fiction in a roundabout way. While acting, she began to write plays, which led to fiction writing. As a result of her acting, she writes driving fiction that focuses on her audience’s emotions through dialogue and scene-staging. Nina also teaches fiction writing workshops. Check out her website at

EBD: Your last Whiskey Mattimoe novel, Whiskey and Water, was published in 2008. Are you continuing the series with Midnight Ink?

NW: Actually, Midnight Ink published the fifth book in the Whiskey Mattimoe series, Whiskey with a Twist, in 2009. As so often happens in publishing, there was a “regime change” that year—just as I was poised to move the series in an exciting new direction. Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t read the fifth book: Whiskey reunites with her first husband, Jeb Halloran, just long enough to conceive a child, but they break up again before she can tell him the news. Suspecting that Jeb is still the womanizer she divorced him for being, Whiskey hesitates to include him in her parenting plans. As you might imagine, I’m stoked with ideas for Whiskey’s pregnancy, delivery and beyond.

EBD: Is Mattimoe a Native American name? (But Whiskey is a blonde?)

NW: Actually, Mattimoe is an Irish name. I first encountered it during the 1990s when a local candidate by that name posted his campaign signs. Like most writers, I collect names that interest or amuse me, so I added Mattimoe to my stash.

EBD: If so, what’s in store for Whiskey this time and what is the title? And when can we expect a release?

NW: The good news is that all five Whiskey books are being e-published by Ampichellis for Kindle and Nook, which means they’re affordable and readily available to readers everywhere. The not-so-good news is that I’ll need a new print publisher in order to continue growing the series.

EBD: Your secondary characters are unique and strong. What’s the secret to writing memorable characters?

NW: Thank you! My first creative writing was for the stage, following a short career as a professional actor and director. I credit my theatre experience for teaching me that secondary characters are vital to building a compelling story. If I do my job right, readers will look forward to seeing a secondary character again and even wonder what s/he will do next. Although the fictional personalities I write are sometimes grounded in real-life observations, they evolve according to the tone, setting and situation of my story or series. I like to imagine personalities capable of both simplifying and complicating the protagonist’s journey.

EBD: The Whiskey Mattimoe novel has strong voice; a deadpan sarcastic-wit characterizes the series, which I love. But your youth series has an entirely different flavor. Having seen the trailer on your website, why write adult humor/mystery and youth/paranormal?

NW: Maybe that’s the actor in me, longing to play drama as well as comedy. In life and art, I definitely lean toward the humorous—especially the darkly humorous. Clearly, the Whiskey Mattimoe books are written more for laughs than for chills although I strive to deliver genuine suspense in each book. The paranormal elements in my teen fiction grow out of a strong interest in phenomena that defies logical explanation. I think it’s a natural fit for younger readers because they tend to be fascinated by the larger mysteries and untapped possibilities of life. I should add that as a playwright, although I write more comedy than drama, I often strive to give audiences a theatrical experience that moves them from laughter to pathos and back to humor again.

EBD: Your Whiskey series is set in upstate Michigan where you live. The paranormal series is set in St. Augustine, Florida. Why did you set the series there?

NW: In the mid-2000s, I briefly lived on the west coast of Florida. During that time, I impulsively drove over to St. Augustine and was smitten by the historic section. I wandered all day and late into the night through the narrow streets, drinking in the ambience. Although I have always loved old communities, the haunted aura of St. Augustine almost overwhelmed me. I knew immediately that I would write a book set there. Over the next few years, I made many trips back, even after I returned to living up North. While I was writing Sensitive, I befriended a man who led ghost tours in St. Augustine. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is a font of knowledge about alternate belief systems. Meeting him was a sign to me that I was telling the story I was meant to tell.

EBD: Your book, Homefree, started the youth paranormal series, but you also wrote a sequel, Sensitive. Does this mean you may start a series?

NW: I loved writing about Easter Hutton and the organization called Homefree, which recruits teens who have paranormal abilities they don’t understand. Flux, a division of Llewellyn, published the first two books. My editorial team changed after the second book, as did many major things in my personal and professional life. I’m a firm believer that the books we write are deeply tied to the time in our lives when we write them. In other words, we couldn’t have written them either sooner or later than we did. That’s not to say that a series can’t extend over many years. However, I’m working on a book now that’s not part of the Homefree saga. Even so, I wouldn’t rule out revisiting Easter’s world and continuing her story.

EBD: The trailer you have for Sensitive is quite good. Can you tell us about how the trailer was made?

NW: I was fortunate to meet a young fan of Homefree who was learning to make book trailers. She showed me what she could do, and I hired her on the spot. She has gone on to work for many authors.

EBD: Are you represented by an agent? How did you get published by Midnight Ink? Do they publish cross-genre, such as my book—a paranormal romantic mystery?

NW: David Dunton of The Harvey Klinger Agency represents me. However, I was originally represented by the Wylie-Merrick Agency, who sent my first Whiskey Mattimoe mystery to Llewellyn just as they were gearing up the Midnight Ink imprint. Whiskey on the Rocks has the distinction of being the very first book published by Midnight Ink, which focuses on publishing cozies.

EBD: Does Midnight Ink hold the electronic rights to your Whiskey series?

NW: No, I’ve sold those rights to Ampichellis—a new and aggressive player in e-publishing. The folks at Ampichellis used to run the Wylie-Merrick literary agency, so they’re savvy about publishing and marketing.

EBD: I didn’t understand your publishing links on your website. On Amazon, the publisher of your paranormal series is listed as Flux, but on your website it is listed as Flux/Llewellyn. What’s the story there?

NW: Both Flux and Midnight Ink are imprints of Llewellyn Worldwide.

EBD: Did you find that you could work with both/all publishers easily?

NW: Yes. Although both imprints had completely different editorial teams, I found that I could adapt well. I’m a quick learner who prides herself on being highly flexible. Frankly, it’s a job requirement.

EBD: In addition to your blogs and website, how do you promote your novels?

NW: I do book signings and also sponsor my own modest tour for each book as it comes out. I consistently incorporate book sales with my play readings, workshops, and other events.

EBD: You teach workshops? In any particular place or are your workshops on-line?

NW: Although I think it might eventually be worthwhile to evolve into teaching online workshops, as a seasoned performer and teacher, I’m very well suited to leading lively “live” workshops. I enjoy the process of customizing the material and presentation to the audience. Most recently, I worked with a talented team of young actors in Chicagoland who were writing their own opera.

EBD: You made the switch from acting to writing. Why?

NW: The glib answer is that I wanted to have a garden and a dog. Professional acting, as I knew it, meant touring in shows most weeks of the year. The complete answer is that I didn’t want to be an actor as much as I wanted to be a writer. I was born to be a writer who sometimes acts, rather than an actor who occasionally writes. Essentially, I am a story-builder—part lone wolf, part exhibitionist.

EBD: Do you like life as a writer?

NW: I love it! For a brief period, I was able to afford to do it full time, and I hope to figure out how to make that happen again. For better or for worse, at this point in my life I need a full-time day job, so the writing must be fitted around that. Most writers have to work that way. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about what I love doing.

Now that I’m hooked on Nina’s Whiskey series, I’ll have to go cold turkey until the next release. But I’m going to read her youth paranormal series, since I’m writing a paranormal romantic mystery, to understand how she crafts it. Look for Nina’s blogs at:,, and her teen fiction blog at:

If you have a question for Nina please post a comment and when you do also wish her a Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

To Cuss or Not to Cuss

To Cuss or Not to Cuss

When writing a cozy mystery, how do you handle your character’s language? Do your main characters use cuss words, or only your secondary characters?

I was reading on the Sinc Guppy Cosy group a discussion about swear words or even some words like “dang” or “darn” and writers wondered if even those words are okay to use in a cozy novel. I’ve always wanted to write a cozy, but somehow, somewhere, one of my characters will say a cuss word—not the worse ones, but maybe “shit” or “damn”. And I’m not sure I wouldn’t slip up and put one of those words into the mouth of a sweet little old lady.

I find my main characters watch their language, but my secondary characters aren’t so good. Maybe that’s because when I was growing up the women in our family didn’t cuss but some of the men could cuss like sailors, including my father.

When I married I was surprised to learn my sweet looking mother-in-law could throw out some words I wasn’t used to hearing out of the mouth of a woman. But that was when she was younger. As she aged, her language didn’t include so many of those words.

I have an older woman in one of my novels that doesn’t cuss, but she says mean things. She tells her daughter-in-law she’s an idiot or a hussy and she flirts with all the men and asks them to take her dancing. She’s in her 80s and has dementia.

My mom had dementia and until I could get her out of the unit, they stuck her in with Alzheimer’s patients. One night while visiting her, a woman came into her room and said to me, “Do you see all those people outside dancing?” There were none. So she then sang and danced for us. And when my cousin would visit she’d say to him, “When the others leave, you can come to my room.”

I wonder how much of what we write comes from people we’ve met over the years, or family members. One of my grandmothers used to kick her leg in the air when she was in her 80s and say, “Look, kid.” My grandfather would get upset because I didn’t want to kiss him. He chewed and spit tobacco and had a stained mustache. My dad’s family cussed when playing cards. Grandpa would roll his beer bottle on the floor and yell to my grandmother to get him another beer.

My other grandmother was from Croatia and sometimes made us hide when people came to the door, because she feared they were gypsies. Later in life I learned we did have gypsies that hung out not far from Grandma’s house. But at the age of 5 or 6, I didn’t believe her. She made us kids hide behind the couch. I also learned her fear was valid. Gypsies in Croatia are known for kidnapping children. And by the way, Grandma could cuss in Croatian, but we kids didn’t know what she said, only that our mothers told us those were bad words and not to repeat them.

I guess my question is, to cuss or not cuss? And which type of writing do you use profanity in and what books do we leave out those words?

Although I love reading a cosy novel, I’m afraid one of my characters might just slip up and be naughty. Guess I better pass on writing them.