Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Magical Cats Mysteries Writer Sofie Kelly

I just finished reading Curiosity Thrilled The Cat, the first book in the Magical Cats Mystery series, by Sofie Kelly and loved every page-turning minute. Sofie’s next book in the series will be released in September. I’m so glad I don’t have to wait for the next installment. Please welcome Sofie Kelly to WWK.   E. B. Davis

EBD: One of my favorite cat mystery series is Joe Grey, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy, and another, Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who series. Were you also a cat mystery series lover? Were there any particular series that influenced you to write your series?

Sofie: It wasn’t any particular series of books that influenced me, it was mostly the fact that I like cats and that I’ve known some pretty quirky ones.

EBD: I doubt many of our readers missed the book, but just in case, could you give us the hook of the first book?

Sofie: The books are set in Mayville Heights, Minnesota. Kathleen Paulson is the head librarian at the Mayville Heights Free Public Library, who relocated from Boston to oversee the renovations of the library building for its centennial. When she discovers the body of conductor Gregor Easton, she becomes a person of interest to the police. And, of course, ends up trying to catch the real killer with some help from her cats, Owen and Hercules. These cats have some very unique abilities.

EBD: And for me, what’s the release date and hook of the second book, Sleight of Paw?

Sofie: Sleight of Paw will be out September 6th. This book is set in February as Mayville Heights celebrates Winterfest. When former school principal, Agatha Shepherd is killed, Kathleen, along with her cats, Owen and Hercules, get involved in another murder.

EBD: Your main character, Kathleen Paulson, has cats and is a librarian. Are those two of your own characteristics?

Sofie: I’m not a librarian, but the library has always been one of my favorite places. The library I used as a child was a Carnegie library, just like the Mayville Heights building. Librarians are some of my favorite people—they know everything. It doesn’t matter how obscure the question is, I’ve never been able to stump one—and I have tried.

I had cats as a child, but I don’t have a cat now because my husband is allergic to them. And I still manage to have some wonderful cats in my life. KC was my neighbor’s cat. She came for breakfast every morning and she’d often sneak back for a nap in my office. A couple of years ago KC and I had surgery at the same time. She was wearing a cone and I was wearing a cast. We were a sad looking pair for a while.

When she got sick and had to be put down, I think I cried more than her owners.

EBD: The series is set in Minnesota and your main character is a Boston transplant. Have you lived in both locales?

Sofie: I haven’t lived in Boston, but my niece just finished her graduate degree in Boston, so I’m lucky I can pick her brain. I haven’t lived in Minnesota either, but it’s such a beautiful state that I’d like to. I discovered this video about Red Wing, Minnesota, and I was so taken with Red Wing I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in the books.

EBD: I grew up in a smaller town where everyone was related to everyone else, so the relationships you draw are believable. What is it about small towns that fascinate you?

Sofie: I grew up in a small town too, and one of the things I like about small places is how well people get to know each other. I like those connections. I like being part of a bigger community.

I’m also intrigued by the idea that while it’s almost impossible to keep anything secret in a small town, people will keep your secrets if you’re part of the community.

EBD: Your secondary characters are memorable. How did you conceive of them?

Sofie: Rebecca has elements of my next-door neighbor, who is just as sweet and just as stubborn when she sets her mind to something. Maggie has my real-life crush on Matt Lauer. We both love art, although Maggie is more talented than I am. The cats have bits of every cat I’ve ever known. Pretty much everyone else is just a creation of my imagination. I do have a thing for names, though. If I like your name, it’ll probably show up in a book at some point. For example, Andrew is named after a friend of mine, although he didn’t go on a fishing trip and marry a waitress in a fifties diner—at least as far as I know.

EBD: Did you set out to write a paranormal cat book due to the mystical qualities of cats in general, or was it a more practical decision of honing in on a specific paranormal ability the cats’ possessed to provide clues to your main character?

Sofie: I do think cats are very intelligent and I like their slightly mysterious demeanor, but the particular paranormal abilities that Owen and Hercules have were actually the suggestion of my editor.

EBD: How many years did you write before your first book was published? How many manuscripts had you queried prior to its publication?

Sofie: I came third in a poetry writing contest in third grade—I’ve been writing for a long time. I wrote a lot of short stories and one very, very bad novel, none of which were published or deserved to be. My first published book was a memoir. It was the first full length manuscript I queried. I’d had a decent number of articles and reviews published by that point.

EBD: Do you have any advice for unpublished authors?

Sofie: Read, read, read. And write, write, write.

Read everything. It’s a great way to learn about the craft of writing. And I think it’s good to read things outside of your favorite genres once in a while. And write. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s any good. Just write. Everything can be re-written. (Thank goodness.)

EBD: Do you really home-bake kitty treats? Sardine flavored?

Sofie: Not only did I make kitty crackers I actually tasted them. I would have taken them over to the cat across the street for a taste test but it was raining. They were pretty good. In all fairness, I should say that I’ll eat things other people probably wouldn’t. My daughter made brownies with peas in them for a school project and I ate them. They were good too

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spell Check – Friend or Foe?

A friend’s boss, who works for a conservative government agency, wrote a memo to staff and supervisors that was supposed to read, “Sorry for all the inconvenience…” Before she sent the memo, she used her spell check program but failed to verify the changes. The distributed memo actually read, “Sorry for all the incontinence…” Probably this woman wished she had double checked the suggested changes before hitting the save and send button.

If you use the spell check feature you probably have found an additional problem. Some words are not flagged as needing attention because they are spelled correctly. However, their meaning is incorrect. In many cases one transposed or missing letter can make all the difference between an appropriate word or a malapropism.

Recently, I purchased new software and one of the inserts advertised an international scriptwriting contest where the winner receives cash, prizes and industry exposure. Past winners were listed and one line touted the 2004 winner who “… was quickly singed by CAA…” He was burned by them? Signed – I’m sure they meant signed.

The TV cable guide has its errors as well. One children’s program described how “the heroin saves the town.” While noble in some circles, it should have read how “the heroine saves the town” or else the show is on the wrong channel.

Do you think sign manufacturers use a form of spell check, too? In front of a local 7-Eleven there is a disabled parking sign that warns potential offenders that the space is a “two-away zone” instead of “tow-away zone.” Did anyone who produced or installed the sign spot this error? Maybe not. Or, perhaps they noticed and ignored it because of the cost to make a new one.

I also have a friend/foe relationship with the auto correct feature that “helps” by suggesting words as you begin typing them. While this does save time, errors abound, giving us a chuckle or a huh moment. On a Facebook status, I read about Paris Hilton’s pantelis then the writer’s comment on the next line, “Gotta love smart type - make that pantsuit.” In another post I saw a reference made to Dissimilar and Gomorrah. Pretty sure that was supposed to be Sodom and Gomorrah or else there is a bible story I’m unfamiliar with.

Are we relying too much on technology alone for editing? While programs like spell check and the auto correct feature can quickly and easily catch mistakes and save us valuable time, I think editing needs a human eye to put words in context.

Have you ever experienced unintended errors due to a “helpful” computer tool?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Contribute to the WMHF

Could this be you speaking?

“By rejection number 45, I was truly neurotic. It was all I could think about—revising the book, making it better, getting an agent, getting it published.”
Kathryn Stockett, bestselling author of The Help

Do your friends, family and loved ones think you’re crazy?
Do you find yourself looking for examples of writers who hit the big time to justify your writing?

neurosis /neu•ro•sis/ (ndbobr-ro´sis) pl. neuro´ses

1. former name for a category of mental disorders characterized by anxiety and avoidance behavior, with symptoms distressing to the patient, intact reality testing, no violations of gross social norms, and no apparent organic etiology.

2. in psychoanalytic theory, the process that gives rise to these disorders as well as personality disorders and some psychotic disorders, being triggering of unconscious defense mechanisms by unresolved conflicts.

Have you developed a neurosis about your writing?

• Do you despair about querying agents?
• Are you so sure your manuscript will be rejected by agents or publishers that you can barely put a word on the page?

Have you avoided:

• Writing your pitch or summary?
• How many query examples have you read on agent blogs but haven’t written your own?
• Do you claim to have computer problems enabling you to miss a turn in your critique group?

Dissociative identity disorder a disorder characterized by the existence in an individual of two or more distinct personalities, with at least two of the personalities controlling the patient's behavior in turns. The host personality usually is totally unaware of the alternate personalities; alternate personalities may or may not have awareness of the others.

Can you can answer yes to the following questions?

• When testing characters, do you act out the parts you’ve cast them in?
• Have family members overheard you talking “funny” in your office?
• Do you speak character’s dialogue aloud?
• Do you listen to the sound of your words to ensure they flow?
• Do you have pictures of people you don’t know, or strange places you’ve never visited posted around your desk?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder is the experience of prolonged, excessive worry about circumstances in one's life. OCD is characterized by distressing repetitive thoughts, impulses or images that are intense, frightening, absurd, or unusual. These thoughts are followed by ritualized actions that are usually bizarre and irrational. These ritual actions, known as compulsions, help reduce anxiety caused by the individual's obsessive thoughts. Often described as the "disease of doubt," the sufferer usually knows the obsessive thoughts and compulsions are irrational but, on another level, fears they may be true.

Do you?

• Constantly use the find and replace function in Word to catch unnecessary usage of “to be?”
• Use find and replace to catch those pesky “ly” words?
• Use find and replace to catch common words, such as “look” and “saw?”
• When replacing words, do you consult a thesaurus to find a synonym?
• Deliberate over the minute differences between “place” and “put?”
• Check that none of your characters did anything other than “said?”
• Double check all of the above after each revision?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you are a writer. But you’re not alone. Please contribute to the Writer’s Mental Health Fund (WMHF), formerly known as UWMHF, Unpublished Writers’ Mental Health Fund, the acronym for which was redlined by an editor for its length. Help your fellow writers. Your donations fund our treatment team. We provide counter intervention measures when your family decides to have you committed. We negotiate with mental health providers and your family preserving your freedom to write another page. Give now! The writer you save may be YOU!

“And if your friends make fun of you for chasing your dream, remember—just lie.”
Kathryn Stockett, Best-selling author of The Help

All Kathryn Stockett's quotes from (More Online Magazine (
All medical definitions can be found at:

Friday, August 26, 2011

2011 Ngaio Marsh Award Winner Accepts Award

Paul Cleave

2011 Ngaio Marsh Award Winner Accepts the Award

Paddy Richardson, Neil Cross, Paul Cleave and Alix Bosco, all excellent writers whose styles differ widely, were nominated. Paul Cleave won for his novel Shotgun Men. And he showed up to accept the second annual award. Last year, in a plot twist Ngaio Marsh might have employed and enjoyed, Alix Bosco won for Cut & Run. But Alix Bosco is a pseudonym and the winning author did not appear.

Greg McGee

A week before the award ceremony on 21 August of this year, Greg McGee announced that he uses the pseudonym Alix Bosco and that he would appear to support the other authors and the awarding of the prize. In a series of interviews he explained that he wanted the character he created, a female investigator to be evaluated by readers and critics as the creation of an unknown writer. He described his reputation, based in part on his personal history — a rugby player who wrote a play about rugby, “ as a bloke who writes about blokes” He noted that prepublication readers who knew he was the author found the character not credible but, readers unaware of the author’s identity found the character engaging. McGee said he had to argue with his agent and publisher to publish the book without using his name. He noted that historically women authors have had to use male pen names to get published.

Best-selling and prolific author Tess Gerritsen and award-winning author John Hart began the ceremony by speaking and answering questions about their work. They were warm informative and funny.

Tess Gerritsen and John Hart

The nominees also spoke about their work and took questions from the audience. One topic that was repeatedly asked about was if the writers would use events from the latest major earthquake, the greatest natural disaster in New Zealand’s history, in their writing. Paul Cleave sets his novels in Christchurch, site of the disaster.

The authors as a group suggested the events were too recent and emotions were still very raw. Each author said they would not write about the earthquake any tme soon. With so many people as direct witnesses, any error in detail would be immediately noted. They also agreed about the importance of literature was a way for a nation to mourn and to process terrible events like wars and disasters.

I would be remiss if I did not praise the organizers of the event who were determined to have the awards in the sad, wounded city of Christchurch. I cannot imagine the hurdles and persistence it must have taken to find a place, coordinate scheduling, overcome the uncertainties, and actually hold the ceremony. Kudos for a truly outstanding event.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Readers want to visualize a character in fiction. Making appearance interesting is a challenge. My critique partners point out I focus on eyes. I think they reveal feelings more than any other feature. If I want a handsome hero, I tend to give him imperfect teeth so he’s not too good to be true.

What about clothes? Many years ago, I had a friend who’d reject a boyfriend based on what he wore. She couldn’t believe someone wearing a white scarf would dare to believe he could take her out. I never did understand her extreme criticism of people’s clothes.

Clothing may not reflect personal choice. For example, my grandfather fell off a ladder and spent the remaining few years of his life paralyzed in a charity hospital. My grandmother worked sixteen hours a day at one of the few jobs open to women at that time—waitressing. There was scarcely enough money for food and rent for her and her four sons. They wore patched and mended second-hand clothes.

Her oldest son used the money from his first job to buy good quality clothes to impress girls and he never shared his wardrobe with his brothers. Her second son, my dad, wanted comfort, warmth, and colors he liked. Once he could afford it, he chose clothing made to last well beyond the year in which it was fashionable.

The next brother fell under the influence of his ambitious wife who insisted he wear suits, ties, and well-pressed shirts. After she died, he continued to wear the same clothes for years, long after they no longer fit him and needed repairs.

My youngest uncle was a starving artist, even after he acquired a wife and two kids. He wore hand-me-downs and sandals even in winter when he strolled along the beach to collect mussels.

My grandmother was a knitter. She made our sweaters and socks. Once she knitted a bathing suit for me out of all her odd yarns. Luckily I was still shapeless at seven because, as I jumped into the water, the wool stretched to below my knees.

My other grandfather was a miner. His work clothes were covered in coal dust. On his day off, with his wife’s help, he’d fill a metal tub with pans and kettles of hot water and scrub the coal dust off his skin. Then he’d dress in black pants and a collarless shirt, sit upstairs in his bedroom, and cheer on the local soccer team playing in the field behind his house.

What did clothes tell others about the male members of my family? They announced what they could afford. I’d guess, apart from my oldest uncle, my male relatives believed clothes were invented to cover a body and keep it warm. They probably passed on a little of their indifference to their sons.1260611828181755768qmb7ww-md

I’m talking about the UK before there was welfare and health insurance. If your parents didn’t work, you starved. You didn’t eat fattening fast food because it’s cheaper. You literally didn’t eat.

I think the first time we meet a person we tend to register physical features and clothes. I’m sure a person can be excluded from a group or job based on not wearing the right clothes.

Have you read or written an introduction of a character where what that person wore gave readers insight into the character’s personality and history?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ann Charles (Part 2) author of the Deadwood Series

I’m continuing my interview with author and award winner Ann Charles today. If you didn’t catch last week’s interview, here’s the link (embedded link). Today, we’re focusing on Ann’s publishing decisions, which I’ve found interesting.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Even though you won the 2010 Daphne du Maurier Award for your manuscript of the first book, no mainstream publishers took it. Have you any clues as to why this happened? And now that your sales are outstanding have any of these publishers approached you?

The common response my agent received from editors when she was shopping my book from one mainstream publisher to the next was that it wouldn’t make it past the marketing department because the audience wasn’t “big” enough for this type of book. In other words, it wouldn’t sell enough copies to make it a worthwhile purchase. I received many compliments on the story and my writing from editors, but one rejection followed another.

No publishers have approached me so far, even after winning the Golden Heart award from Romance Writers of America® at the beginning of July 2011 for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. I long ago gave up on mainstream publishers ever wanting someone who writes such a mixed genre story. But I didn’t give up on readers, because I love mixed genre books, and I know there are a lot of others out there who share my tastes. These are the people I’m hoping to find and entertain.

If you were approached, would you consider going with a mainstream publisher?

Honestly, I’m a little leery at the moment. I know many authors who have had their careers crippled by clauses in publishing contracts. The nightmares keep rolling in every week about a mystery and/or romance series locked up and e-rights signed away. If a mainstream publisher approached me, I’d hire an IP attorney and be very anal about every item in the contract.

I’ve read blogs about what author’s make on their books, and they widely vary even when the books are selling well, depending on what deals were struck, how the books are published and the genre. (Not to be too nosy, but…) What kind of money have you made from the first book so far?

Corvallis Press pays me royalties for electronic books every month and royalties for print books every six months. By the beginning of August, I’ll have made over $3500 in electronic royalties alone. That’s a nice amount for a first book, but it still leaves me in the red on what I’ve paid out for marketing and promotion.

I also own part of Corvallis Press (which is the reason I went with this brand new small publisher), and I receive part of the revenue from sales. That percentage earns me as much money as I make in royalties. So, add the two together, and I’m smiling more these days. However, we have agreed to reinvest a large portion of profits into Corvallis Press, so I’m not exactly hitting the craps table in Vegas ... yet.

Will Corvallis Press accept submissions?

Corvallis Press will be accepting manuscripts in the future, but for this first year, we're mainly building the business with my books and maybe a couple of other authors with whom we have already built a relationship. We don't want to grow too fast because we want to make sure we do things correctly with our authors best interests in mind. (I'm an author first, and being treated fairly by Corvallis Press is a must.)

When we do begin taking submissions, we will not only be looking for a great book (I know, sounds very cliché), but we'll also be looking for authors who know how to promote and market and who have developed a platform. Corvallis Press will offer some marketing and promotional assistance, but we're a small press with a smaller budget than the big publishers. We have to be realistic.

If you're an author who wants to be under a publisher's umbrella, wants to have your book delivered to the public in a much quicker time than if you were to go through a bigger publisher, and wants to have more control over the marketing and promotion of your book, then Corvallis Press may be of interest to you.

As for genres that will be accepted, we're definitely open to mixed genre-that's about all I write. Mainly, we'll be looking for the right combination of story and author platform.

You added graphics to your manuscript that were surprising. Was this costly and will you do it again?

My brother is my illustrator, and I love to promote his artwork, so I will definitely continue to include graphics in my books. As for the cost, I cut a deal with my brother and share a percentage of my royalties. In exchange he draws the art for my covers, my inside illustrations, and my website. One of the really cool things about working with him is that he joins me at book signings with his art, which often compliments my books. I think having the visual art there draws a lot of people who would walk on by. Co-promoting like this also increases our fan base. Many of my author friends and fans have bought prints from him and are now fans of his, and the same goes in reverse for his friends and fans with my books.

Do you take your kids to amusement parks? How about farms? (I ask because Ann admits to fear of cows and love of amusement parts.)

Yes and yes. I think my youngest is going to be a big roller coaster fan—she has that spunk and the willingness to leap off the top bunk-bed into a waiting bean bag below, much to her mother’s shock. As for the farms, I was raised on one, and I love taking my kids “back home” to see what real-life farming is like. I plan to take them back every summer to have a chance to ride tractors and combines and learn all about life as a farmer.

Do you teach writing or marketing classes for writers?

I mainly teach classes on career platform-building and marketing/promotion. My writing-related workshops have to do with less craft-specific topics, such as being a left-brained vs. right-brained writer or giving tips to make your manuscripts shine. This year I have taught (or will be teaching) workshops on career tips for emerging authors, how to grow your audience, how to build your platform (even if you’re unpublished), tips for writing suspense, plot storming for left- and right-brained authors, and scene/sequel. I teach both online classes and in-person workshops at conferences and local chapter meetings. I’m super excited to have been invited to the South Dakota Festival of Books this year to teach workshops and sign books during that three-day conference in Deadwood.

Ann is available to answer questions for those authors trying to decide among mainstream, small publishers or self-publishing. Please leave your question in our comments section. Thanks for the interviews, Ann.
E. B. Davis

Ann’s websites:, and

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Starting Over

I would like to be a beginner. There is a joy and an exhilaration that comes with learning something completely new.

I am constantly doing research for my writing, and I have to go through a lot of content before I come across something I didn’t already know. I may glean a tidbit here and there, but it all fits into a context that I have already developed.

For my short story involving fish nets, I had to tie a few knots, but I had already watched someone make a net and I had studied the process. I knit, so I knew about tension and stitch size. I spin so I knew about yarn, cording, and S and Z twists.

I know enough about open hearth cooking or wood fired oven baking to bring off a decent Jumble (snickerdoodle) or Lobscouse (ham and beef stew). The last workshop I attended I learned how much heat is drawn out of an oven by metal pans, heat that could otherwise be used for cooking. Not a very useful fact, since we must use pans these days.

I attend two writers’ conferences a year and the number of useful or interesting things I learn is decreasing. I love the inspirational stories of the writers who have made it. I love hanging out with old friends. I thrive on blood splatter and DNA. But the last speaker who taught me anything was the locksmith who showed us how to pick locks. I may or may not want to pick locks or write about it, but I was intrigued by the fact that it was something I knew nothing about.

I don’t mean to sound like a know-it-all. I have a long way to go with both the history and the writing. I no longer look at them with the wide eyed innocence of the novice.

For my birthday this year I treated myself to a class in Tai Chi. I love the sequence in mystery shows where the cops are chasing someone through a park and past a group of people moving in unison with such grace. I want the camera to stop following the chase and show more of the extras.

I have several problems that make Tai Chi difficult for me. I have poor balance. So far I haven’t done anything on one foot, but it’s coming. I can’t tell my right from my left, so I am always doing the moves backward. I seem to have no body memory. I can do the moves fine in class but when I get home they are gone.

But week after week I go back and I love it. Having a patient teacher helps.
There will come a point where Tai Chi doesn’t feel new to me any more. I hope by that time I have learned enough so that I could be in the background of one of those movie set.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The Good Thief's Guide

Attorney Chris Ewan specializes in the film industry, but he is also a crime fiction author. His first book, The Good Thief’s Guide To Amsterdam, has nothing whatsoever to do with the author’s law profession. However, his main character, Charlie Howard, like himself is split professionally, only Howard writes crime fiction and burglarizes on the side (often to subsidize his writing-such an authentic detail). Howard’s main character, Faulks, is both a burglar and a crime solver—so Ewan creates art imitating art within a fictional life. The circular nature continues until the last pages in which the story catches up to itself and becomes one in the same. But I’ll let you figure out that one.

Protagonist Charlie Howard is writing his book while in Amsterdam. An American man sees Charlie’s author page online, asks to meet him in a bar, and offers him a burglary job. Of course, Charlie denies his B & E sideline not wanting the exposure, but also because he doesn’t know how the American knows of his hobby. But the next evening when the burglary is supposed to take place, his curiosity gets the better of him. He performs the American’s job. What happens next relies on Charlie’s wits, intelligence and knowledge.

Victoria, Charlie’s editor in London with whom he chats on the phone, pinpoints flaws in his fictional plots and in his “real” life crime exploits, helping to keep Charlie safe and able to write another day. Since he uses a fictional author photo, Victoria thinks that she knows what Charlie looks like, but they’ve only talked on the phone and mailed each other manuscripts. The subtle flirtation between them, like many business relationships between sexes, is fun.

The series blends hard crime (plot), humor (internal dialogue) and travel (setting). Ewan knows Amsterdam, giving insight into the language, customs and mental perspective of the natives. His writing style is retro, like a classic fifties crime novel with a European flair. There are three more books in the Good Thief series. Main character, Charlie likes to write a new book in a new location, which explains the titles. A Good Thief’s Guide To Amsterdam was published in 2007 and the subsequent books follow by year, the last released just this month.

I just discovered this series making me wonder about the effectiveness of advertising, the social media, bookstore placement and all those other promotional tools that are utilized to get the word out and sell books. Even though Ewan won the UK Long Barn First Novel Competition, I wonder if because he is a British writer, his promotion wasn’t as great on this side of the pond.

These are books that you will want to read slowly, but you will be unsuccessful doing so. You’ll finish the book knowing that the author is a clever fellow.
E. B. Davis

Friday, August 19, 2011

When my city fell down

“When my city fell down.”

Since we have arrived in New Zealand we have been struck by the never-give-up attitude of the people of Christchurch. Although the news coverage internationally have gone on to other things, including the worse national disasters of Japan, here in Christchurch the tremors continue and the cleanup will take at least a decade. People often talk about, “When my city fell down” and how much they miss the vibrant central business district.

The national and city government, fire and police departments acted immediately. Jokes were made that the prime minister, John Key, raffled off a free lunch with himself and was also the highest bidder The Red Cross, the Salvation Army and other first responders were quick to react. What I did not know initially was how many people in and outside the city responded on a volunteer basis.

University of Canterbury students self-organized into a volunteer army 10,000 strong. Using Facebook and GeoOP they turned out to shovel silt, dispatch needed assistance, help people connect with loved ones and provide many social services. They took photos and kept the authorities updated on their activities and problems they found.

Local businesses made donations, organized charity fund-raising events. They helped locate missing people and allowed their employees to donate time and service while being paid for work.

Farmers from around the island came to Christchurch and paraded down the streets with their tractors with excavators and earthmovers, which they then used to remove rubble and silt so that transportation could be restored. Many of them set up tents in city parks, supplying their own food and water so they did not put additional strain on limited resources while they worked, staying on through the aftershocks to help the beleaguered city.

Farmers also delivered more than 200, 000 liters of drinking water and tons of food to the needy population.

The Christchurch earthquake took place on February 21. The Japanese earthquake took place on March 11. New Zealand was the first foreign country to send rescue teams to Japan despite the problems here.

We went to dinner last night in a downtown restaurant that reopened three weeks ago. I noticed the chain link fence across the street from the reopened business had messages, ribbons and toys attached to it by patrons of a damaged restaurant blocked off by the fence, encouraging the people who own that restaurant to return

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I don’t spend much time thinking about what’s happening to my body. Sure, I know it’s succumbing to gravity and the wear and tear of lifting heavy weights during my nursing career. However, I don’t run a daily inventory on aches and creaks. As an RN, I figure I spend enough time looking for symptoms in others without having to search out my own. Although I’m not immune to the inevitable decay that overtakes us all, life is short and I have to prioritize.

At least, that’s how I thought until I had surgery. Suddenly, I became acutely aware of physical sensations, especially pain at the surgical site. If I want to recover and have better function in my leg than I had before the surgery, I have to continue to pay attention to what my body tells me. Well, all that’s okay for a while but I admit I can’t wait to throw away the crutches and embrace again my habitual choice of focusing on feelings and thoughts rather than aches and pains. Anger leads to action and words, sometimes soon regretted. Disappointment leads to a gathering of fresh information and a change in strategy.

No writer wastes experiences. From the unfamiliar world of physical sensations, perhaps I can bring back new physical responses to emotional situations. I tend to focus more on what a person does when confronted with such a situation rather than letting the reader know the physical response of disgust, fear, or paralyzing panic, etc.

After all, if I really found my neighbor dead or badly injured, I’d be more than horrified. So many TV dramas and even printed stories start with a dark and often rainy scene and a corpse with ghastly injuries. Viewers and readers become immune to what is really a terrible experience. We’ve come to realize we’re a violent and aggressive species. Are we setting ourselves up to accept a contiimagesnuing level of violence and brutality in the societies we create?

I don’t know. However, I do know, if a writer finds a novel way of describing a character’s response to death and violence, I’m hooked. I want to continue for the ride with that character. I want to enter a world where people matter and murder and torture are not just part of the scenery.

Although not my favorite feeling, I don’t regard the response of intense disgust and nausea to a cinematic or verbal scene of violence as a bad thing. Since I don’t experience the need to look away with every violent scene, I wonder if a scene creator ever intends the audience to experience extreme revulsion.

Have you read an unusual description of a fictional character’s response to violence and mayhem?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ann Charles, author of the Deadwood Series

It’s beyond me why Nearly Departed in Deadwood, Ann Charles’s Daphne du Maurier Award winning book, wasn’t picked up for publication by the larger publishers. The book combines the best of romance, paranormal and mystery topped by a dollop of dry humor and wrapped in an unforgettable authorial voice. No matter, Ann published the book through Corvallis Press.
E. B. Davis

I’m going to assume that my readership knows your book (and if they aren’t, they should). Your setting is Deadwood, S.D., and at times throughout the setting seemed to be a character. Being from the East coast, is Deadwood a real place, and why did you set the book there?

Deadwood is definitely a real place and has been since the late 1800s. It’s the site where “Wild” Bill Hickok was murdered, Calamity Jane liked to spend her days and nights, and outlaws, miners, and cowboys hung out in droves. It’s located in the beautiful Black Hills and has been the setting for many true wild-west anecdotes.

I set the book in Deadwood because I spent summers there growing up. Over the decades, I frequented area museums, got to know the locals, and explored the area’s back roads and ghost towns. A few years ago, I was visiting my mom, who still lives there, the story idea for the book just kind of whopped me upside the head. I love Deadwood—the sites, the smells, the people. I couldn’t wait to fill the pages with it.

Part of the humor of the book is how your main character, Violet—an unwed mother of twins—deals with the turbulence of raising children. How much of that humor is perspective and how much is situational dilemma? Did you draw from your own experience?

When it comes to humor in my stories, I like to drop my characters into a scene that is ripe for comedy. Then, I sit back and let them react, chuckling as I type their thoughts, internal dialogue, and banter. For Violet, a lot of her wit and sarcasm comes from my own frustrations and experiences as a parent (and watching friends and family deal with their kids, too). Children can drive you to drink one moment, and then bring you to tears of laughter the next. It’s these extremes that lend to the kid-related humor in my story.

I think of your authorial voice as Deep Throat because Violet’s thoughts, attitudes and ideas are imbedded in your POV. We like her sarcasm and wit. How did you develop your voice?

Practice and experimentation.

I have been writing for publication for almost fifteen years now. It was in the midst of writing my third manuscript when I first stumbled onto my style (the genre mix of romance with mystery, adventure, and humor). But my voice wasn’t developed yet at that point. While I was writing my fifth manuscript, I read Dean Koontz’s book, Odd Thomas, and something clicked in my brain. I suddenly understood the purpose of setting and how to interlace action with plot. I also discovered how to unlock my voice and let it fill the pages. I had gained the confidence to stop writing what I thought I was supposed to and instead just let everything flow. It was incredibly freeing, and my critique partner was surprised at the change in my story telling. From there, it’s all been fine-tuning and experimenting, seeing what feels best and what sounds like crap.

One character we all love to hate is Violet’s co-worker Ray. I’ve had a Ray in my past, have you?

I’ve had a few Rays in my life. I come from small town America. Sexual harassment as a Human Resources violation was still kind of new outside of the city limits when I graduated from high school and entered the workforce. Many of the things that Ray says to Violet I’ve had said to me or I’ve heard said to someone else. With Ray, I wanted to experiment with a “villain” who wasn’t the story’s true villain. He’s fun to write, actually, because like most of my readers, I love to hate him, too.

I was interested in your format. The book is written somewhat as a journal. Was this due to Violet’s deadline? How did you decide on that format?

I’ve actually written in this format for years. As I write a story, I don’t keep a detailed outline of the story. Because of this, I need a way to keep track of the timeline, so I insert the date at the start of each story day. With Violet’s book, due to it being told in first-person POV, it comes across more like a journal than my third-person POV stories, which I liked when it was all said and done. Also, since Violet is on a deadline, I like how the date helps the reader keep track of the ticking clock.

There is a paranormal element in your first book, which I assume will unfold in sequels. But there is also an element of disbelief on Violet’s part. Will this doubt be a source of conflict?

Definitely. Violet is like me when it comes to paranormal abilities—we’re both “duds.” The paranormal element provides internal conflict for her. Imagine if many of the people you know and love claimed to hear and/or see ghosts, and yet you picked up absolutely nothing. You would wonder if they were crazy for claiming to see ghosts, or if you were crazy for not seeing them. This adds a level of uncertainty for her (and the reader, I’m hoping) as to which characters are legitimate in sensing up other beings, and which ones are full of it.

When you’re writing, how do you handle backstory? It almost seems as if you outlined your book, then sandwiched in specific lines of backstory that you needed to precede a plot point where it was necessary. Am I correct?

That would be very left-brained of me to write that way, and I’m very right-brained in my story-telling process. Here’s what I do in a nutshell: I come up with high-level plot details (for example, a midpoint note might be, “Someone dies here.”). Then I use scene and sequel to tell the story chapter by chapter, brainstorming continually along the way. It’s not uncommon for me to finish a chapter and, when one of my first draft critique partners asks what comes next, tell her, “I don’t know, I was hoping I could throw some ideas around with you and see what feels right.” I love the excitement of finding out the story’s twists and turns as I go, just like a reader. Many times, I’m as surprised by something that happens as my critique partners.

Can you give us the hook of the second book, Optical Delusions in Deadwood?

Someone is spreading rumors around Deadwood that Violet Parker likes to chat with dead folks.

With her reputation endangered, her bank account on the verge of extinction, and her career at risk of going up in flames, Violet is desperate. When the opportunity to sell another vintage home materializes, she grabs it, even though this “haunted” house was recently the stage for a two-act, murder-suicide tragedy.

Ghost or no ghost, Violet knows this can’t be as bad as the last house of horrors she tried to sell, but sexy Doc Nyce has serious doubts. Her only hope of hanging on to her job is to prove that the so-called, ghostly sightings are merely the eccentric owner’s optical delusions.

But someone—or something—in the house wants Violet stopped...dead.

Try this series if you like great writing, a mixed genre flavor and a fast moving plot. After reading her books, please write a review on Amazon and help spread the word about this fine author. Catch Ann at the following websites., or, a site Ann co-owns with other authors to teach, share, and learn all about promotion.

Next week, I’ve asked Ann questions about her publishing experiences now that she has two books in the series in the market.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

British Punctuation Invasion

Recently, I spotted what I thought were repeated punctuation errors in blogs, on websites and social networks. I noticed commas and periods placed outside of quotation marks looking rather excluded and forlorn. After researching and reading an article by Ben Yagoda (professor of journalism and English at the University of Delaware), I learned our punctuation paradigm is shifting.

In the U.S. it has been standard practice to place commas and periods inside quotation marks for approximately two centuries. According to historians, the American style of punctuation emerged due to aesthetic reasons. The comma or period following a closed quotation mark appears to hang off by itself and create a gap so it was changed early on. This style still holds true for the Washington Post, New York Times and most mainstream publications.

However, in some websites, email, business memos, and student papers, the trend is to place commas and periods outside the quotation marks. This is known as British style or logical punctuation. Why is this becoming popular? One theory is that it just makes more sense. For instance, putting a period or comma within a title of a book, “War and Peace,” alters the title. Similarly, if you put a period or comma inside quotation marks, you are changing the quote. A second theory is that logical punctuation is a byproduct of working with computer code. If a comma or period is enclosed in quotation marks around code, it could have very bad consequences.

At this point you may be thinking that U.S. mainstream publications will soundly reject this change and many professional editors would probably agree. In fact, they believe that it’s more likely there will be a separation between official and unofficial practice. Established publishers and other entities will follow traditional rules while more unregulated publications will follow logical punctuation.

Example of American style vs. British style or logical punctuation

“Carefree,” in general, means “free from care or anxiety.”
(American style)
“Carefree”, in general, means “free from care or anxiety”. (British style or logical punctuation)

Source: Wikipedia

But remember that it wasn’t too long ago when two spaces after a period was standard and now only one space is required. Since the internet is global it follows that on-line readers, especially younger ones, will be influenced by what they read and how it’s written. Clearly, language, punctuation and spelling are fluid and continually changing. Ultimately, the U.S. may not fend off this British invasion.

To read the full article by Ben Yagoda go to:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Unnecessary and Extraneous Details

When I first started writing novels, I made the mistake of having anyone read my manuscripts. I asked a creative writing community college professor nearby to read and make comments on one of my manuscripts. When I got it back from him, he had redlined all the “unnecessary and extraneous” details, as he called them—my clues! He obviously was not a mystery writer or even a mystery reader. And then I bought some of his books and read—not all the way through, mind you—because his books were dreadful “artistic” novels that I found aimless, no fun at all. I could have kicked myself.

Mystery readers want to find out the solution to the mystery, reading until the end. Once the solution is revealed, they think back on what they read, remembering those “unnecessary and extraneous” details, and realize that if they had only put one and one together they could have solved the mystery themselves. They sometimes do solve the mystery or know who dunnit at some point in the book. From a writer’s point of view, we don’t want them adding it up too soon. But even when they do solve the mystery themselves, they require the facts and logic of the book to add up to the solution. I call this internal integrity, much like the research project design I studied in graduate school.

There are various methods to ensure internal integrity. The “best” method is via a novel’s outline, in which the author carefully plots the book making note of major clues, where they fit, adding complications, and then the author uses characterization, which adds to the internal integrity by making the characters authentic. The author then looks at the pacing the story making sure that the reader’s emotions engage in a pattern of peaks and valleys. In short, authors try to create a page-turner of a book.

When I say outlining is the best method, I don’t discount pantsers, those authors who start writing intuitively with the idea of the plot and seeing where it takes them, because I use a combination of outline and pantser techniques. I write an outline filling in with as many details as I can think of at the time, but then I also create a storyboard for each chapter to make sure I include events and dialogue that fulfills the function of the chapter. When I writing each chapter though, the pantser in me takes over and all those “unnecessary and extraneous” details come into play that actually connect the plot much like the function of pins in sewing, and really that’s what storytelling is—a construction of pieces that come together into one carefully constructed plot, a process called crafting.

When an author outlines, it is nearly impossible to capture the minutia. Until a scene is written the details haven’t been created, which is why there has to be some pantser in every writer. Writers can’t outline and connect minutia that doesn’t yet exist. Some writers wait until they have finished a rough draft to make their connections. I don’t find this satisfactory because by the time I finish, even when I write them all down, I forget their function and miss points I wanted to make. To continue the analogy, I hate ripping out seams and re-sewing. There are hairy details much like the ripped thread that must be flushed away so that the manuscript isn’t fuzzy. I’d rather get it right the first time so that preliminary readers aren’t lost.

To accomplish this, I write chapter by chapter and revise before I go onto the next chapter. Usually this occurs in intervals of two to three chapters making sure the details and connections pin the chapter in place, much like attaching one side of a garment making sure that it matches the other side. There are a few details in previous chapters that I may have to adjust, aside from word smithing and tweaking, my novel should be finished by the time I write the last word. Then I’ll let a professional editor dissect it. It should be interesting to see what the editor determines I need to rewrite.

I do have one problem though. One member of my critique group has made assumptions that she shouldn’t make. It reminds me of a TV ad in which a man cooking spaghetti sauce and holding a cleaver appears to be killing a cat that has jumped up on the counter when his sweetheart walks into the kitchen.

Reading between the lines is a fun game. But don’t blame the author when jumping to erroneous assumptions. In a way, I’m glad of her assumptions because the ending will come as a complete surprise, and yet I hope that she is not outraged when she finds that her assumptions are false. If she studies the logic and facts, she will find her error because for mystery writers and readers, internal integrity is a requirement underpinned by those “unnecessary and extraneous” details.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Maria von Trapp was Wrong

I don’t care what Maria says to the von Trapp children…

in The Sound of Music during the first line of Do-Re-mi.

The very beginning is not a very good place to start. Not for a writer. I’ve read the answers on-line to a writer who realized the starting point of the work in progress chosen was not the place to start the story. The author apparently had written quite bit past that starting point and did not want to lose all the effort expended.

My response was: Congratulations. Good self-critiquing is one sign of an accomplished writer. Now start where you should have and go at it. I would make a copy of what you’ve written because that’s raw material, which might be useful in some form or another later on. If not, you have the wrong beginning out of your system and you don’t need to make that mistake again. You can go on to make the next mistake. I call that progress. If you were to plot your course, it might look like a drunkard’s path quilt but writing a story is not like plowing a furrow unless you’re writing a manual for something like tying your shoes.

For the upcoming Guppy anthology I reviewed a story that had a clever premise and likeable heroine but the opening was so far removed in time and emotion from the powerful event that set things in emotion that the author had to put sections of back story repeatedly interrupting the flow of storytelling. The present time was spent telling the reader what had already happened until the last few paragraphs. My grandmother talked a lot about what had happened in the past and I found it interesting but this heroine was not my grandmother.

I remember one story I reviewed that began the day after the protagonist got shot. He remembered his experiences, which left this reader distanced and disinterested. Othello does not open the play by remembering that he murdered Desdemona yesterday.

Some time ago another writer asked when to start a story. Helpful responders gave a variety of answers mostly suggesting in one way or another that the story should start in the middle of the action. To each reply the writer protested that readers would lack information they needed to understand. Finally someone (I wish I could claim credit but it was not me) answered if readers needed that much back story, the story should start with the birth of the protagonist’s grandparents and proceed from there.

I have written stories from the point of view of the wrong character, from the wrong spot in the story arc, from the wrong “person” and even started with the wrong murder. But you, dear reader, did not know because I re-wrote them.

What do you do when you realize you started at the wrong point?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don’t Shoot the Boss

There’s a Patients’ Bill of Rights. Hospital staff receives training on how to respect the individuality of each patient. However, when individuals enter a hospital for whatever reason, they become subject to rules and customs that they had no part in making.

As an RN, I’ve met patients who seem to relish having someone else take care of them and tell them when to eat and when to sleep. Many patients can’t wait to escape from the hospital so they can return to their own ways of doing things, including their so-called bad habits.

The idea of democracy acknowledges our need to take part in developing the rules by which we live and to live according to our wishes rather than someone else’s. However, it’s not only hospitals where a person has to choose to conform or be labeled a bad patient.

In the workplace, in stores, in agencies, in schools, a good manipulator can become a petty authority whose warped vision controls the destiny of others. I’ve had senior workers tell me what to wear and what’s wrong with my sex life. I’ve had store clerks insist I can only buy what they want to sell, and tenured faculty choose what books I should study.

There’s a movie out called, “Bad Bosses.” In this economic climate, DevilWearsPradaMerylStreep2people hesitate to say anything bad about where they work or about their bosses. The movie’s solution is for the workers to plan to kill their bosses and to fail due to humorous complications. It touches lightly on a serious matter and offers no real solution. I think we need some fictional non-conformists such as the lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird and the soldiers in Catch 22.

Maybe you know good examples of successful non-conformists in modern fiction. When a petty authority remains alive in a communal situation, those subject to the whims and manipulations of such an authority have to find a way to change the restrictive climate. That’s not always easy. Sometimes it takes years.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dire Threads Author Janet Bolin

Janet Bolin’s first-in-series, Dire Threads, came out in June. I wanted to interview Janet because I found the book a promising start to a new series. Dire Threads is a craft based mystery using the fictitious town of Threadville as its setting. Main character, Willow Vanderling’s store, In Stitches, showcases machine-made embroidery. As a Manhattan transplant, Willow not only is the new woman in town, but also a new shop owner and, as it turns out, she has much to prove. Please welcome Janet Bolin to WWK.   E. B. Davis

Welcome to WWK, Janet. Willow’s property becomes the source of conflict in the small, quaint town. Could you explain your hook, conflict and setting to our readers?

Janet: Thanks for inviting me! It’s good to be here.

The village of Elderberry Bay was declining until Willow’s best friend and her best friend’s three (!) mothers opened fabric, yarn, notions, and quilting stores, and Elderberry Bay earned its nickname of Threadville. Willow’s machine embroidery boutique is the latest Threadville shop. While Willow’s friends may feel that they rescued the village, some of the old-timers may not be entirely pleased by busloads of women arriving every day and energizing the once sleepy village.

Elderberry Bay is on the (fictitious) Elderberry River, which empties into Lake Erie. While Willow and others love the peaceful nature trail along the river, the village’s zoning commissioner wants to open the trail to motorized vehicles. He also plans to bulldoze the cottage that Willow plans to renovate and rent to tourists. She doesn’t really mean the dire threat she makes, but when he ends up dead in her back yard, her livelihood hangs by a thread . . .

Your characters are three dimensional because they have history, relationships and life conflicts. Have you written their futures as well?

Janet: I will put them into situations, and their personalities will determine how they’ll react. I’ve turned in the second book and have started writing the third, so I do know what their near future holds—more adventures. Their decisions and actions often surprise me.

Willow has two dogs. Are they based on your own pets?

Janet: Yes, they are, and they have similar histories of being found in Ohio when they were scared little 4-month-old puppies, and being kept in a very nice rescue facility until someone wanted both of them. They’re brother and sister. Their devotion to each other is strong and very touching.

What is the publishing date and title of the sequel to Dire Threads?

Janet: It’s scheduled for June, 2012. Berkley books come out the first Tuesday of the month, so that would be June 5. Not that I’m counting down, or anything . . . I’m calling it Threaded for Trouble, but Berkley may have a better idea.

Is this your first published book?

Janet: Yes, and it’s very exciting! I’ve had short stories and short humorous essays published and read on nationally broadcast programs on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio. Three of those essays were in an anthology, Dear Sad Goat.

How did BookEnds LLC become your literary agency?

Janet: It was a miracle! My friend and critique partner, Krista Davis, told her editor that I lived near a cozy village on Lake Erie and did machine embroidery, and the editor said she’d like to see a proposal. A proposal! This threw me, because I was determined to write an entire manuscript before attempting to sell it. I sent the proposal on a Thursday and had my offer of representation on Monday—yep, four days. Three weeks later, I had an offer for three books from Berkley. One agent, one publisher, less than a month. A miracle. Then I had to settle down and write the book—a very scary prospect. But it turned out to be lots of fun.

What is the editing process like at Berkley Prime Crime Mystery and how long did it take from submission to release?

Janet: The editing process was like a free writing course. My editor spotted areas that needed strengthening. She was very patient and understanding, and we sent the revised manuscript (a digital file, all done by email) back and forth until we were both happy with it. Then they sent the revised digital file to a copy editor who was fantastic, and even pointed out a couple of inconsistencies that we had missed (I had a state trooper sitting on slush-covered steps, which wasn’t very nice to him—I very kindly allowed him to brush the slush off, probably with his bare hands, and sit on a wet step. Luckily, he was a real trooper about it all .)

I got to look at the manuscript again as a PDF file when it was camera-ready, and found a few more bloopers and typos. The entire process took almost two years because they gave me a year to write it, then they needed a year to edit and produce the cover (which I think is beautiful) and put it into their catalogue, list it for pre-orders, send out their sales team and a barrel of review copies, and I’m not sure what else. Waiting was hard, and even when I had the book in my hands, I could hardly believe it I wasn’t dreaming.

Are you an embroiderer? How do you feel about machine-based embroidery? Those machines are darn expensive, aren’t they?

Janet: Machine embroidery is a really fun hobby. I sort of fell into it by buying a machine to which I could add an embroidery attachment, someday. Someday happened very quickly. It’s like a big toy. I’m very impressed by hand embroidery, but probably lack the patience. Yes, some of those machines can be expensive, but if you visit a sewing store that sells them, they’ll happily demonstrate them (at least Willow will!) Some folks call them killer sewing machines. Threaded for Trouble gives those words a whole new meaning . . .

Do you have any advice for new novelists?

Janet: Do you have hours? The first thing I’d say is to rewrite and polish before sending a manuscript out. And don’t rely on your own eyes or those of your friends and relatives to know when it’s ready to go. Competent, objective critiquers can be the difference between publishing and not. And this may be hardest to take of all, and seems to contradict what I first said—if your manuscript is not getting anywhere, consider a new direction. I had no success writing suspense—cracking jokes in dark moments can be frowned upon—but my first attempt at a cozy sold based on three chapters and a synopsis.

Would you self-publish?

Janet: Never say never, but I can’t see it happening as long as I’m writing for Berkley. I get beautiful covers and professional editing. Their sales force put my books into stores and libraries. If I had to do all that myself, I wouldn’t be very good at it. Besides, I might not have time to write. Or sew, knit, crochet, quilt, embroider . . .

Of your secondary characters, which is your favorite and why?

Janet: Whoa! You saved the hardest question for last. Willow’s best friend’s three mothers are creative and have the courage to be original, different, and themselves. They also may adopt strays, including Willow. I seldom know what they’re going to do next.

Access Janet’s website, The Threadville Mysteries, to learn more about this author and her books and view great pictures of her dogs! She can be found on Facebook as Janet Bolin-Author and on Twitter as @JanetBolin. This was a fun interview, Janet.  Thanks for coming to WWK, and when your sequel is release, please come back.