Margaret Mizushima is the author of the acclaimed Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries, which have been nominated for several awards including the RT Reviewers’ Choice, Colorado Book, and the Silver Falchion. Kings River Life listed her fourth, Burning Ridge, as a Best Book of 2018. Margaret serves on the board for the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and she lives on a small farm in Colorado with her husband and a pack of dogs. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, on Instagram at margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.
Most of us have heard it before: “I want to write a book, but I just don’t have time.” Yes, I agree that it takes a lot of time to write a book, but it also takes so much more than that. And if you truly want to write one, you can get started by laying the groundwork even now, in what little spare time you’ve got.
My writing career evolved over so many years, it’s hard to pinpoint when it began. Back before the turn of the century when I worked as a speech pathologist, I used to stand in the cashier line at the grocery store and use this “leisure time” to search for my next weekend escape in the form of a mass-market paperback. (Only a working mom of two thinks of grocery shopping as leisure time.) I’ve been an avid fiction reader my entire life and have used books to visit exciting places and meet entertaining people, but in those days I didn’t think it possible that I could write a novel myself. But reading is an essential first step.
Shortly before I retired, I used weekends to begin writing the first chapter in a nonfiction work, until I became distracted by this wild idea for a story. During the next six months, I eked out every spare minute I could to write my first novel, terrible as it was. I was hooked—I set aside that nonfiction book and never looked back. But I also realized I had a lot to learn about writing fiction.
After retirement from full time work, I took a part time job and started studying the art and craft of fiction writing. I attended writing conferences, took creative writing classes at my local university, participated in critique groups, and studied how-to books on writing.
When I first told friends and family that I planned to write a novel, I received a wide range of responses, from skeptical raised eyebrows to words of encouragement. I soon learned how easy it was to become discouraged. Some people love to burst the dream bubble of others, and I learned to avoid discussing my plans with those naysayers.
When I first started writing, I sought feedback from family and close friends, but soon I ventured into critique groups, a necessary stage in any writer’s life. I learned how to find other writers who would give honest and responsible feedback to help me improve my craft.
I wrote many manuscripts in a variety of genres over the years, but the turning point came when I decided to write a mystery. I read and outlined the works of bestselling authors I loved: Sue Grafton, J.A. Jance, Margaret Coel, Michael Connelly, and Lee Child, to name a few. These wonderful mysteries and thrillers provided inspiration, but it took sitting in on a conference workshop on how to write a mystery to get me started.
They say write what you know and research before you write what you don’t. I took this advice to heart. I decided to set my mystery series in a small mountain town—similar to the one I grew up in but fictional—and to include a veterinarian as one of the protagonists, because I’m married to a vet. I wanted to write a police procedural, so it only made sense to create a K-9 Deputy and her dog, which required a great deal of research on my part and some awesome consultants who agreed to help. But the fact that I’d lived around dogs, observed their behavior, and participated in search and rescue training with a couple of our dogs certainly helped.
Thus the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries featuring Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and veterinarian Cole Walker were born. Although the process took years, I found first an agent and then an editor and publisher that I love. Crooked Lane Books and I released Killing Trail, book one in the series, in December 2015. We now have four books out with two more under contract.
And it all started with that horrible manuscript written more than a decade ago that will never see the light of day.
So if you want to write a novel, go ahead and get started. Read, educate yourself, write, seek critique, revise, repeat. Find like-minded people and friends who will encourage you along the way. You can do it, even if you have only a few hours each week to dedicate to the process.
Go ahead and get started!
Colorado’s Redstone Ridge is a place of extraordinary beauty, but this rugged mountain wilderness harbors a horrifying secret. When a charred body is discovered in a shallow grave, officer Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are called in to spearhead the investigation. But this is no ordinary crime—and they soon become the targets of a ruthless killer.
Find Margaret on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and her website
Where to Buy Burning Ridge
Jene' Jackson was raised all over the U.S. as a preacher’s daughter before finally rebelling. When she’s not working on her first novel and the sequels to her memoir, she’s belly laughing with friends, making art, photographing, singing jazz, or squeezing words from her teenage children while driving them home from school. She lives in Colorado Springs and even does yoga and hikes every now and then like a good Coloradan. You can connect with her on Facebook at facebook.com/JeneJ, on Instagram at instagram.com/spiralspiral, and at jenejackson.com. You can buy her book at https://www.amazon.com/Oat-Project-Faced-Finally-Summer/dp/0997925108/
Most of the time, I have to spiral into things, backwards, sideways, hurly burly; straightline goes awry. Writing has been no different. I was a reader, not a writer. Yes, I could pull “A” essays out of my head and hands in the hour before they were due. But the first time anyone ever suggested I had something unique came in college. When I apologized for what I knew would be a poor performance on a 3-hour essay test (history) because I had studied only thirty minutes, my professor said, “The content wasn’t there like usual, Jene’, but you write so well, I couldn’t tell. You have a gift for making complex concepts understandable, and you should use it.” I ignored him, of course. I was a singer, photographer, and reader; not a writer.
Over a decade later, as the stresses of parenthood made it clear I needed time alone, I began to write. Essays moved into children’s fiction. A journal published an article and I wrote several picture books that got nibbles but no bites from agents. I connected with a local writers organization and honed my craft. Then, after six years of writing for children, with one question from one friend, I spiraled into what seemed like a frivolous project that became my first memoir, The Oat Project: How I Faced My Fear and Came of Age in One Wild Summer.
When I met fellow mothers from my daughter’s school at a coffee group, they found out I had never been drunk--I was 37, a virgin-when-married mother of three children. They decided to throw a party to get me drunk, and as we planned it, one of them asked, “What else have you never done?” That question became a list of 25 “wild oats” I’d never sown--I had been a leader, preacher’s daughter who’d never rebelled--they wanted to do with me over the following summer. Rock concert, smoking (even marijuana!), dancing, watching porn and more, they were nothing compared to the fears I faced as I resisted then embraced transformation.
I wrote the whole summer, journaling and recording as it happened in composition notebooks that, when transcribed, became a 500-page manuscript. It took me eight years to edit, through the end of my marriage, my mother’s battle with cancer then death, job changes, depression and anxiety, learning to navigate single motherhood and becoming my real self. But finally, in 2016, after 18 months of morning and evening writing, I wrote “The End.” Despite solid interest from agents, I decided to publish it myself, because I knew in my gut it needed to be in the world as it was. It took several months to produce, and I stuck with my decision to make the cover a photo of the last task on the wild oats list: a tattoo. The launch party was a huge success, and though building sales has been much more difficult than I imagined, the book is beginning to find its audience. Per a request from a rockstar agent, I’m currently working on a companion guide to help others create and do their own Go Wild list.
Why does all this matter? Because life matters. So often, we writers judge every moment we are not putting words on a page. I actually don’t believe in procrastination any more. Over and over, I look back and see that where I thought I was going too slow, it was exactly the right pace, for myriad reasons. For example, a few months after The Oat Project came out, I anguished over my inability to build sales, and my therapist said, “How can you market a book about you when you don’t love yourself?” So I’ve spent the last two years working hard to face and process my trauma and wounds, to heal, and to finally, really, love myself. The result has transformed my writing and writing life.
Instead of guilt for not getting to the page, I notice roadblocks or needs that resolve when I give them attention and care. I share this with you so that perhaps it helps you to shed your shoulds, to love your self and your writer self wherever you are in the process, and to know that whatever it looks like is beautiful. I still flail and trip around and all over pages, but instead of becoming blocked or frozen, I keep going. (I’d like to fistbump you all right here.)
Apart from the need to “get it out of my head and onto the page,” I am inspired by authors who weave everyday resonance and extraordinary wisdom into fiction. Frank Herbert’s Dune series (the original six), Ursula K. Le Guin’s works, Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree, Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury series, and Tolkien’s works: these I’ve read many times over. They inspire me to learn and grow so that my writing resonates like these, so my readers say, “I never thought about it that way.”
The Oat Project
A former evangelical Christian and virgin-when-married mother of three finds the courage to explore her wild side, at 37. Rock concert, smoking (even marijuana!), dancing, watching porn and more, the 20-plus 'wild oat' tasks she tries over one summer are nothing compared to the fears she faces as she resists then embraces transformation.
Where to Buy The Oat Project
Jim Campain spent the majority of his career devoted to working with children, youth, and families as a mental health provider.
His interest in writing the Mysterious Miss Snoddy series is to introduce young readers to basic historical facts about our country by captivating them with an exciting mystery. His wife Jan is his inspiration and they spend their time together in Colorado and Louisiana, enjoying the best the mountains and gulf have to offer.
One of my first loves in life was a tablet. Not a Surface Pro 6, Samsung Galaxy, or Apple iPad but a Big Chief tablet. It wasn’t wireless with a chrome case and ten inch screen. Instead, it was bright red with the face of a noble Native American chief gazing sternly around my first grade classroom.
I was in country school with twelve other students, grades K-8. Odds are I had ridden my pony on the opening day of a new school year, with my Big Chief tablet safely tucked away next to number 2 pencils, a water color paint set, and a bologna sandwich. With my name printed on the impressive cover, I opened it up to reveal wide- lined, off-white pages. The alluring scent of a new tablet was unlike anything I had experienced before.
Granted, some sheets had knot-like blemishes the size of half-dollars, but that mattered not. There were assignments to complete, problems to solve, and, most importantly, stories to create.
Fast forward some fifty years. I had finished presenting a conference workshop at a western university and was approached by members of a California community. They asked me to come to their organization and train them in the material I had just presented. I had a dozen reasons why others could do a better job than me and gave them names of people I considered more expert on the topic. “No, we’d like you to come,” they responded. I persisted to assure them that others had more data, authority, and proficiency, but they would have none of it. Then they said the five words that changed everything for me: “Just tell us your story.”
That simply sentence unlocked unforeseen opportunities and released reluctance and doubts within me. For the next few years, I had the privilege to teach, train, and consult in sixty communities across twenty states. I believe it was because stories allowed me to connect with others on a deeper and more meaningful level. “Stories go far beyond simply revealing facts and data — stories emotionalize information. They give color and depth to otherwise bland material. [Readers] become emotional owners of the story you are telling,” (Peter Guber). Apparently, the story line I wove into the data that day struck a chord with them.
I wrote a great deal during my career as a clinical social worker. However, my writings were limited to case notes, client histories, behavioral observations and assessments, clinical evaluations, and court reports. Only after I retired did I venture into the world of fiction. In the past two years, I’ve had three middle grade historical fiction stories published by Hot Chocolate Press, and a fourth coming in the Spring of 2019.
This series, The Mysterious Miss Snoddy, tells the stories of a teacher with a questionable past, and three of her students who are determined to uncover a secret she’s been hiding. My goal, as an American history buff, is to capture middle grade readers with an adventure while making important events in our country’s past come alive. I like to think of the series as history wrapped in a mystery. The inspiration for the series stemmed from a casual conversation with my wife when she mentioned that her older brother had an elementary teacher named Miss Snoddy. Apparently, little was known about this woman. She was somewhat of an enigma, however, the memory of the high-topped, black, lace-up shoes she wore everyday left a lasting impression. With three grandchildren aged nine and ten, I realized what they could and would do with the poor woman’s name. From there, I created her mysterious past and wed it to history. Voila! A series was created that has found its way into twelve school and public libraries. This series has been enjoyable to write and has emerged with a certain ease and very little angst. It may be that as I’ve studied the science of writing, I’m released to let the art of writing flow more freely.
I’ve been fortunate to learn from many excellent authors and teachers in northern Colorado and have enrolled in classes offered by Northern Colorado Writers (NCW). The finer points of writing, as well as the gestalt of defining oneself as an author, has been an empowering and enlightening experience. My business cards now include the title, Author.
I believe in the Creator and that a creative gene resides in all of us. I find it interesting how many people enthusiastically answer, “Yes!” when I ask if they have a story in them. There may be any number of keys to unlock that creative spark … writing did it for me.
When not appreciating the mountains of Colorado, Jan and I spend our time in Louisiana Cajun country enjoying the Gulf. The potential for a new story rests around every peak and bayou.
The Mysterious Miss Snoddy: The Orphan Train
Ava, Ellie, and Griffin are very fortunate children. They have families, friends, a nice school, and enjoy many privileges in their lives. When a classroom speaker tells them about the Orphan Train, they become interested in the children who rode the train in search of loving families. After learning that not everyone who adopted children treated them well, the kids are angered and decide to do something about it. The three friends convince Miss Snoddy to take them back in time to purchase tickets on the Orphan Train so they can protect innocent children from evil-doers.
Everything goes as planned until the unthinkable happens and their friendship is threatened. Ava, Ellie, and Griffin must dig deep and trust in each other, Miss Snoddy, and new friends in order to survive.
Where to Buy The Mysterious Miss Snoddy: The Orphan Train
Judy Mollen Walters is the author of seven novels about strong women struggling to help their families and themselves. Her latest book, The In-Between Place, was released on March 19, and can be found on Amazon. In her spare time, Judy likes to spend time with her family, bake, and read. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and pet rabbit.
I still remember my father coming into the classroom. It was around noon on an ordinary Saturday, and I had been in the rec center at a Creative Writing class for about an hour. I’d been going there for a few weeks and I liked so much about it. The teacher was nice and all the kids just wanted to write stories, like me. I was nine years old.
The teacher pulled my father aside, but I overheard anyway. “I asked the kids to write a story making an inanimate object become animate,” she said, “and most of them chose the usual things. Your daughter, though, she chose to use George Washington’s wig. She has real talent.”
I don’t recall how my father responded or if he responded at all. I just remember feeling very proud. I was in fourth grade then, and had realized I would never, ever be good at math or science and was sort of average in most other subjects. But this writing thing – this I could do.
Growing up, I didn’t have allusions of a career as a novelist. I knew what I had been told – you can’t make a living as a novelist. So, for a while, as a teenager, I thought I would be a photojournalist for Life magazine. Of course, I didn’t have the photography skills, nor was I interested in learning them. When I left high school, I went into college a student with no major and no idea what I wanted to do.
After a semester in college, I declared English as my major. I loved to read and write. I discovered, through an internship, that I could have a role in publishing. I could put together other people’s books. I could meet authors. I could work at some of the best publishing houses in the country.
After college I got a job in real publishing. Through several stints as an editor and then as a Managing Editor for various small publishing companies, I realized, with great dismay, that the business of publishing was not for me. By then I was the mother of a three-year-old with another on the way. My husband and I discussed it and hoped that if we were really careful with money, I could be a Stay-at-Home Mom for a while, which I wound up doing for nineteen years, until my kids left home.
Writing never left me, though. When my girls were in school, sometimes I would write. I was the one who wrote and edited the PTO newsletter. I always had an idea for a story in my head.
Without noticing, I wrote a novel. It was so bad. I laugh now at how bad it was. At the time, of course, I thought it was fabulous. When I showed it to a couple of people in the business, I learned it was not. I wrote another good three or four books before I wrote the one I thought was good enough for the world to see. That became my “first” book, Child of Mine.
Since then I’ve published six more books, one a year, each spring. My books are about strong women struggling in their families with real problems – serious medical issues, career struggles, divorces, family divides.
My latest book, just published on March 19, is The In-Between Place. It’s the story of a mother who finds out her four-month-old son has a terminal illness called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, considered the ALS of children. He’s supposed to die by the age of two but mysteriously lives on for many more years. How does this mother balance caring for him while raising his sisters? How does she manage to hold on, day after day, knowing the end will come, but not knowing when that will be?
I like to write about the things we never can imagine happening to us, yet sometimes they do. When they do, it’s all about holding on, about fighting for love over despair. I believe in that. I hope my readers do, too.
The In Between Place
Alice Connelly was headed for the perfect life, with her steady-as-a-rock husband, Ryan, a successful architect, her beautiful, smart toddler daughter, Olivia, and a great career of her own, which she was sure was about to include a promotion and raise.But when Alice has her second child, Oliver, from the beginning, it seems like everything is wrong. At four months, Oliver is diagnosed with a rare condition, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA, and given only two years to live.But Oliver surprises everyone by[ living much longer than anyone predicted. Although he can’t move any of his muscles, his is brilliant, funny, and takes his limitations in stride. His mother, Alice, has given up her career to care for him, and his sisters, Olivia and Poppy, are forced to pretend he will live forever, even when they know the real truth, while Ryan keeps pushing his raw feelings away, staying disconnected from everyone around him.Filled with surprising twists and turns, The In-Between Place will have you up reading until the wee hours. It makes us ask: How much can one family endure without being shattered and how do you pick up the pieces when life throws too much at you? You’ll laugh and cry and wish for something better for the Connelleys and think about your own family and feel grateful for it.
Where to Buy The In Between Place
Nanette Littlestone is an award-winning author, editor, publisher, and CEO of Words of Passion. Nanette never knew she wanted to be a writer until she was over forty. But once she began, the ideas didn't stop. She loves to explore relationships and is unceasingly curious about why people do what they do. The themes of her stories focus on love (what we always strive for) and forgiveness (what we always need).
Authentic writing comes not from the mind but from the heart. When you embrace your vulnerability, that’s when you truly connect with your readers. A huge fan of food and cooking, Nanette acts as the master chef. Sometimes writing thrills and lifts the soul. Sometimes it’s a lot like chocolate—temperamental. With over 25 years of experience guiding authors to achieve more clarity and authenticity in their writing, Nanette shows you how to turn the elements of your story into a mouth-watering delight. A story that comes from the heart and inspires others.
Her books include F.A.I.T.H. - Finding Answers in the Heart, Volumes I and II, the historical novel The Sacred Flame, and the contemporary sequel Bella Toscana. And a new book is in the works, a YA fantasy about healing the heart of the planet. In her spare time, she works with the Conscious Life Journal as Editor in Chief, managing authors and articles for this magazine that helps people journey into higher conscious awareness through the five stages of Mind, Body, Spirit, Integration, and Balance.
When I was in high school, my mother suggested that I write stories. She might as well have suggested I be an astronaut. (There were no women in the space program then.) I loved to read voraciously, but writing was an unimaginable concept surrounded by an enormous black void.
Sometimes creativity needs forceful encouragement.
Fast forward to 1994. I still loved to read. One sunny Saturday afternoon I was sitting on my futon in my bedroom minding my own business when I heard my name. Just my name. No neon sign or burning bush or ferocious clap of thunder. When nothing else happened, I shrugged and let it go. The following week the same thing happened. Ticked off, I yelled, “What? What do you want?” And again, there were no visible signs. But this time I felt a knowing, a sense that I was supposed to write. So I began. I wrote my first novel by hand in nine months. The second novel took less than three months. The third novel took several years. And so on.
When I moved to Atlanta in 2002, I committed to a writing career and joined a critique group. I’d never read my writing in public and it was disastrous. I do believe that everyone said something positive, but everyone also said something negative. And, of course, I focused on the negative. After the third person’s critique, my head swam, my eyes blurred, and I couldn’t hear a thing. When the meeting ended I ran to my car and swore I wouldn’t come back. Ever.
Two weeks later I returned to the group. The best decision I could have made. Six months later I became the new leader.
I continued to write novels but something was missing. A lot, actually. I couldn’t plot worth a darn. All the books I read seemed to come together effortlessly. How did the authors do that? At long last help arrived in the form of a class on plotting. I was working on my historical novel (The Sacred Flame) about a Vestal Virgin and all the love scenes were written but how did I connect them? When the teacher introduced the concept of GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict) I felt an ember glow. We filled out a chart for our major characters with their default behavior, inner motivation, outer and inner goals, and outer and inner conflict. We talked about their wants, their needs, their fears. And over all of this, the teacher told us to use the character’s default behavior to create conflict.
Huh? I just didn’t get it.
I struggled through the entire class. Every week we would build on the previous week, but the conflict in my story would not gel. Slippery as egg whites, that stuff.
In the last week, when I’d run out of hope, another student asked the same question about default behavior and conflict. And suddenly the ember caught flame and began to blaze. If my heroine followed the rules, what could make her do the opposite? If my hero wanted his father’s respect, what would cause his father to reject him? Such a simple strategy when you understand how it works.
That revelation blasted open the doors to my creativity and Spirit rejoiced. I had such fun developing untenable situations for my characters, pitting them against each other, creating misunderstandings and slights and jealousy and betrayal, and also finding hope and compassion and forgiveness and love.
Since The Sacred Flame, in all my writing and professional editing, I require myself and my clients to fill out a GMC chart. I love to explore relationships and want to know why people do what they do. I want to read about the emotional side of the characters—how do they think, how do they feel, why do they make the decisions they make? I write stories about women because I am a woman and my path in life is challenging and mysterious and enchanting. The more I honor myself with love and respect and compassion, the more I open the way to the bounty the universe is waiting to bestow. So the themes in my stories focus on love (what we always strive for) and forgiveness (what we always need).
The theme in The Sacred Flame explores what people would sacrifice for love. The theme in Bella Toscana, the sequel to The Sacred Flame, looks at having the courage to follow your heart. The new story I’m working on, which involves an 18-year-old heroine (Help!, I’ve never written a teen story before), is about healing old pain and fear through love and acceptance.
Writing is one of the most thrilling things that I do. When inspiration beckons and the words flow, it’s almost as good as the satisfaction that comes from eating rich dark chocolate. Or maybe better, because the bliss from writing is beneficial for mind, body, and spirit. I’d love to meet Nora Roberts to thank her for inspiring me. Her ability to pack so much into one or two words helped me hone my skill. And I would love to chat with Susan Meissner and Kristin Hannah about story development and research. Their writing is sensitive and heartfelt and so emotionally impressive.
An explosive yearning that can’t be denied.
Disturbing visions from an ancient past.
A mysterious stranger that somehow feels familiar.
On the night of her fiftieth birthday, the comfortable ride of Toscana’s life takes an alarming plunge. Haunted by seductive visions, she tries to push aside the desire and focus on the husband who adores her. Then she falls for Flynn, a younger man with an eye for adventure and a heart full of romance, who leaves her doubting everything she’s believed about love and passion.
In Atlanta, Rome, and the lush scenery of Tuscany, Toscana searches for answers to the mysteries of her life while she faces her biggest question. If she listens to her feelings will she lose everything she holds dear, or does her heart hold the key to love and joy?
Find Nanette on her website, Goodreads and Facebook!
Where to Buy Bella Toscana
Ginny Fite is the author of the thriller No End of Bad, the dark mystery/thrillers Cromwell's Folly, No Good Deed Left Undone, and Lying, Cheating, and Occasionally Murder, a humorous book on aging, I Should Be Dead by Now, a collection of short stories, What Goes Around, and three books of poetry. An award-winning journalist, her short stories have been published in numerous literary journals. She earned her degrees at Rutgers University and Johns Hopkins University and also studied at The School for Women Healers and the Maryland Institute for Poetry Therapy. She lives in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
Forty years ago, at a self-actualization seminar, I wrote down three life goals as part of an exercise. I only remember two of those goals: to have all my novels published and have a car that works. There was one main problem with my first goal. I hadn’t written any novels.
I was a working poet at the time. A chapbook of my poetry, The Last Thousand Years, had been published as a university prize. My poems were appearing in small literary journals. I could imagine a maximum of fifty words at a time on a page. I write short poems. I like white space around words.
The world of work closed around me. For 20 years as a journalist and communicator I wrote news stories, features, press releases, speeches, position papers, and hundreds and hundreds of poems. If you write, then you know that stories ping off everything you hear or see or do, every second-hand observation by a stranger, every moment standing in line listening in on someone else’s conversation, every sudden pop of an idea while you’re washing the dishes. All that time, I was gathering material.
But the question of how one made fiction out of one’s own experience baffled me. As far as I could see, there was only so much I could say—like two sentences—about my life that would matter to anyone else. Where did the ideas come from that yielded a novel?
A novel needs desire, anticipation, conflict and epiphanies. Even if I understood the three-act structure and how to build to a climax from studying Greek tragedies, how did I translate that to any fiction I would write? But if that little bit of magic–writing down my goal on a piece of paper decades before–has anything to teach me, it’s that something in me already knew there were novels lurking in my brain.
Being a journalist taught me how to put more than fifty words on a page. The world of prose—with all its dependent clauses, its multiple lines of inquiry, as well as how editors cut from the bottom—opened to me on pages of newsprint and magazine spreads. It’s possible that if I’d become a journalist in the digital age, with its tiny screens and foreshortened stories, I would never have become a novelist.
Still, going from fifty to 800 or even 2,000 words was not as huge a leap as going from there to 70,000 words. I needed another stepping stone. I wrote essays and short stories. Little by little, I wrote a novel—the typical semi-autobiographical work of a novice writer—and rewrote it and rewrote it, and then sent it out to agents and got lovely rejection notes. They told me I wrote beautifully but they weren’t interested in my project.
“Project?” I growled. “It’s not a project; it’s a novel!”
I tore the novel apart, salvaged what I could, and wrote more short stories. It’s easier on the heart to abandon 2,000 words than it is to let go of 80,000. Rejection makes each word seem worth less than it did when you typed it, but rejection is a constant part of a writer’s life. “You better have a rhinoceros hide,” wrote one kind editor who published a poem. I learned writers are stubborn, and persistent. We write because we write. To breathe.
I was still thinking about short stories when Cromwell’s Folly hit me full force as I was driving to the bank. I heard the beginning of that novel in my head as if the story were being told to me by someone the passenger seat. I turned to look at the speaker, expecting to see Detective Sam Lagarde in his tan felt Stetson outback hat, barn jacket and corduroy slacks. He existed only in my imagination. When I got home, I typed down the words he said as fast as I could and waited for the next installment.
After years of reading Toni Morrison, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Barbara Kingsolver, the last thing I ever expected to be writing was a murder mystery, and yet here it was, being delivered right into my fingers. All I had to do was tap the keys. Cromwell’s Folly got me an agent. That agent got me a publisher. It still seems like magic. Three more novels followed in quick succession, an experience similar to having quadruplets complete with sleepless nights and lots of messes to clean up.
I am now waiting for my publisher’s edits and notes on a new women’s fiction novel, Blue Girl on a Night Dream Sea. [Sneak peek: To save her own life, Elena, a 21st century police commando, must save Hana, who has trekked across Bronze Age Lebanon to prevent a king from destroying her tribe. They’re stronger together. The problem is they’re 4,000 years and 6,000 miles apart.]
While I’m waiting, I’m also completely revising a family saga that resists its confines, doing the final edits on a contemporary re-telling of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and polishing a novel in which a crotchety old woman prevents a young writer’s suicide and in return asks for a story every day as she’s dying. I’m also seeking a publisher for a novel told in linked short stories. Clearly all those years ago my unconscious was prompting me to listen up. There are a lot of stories that need telling.
No End of Bad
Washington, DC, housewife Margaret Turnbull's world literally blows up after her husband, FBI agent Clay Turnbull, is falsely arrested and killed by agents working for an international drug cartel. Unbeknownst to Margaret, her enemy's tentacles reach all the way to the White House and control senior personnel. Their powerful enterprise in jeopardy, the assassins will stop at nothing to cover their tracks. Even as they grieve, Margaret and her daughter Melissa must learn on the fly how to survive against cutting-edge surveillance and NSA technology when there is nowhere to hide, and no one to trust. No one is safe--anywhere.
Find Ginny on her website and Facebook
Where to Buy No End of Bad
Ryanne Glenn is a member of the Northern Colorado Writers in Fort Collins, CO, where she attends Colorado State University. She is pursuing a degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering with a minor in Biomedical Engineering. She loves to golf, though after playing for twelve years, her handicap should be much lower than it is. Between writing and classes, she often visits her hometown of Fruita, Colorado, to spend time with her family and two dogs, Coco and Pebbles.
Ryanne started writing short stories when she was ten and was first published in Fruita’s local newspaper. She took her first creative writing class in high school, and was inspired to expand her writing into poetry and longer stories. After struggling with depression in her first year at college, she turned back to writing as a healthy outlet for her emotions. She wants to write strong female role models and is excited to share her stories with the world.
I like to say I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I remember writing short horror stories when I was in fifth grade and creating a little writing club with a few of my friends. We all loved R. L. Stine’s books and were convinced we could be just like him. That of course, did not happen.
Shortly after starting middle school, I found out how much I enjoyed math and science. I started taking every science elective I could all the way up to my senior year of high school. But to graduate, you had to take an English elective. I remembered how much I used to love creating stories, and chose creative writing. After that class, I was convinced I was going to be a famous poet. That didn’t happen either.
I started college pursuing a degree in Chemical and Biomedical Engineering. I could take my love of all things math and science and turn that into a career. I thought I was well on my way to a solid future with nothing in my way. If you’ve noticed a theme by now, you’ll know that did not happen.
After my first few semesters, I found my mood and mental state tank. I developed a major depressive disorder. I barely went to class, I stopped talking to people, I didn’t care if I ate, and I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes, it took all my effort just to get up and get dressed in the morning. My thoughts got darker and darker. The voice in my head screamed at me every minute of every day.
You’re not good enough. You’re worthless. You’re a horrible person. You don’t deserve to be here. Why are you still trying? Why are you even alive?
Over and over again, I heard this in my mind. I couldn’t make these thoughts go away, I couldn’t mute them, I couldn’t do anything. I thought of suicide every single day. As time passed, I thought about it multiple times a day, and finally, I had made up my mind to make that permanent decision. I’m proud to say that didn’t happen.
I started getting the help I needed. With my parent’s support, I started making the change to live a healthier life. My therapist recommended journaling to help rid my mind of all those terrible thoughts. I’m not great at writing out feelings. I didn’t enjoy it and most of the time, I just forgot to do it. But one day, I started writing, not my feelings, but a story. I created a world from a dream I had many years ago. I made a character who had to go through some tough times and come out okay. When I wrote, I could lose myself in a fantasy world and those awful voices in my head shut off. I found that if my characters could go through all these challenges and end up okay, then I could succeed in my own challenges.
Now, I still struggle with depression, but it’s under control. At first, I was afraid to talk about what I’d gone through, but I realized that a lot of people face the same challenges I did. By not hiding my experiences, I hope to encourage others to seek comfort and help. And now, I’ve turned my focus to helping others overcome their own issues. I think it’s so important to represent characters and their mental states accurately.
I know now that I don’t just want to be a writer. I need to be a writer.
Descent of Shadows
At the heart of her family’s war against the wraith king, Anna makes the only decision she can—to fight back.
Humans have always called the land of Istamba home, yet Roland, King of the Wraiths, is intent on claiming it for himself. When Fort Lieay is attacked, thirteen-year-old Anna Lieay is the only survivor. Distraught from the death of her parents, she makes the dangerous journey to the Sanctuary, the last free human settlement. There, she vows to join the army, despite her age, to help save her home from the wraiths and restore peace to humanity.
Find Ryanne at her website and Twitter
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Joe Siple is a television sports reporter turned novelist. Learn more about him at www.joesiple.com
The last ten months have been quite an adventure for me. In that time, I’ve gone from “unpublished author” to “Amazon Bestseller” and “Award-Winning Author.” But the road has hardly been smooth and my path led to an unexpected place. So for any struggling authors out there wondering what the road to “Bestseller” and “Award-Winning” looks like, here’s one view…
I started writing fiction in 2001. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was terrible. Fortunately, no one offered to represent me or publish my books (other than vanity presses and scams) so I don’t have to live with the knowledge that my worst writing is out there for people to see. It’s shut tightly away on a floppy disk that can’t even be accessed without specialized, “old school” equipment. Thank God.
But I realized I liked writing, so I kept at it. I wrote one manuscript a year, on average, and each had the same abject failure as the prior one for several years running. It wasn’t until 2013 that I finally landed an agent. Oh, happy day!!! All my dreams were about to come true!!!
Except they didn’t.
After roller-coaster ups and downs, near-misses and deals that fell through, I found four more years had gone by and I still didn’t even have a published book. At that point, I realized something had to change. So I broke things off with my agent to query independent publishers…only to find out most independent publishers these days often don’t accept un-agented submissions. That was a disappointing change from when I’d started writing over a decade earlier. So that left only three options: self-publish, go with a vanity press, or find a “micro-publisher” who would take me on.
For those of you not familiar with the term, micro-publishers are usually a small team of people (and often just one person) who agrees to basically pay the costs of self-publishing in exchange for about 75% of the royalties, with the author getting roughly 25%. They make money if the book does even reasonably well, and the writer gets to feel special because he has a publisher.
They use Print on Demand technology (which makes it really hard to place in bookstores) and usually don’t have much of a marketing budget. The Big Boys they are not. But I was desperate, so I queried.
I was able to get a couple offers from micro-publishers, picked the one that would put the most into promotions, and signed on the dotted line.
My expectations were, appropriately, low. And early in the process, they were met right where I set them. I ordered 25 books, and the box arrived looking every bit the part of a rushed, self-published novel. I choked back the tears, disposed of the box in my basement storage area, and forgot about them. I decided this writing thing just wasn’t going to work out.
So I moved on with my life. I put the dream of writing behind me and began searching for other things that could replace it. And that’s the path my life would have taken, if it hadn’t been for the Maxy Awards.
Let me be clear: the Maxy Awards are not going to be confused with the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s a tiny contest whose winners were primarily from my micro-publisher. Still, my book was named “2018 Book of the Year.” And that changed everything.
We were able to put a gold medal seal on the cover. We got blurbs. The reviews started piling up on Amazon and Goodreads. Somehow, the book began to gain momentum. So I entered it into the American Fiction Awards, and it won first place. Then it was named Finalist in two additional awards and is currently in the semi-final round of two more. Now I had a list of awards won and began approaching bookstores, some of which bought copies. My publisher noticed, put more money into Amazon ads (I pitched in, too) and before we knew it, the book was landing on Amazon’s bestseller list for two different categories of fiction.
And yet, there’s still so far to go. The book has won awards, but very small awards. It has landed on bestseller lists, but only for very specific genres. What hasn’t happened yet is sufficient financial success to make writing feel less like a productive hobby and more like an actual career.
Will that ever happen? I have no idea. But I do know that I’m closer now than ever before. And that, surprisingly enough, is thanks to my decision to sign with a micro-publisher. It certainly isn’t the only way to go—and it’s not for everyone. But if you find yourself in a similar place as I was in, it’s definitely worth considering.
The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride
With all his family and friends gone, one-hundred-year-old Murray McBride is looking for a reason to live. He finds it in Jason Cashman, a ten-year-old boy with a terminal heart defect and a list of five things he wants to do before he dies. Together, they race against the limited time each has left, ticking off wishes one by one. But when tragedy strikes, their worlds are turned upside-down, and an unexpected gift is the only thing that can make Jason's final wish come true.
Where to Buy The Five Wishes of Mr. Murray McBride
Alan Felyk is a critically acclaimed novelist who spent 40 years working as a newspaper journalist and space industry editor. A University of Colorado graduate, he published a humorous, sometimes wistful memoir, Damaged Right Out Of The Box, in 2012. Six years later he published Damaged Beyond All Recognition, a novel that blends science fiction, romance, and humor. It was nominated for Underground Book Reviews' Novel of the Year Award and won the Literary Titan Book Award. In addition, it received a five-star award from the Readers' Favorite Book Reviews and Awards Contest as well as plaudits from Kirkus Reviews, OnlineBookClub.org, and Bookpleasures.com. He is now working on a sequel to the novel—Damaged And No Longer Under Warranty. He lives in Lakewood, Colorado.
I vividly remember watching the first television episode of the Twilight Zone on October 2, 1959. Starring Earl Holliman, it was titled “Where Is Everybody?” and written by Rod Serling. The episode was about a man wearing a U.S. Air Force uniform who inexplicably finds himself in a town occupied only by mannequins. The story ended with an unexpected twist, and I became hooked on the series. It wasn’t long before I started writing short stories that tried to mimic Serling’s imagination. The stories, written by a grade schooler and unworthy of publication, remained unread by others—they were deservedly thrown into the trash went I left home for college.
During my senior year in high school, I became hooked on another television show, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. So, when my English teacher, Miss Bronson, asked us to write something creative, I wrote a parody of the show, substituting the show’s characters with school teachers and administrators. I had cast Miss Bronson as the character that Goldie Hawn portrayed on the show—a ditsy, giggling blonde. My teacher loved what I had written—so much so that she read my script aloud to the class. Within short order, the classroom’s atmosphere turned uproarious. As I wrote in my memoir, it was a pivotal moment for me:
“… I learned that, with some keystrokes on the typewriter, I could make someone laugh.”
In my early twenties, I wrote a short story that drew the attention of the fiction editor at Omni, a science and science fiction magazine. He said he loved my work, but that I was competing for space with authors who were named Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke. Instead of focusing on the positive, I focused on the negative. My desire to write yielded to the stress of raising a family and working jobs that often required much more than forty hours per week.
At the age of thirty-four, I accepted a job in the space industry, and I ran into a college girlfriend, Sam, who was working at the company as well. I had unceremoniously dumped Sam thirteen years earlier in favor of a previous girlfriend who returned to me. Although I didn’t regret what had happened, I always regretted how it happened. Still, I could bring myself to apologize to Sam, and we worked on several projects together before her untimely death in 2010.
Guilty about my failure to make amends to Sam, I decided to make good on a promise I had made to her in college: that I would write a book. So, I decided to write a memoir, and the first section I wrote was my relationship with her. It sparked a piece of advice that I continue to provide to memoir writers:
“If you ever consider writing an honest personal experiences book, start with the things that you're not proud of. Then write about the things that hurt the most. If you get past those two things, you'll finish the book—if it isn't already finished.”
Despite the story about Sam, the memoir was largely humorous. And after I published the book, I was lost as to what I should write next. I thought about jotting down my satirical observations about an ever-changing world, but the project never gained traction. I still toyed with the idea of writing science fiction short stories, and I dusted off the story I had sent to Omni many years ago. At that time, I had started reading The Sirens of Titan, a comic science fiction novel by Kurt Vonnegut. Not only was his book brilliant, but it seemed to be written in the very style that I had developed over the years. Suddenly, it all made sense. Why not combine the two genres I loved so much?
Unconvinced that I could write a full-length novel, I was determined to simply rewrite my short story by adding satire to it. But as I delved back into it, the original storyline began to expand. It was almost as if Vonnegut’s spirit was suggesting plot elements. And, before I realized what had occurred, I was in the middle of a book. Now, I’m writing a sequel to the novel, and I expect a third book in the Infinity’s Trinity Series.
If there is a lesson from all this, it’s that aspiring (and perhaps struggling) writers should never call it quits. No one knows when an unexpected spark might ignite the next literary triumph. My biggest regret is that I didn’t find that catalyst decades ago. But my biggest joy is that it did, in fact, manifest itself.
I have mulled the possibility of writing a humorous self-help book entitled How To Write A Novel In 50 Years Or More. It would cover the dozens upon dozens of reasons that prevent authors from sitting at a keyboard and sharing their imaginations with the world.
Who knows? Perhaps another catalyst for that project will emerge.
Hey, Kurt, are you still out there?
Damaged Beyond All Recognition
Paul Tomenko is no stranger to the improbable. He became a magazine sweepstakes winner and celebrated counterculture writer by age nineteen. Now, after reaching for a can of Chef Boy-ar-dee spaghetti and meatballs, he’s traveling to and from God’s library somewhere outside the Universe to prevent the end of eternity.
Because of a DNA flaw, humanity no longer can ascend through the Planes of Existence after they die. That means no one will have the needed expertise to replace God when He dies. And, to complicate matters, Paul realizes he must enlist the help of his two lovers: Maggie Mae Monahan, a brilliant geneticist who has the uncanny ability to “connect the dots,” and Allie Briarsworth, a novelist who inexplicably senses past and future events in the cosmos. But the trio discovers the preservation of forevermore can turn someone’s soul inside out. Literally.
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Kamakshi P. Murti is originally from India. She draws inspiration for her story-telling from her background in cultural and gender studies, and even more importantly from the younger members of her family who have empowered her to hone her skills as a story-teller.
1980 was a memorable year. “Publish or perish”? I was baffled by the phrase. I had just moved from India to the US to get a Ph.D. in German Studies. It took fifty-six letters of rejection from publishers for my first scholarly monograph, the work that would make or break me, that defined what ‘perish’ meant. Then Walter de Gruyter in Berlin, Germany, decided to risk it all, and to publish my book with the literally breath-taking title: “The reincarnation of the reader as author: a reception historical investigation of the influence of Indic literature on German writers.” (1990) Two more serious monographs, “India: the seductive and seduced ‘other’ of German Orientalism” (2001) and “To veil or not to veil: Europe’s shape-shifting ‘other’” (2013), and my reputation as a writer and scholar was established.
But … yes, there was an irrepressible ‘BUT’ … but what about the storyteller that was bursting at the seams to express herself? There she was, my paternal aunt, telling me “The Tale of the half-boy,” a boy missing an entire half of his body. Like any good storyteller, my aunt made sure the heroic triumphed at the end, and all was well and whole with the world! My aunt the engineer (yes, she was the first female electrical engineer in India, proudly and defiantly getting her degree a year after I was born) gave me the courage to weave my own stories. The non-academic side of me began entertaining nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews with possible and impossible tales.
2008 was once again memorable. It heralded the second phase of my life: retirement. And retirement brought with it a luxury of which I had only dreamt: the time to write down all those tales with which I had entertained many young people at various levels of growing-up. My archaeologist niece Shanti Pappu was decidedly the inspiration for and firmest critic of my debut novel “Veiled Murders: The Mound of the Dead.”
Why this book? The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt figure prominently in mystery fiction. However, the ancient Indus Valley Civilization - 3300–1300 BCE - has fallen by the wayside as a site of murder and mayhem! Strong women in history have always fascinated me, and I wondered if there was a counterpart of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut in the Indus Valley Civilization. I came across the 'Dancing Girl,' a bronze sculpture made approximately 2500 BCE, and displayed in a museum in New Delhi. I thought of her as a priestess queen and gave her the name Sai-an-ki. "Veiled Murders" follows this queen, her dreams and ambitions, her violent death, and the unearthing of her bones 4,500 years later that would bring to light the identity of her murderers.
The euphoria of creating my first fictional work evaporated quite quickly, as publisher after publisher returned the dreaded word “NO!” However, my aunt had taught me well. I wasn’t going to give up that easily. A woman who had entertained me through many a rainy day came to mind: Agatha Christie. I was going to create twin avatars of Christie’s ‘fluffy’ Jane Marple. And Leela and Meena Rao, two seventy-year-old cousins, came to life. “Murders Most Matronly” was soon followed by fourteen others in the series! Family and loyal friends praised the characters, avidly read the stories, and pushed me to contact publishers. US publishers continued to say ‘No.’ I turned to India and discovered Juggernaut Books. They published my “Murders Most Matronly” in 2017. It was a second lease on life, a truly exhilarating one!
What next? I pondered. Browsing through children’s literature in a local library, I found myself searching for a face, a South-Asian-American face like mine – brown skin and all. The absence of such a face led to “Lalli’s Window,” the story of Lalli, a ten-year old South-Asian-American girl whose parents are first-generation immigrants to the U.S. She loses a leg in a car accident. The story is set in 21st century Tucson, Arizona, and begins after Lalli returns home from the hospital. Great Britain came to my rescue this time. Austin Macauley published “Lalli’s Window” in 2017 – a veritable banner year for my writing! I have since written six more in this series, following Lalli year after year, sensing her many hopes and frustrations, her anger at being different, and her increasing awareness of the complex world surrounding her. These stories remain in my laptop, waiting to be released!
Once again: What next? I picked up a rather dog-eared copy of “Malgudi Tales,” simple and captivating stories about life in the fictitious Indian village of Malgudi. I had read and reread the stories in India. R. K. Narayan, the writer, had died in 2001. I wished I could just hop onto a time-machine to take me back a couple of decades, and meet the great writer, to have him entertain me with those precious tales. I picked up my laptop, and began to compose “Bandilanka’s Forgotten Lives,” short stories giving voice to those whose lives have fallen through the cracks: the washerman, the child widow, the sweeper woman, the prostitute’s daughter, the illegal immigrant, the abused wife.
It is heart-breaking at any age to lose a limb. But when it happens to a ten-year-old South-Asian-American girl who had never had to question her privileged life, heart-break leads to a painful confrontation with a variety of prejudices and hate speech. At its core, my story deals with the universal themes of family forgiveness, true friendship, and the power of neighborly love
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I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
Be My Guest!
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