What's in Store

Meet the Authors, Writers Doing Right, Book Reviews and More!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Laurie Stevens is a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. She has written for television, for film, and her stage play, "Follow Your Dreams" ran for eight weeks in Los Angeles. Laurie's novel "The Dark Before Dawn" is the first in a psycho-thriller/detective series and was awarded the Kirkus Star of merit and was named to Kirkus Review's "Best of 2011". Psychology and forensics abound in her books. In her words: "My husband and I once snuck into the L.A. morgue to do research on the book and one of my favorite pastimes is to pick the brains of therapists." 

Laurie lives in the hills near Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

I'm so pleased to have Laurie Stevens here today. Her new book, The Dark Before Dawn, is about something we can all relate to--fear. And how to overcome that fear. And how to take back our lives. So here's Laurie to tell you in her own words what led her to delve into those dark places we'd rather not face: 

A friend of mine is a single divorced mother of one. She lost her house in a foreclosure and is dependent solely on her ex-husband for support.  Everyone is telling her to get a job, as her child is now a teenager and in school all day with extra-curricular activities.  But my friend won’t even look for a job.  She makes excuses.  I think she’s terrified.

Someone else I know suffers from chronic pain.  She has gotten used to having people rally around her. People will go the extra mile for her.  She also has a twisted relationship with her mother. I made the mistake once by suggesting that her pain and the twisted relationship might be connected. She was highly insulted and told me I had no idea what she went through on a daily basis.

Do we have absolutely zero control in our lives?  The thing is, bad things do happen over our lives. Some bad things can be averted, others fly out of left field and knock us down. But it’s what we do with that bad thing that makes us either a weak excuse-maker or a stronger pro-active person.

What would happen if the two people in the above scenarios dug deep into their psyches to see why they have trouble functioning? Why do they feel safe in a undesirable place? 

“No experience is a cause of success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences… but we make out of them just what suits our purposes.” Psychologist Alfred Adler, a peer of Freud, believes we set patterns when we are young to cope with challenging childhood events. Unfortunately, we begin to believe these patterns are who we are and they become deeply imbedded in our behavior.  So, we’ll stay in a coffin of our own design because that’s what we know, that’s where we think we belong.  We’ll continue to date the wrong kind of people. We’ll make decisions that hurt us or wound others.  We won’t be happy. But if we are willing to tread where we don’t feel comfortable, veils are lifted from our eyes and we have that “Aha!” moment.  It’s scary, this quest for self-improvement, but if we want to be happier, it’s what we have to do.

I wrote The Dark Before Dawn with all the above in mind.  The main character, Gabriel, is a detective suffering from the suppressed memory of a childhood trauma.  He has a choice. He can remain as he is, suffering from inexplicable rage, headaches and nightmares.  He can continue to lose in life – his aggressive behavior gets him fired from the force for police brutality and he has trouble with women.  Or he can change.  He chooses to delve into his own darkness to find the origin of his troubles.  He does this through the help of a psychiatrist and through the murder case to which he is assigned. (The killer seems to know more about Gabriel’s past than he does). The main thrust of the book is Gabriel’s psychological investigation.

It’s something we should all undertake to varying degrees (not everyone, thank goodness, has gone through what this detective has gone through).  How do we help ourselves? We face our fear with open arms.  If my friend attempts to interview for jobs, it will help. If she puts herself out there, even if her knees are knocking in fright, she will be happily surprised with the results – even if the result, at first, is simply a good prospect.  

It’s being proactive that is liberating. And being proactive gives us a modicum of control in our lives.  Gabriel wants very badly to feel less like a victim. The more he faces his fear, the less of a victim he is.  

My thanks to Jackie for the opportunity to play life-coach and guest blog at the same time!

Thank you, Laurie! You can connect with Laurie to find out more about her and her books on her website, through Facebook, and through Twitter  @lauriestevens1.

And don't forget to check out her book, which is available on Kindle, Nook, and in paperback from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.   

Monday, May 14, 2012

Marilyn Levinson Learns that Old Children's Books Never Die

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries and books for children. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Bernie, and their cat, Sammy.

Today, Marilyn addresses the question Do old children's books ever die?  Thank goodness the answer is no! She also gives the lowdown on a few books of her own that she's brought back to life.

You can find Marilyn on her website where you can read more about her books, see gorgeous pictures from her travel pages, and discover new writers and her perspective on many things on her blog. 

Thank you, Marilyn!

Giving New Life to Out-of-Print Children’s Books

This past year has been a busy time for me. Last June, Wings ePress published my debut mystery, A Murderer Among Us. I was thrilled when Suspense Magazine awarded it a Best Indie of 2011. A few months later, I brought out Murder in the Air, the second book in the Twin Lakes series. And in April, Uncial Press published my ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost.
Having managed to put up Murder in the Air on Kindle, Create Space, and Pubit, I knew it was time to make some of my much-loved out-of-print children’s books available again to young readers. I updated and re-edited two of them, and gave them new covers.

No Boys Allowed had been in print for almost twenty years. The novel deals with  divorce and its impact on sixth-grader Cassie Landauer, her older sister Corinne, and their mother. All three react differently to the upheaval in their lives, though they eventually come together as a family and adapt to the changes in their lives.
Cassie comes home from camp to discover her parents are getting divorced, and her beloved father and his future bride are moving to another state. Hurt and angry, she vows to have nothing to do with him or with any male, including her best friend, Bobby. However, Cassie has saved her father’s boyhood stamp collection, and adds to it surreptitiously. To her dismay, Great-uncle Harry, who is recovering from a heart attack, moves in and takes over her room, forcing her to share Corinne’s bedroom. He learns Cassie’s secret and helps her add to her stamp collection. But when Uncle Harry prepares to return home, Cassie feels abandoned all over again. He helps Cassie understand she cannot cut all males from her life, and encourages her to take the first steps of reconciliation with her father and Bobby.

Rufus and Magic Run Amok was an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice. I wrote this funny book about a boy who finds out he’s a witch before the Harry Potter phenomenon made its amazing impact on the reading world. Everything changes for fourth-grader Rufus Breckenridge when he wishes Big Douggie would do a double somersault instead of chasing him from school every day, and he does! Rufus is glad Big Douggie’s now afraid of him, but wonders if he’s a witch like his mother, aunt, and grandmother. Being a witch means taking lessons and doing good deeds, so Rufus keeps his discovery to himself. But magic unchecked is magic run amok, and soon things start happening that Rufus can’t control. But Rufus learns other lessons along the way, including how to deal with Big Douggie without resorting to magic.

Thank you, Marilyn! Be sure to check out her website, and say hello if you have a few minutes!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Now residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, William and Lois Shepard enjoy visits from their daughters and granddaughters, ocean swims at Assateague, Chesapeake Bay crabs, and the company of Rajah and Rani, their two rescued cats.

Shepard has published several nonfiction books using the new EBook technology, including “Coffee Break Mysteries,” “The Great Detectives (From Vidocq to Sam Spade),” “America’s Unknown Wars,” and “Maryland In The Civil War.” The last three grew out of his lectures under the continuing education program at Chesapeake College. 

Welcome, William!  William is here today to walk you through his process when writing two of his Historical Mysteries, so sit back, grab a notebook, and get ready to learn some tips!

Writing Historical Mysteries – William S. Shepard

            I really enjoy writing historical mysteries. In the context of my diplomatic mysteries, that means stories set in the present time, where something that did or did not take place in the past is the key to understanding a present crime. I use this device in the second and third of my Robbie Cutler diplomatic mystery series, “Murder On The Danube,” and “Murder In Dordogne.” Properly done, the historical portion of the mystery should add interest and texture and be anything but a history lesson!

            In “Murder On The Danube,” I dealt with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Someone in a small group of Freedom Fighters was a traitor. Now he or she has surfaced again, and has murdered another survivor, who had at length figured out the truth of the betrayal. Robbie Cutler, an American diplomat assigned as Political Officer at the Embassy in Budapest, is involved because the victim was a prominent Hungarian-American, well connected politically. This ups the stakes for the murderer, who soon targets Cutler himself.

            This type of historical mystery posed its own set of challenges. I was taking the actual events of the Hungarian Revolution, those 13 heroic days from October 13-November 4, 1956, as the background for the novel. One challenge was – how should I present this background? The novel was not taking place in the past, and I did not want references to the past to interrupt constantly the flow of the story. Furthermore, the period had to be dealt with honestly, without being slighted. I knew that a number of readers would have been participants in the street fighting, and so it had to be accurate to the last detail. (When the manuscript was finished, I had it vetted by a Freedom Fighter who knew what happened day by day.)

            I solved the first problem, after a prologue that introduced main characters from 1956, by writing the novel straightforwardly in the present time. At the conclusion of each chapter, however, I had a short back story from one of the thirteen days of the Hungarian Revolution itself. That narrative proceeded, and provided background and substance to the contemporary narrative, as gradually, the two stories began to merge. When the surviving Freedom Fighters joined the narrative in the final chapters of the book, it all came together.

            I had done a lot of research into the period, and I had been assigned to the American Embassy in Budapest as Political Officer (like Robbie Cutler), and have been trained in Hungarian. Research into this period was impossible when I was assigned to the Embassy, for that was the time of the Communist domination. I did return to Budapest with the assistance of the Hungarian Embassy in Washington and our own Embassy in Budapest. It was quite an experience, revisiting the sites of the Revolution, with a knowledgeable guide. I even was locked into a prisoner cell for a few moments – an experience I never want to repeat!

           In “Murder In Dordogne,” again the novel is set in the present time, but concerns also a past crime – the murder of an Englishwoman, a member of the paramilitary Special Operations Executive (SOE) who had parachuted into this remote French region in order to help the French Resistance. Again, what happened in 1944 sets the stage for attempted murder in the here and now. Robbie Cutler and Sylvie are in Dordogne on their honeymoon, and soon find that they are the targets for a determined killer.

            Once again, the research had to be precise. I had to discover how the SOE and the Resistance actually operated, and I incorporated a real mystery – the disappearance of three dozen priceless Impressionist paintings from as the war oin the area ended. They were stolen from the Château de Rastignac, called the “French White House” for its resemblance to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the crime remains unsolved. Weaving together that fact, the Resistance operation, and the activities of the occupiers and their local henchmen, made the plot come alive.

            It helped, I think, that this is an area of France that I know very well, having visited the Dordogne repeatedly. The little towns and historical sites remain vividly in my recollection, and I find that most helpful.

            In one respect this was not as difficult as the earlier book, for there was no need to set forth the prior period day by day. However, it was necessary to get the period right, including the Messages from London that were transmitted on the BBC, and were life’s blood to resistance groups in Occupied France.

            Specialists in both periods, World War II in Occupied France, and Budapest in 1956, have enjoyed these two books. Does an historical novel pose its own difficulties? Well yes, but I found them to be worth it. I wouldn’t make every novel in the series an historical novel (and the first book in the diplomatic mystery series, “Vintage Murder,” is not an historical mystery), but writing them has its own rewards. I hope you’ll give them a try, and let us know whether you enjoyed them!

Thank you, William! Be sure to visit William's web site, Diplomatic Mysteries , where surprisingly enough, you'll find good information on French wine!  You can also friend Robbie Cutler of the Diplomatic Mysteries on Facebook