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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Challenge Translates Into Opportunity for Robert

Robert Bennett, a former social worker turned writer, lives in the house he grew up in with his mother, one of his two brothers, two dogs that don’t get along, and a turtle.  His lifelong focus has been a concern for the needs of society’s disenfranchised.  His articles span a wide range of topics from sports to technology and from politics to social justice.  His fiction is grounded in real world events and technologies as well as his own philosophical concerns.  "It is the act of truly living and believing in yourself that is important, not the manner in which that action is undertaken."  Mr. Bennett has spoken to groups of physical therapy students, church members and senior citizens, and has appeared on several radio programs.  Contact Mr. Bennett through his website at www.enablingwords.com

Could you tell us about the latest mystery, Blind Traveler’s Blues?

Blind Traveler’s Blues is the second in my Blind Traveler mystery series. It is a stand-alone murder-mystery tale that continues the story of my protagonist, Douglas Abledan, a blind computer technologist.

Your Blind Traveler books are mysteries that also serve to inspire people with handicaps. I’ll just come right out and ask. How on earth do you get the murders, setting, and clues across when your protagonist lacks sight?

 In each one of my stories my protagonist uses one of his remaining senses (or a combination of them in later tales) to piece together the clues that lead him to solving the crime. For instance, in my first book, Blind Traveler Down a Dark River, Douglas was able to solve the crime by using his sense of hearing, while in Blind Traveler’s Blues he relied on his sense of smell. In my stories I want my character to be seen as close to what others consider “normal” as possible. His remaining senses are no different than anyone else’s, but he does have to pay closer attention to them then you or I might. Obviously he has a disability, but I want my readers to see (no pun intended) that Douglas goes about his life pretty much like everyone else does.

You have other physical challenges resulting from an accident. Why did you choose to make your protagonist blind?

 The impetus for my books came from an article I wrote a while back about a prototype device that used GPS and virtual sound technologies to allow its blind inventor to navigate through his world.  At the time I thought it was a pretty cool device that had a lot of potential in the real world. So, I took it, threw it into the future so the technology was solid and made it useable by the able-bodied and disabled communities.

One of your books is set in 2021. That’s in the future, but not really far enough to move into science fiction. Why 2021?

 Both current books are set in that year. I wanted to set the stories into the future, but not too far, so that I could play with some technologies and events that I’ve been noticing and writing about in my nineteen-year writing career. Each new story will include newer technological advances so there is a bit of sci-fi intermingled with the mysteries.

You also have a standalone and a non-fiction book that seeks to inspire. Did you see your mystery series as an extension of inspirational writing?

 Throughout my career I’ve written about issues of disability, first in nonfiction articles on a wide range of topics, then a non-fiction book about martial arts and disabilities (I helped my sensei develop a form of Kempo usable for people who, like me, sit in a wheelchair), and now in a “fiction” framework. I don’t know if I’d call my work “inspirational.” That’s not really a label I think I should give myself. If my readers feel inspired by my work, then that’s great.

How have your own challenges affected your writing? And did you seek to be a writer before your 1988 accident?

 My life has always been something of a challenge. As you may or may not know, I was born with a birth defect called Spina Bifida, which can effect everything from cognitive function to motor skills. While I was lucky that my condition was relatively mild, I never took things as simple as walking for granted either. In fact, when I was a child I had to ‘re-learn’ that simple skill several times. And, as I grew up my balance was never great. Furthermore, the condition left my spine structurally weak. That weakness played its hand after my car accident in July of 1988. Over the course of several years, and despite several surgeries and periods of rehabilitative therapy, I lost the use of my legs. That, by the way, had always been my greatest and only fear. My point is, my condition had the effect of making me very aware of the world around me, and the challenges people face in their lives. While I never wrote seriously about people with disabilities, or anything else for that matter, before my accident, I was always concerned about the needs of society’s disenfranchised. After my accident I took the time to learn how to write, first as a journalist and then a novelist, and I always intended to focus my efforts on that population.

What’s next for you?

 I’m currently writing short stories focused on my novel’s protagonist, to get more people acquainted with him. I’m also conducting research for my third Blind Traveler mystery novel. I’m thinking about setting it in Antarctica and focusing it around the research being done on carbon sequestration, but those ideas are not yet set in stone.

Thank you Robert! Don't for get to let Robert know what you think about his series idea in the comments section, and visit his website to hear more about the Blind Travelor and other stories!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Award winning and twice Christy-nominated author Linda Hall has written eighteen novels of mystery and suspense, plus many short stories. She has written for Evangel Publishing, Multnomah, WaterBrook and most recently Harlequin’s Love Inspired line. She grew up in New Jersey where her love of the ocean was nurtured. Most of her novels have something to do with the sea. When she's not writing, Linda and her husband enjoy sailing the St. John River system and the coast of Maine. In the summer they live aboard their 34' sailboat aptly named - Mystery. 

She invites readers to visit her website  and to friend her on her Facebook Page .
I love her picture because it shows a woman on the move, and this lady must keep things hopping to have so many irons in the fire. She seemed like a kindred spirit. After all, I have five different protagonists that I love too well to choose between. I had to find out if the same chattering voices that plague me drove HER to write six--count 'em, six!--series. So I asked. 
How did you wind up with so many different series?
I really wanted to be one of those mystery authors who has one series going, like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, who she’s been able to write about for nearly twenty-six books, like Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford. Like Parker’s Spencer. I started out that way. Back in 1993 when I began writing mysteries I developed a corporal in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I I would follow his life and the life of his family (wife, two daughters) for a dozen books, each named for a month of the year. I began with August GAMBLE followed by November VEIL. Book #3, APRIL OPERATION was the last.

That did me in for series. I’d be smart now. I’d only write standalones. So I did. Four times.

Then I got brave. Maybe, just maybe, the water wasn’t be too cold for swimming. After all, I had just published four standalones! So, I tentatively put my toe in the water. This one would feature the life of Private Investigator Teri Blake-Addison. Like that first time, I had her whole life planned. STEAL AWAY won a bunch of awards, even. The series was canned after CHAT ROOM, the second book.

But I would try again. Third time’s the charm, right? So, I came up with yet another series - the Fog Point mysteries featuring a hard done by PI and his crusty female side kick. But alas, that was not to be. Contract cancelled after two books. Just like the last time.

So all these series? Really not my choice. I would much rather have run the entire wave with one character. But as I think back, it’s really not so bad. In fact, I’ve learned a lot about persistence, about  creativity and imagination, about diversity and trying again.

In coming up with characters, whether for a mystery series or a contemporary literary novel, the author must dig into her own well of experiences, emotions and consciousness. Every novelist, is in essence, writing about herself over and over and over. It can be no other way. I am me, I can’t become another person. So, my characters may differ wildly in appearance, style and backstory, but when you get right down to it, they are all extensions of me. They are the me I want to be. The brave and plucky me. The smart me who says the snappy comeback line right when it should be spoken, and not wake  up in the middle of the night and think, “Oh man, that’s what I should have said.’

And these days? I’m loving this new world of ePublishing. I’ve been able to breathe new life into two of my old series. I’ve re-edited the manuscripts, brought them up to date and am getting a whole new crop of readers, who incidentally, are emailing me wanting to know “when the next Teri book is out.’

“Soon’ I reply.

 Please don't be shy. Leave a comment for this fabulous--and need I say motivated--writer! Thank you, Linda!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Nancy Lynn Jarvis has been a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor for twenty years.  She owns a real estate company with her husband, Craig. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News.  A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager of Shakespeare/Santa Cruz. Nancy's work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years.  Writing is her newest adventure.

When Nancy suggested "coincidences" as a blog topic, I had no idea how many eerie examples she could come up with! Honestly? I read this blog and ran out an purchased my first Regan McHenry mystery! 

From Nancy Lynn Jarvis:

The Widow’s Walk League, the fourth book in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series I write has me wondering if I should stop writing before I cause something awful to happen.

My protagonist is a real estate agent like I was. What happens to her at work is based on real events that happened to me or to other Realtors I know. The real estate stories, strange as they may be, are true; everything else in the books, especially the murders and deaths that occur, are not based on anything except my imagination. At least they’re not supposed to be. And that’s the problem.

The first series book, The Death Contingency, began with a young surfer partying too much, getting swept out to sea, and dying of hypothermia. I got a couple of outraged emails telling me that would never happen to a fit, experienced young man…until headlines in our local newspaper proclaimed a young surfer died just as I described his death  in my book.

 Buying Murder, book three in the series, opens with the discovery of a partially mummified body hidden in a wall anomaly. That idea began innocently enough when a home inspector investigating a similar wall irregularity laughingly said, “I found Jimmy Hoffa.”  It only took three weeks after my book’s release for a similarly mummified body to be discovered hidden in a local house.

In a double yikes, shortly after the book came out, one of the members of the real family who inspired the villainous family in the book was arrested for being exceedingly bad— drugs, assault rifles, stuff like that—and for using vacant houses to hide nefarious goings-on, just like in my book.

I’m not a psychic —it’s not like I can really foretell community tragedies. I don’t believe in psychics or mediums who say they can communicate with the dead, and as Regan demonstrates during a séance in The Widow’s Walk League, neither does she. Still, Regan finds that coincidences sometimes confuse what she believes and doesn’t believe.

Some of the murders in the newest book happen at my favorite local events.  I set one at Woodies on the Wharf, an annual old-time car show held the last Saturday in June on the Santa Cruz wharf. The car club president had been very helpful with the scene so I took him a thank you book the day of the event. Just for grins, I decided to tease the car displayer parked in the murder victim spot and warn him about what happened to the “last” person parked there. It turned out he shared a name with the murder victim.

It gets worse.

There’s a recurring character in the books named Dave. He’s very loosely based on a friend of mine: a former cop who lost an eye in a shootout some years ago. Turns out my placeholder murder victim was a retired cop who was with the real Dave the night he was shot and even told us the last words he said to Dave before the incident.

Do you see why I’m worried? (And that’s not even mentioning that a mother-in-law character I imagined for The Widow’s Walk League was based on the mother of a teenage boyfriend—the one who recently contacted out of the blue after forty years.)

I want to give Regan a vacation and write something very different for my next book. I plan to write in first person about an eighty-three year old woman who is running out of money…I hope it won’t be a future autobiography.

Regan wants to share her recipe for Mysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies but is adding a disclaimer for those of you brave enough to try them: they factor in each of the books. Of course you’ll see exactly how if you are brave enough to read one of the mysteries.

Cream together until light and fluffy:
    1 cup butter
    3/4 cup light brown sugar
    3/4 cup granulated sugar
    2 eggs
    1 1/2 t vanilla
    1 t baking soda
    1 t habanera chili oil *
    1 t cinnamon
Mix well.
    2 1/4 cups flour
Mix again until well blended.
Stir in:
    18 ounces chocolate chips *
    2 cups rolled oats or oatmeal
Regan's recipe for keep-in-your-freezer dough features a
mystery ingredient that makes her cookies especially good.
See if your friends can "detect" it.

 Drop by generous spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 350º for between 12 and 15 minutes, depending on
 Size of the cookies. Cool before removing from the cookie sheet.
*Regan uses Coeur D'Olives Habanera Oil and Trader Joe's Chocolate Chips, but you may substitute your favorites.

Read the first chapters of books in the Regan McHenry Mystery Series at http://www.goodreadmysteries.com or get a copy in trade paper, large print, or for your Kindle or e-reader at http://tinyurl.com/3ztzssv

Thank you so much, Nancy! Readers will want to check out her website . As for me, I'm off to make the cookie recipe so I have something tasty to munch on while I read The Widow's Walk League!

I wanted to add that you can read these books in any order you like, so feel free to go with the coincidence--er, plot that intrigues you!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Velda Brotherton writes of romance in the old west with an authenticity that makes her many historical characters ring true. A knowledge of the rich history of our country comes through in both her fiction and nonfiction books, as well as in her writing workshops and speaking engagements. She just as easily steps out of the past into contemporary settings to create novels about women with the ability to conquer life’s difficult challenges. Tough heroines, strong and gentle heroes, villains to die for, all live in the pages of her novels and books.

Welcome Velda!

Could you tell us about your latest release, Stone Heart’s Woman? 

Be happy to. Stone Heart's mother is a Northern Cheyenne, his father is George Armstrong Custer. Educated as a white man, he is torn between those two worlds, and must make a choice when his father begins to slaughter his mother's people. In 1879 the Northern Cheyenne had broken free of the reservation in Indian Territory but were imprisoned at Fort Robinson in Nebraska. Stone Heart is injured in what becomes known as the final breakout and takes refuge in an abandoned shack to heal.

Aiden Connor is deserted by the man she was supposed to marry. She is earning money to return home to St. Louis when the good women of the small town of Benson run her out of town. She takes refuge in the same shack to get out of the stormy night and finds a knife at her throat. A knife held by Stone Heart, who has vowed to never speak the tongue of his white father again. 

What brought the Northern Cheyenne’s experience to mind for your book? 

A trip my husband and I took in which we toured all the forts along the route running north out of Oklahoma (once Indian Territory) revealed the story as we moved from one place to another. After a visit to Fort Robinson we toured some museums where we learned more about the Northern Cheyenne. Intrigued, I then read the book, Cheyenne Autumn by Mari Sandoz and knew I had to write an historical romance set during this heartbreaking era. I'm always interested in developing characters strong enough to survive harsh times.

Your paranormal, Wolf Song, is set during the Grey Wolf reclamation project in Montana. Do you always find a serious theme to attach to your stories? And does that make it difficult to write the lighter scenes?

 I really never thought about the themes being serious, but you're right. Almost all my books revolve around intense themes. Once I tried to write a humorous book and failed miserably. I can usually have a minor character who lightens up some of the scenes, but I guess I've always been serious in what I read and what I write. Readers will find some lighter scenes in all my books, but they shouldn't expect Stephanie Plum. She just ain't there anywhere.

Historical Romances seem a great challenge to me because the period and location are characters in themselves. How do you incorporate them into the book without making the period and location a distraction? 

My favorite suggestion to most young writers is, "You need a sense of place." If the reader can't experience where my characters live, work, play and make love, then they won't enjoy my books. In most cases my locale and period are characters themselves. But description for its own sake is boring, so I make sure that a sense of place is woven lightly throughout the action. If the wind rises, it blows her hair across his chest, tickling his flesh. Or flaps the hem of her skirt against shapely ankles. You don't need a river unless you're going to cross it.

Since you are a historian, I’m guessing that you are a stickler for facts. Do you have an example of when the facts didn’t read as well as a more creative version? You are writing fiction, but is it difficult for you to shape or add to history for a more exciting story? 

Occasionally I'll do just that. Once my characters were heading west in a wagon train. At the Cimarron Cut-off, they chose to follow the Santa Fe main trail for reasons important to the plot, but I was so fascinated by a particular river crossing, that I had them make that crossing, though they would have missed it. I made sure to explain that in the author's notes at the end of the book. Sometimes as fiction writers, we're sorely tempted and can't help ourselves. But I do stay true to everything historical, including real characters that I enjoy including in my stories.

Your website lists many fun and interesting events. Do you prefer the in-person approach to online social networking? And how do you connect with so many great venues, such as historic societies, landmark hotels, and even NPR? 

Wow, this is an interesting question which comes at a time when I'm forced to put an end to the in-person approach and turn to online social networking because of my physical health. The most fun I've had is running around the country taking part in events and meeting my readers, but sadly there comes a time in our lives when we have to face facts. I think I was able to connect with these great venues because of the many years I spent working for a newspaper. For 10 years I was a feature reporter for a weekly newspaper, and as such got to know everyone in the area involved with all sorts of events. When I began to have fiction and regional nonfiction published, I had the contacts to help me out. My first regional book was read and discussed on NPR because they already knew who I was. The same is true of historical societies. I interviewed the owner of a landmark hotel for a newspaper story, so it was no problem to give her a call and get a book signing when a book came out that told her story again, in greater detail. I interviewed distant relations of President Obama for a book I was writing when I learned that his mother's people had settled for a while in a nearby county. I'd previously interviewed this man because he was an historian and his family owned a local bank. This is one reason I urge young writers to begin their careers by writing for newspapers. It builds the sort of contacts you can't buy.

It seems you attend a lot of events offered by writing societies, such as the Ozark Writer’s League and Women Writing the West. These sound like great venues for writers, but I thought they might have a lot to offer readers as well. Can you tell us some advantages they offer that might appeal to each group? 

Though these organizations are by and for writers, readers often do attend because they can meet their favorite authors, find and acquire autographed books, and enjoy a day or two spent with people they otherwise might never meet. Of course, it's a given that writers should attend a few conferences each year. Networking in this way acquaints them with agents and editors who will remember them and their work. Even writers who are already established need to get away once in a while to recharge. If we sit in our office writing all the time, we are never challenged with new ideas or characterizations. A lot of my best ideas come to me while talking with other writers.

What’s next for you? 

Having turned almost exclusively to promoting and marketing online, I'll continue to do a lot of that. I also am getting involved in publishing to Kindle. Once all my backlist fiction books are on Kindle, and there are four there now, I plan to publish several women's fiction novels. E books offer excellent new opportunities to writers who have struggled, learned their craft, but were caught in the publishing crisis. With book stores closing and publishing houses turning to best sellers for their new works, E books, small publishers and self-publishing offers the opportunity to continue in the career we love. And I have no intention of quitting after 28 years in the business.

Thanks, Jackie for having me here to visit with you and your readers. I enjoyed it a lot.

Thank you for taking the time. Be sure to learn more about Velda and where to order her books at her website