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Guess Blogger: Sandra Cary Cody-The Need for Stories

October 12, 2015 5 comments
 Sandra Carey Cody

Sandra Carey Cody

The Need for Stories by Sandra Carey Cody

“We’re always the same age inside.” Gertrude Stein

The Jennie Connors/Riverview Manor mysteries are set in a retirement community and the characters are a variety of ages. The youngest is Jennie’s six-year-old son; the oldest is a ninety-pound, ninety-something, feisty southern belle who still thinks like a teenager. Other characters run the gamut of ages.

The inspiration for this setting came from a bittersweet time in my life. My mother and one of my aunts lived in a facility similar to my fictional Riverview Manor. Their health had deteriorated to the point where it was impossible for the family to care for them. I won’t go into the anguish involved in this decision; that’s not what this is about. This is about … well, you’ll see.

I visited Mom and Aunt Hedy fairly often in their new surroundings and, as an unexpected bonus, spent time with some of the other residents. Most of them were also in poor health and no longer physically active. They were old. Very old. That’s all I saw at first but, as I got to know them better, I learned to look beyond their physical limitations. I started to listen – really listen – and I saw the young person they still were inside. I realized they each had a story and what they wanted most was someone to tell their story to. They were all individuals, came from different backgrounds, but each had a story to tell.

PUT OUT THE LIGHTAre any of these people in my books? Not really. My characters are cobbled together from bits and pieces of a lot of people, myself included. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Nate, an 84-year-old retired actor who was and, in his own mind, still is, one of the finest interpreters of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes to ever grace the stage. Nate “struts and frets” a lot, demanding more than his share of attention. He’s not a nice man. He does and says the mean-spirited things most of us don’t allow ourselves to do or say. Maybe that’s why I created him. Writing scenes for Nate gives me a place to put out my own mean-spirited impulses. Turning those impulses into fiction forces me to examine and (hopefully) understand them.

That’s one of the reasons we need stories, both as readers and writers. In fiction, we meet people who are of another world, sometimes another generation. Their experiences may be different from ours, but when we hear their story, we begin to understand them and, if we listen – really listen – we see past the differences and realize how alike we are inside.

My characters aren’t real and Riverview Manor isn’t much like the place that inspired it. It’s a mythical place where all problems have a solution and there’s always someone who wants to hear your story. And isn’t that what we all want? Some to listen to our story.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sandra Carey Cody was born and grew in Missouri, surrounded by people who loved stories, whether from a book or told on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon. She now lives in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania. Wherever she’s gone, books have been the bridge to her new community and new friends. Being the quiet member of a noisy family, her story-telling manifested itself in writing, mostly crime fiction. If you would like to know more, you can visit her website: www.sandracareycody.com or her blog: www.birthofanovel.wordpress.com

5 Tips for Writing a Good Article or Blog Post by Lourdes Venard

January 5, 2015 11 comments
Lourdes Venard

Lourdes Venard

5 Tips for Writing a Good Article or Blog Post by Lourdes Venard

With social media, blogs, author newsletters, online news sites, and more, there’s an overabundance of items to read. If you’re like me, you’re never able to read it all. Some days, I can barely keep up with my email!

So how do you make your item stand out? I’ve been in the newspaper business for 30 years, and I’m editor of First Draft, the newsletter for the Sisters in Crime Guppy chapter. Below are five tips I’ve learned through the years and which you can use, whether you are writing for a blog, a newsletter, or even a Facebook post.

1) Give a promise of advice. Did you notice the title for this article? I purposely picked five points I wanted to touch upon. Telling readers that you are giving them five pointers (or any specific number) is one way to grab the busy reader’s attention. I learned this technique from a marketing professional, but as I thought about it, it’s really a time-honored way of getting people to pay attention. Moses, after all, came down the mountain with 10 very specific commandments.

2) Grab them with your first sentence. This is a lesson from Journalism 101. Journalists call their first sentences the lede, and the idea is to Publishing_eBook_final_090514either impart the most important information or have something that will hook the reader. A good lede is golden. One of my favorite crime reporters (who became a crime fiction author) is Edna Buchanan, who wrote for The Miami Herald. She was known for her offbeat ledes, such as the one that topped a story about a drunk ex-con who wanted his food immediately and got into a fight in a Church’s fried-chicken outlet while still at the counter. He was shot and killed by a security guard. Her lede: “Gary Robinson died hungry.”

3) Write with authority and write what you know. This is one of the first lessons that I learned as a young journalist. Obviously, you need to have all the facts to back up your authority. Once you do, convey to the reader that you know your stuff. Comb your article for “probably,” “maybe,” “supposedly,” and other milquetoast words. The “write what you know” part comes before the “authority.” A journalist does a lot of reporting, more than what goes into the final product. If you are writing about a new subject, research, research, and research. Don’t make assumptions, and get all your facts. Then write as you know your subject—which you should, at this point.

4) Keep it short. More is not necessarily better. As an editor, one of the things I do most often is trim. Remember, readers don’t have unlimited time. If you have a long article or blog post, they may never reach the end. Strunk and White’s The Element of Style exhorts writers to “omit needless words.” This book is one of the slimmest volumes ever written on grammar and good writing, yet it is a classic. The authors certainly took their own advice.

5) Be genuine. There’s a place for blatant self-promotion, but if that’s all you ever do on the Internet, people will notice—and you will get a reputation. Be yourself, share as much about yourself as you are comfortable, and be social—because that’s the idea behind social media, right? I admit, as an introvert, I sometimes struggle with social media. I like posting inspirational sayings on my business Facebook page, but find that people really connect with the personal—photos of my cat (very popular!), the deer in our yard, my family, and food I’ve cooked. People also like personal, self-effacing stories. When a writer whose books I read turns out to be funny, passionate, or offbeat online, I love her all the more—and she doesn’t need to tell me for the 20th time that her new book is out. Believe me, if I like her, I’ll make a point to seek out her newest books.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Lourdes Venard has worked at major American newspapers, including The Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Newsday. She is also a freelance book editor, editing both fiction and nonfiction. Her work as a freelance editor spurred her to write Publishing for Beginners: What First-Time Authors Need to Know, an e-book available at Amazon.com

Free Prizes – 105 Authors – Bake, Love, Write – Cooking and Me

October 6, 2014 8 comments

Free Prizes All Month – 105 Authors – Bake, Love, Write – Cooking and Me by Debra H. Goldstein

bake_love_writex2400Even the words themselves make me tremble. Cooking!?   Cookbook!!!!

There are a few things you can always count on from me:  I shoot straight, I have an emotional side but I’m not touchy-feely, and the kitchen is the last room in the house you’d ever expect to find me in.  So, how is it that my most recent published piece is related to cooking?

In fact, who would ever expect me to be telling you how to cook/bake?  And yet, here I am, one of 105 authors in a cookbook. Bake, Love, Write was the brainchild of author Lois Winston. After noticing how often authors and food go together, Lois invited writers to submit dessert recipes and their thoughts on romance and writing. Somehow, she accepted mine and 104 more  and edited them into a cookbook.

The recipes in Bake, Love, Write are special, often handed down from generation to generation. My chocolate velvet nut pie recipe has a history, too.  I stole it from a friend of my mother’s and added my own nutty twist. Easy and delicious, it epitomizes the smoothness and richness I find in relationships and good writing.

Speaking of relationships, 30+ of the Bake, Love, Write authors have joined together to sponsor a scavenger hunt giving away over 60 prizes as Halloween treats treats to our readers. Like any good scavenger hunt, from now to Halloween, you’ll race to find Halloween icons on our websites and then report your findings to the master site from which prizes will be awarded daily using rafflecopter.

To start, visit Sloan McBride’s blog at http://sloanmcbride.blogspot.com/  for a list of the prizes and authors and to download the answer sheet.  Visit the live websites shown, find the Halloween graphic and then e-mail your answer sheet to sloanmcbride@gmail.com . Remember, the more authors’ websites you visit, the more prizes you can win.

Good luck!   Good eating!

Debra Does Cooking by Debra H. Goldstein

August 4, 2014 21 comments

Debra Does Cooking by Debra H. Goldstein

Remember when I decided to try my hand at pottery? (Stop laughing L.M.) Well, I’ve decided to impress Joel with my culinary talents. There is some danger in this decision because I’ve spent thirty years training him to expect a certain level from my homemaking skills.

For example, I was working on a new recipe a few weeks ago when a button popped off his pants. Disgusted at having to change his pants, he said something about needing to take the slacks to the tailor. I was focused on my dish and without thinking volunteered, “Would you like me to sew it back on?”

He stared at me and asked, “Do you know how to do that?”

“On second thought,” I replied, “take it to the tailor.” I then went back to figuring out how to rescue the recipe I had accidently put 2 tablespoons rather than ¼ teaspoon of pepper into when Joel distracted me during my crucial measuring moment. At dinner, there was no further mention of his pants and we agreed my dish looked good, but it definitely had a bit of heat.

My new interest in the kitchen has resulted in me taking stock of my kitchen equipment. Although I could boast some still in their box utensils and two unopened spices from the “Can She Recognize This” kitchen shower my friends had for me, I never received the pots, pans, and gadgets new brides receive today. The high points of that shower were when I recognized a garlic press and when I pulled out some beautiful paper plates and matching napkins and someone quipped, “Oh, look! She got her good china.” The low point of the shower was opening a mixer with dough hooks rather than the food processor I really wanted.

I’ve made up for being deprived during the last three weeks. I now own a new wok (I did have one once but I used it for something other than cooking and it was never the same), an on-the stove smoker (the salmon came out good, but the house reeked of burnt ash for two days), and my first crockpot (I made Joel come home for my first one pot dinner at four because I miscalculated the 7-8 hours the stuff was bubbling). Over the years, I’ve always enjoyed purchasing cookbooks (some of my favorites include Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Cookbook; Come For Cocktails, Stay for Supper; and especially You Should Write a Cookbook for its spinach pie recipe that features thawed frozen spinach soufflés), so it was a no brainer to buy five new ones to match my new kitchen items. I’m sure I’ll use four of them often, but the one I accidentally downloaded won’t get much use as I read somewhere it wasn’t wise to put an ipad near gas generated flames.

For years, I joked that I only cooked when we had snowstorms. Joel hasn’t said he wishes I would return to that practice, but he has started calling me every afternoon to ask “Would you like to go out for dinner, tonight?”

Maybe I should take that quilting class that was on my post-retirement bucket list.

Guest Blog: The Writer’s Life Isn’t for Sissies by Marilyn Levinson

Marilyn Levinson-Author

Marilyn Levinson-Author

The Writer’s Life Isn’t for Sissies by Marilyn Levinson

The electronic age has made it easy for anyone to self-publish a work of fiction. All you have to do is write a book. It needn’t be approved, edited or even good. As long as the text is formatted correctly, up it goes on Amazon and other publishing sites. And voilà! You’re an author.

Perhaps, but who’s going to buy your book besides your nearest and dearest? Who is your audience? Where are your readers? And what do you plan to write about in your next book?

Because so many people are writing novels these days, it’s difficult for a writer to make his or her mark in today’s literary marketplace. There are many choices. Writers can self-publish, publish with small presses, or publish with the bigCF - Murder a la Christie 150 companies. I know, because I’ve gone the route of all three. We’ve an over-abundance of available books because so many writers give away e-copies of their work, hoping that this will entice readers to buy their other titles. Every day I receive several emails encouraging me to download novels that are inexpensive or free. Which is why I have close to 600 novels on my Kindle, waiting to be read.

This proliferation of novels gives the impression that becoming a novelist is easy. That anyone can write a good book that will sell thousands of copies. It’s not so. Becoming a good fiction writer is a process that takes years of hard work. Sure there are a few exceptions, but I believe the more books we write, the better skilled we become at creating characters, weaving plots, and telling satisfying stories. In The Telegraph on June 29th, best-selling crime writer, Val McDermid, “has claimed that she would be a failed novelist if she were starting out today because the publishing industry no longer allows for slow-burning careers.”

“It takes a strong stomach to be a writer!” says Peg Cochran, who writes the Gourmet de Lite series under her name and the Sweet Nothings Lingerie Series as Peg London. “It’s a scary business putting yourself out there…not only am I nervous about not living up to other authors, I’m worried about living up to myself!”

Peg isn’t alone. As a mystery writer, I know I’m only as good as my last book. I hope readers will like my next book. Will they love my characters? Will the plot hold? Will they detect the murderer before I want them to?

levinson picture1And it’s not enough to write an enticing mystery. Unless you’re very successful, very famous, or both, most mystery writers I know spend a good deal of time promoting their work. I was delighted that my mystery, A Murderer Among Us, was listed on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading list, and that A Murderer Among Us & Murder a la Christie made Book Town’s 2014 Summer Mystery Reading List. Then it was up to me to tweet and announce these honors to my Facebook and Yahoo groups. I must seek reviews of my books and ask to have my books featured on various sites and blogs. It’s my job to promote my novels and tend to them as I would my children, making sure they’re in healthy, growth-producing after-school activities. The odd thing is, I never know what helps improve my sales, but I get the word out when my books receive 5 star reviews and accolades.

Reviews are something else we authors have to deal with. Good reviews are wonderful to read. We’re delighted that readers are enjoying our books, and happy that they “get” us. Eventually we all get the other kind of review. The not so great review or even a hurtful review from a reader who was less than satisfied.

We’re told not to respond to reviews that are cutting or cruel, or even inaccurate. This is levinson 2frustrating, but I try to concentrate on the good reviews and the many people who have made it a point of telling me they enjoy my books. I’ve checked out the reviews of well-known novelists and was surprised to see that they had their share of not so great reviews. It gave me heart to know that these authors still sell thousands of copies of their novels. It reminded me that not everyone is going to love my work.

Having a writing career means finishing a novel and moving on to the next. It demands hours of promotion, dealing with deadlines and edits and covers you may not like. Coping with changing editors, an editor who changes your every other word, rejection. You name it. There are many frustrations, but having a writing career means you’re doing what you love best—writing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and books for kids.

Her latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, is out with Oak Tree Press. Untreed Reads has brought out new e-editions of her first Twin Lakes mystery, A Murderer Among Us–a Suspense Magazine Best Indie and its sequel, Murder in the Air. Both Murder a la Christie and A Murderer Among Us are on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading Mystery List. Her ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, and her romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, are out with Uncial Press. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives.

Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children’s Choice; Getting Back to Normal, & And Don’t Bring Jeremy.

Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime. She can be contacted through her website http://www.MarilynLevinson.com.  For all of her writings, check out her Amazon page at http://amzn.to/K6Md10 .

Revision – A Personal Story by Debra H. Goldstein

January 6, 2014 11 comments

dhg-photo.jpgRevision –A Personal Story by Debra H. Goldstein

When I stepped down from the bench, I fully intended to treat writing as a business. I was going to schedule a specific time of day for writing and not stop until I had completed a mandatory word count. Once I wrote first drafts of stories and perhaps another book, I would begin the process of revision – making a change or set of changes to improve my work.

It didn’t happen. I traveled, threw a wedding, played with grandchildren (not from the child who got married), went to lunch, accepted more civic responsibilities, occasionally was a Mah jongg substitute, and watched almost every re-run episode of NCIS, How I Met Your Mother, and The Big Bang Theory. There was always a distraction or thing to prevent me from giving my full attention to writing.

Things that had to be written like my obligated blog postings got done, but the muse for creative writing eluded me. I actually began to doubt my stated goal of being a full time writer. My doubts scared me.

I weighed whether I should return to the practice of law, accept appointment as a senior judge or turn off the TV and give myself a good kick in the rump. With New Year’s coming, I decided to make a resolution about my writing, but doubts crept in again. After all, how many times in the past had I made resolutions like “I’m going to lose weight,” “I’m going to exercise more,” or “I’m going to be nicer and kinder to other people?”
So, no resolutions or future promises. Just an attempt at revision.

Revision is defined as “a change or set of changes that improves something. Something, such as a piece of writing or song, that has been corrected or changed.” Considering my recent state of activities, it isn’t going to require too much revision of my attitude and writing schedule to result in numerous pieces of writings that will need to be corrected or changed.

Many retirees claim they needed a break before finally settling into a productive schedule. I swore, especially being so much younger than normal retirement age, I would not be part of that group. Yet, despite my best intentions, I was. It is only in the last few weeks that the wind has changing. Now, I’m excited to imagine the work product my revised efforts will bring.

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Debra H. Goldstein’s short story, “A Political Cornucopia” was the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable featured November 2013 story.  Her debut novel, A Maze in Blue, received a 2012 IPPY award and will be reissued by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery in May 2014.

Using Words – A Not So Subtle Message by Debra H. Goldstein

December 23, 2013 17 comments
Debra H. Goldstein

Author Debra H. Goldstein

Using Words – A Not So Subtle Message by Debra H. Goldstein

Communicating through words is what sets us apart from other species. Certainly gorillas, puppy dogs, and other animals communicate between themselves or with humans through looks, movements, and sounds, but the use of words to convey meaning distinguishes us.

Words can be spoken, signed, or written. They can be in English, French, or even Pig Latin. The key is that we use words to define and make others understand our thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Sometimes though, we are silent. We may have a thought, but we don’t express it. How many times have we read about people who wish they said “I love you” before the opportunity passed them by? Ever wonder if a kind word or an offer of help would have made a difference in a life?

I can’t answer these philosophical questions, but I can suggest that during this holiday season you take a moment to use words. Write a card or e-mail, pull someone aside for a chat, make a call or send a text. Use words to show you care. That’s what I’m doing now:

Happy Holidays!  May 2014 be a year of health, happiness and prosperity for you and yours!!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Debra H. Goldstein’s short story, “A Political Cornucopia” was the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable featured November 2013 story.  Her debut novel, A Maze in Blue, received a 2012 IPPY award and will be reissued by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery in May 2014.

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