Monday, July 30, 2012

Upsides & Downsides to Self-Publishing from Jeff Turner

Jeff Turner joins us today to share a few tidbits about his upcoming self-published novel Notes to My Kids: Little Stories About Grown Up Kids, as well as share his experience in self-publishing. He has published two books of memoirs, the story of a marriage before divorce and another after divorce, Notes To Stephanie: Middle Aged Love Letters and Life Stories and Notes To Stephanie: Days Remembered

Thanks for joining us today, Jeff.

What compelled you to write these short stories about/to your children? 
My first two books are about me and my ex-wife Stephanie.  These are non-fiction of course.  After I finished the second book I decided to write more “Notes” books using stories about my family.  Hence the third book is about my two children.  A fourth will be about stories from my own life before my kids were born.

Which of the stories is your favorite? 

Oh boy that is a hard one.  There are several possible candidates for sure.  One is “An Autographed Pizza Box” which is about my son having the owner of a favorite pizza joint autograph one of his pizza boxes like the man was a pro-athlete or celebrity – there is a mP3 file of this on my website.  And one about my daughter at Christmas time “One Xmas At Granbury” which describes her in a little girl wonderland of sorts as we went through a giant indoor Christmas diorama/knickknack display at a library.  These stories are special since they both describe an event that has stuck in my memory but also shows a special side of their personality.

Which was the most challenging to write and why? 

Some of the stories about the troubles my son had, born three months prematurely, were the hardest since he very nearly died.  Writing about those times made many strong emotions well up inside of me for obvious reasons.  It was a “yin-yang” sort of thing since he is now a 27-year-old grown man working in telecom and you would never know what happened to him if you saw him.   And some focused solely about my daughter made the memories well up too – like the Note “Home With Baby Jane” where I tell about how I once snapped at her, much to my regret, but it was something that showed the loving sides of her personality and mine both.  Finally, the Notes that talk about their grandparents also show strong feelings.   In short, being a loving dad made many things came back into focus as I recalled the times when they were little and the places we had been together.  Thus a sense of home and family comes out in many of the Notes.  Here is one example from “The New Park”:
The New Park will remain with me always.  A place filled with many cherished recollections of your young and little years - memories of many good, fun, and exciting times spent together under its shady trees.  It is a place that is pleasant, comforting, and filled only with good.  All of the parks in our lives should forever be that way unlike the trying playgrounds we see so often in our lives”.

How did you decide to Self-Publish? 
I looked into getting in print the old fashioned way and weighed the amount of time and effort that might take against the type of work I do which is consulting which sometimes requires long and weird hours plus travel and decided this would be easier time-wise.  Plus I would retain control of the process – being a project manager this fits my personality to be able to manage things.  So I read some books on it – you can see such works on Amazon – and the rest is history, to use the cliché.

What are the upsides to Self-Publishing, in your experience? The downsides?   

I alluded to the upsides above as you can see: you retain control over the effort.  The downside is that you have to do all of the work yourself, which implies a learning curve.  One of the biggest hurdles is marketing one’s works to get sales.  That is the biggest thing I am still trying to learn how to do.

What would you advise to authors considering self-publishing?  
You should do your homework in detail – read the several good books on the subject to see how it works and what the options are, make sure your personality fits the model you choose, and be willing to do the work that is required to produce and market your product.  Speaking of marketing I have done some book signings, and have sent out review copies of the book among other things.  You should be willing to try new things and experiment to find what works best for you – again I’m still working on that part!

What’s next for you? 

When I get the book about my kids done I will move on to the book about my own growing up years.  I have a chapter outline already done.  After that the actual writing will ensue.  Plus I have some rough ideas for a fifth “Notes” book, which will be a collection of things I have written here and there on a variety of things.  Some of these appear on my own blog and I want to say some are here as well.

If you could have coffee/tea/martinis with any person (living or dead), who would it be with and why? 
Being a history buff I could name several people but since there is only one choice I would choose General George S. Patton. I’ve read books about him, including two volumes of letters he wrote, and of course enjoyed the two movies about him from Hollywood: Patton and the Last Days Of Patton.  I would like to see firsthand what he was like and not just through the lens of books or films.

Come back on Friday for an excerpt of Notes to My Kids: Little Stories About Grown Up Kids, including a chance to win a free set of his memoirs to one lucky commentator. Contact Jeff at the following sites. and

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bev Irwin's MISSING CLAYTON Excerpt

Thanks for joining us today for a special excerpt from Bev Irwin's women's suspense novel, 

Backcover Blurb:

Where is Clayton? The sandbox is empty, the backyard is empty, the gate is open, where is Jenny's six-year-old son? Will she be able to find him in time?

KUDOS for Missing Clayton

Irwin does a brilliant job of portraying her villain. I once heard a psychologist say that no one thinks of themselves as evil. No matter how evil they are, they always justify their deeds to themselves. Well, that is certainly true in the case of the villain in Missing Clayton. Irwin has done an excellent job of making the villain seem real. In fact, all of her characters are completely three dimensional and believable. The plot twists and turns kept me reading to the very last page. I gave up emails, dinner, and television to finish the book. – Taylor, Reviewer


I don’t like it here. It’s dark. It’s cold. Why doesn’t Mommy come and get me? She knows I don’t like the dark.
“Your mommy has to find you,” the man had said.
Where is she?
“It’s a game,” he said.
He grabbed my arm. It hurt. It’s not a good game. He’s not nice.
I called her, but he put his smelly hand over my mouth. I wanted to bite it. Mommy doesn’t like biting. But he’s mean. I don’t like this place. Will she find me here? She will. She’s good at hide-and-seek. I hope she finds me soon.
The boy sat cross-legged in the cave-like space, a mat of blue tweed his only protection from the damp dirt floor. Putting his head in his hands, he felt the mud coating his hair. He’d screamed when the man rubbed it on his head.
“My mommy doesn’t like my hair dirty. She’ll be mad at you.”
The man laughed. Not a nice laugh, either. He sounded like the Joker in Batman. The laugh reminded him of his father when he got angry.
He had to be good. There was no closet to hide in here.
Thick mud covered his blond hair. Clawing at his head, he broke off bits of clay. He remembered that morning and his mother brushing his hair. She said it shone like the sun.
They were going to his new school and she wanted him to look nice for his teacher. If Mommy didn’t find him in time, would he have to stay in kindergarten? He scrubbed at his head until his hands hurt, yet the dirt remained. He didn’t want to cry, but tears slid down his face and merged with the dirt. They ran into his mouth, the mixture stung his tongue, and he spat it out. More tears ran down his face. His mother didn’t like spitting.
He clenched his fists and pounded at the rug beneath him. It wasn’t long before his hands throbbed. He stopped pounding and began tearing at the ragged fringes along one end of the rug. When his fingers slipped beyond the rug, he touched earth—cold and hard and damp. He shivered.
After what seemed like forever, curiosity overcame his fear and he began to investigate. His eyes, adjusted to the dimness, saw a few feet beyond the rug. A dirt wall, like the one behind him, ended the open space in front. He stretched out his right arm and his fingers felt the dampness of another wall of dirt. To his left, the area stretched into a black space.
He peered into the darkness. Several wooden crates—each containing differently shaped objects too blurry to make out—filled the space. Above him, he saw the wooden door he’d been shoved through. He counted four wooden rungs leading up from the crawl space. The trap door allowed only a sliver of light to enter the space.
I don’t like the dark.
Mingling scents of mold, dampness, dried animal droppings, closed in on him. It made his throat tight and he coughed.
He stretched a hand above his head. Sticky strands closed around his fingers. He jerked his hand back, scrubbed the spider webs onto the rug, and retreated to the safety of the woven mat. Maybe it was better not to explore. Sitting Indian-style, he cradled his arms around his chest and rocked back and forth. Beyond where he sat, the cave was jet-black. He tried to hold back his tears. Soft scuffling sounds came from the corners of the dugout. He knew they weren’t human. The rhythm of his rocking increased.
When is Mommy coming? I’m going to curl up here and sleep until she finds me. There’s just enough room. If I close my eyes, I won’t see how dark it is. It will be as dark inside my head as it is on the outside.
He curled into a fetal position. Somewhere close he heard the scurrying of tiny feet. Stuffing his fingers in his ears, he made himself think about playing in the safety of his backyard. Anything to drown out the wild pictures crowding his head.
He remembered building the castle in his sandbox. He was scooping out the moat when someone called his name. The man came into the backyard.
“I have a surprise for you.”
The chocolate was soft and gooey. “More in the truck,” the man said. But he didn’t have any more. He lied.
He remembered the smelly rag being pressed into his mouth. He remembered the bandana tied over his eyes. He remembered the man grabbing him, running with him. He remembered being shoved in the back of a truck.
“We’re playing hide and seek,” the man said. “Your mommy has to find you.”
The smell of gas and oil stung his nostrils as a blue tarp landed on top of him. It shut out the sun. He heard a door slam, an engine start, wheels squealing, and the truck sped away.
How is Mommy going to find me? Maybe he lied about that, too.

Earlier That Day

“Clay, lunch is ready.”
Jenny Kingsley took a loaf of bread from the breadbox. Sunlight streamed through the open kitchen window catching the embossed pattern of fuchsia and sapphire roses on the box’s lid. Her gaze drifted to the matching canister set and she traced the edges of the delicate flowers. She’d spied the set at Stockley’s Variety Store last week and had to have it. It matched perfectly with the wallpaper she’d recently hung. Jenny couldn’t resist splurging on it. She couldn’t remember ever having a matched set of anything.
Buttering the bread, she plastered peanut butter on top. A quick lunch, but they had things to do. They had to be at Manor Park School in forty-five minutes to register Clayton. Jenny couldn’t believe how quickly time passed, couldn’t believe her baby was old enough to be going into the first grade.
As she glanced around the newly decorated kitchen, she smiled. The old wallpaper with its faded olive vines and tarnished brass teapots had been replaced. The chipped and stained cupboards, painted a dull mustard when she moved in, now had a fresh coat of white paint.
Anything was better than yellow. She detested that color—too many reminders of her mother’s kitchen, perpetually painted some ugly shade of yellow or beige. Jenny shuddered. How many times had she entered that kitchen, her mother’s domain, quivering in fear, never knowing what mood she’d be in?
Jenny thought she’d left that behind when she married Ray. But she’d only moved from one black hole to another, even to the apartments they rented—neutral colors she couldn’t change. But no more. No more yellow, and no more living under a veil of fear.
Everything in this house looked bright and cheerful. Just like her life.
She’d made the right decision. Now, she and Clayton had a place of their own, a safe place—a place free of Ray’s fits of anger, his drinking, his abuse. A place where she didn’t have to listen to her mother’s suggestions on how to live her life.
With a population of under thirty thousand, Scottsville was a good choice. It had enough business to provide the inhabitants with work, yet was close enough to Columbus if people wanted more. And at a fifty-minute drive from Dresden, it afforded Jenny a comfortable distance from both Ray and her mother. Not much chance of them popping in to remind her she’d made a big mistake leaving Ray and moving away.
Jenny forced the nagging voice of uncertainty into submission. It had taken months of weighing the consequences to formulate a plan, but it was worth it. Finished with people pushing her around, she could make her own decisions, make her own mistakes. Her fingers caressed the black-and-white photos posted on the fridge. Last week, at the movies, Clay had seen the photo kiosk and begged to have their picture taken. She traced the line of his toothless grin.
Jenny executed a pirouette in the center of the room then laughed at her foolish antics. Picking up the knife, she layered strawberry jam on top of the peanut butter. Yes, it had been the right decision. They were both happy, and out of harm’s way.
After moving into the house three months ago, she’d tackled the kitchen first. Having never painted or wallpapered, it took her countless hours to strip the layers of old wallpaper, and many more to refinish the woodwork. She glanced at her nails. They were still chipped and broken. But it was worth it. She loved it—the Wedgwood walls, the ceiling border of fuchsia and blue flowers, and the white paint on the cabinets. Even the kitchen table gleamed with a new coat of white enamel. Fresh paint, fresh colors, fresh kitchenware—a good first step toward building a brand new life.
Jenny leaned toward the window. “Clay, get in here.”
Crossing the room, she placed the peanut butter and jam sandwiches on the table. While she waited for Clay to run in, she stroked the delicate new tea set. It must be a sign her life was finally changing, finally getting on a positive track.
Everything was falling into place. She’d found this house at an affordable price, and had landed a great job. So what if her accounting teacher had pulled a few strings. Doing the books for Lawson Manufacturing at home meant she didn’t need a babysitter for Clayton. She glanced at the pile of papers she’d been working on earlier. When they got back from the school, she’d finish tallying the accounts for this month’s sales. Maybe Mr. Lawson would recommend her to some of his associates. With Clay in school fulltime, she could take on more clients.
Ray had forbidden her to take the accounting course but, thank God, she’d stood her ground. She’d worked hard and graduated with honors. Once Clay started school, she’d enroll in an advanced accounting course.
Jenny picked up a towel and wiped off the teapot before placing it on the table. She glanced at the clock. Eleven-forty-five. Where is he?
“Clay, we have to eat. We need to go to your new school.” She’d give him one minute to get inside.
Standing on tiptoes, Jenny leaned against the counter and peered through the window. It afforded a partial view of the fenced-in yard. She scanned the lawn. At the back of the property, overgrown shrubs lined the chain-link fence. She saw the swing set beside the fence and part of the red plastic slide. She saw the sandbox where Clayton was building a castle.
It was empty.
Throwing the tea towel over her shoulder, Jenny walked to the back door. She looked through the screen toward the sandbox—the castle abandoned, his red shovel cast off in the shimmering platinum sand. Rusty hinges creaked when she shoved the screen door open.
Jenny swatted at a mosquito attacking her calf. With the July heat, the insects were out in droves. Movement caught her eye. She glanced at the swing. Empty, it swung in the breeze as if recently occupied. Her gaze paused briefly before continuing over the expanse of lawn.
She expected Clay to run in and demand his lunch, demand they go now to his new school. Jenny called again. The yard was silent. There was no demanding child. Her voice mushroomed several octaves. “Clay, where are you?”
Stepping onto the porch, Jenny let the wooden screen door slam behind her. She used the tea towel to swat at the onslaught of mosquitoes taking advantage of the open door. She hurried down the three worn plank risers to the grass. Was he hiding at the side of the house? The tea towel swung on her shoulder as she skirted the vinyl-sided building. Her voice rose, partly in annoyance, partly in concern. “Clayton, come here now!”
I hate playing hide and seek.
She thought of how Clayton would hide behind some bush or piece of furniture then jump out to scare her. She’d scold him. “It frightens me when I can’t find you.” He’d giggle at her panic. With pouting lips and downcast head, his mischievous blue eyes would peek out of his angelic face. He’d promise never to do it again—until the next time.
The side of the house was empty. She looked behind and inside the shed. A wheelbarrow stood in the middle of the lawn where Weigelia bushes awaited planting. Maybe he was hiding behind it. Jenny circled the wheelbarrow, but he wasn’t there. Could he fit under it? He wasn’t very big. She moved one of the bush-filled buckets and looked underneath. Nothing.
“Darn it, Clayton, where are you? This isn’t funny.”
Jenny hurried to the back fence, her heart beating faster with each step. Branches scratched her forearms. She thrust them out of the way. He wasn’t hiding there. A lump clogged her throat. She gasped for air. It hurt to breathe. She scrutinized the fence skirting the perimeter for holes Clayton might have slipped through. There weren’t any.
She turned and inspected every inch of the yard. It was as vacant and desolate as an uninhabited planet. Hot air escaped her lungs, the lump in her throat shifted, going deeper into her chest. Jenny rushed to the porch.
He’s here. He’s just hiding, playing one of his tricks on me. “Clayton, come out, right now!”
She was screaming, but she didn’t care. Nothing mattered as long as Clayton heard her and came running. She just wanted to see his towhead popping out from under a bush, or from behind a tree. But she’d already checked every bush, every tree, every possible hiding spot.
Do it again, whatever you need to do. You have to find him. Under the porch. You haven’t checked there yet. He wouldn’t be there, he’s afraid of the dark. Check it anyway.
Racing to the wooden porch, she scrambled to her knees and peered into the darkness. Nothing. No small shape, no hiding child. Only darkness. The tea towel fell from her shoulder. Involuntarily, she picked it up and wrung the linen between her sweat soaked palms.
Check the front yard. He’s not allowed to play there. Check it anyway.
She darted toward the front of the house. Dirt and grass clung to the bottom of her floral sundress. The front yard lay before her, manicured, peaceful, deserted. Tears trickled from the corners of her eyes.
A freshly painted, white picket fence enclosed the small, neatly mown lawn. But the yard held no bucket, no shovel, no play cars, no tricycle, and no blond-haired little boy. Something caught Jenny’s attention. A movement. A sound. She turned.
The white gate, the gate that kept the world at bay, was open—a gaping hole to another sphere. She watched in horror as the gate swung gently back and forth, back and forth. It screeched on rusted hinges, trying to latch with each sweep.
She felt as if she’d fallen into a bottomless abyss—twirling out of control, spinning in a place where light no longer existed. Her breath wedged in her throat, like a swollen seed, engorging, distending, obstructing her wind-pipe. She felt as if she might never take another breath. It seemed a lifetime before a strangled cry edged its way out of her constricted throat.
Her gazed darted up, then down the street. No Clayton. She raced to the corner and checked both directions on Willow Street, then ran back down Elm, peering into every backyard as she made her way to the next block.
All along Chestnut Street she saw pristinely painted houses with manicured lawns—a perfect, safe neighbor-hood—not one where a child would go missing out of his own backyard. Jenny searched the rows of sedate houses. The streets were empty except for three boys doing wheelies in the middle of the road.
“Have you seen a small boy go by here in the last few minutes?”
One of them spun his bike close to the curb. “Nope.”
“He’s about this high.” Jenny held her hand a few inches above her waist. “He’s blonde.”
As if picking up on her hysteria, they skidded to a stop and leaned tanned arms on their handlebars. After darting glances between them, they shrugged. “No, ma’am. We haven’t seen him.”
Her knees wobbled like Jell-O, but she forced them to keep moving. Maybe he’s still in the backyard. Maybe he’s playing hide and seek. Jenny rushed back through the open gate, screaming his name. Again she checked behind every bush, every tree. Her mind tormented with inconceivable possibilities, she raced to the front of the house. She looked up and down the street, screaming her son’s name.
Silence the only response.
Jenny sagged against the fence—the barricade to their safe haven. Her body went as limp as the damp dishtowel she clutched in her fingers. Shattered words slid over her parched lips.
“Clay...Clay...where are you?”

Thanks so much for sharing your first chapter, Bev! A mother's worst nightmare. We wish you the best in your upcoming novel, WITHOUT CONSENT!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Race Writing Rioting by Jeff Bacot

This is the fourth in the 12-part series Wrongs To Write: Defying Fiction Conviction, by Fort Worth based fiction novelist Jeff Bacot on challenging conventional literary rules in fiction writing. Jeff Bacot is a freelance writer of fiction and blogger of unconventional thought. His novel ON THE HOLE was recently published and released and is available on or Barnes and He is an active member of The Greater Fort Worth Writers group. He is a graduate of Southern Methodist University.


“Always write what you know.” These words ring in my ears every single day when I sit down in front of my laptop and attempt to create something. It’s an instruction that is hard wired into my left brain and bolted tightly into my right brain (as it is with every writer). I try. I do, but fail miserably sometimes.  There are obviously limitations to writing what you know, all the time. Sometimes you just have “make stuff up” as you go. So, my next question: “What do I know? What exactly do I really know? What the hell do you know well enough to write about Jeff?” It’s a maddening question. Well, I like to THINK I know a lot…but sometimes I know nothing, but write anyway.

“You write white,” a woman in my creative writing group said to me recently. It got my puzzled attention immediately; because this woman is white. “What do you mean?” I asked, not knowing how to respond to the observation. “All of the characters in your stories are white.” I thought about it for a minute and realized she was almost correct. Most of my characters are actually not just white, but male, with money. After thinking about this for a few days, I asked myself some hard questions about characters I choose for my stories. “Why DO I do this?” I could not answer.

The counterargument that I want to toss aside is the one that “writing what you know” invokes realism. “Write only what you know,” as a defense and argument against “noodling and rambling” with words. I always thought “write what you know” was a pathetic cliché; an apologetic bromide. Like something the high school creative writing teacher says to the talented student in a Hallmark movie. That’s not to say that “write what you know” is necessarily bad advice. Clearly, a writer will want to draw from their surroundings, and from people they know when constructing a story.

Makes perfect sense I guess, right? Wrong. To write only what you know is anemic advice. It’s particularly awful advice when all of the people who have the opportunity to write are often white, often rich, and often men. Do we really want stories that are only populated with these people? No, it would get old and boring. This status quo severely limits the experiences that get written and deemed worthy to produce and publish. Writers should write what they know while being creative, thoughtful, empathetic and courageous enough (and, let’s be frank: talented enough) to venture outside those boundaries. Writing outside of what you know, when based on people we know. Individuals.

I thought about this quandary as I pondered all the people in my life that I know well. My best friend growing up was Hispanic. My former wife was Swedish. One of my closest college friends is African American. My best client when I was in the banking profession was Asian. One of my closest friends and writing editor is British, and a woman. And, upon a careful examination of the assortment of friends on my Facebook pages, roughly 50% of my friends are from a different country, or are a different ethnicity, race or culture altogether, than I. (It is also about 52% male and 48% female).  It turns out I know a lot of different individuals, but tend to write only based on the same ones.

 I have a variety of people that I choose to associate with, dine with, socialize with and work with. Most of these people I know well.   I may not know everything there is to know about the culture, religions, backgrounds, heritages, countries, values and social conditions, but I know these people. I know this person, previously and now.  So, why is it that I rarely write characters that differ from my race, religious preference, sexual preference and gender?  It is completely in keeping and authentic to “what I know” to write about people in my life, because I take great inspiration from them in characterizations in my stories. But, I take inspiration from them individually and not the collective group from and to which they belong. But I think all writers chicken out when the desire to include a character whose race we might not understand, in the name of being……

PC! Yes, politically correct. I said it, and then coughed, because I am not. Anyone who knows me, knows I often say and write things that are offensive. Indeed, this whole 12-part blog series I am writing is titled “Writing The Wrong: Defying Fiction Conviction.”  It stands at the altar of “going against the grain.” My last blog piece, “The Profound In The Profane” advocated the use of more swear words in literature, for crying out loud. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I can be. In attempting to communicate that which is true, that which is real, that which connects, and that which is authentic, it is necessary for me to offend sensibilities sometimes. Yes, I said “necessary”.

In my recent novel publication On The Hole, I wrote a scene where two guys were making jokes about each other’s bad golf shots, by personifying the shot with a famous person’s name. One of the characters (and I stress CHARACTER, because he is bigger than life, with the nickname “Skew”.)  Skew refers to his budddy Nick’s golf shot that was “straight at first, but then took a turn,” as a ‘Rock Hudson’. Hitting a ball with a club size too large he calls a ‘Rodney King’ (“over clubbed it.”) Then he refers to hitting a ball in a sand trap twice before you get out as an ‘Adolf Hitler’ (“two shots in the bunker.”) Get it?

Is Skew politically incorrect? Sure he is, very. I suspect there are quite a few gay people, African Americans, and maybe even some Germans, who would find this guy offensive. Maybe even a thug. He is.  But the character is unique and very far from “PC”. He is not racist, just really, really, really inappropriate. It is authentic, slightly funny, but realistic to who this guy is, and what is typical for his behavior. He is vital to the story though. (Some people really like the guy, some hate him. But all agree he is similar to someone they know. That was the goal when I created him.) But I decided in writing On The Hole, that I would just be authentic, create believable people, and let readers judge for themselves the veracity of my characters.

Lesley Arfin, a writer for HBO's controversial series ‘Girls’, responded recently to criticism that the show doesn't have any non-white characters, "What really bothered me most about criticisms was that this was a representation of ME. That I had a reason."  That is what Arfin  “knew” and so that is what she wrote. She apologized later -- "Without thinking, I put gender politics above race and class. That was careless. The last thing I want is girls versus girls." Her apology rang hollow, but it was an apology nonetheless. Did she need to apologize though? Well, I’ll let you be the judge. I have my own opinion. But, that was the goal and what the writers knew and chose to tell: a fair argument against too much “PC”, pandering to popular sentiment and frankly, censorship. These three villains to fiction beget flat, limp, and boring characters….and crappy stories.

 So, I have to be careful with this subject, but I intend to incorporate many different characters into my stories, that will be based on the people I know, regardless of their heritage. I will not pander to the umbrella of a characters’ class, race, gender, religion or sexual preference. Just the individual and what I know of him/her, and a little that I choose to “make up” in my imagination. SO, feel free to write into your stories a variety of races, religions, cultures, but it is paramount to make it based on the content and character of the individuals you know, not a PC fill-in. It will enrich your story and make it accurate to modern reality. Write what you know, and bravely write what you don’t know without fear. But make sure it is based on the person, their unique personality and glowing authenticity, not politically correct pandering.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bev Irwin Juggles Multiple Projects

Please welcome Bev Irwin, award-winning author of MISSING CLAYTON, a women's suspense novel, and three other stories. She lives in Ontario, Canada and her debut novel, WHEN HEARTS COLLIDE came out Dec 2011 (contemporary romance) with Soul Mate Publishing under pen name Kendra James. She writes YA, children's and poetry, and prefers spending time in her garden, reading, and writing to being in the kitchen. Her YA Paranormal, GHOSTLY JUSTICE, was released by Black Opal Books in April 2012 in both print and ebook. As a registered nurse, she liked to add a touch of medical to her romance and mystery novels.

Where did you get your inspiration for MISSING CLAYTON?

I think any mother’s worst fear is losing their child. If lost, hopefully they return or someone finds them and brings them home. But when your child is missing even for a moment, the worst thoughts go through your head. The more time that passes, more and darker scenarios present themselves.

The premise came to me when a co-worker’s husband kept her kids longer than their agreement allowed. My mind went wandering and a seed began to germinate for Missing Clayton.

What scene in the book is your favorite?

I think the first scene where my child has been taken and put in a cave-like space. We hear his thoughts and feel his fear. When a child is lost, it is not only the mother who is traumatized but also the child who trusts his mother to always be there for him.

Which character was the most challenging to write and why?

I think Tyrell. I had to make him the villain but I wanted to show his human side and what had driven him to take the child. I also wanted to show the deterioration of his mental status, which puts the child in more jeopardy.

What is your writing story? How did you get started in the business?

I wrote poetry as a child getting a poem published when I was in grade three. I continued writing poetry for years never showing it to anyone until I was in my thirties. At that time, I started entering them in some contests. I am in a few anthologies for my poetry.

Then in the mid 90’s I broke my hand getting a horse on a trailer. It was like God said, “Okay, you have been wanting to write, here is some time.”

So for the first time since I was fourteen and started working while I went to school then became a registered nurse, I had some time to myself. I had had maternity leaves, three of them, but then only had like six to fifteen weeks off with a new baby that didn’t count for time to play with my dream. But with a broken hand that ended up not being set properly and having to have it broken again and then surgery to fix it properly, I had several months off my nursing job.

I started my first romance, which still might get published. But children’s stories started coming to me in the middle of writing the romance. None of them are published yet but someday they may be. I also started writing other stories that became my passion, mysteries. And this is where I find the most fun. I like to start with a what-if and see where it takes me.

I belong to Savvy Authors, a great site for writers. In the summer of 2011, I pitch to Debby Gilbert of Soul Mate Publishing and she contracted me for my first book, WHEN HEARTS COLLIDE which came out as an ebook in December and will be out in print later this year. I also pitched two novels to Lauri Bausch of Black Opal Books. She took GHOSTLY JUSTICE, my YA paranormal out in print and ebook in April, and MISSING CLAYTON, a women’s suspense, will be released July 28th. I have been contracted for  two more books with Lauri.

Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’?

Oh, definetly a ‘panster’ but I am trying so hard to be a ‘plotter’. It would be so much easier to have a map of where I am going in my stories. I do try, I really do and I am getting better at it. I use Scrivener for a writing program and can put all my scenes there and write on each scene as the muse hits me. I have never written a book from the beginning to the end and I doubt I ever will. My muse likes to keep me moving from one thing to another. I may have five projects on the go and write a bit here and then go work on another project. Some may say I am AHDD but I end up with several projects. And that worked very well when I found an editor that likes my work. She has contracted me for four books this year and I have more projects I want to finish and pitch to her.

What is the oddest/craziest piece of advice you’ve heard from an editor/agent/or author?

I’ve had an author tell me to just work on one thing. What would have happened if I listened to that advice. I would still be re-editing and re-editing. No book is perfect and we will always find things we want to change every time we read it. We have to do the best we can, then send it out into the big bad world, accept our rejections. Hopefully we get some constructive criticism and can improve the book, and do what, of course, send it out there again.

What advice would you offer to new writers trying to break into publishing?

Take wring courses, join writing groups, allow yourself to be critiqued. Get your book finished. It’s hard but if you never finish it, you have nothing to send out there. Start with smaller publishing houses and newer agents. It would be like winning the lottery to have a big agent take on your first book. But do so if you want, people do win the lottery. Join a group like Savvy Authors. They have great, inexpensive writing courses, critique possibilities and also pitch sessions.
As you can see I write in several genres and enjoy them all. Don’t limit your writing. Experiment. See where your imagination takes you, but most of all keep that pen moving and the pages turning.

What’s next for you?

MISSING CLAYTON, a women’s suspense, is coming out July 28th with Black Opal Books.
IN HIS FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS, coming out Oct 27th is similar to Gary Paulsen’s Brian series.
WITHOUT CONSENT, a medical / police thriller will be coming out at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. 
GHOSTLY JUSTICE, a YA paranormal was released April 14th.
Fifteen-year-old Daria Brennan doesn’t want to hear people’s thoughts. She doesn’t want to see ghosts or talk to dead people. And she definitely doesn’t want to help Amanda solve her forty-year old murder. But Amanda wants revenge, and Daria is the first human contact she’s had since the day she died. Now the killer is after Daria and her friends. Can they solve this Amanda’s murder in time, or will they become the next victims?
I also have several other works in progress. It’s so much fun to start something new!
If you could have coffee/tea/martinis with any person (living or dead), who would it be with and why?

Taylor Caldwell. I loved her writing. She has a great body of work and she worked philosophical themes into her stories.

Another writing mentor would be Mary Higgins Clark. I love her writing and her plots. I think that is where my love of mystery started. And hopefully I will get to meet her when I go to Bouchercon this fall as she will be there to receive ‘The Lifetime Achievement Award.'

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Bev! Readers- please post comments and questions for Bev Irwin and she'll come by and answer when she can.
Bev can be found online at and
Thanks for joining us today! Please come back on Friday for an excerpt of MISSING CLAYTON.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Stephanie Reents' 'The Kissing List' Excerpt

The Kissing List, by Stephanie Reents is a collection of interlocking short stories of women who bravely defy expectations and take outrageous chances in the face of a life that might turn out to be anything less than extraordinary. Below is an excerpt of the short story, Games:
*Adult Content Below*

My  plan  is  simple:  kiss  Peter’s  ball  as  a  means  of  bonking  Hayley.  After  you  kiss  in  croquet,  you  may  whack  the  other player or take an extra stroke. I want to hit Hayley deep into the heart of the blueberry bushes so that her mallet turns  blue from chipping at her ball among the ripe berries. 
“Bamarama,” I say, rattling the ice in my mint julep. “Take  that, you playboy.” 
“Shit,” Peter says, stretching out the word like a piece of  saltwater taffy. “I guess I’m a goner.”
I move my ball a mallet’s length from his. 
“What?” Peter says. “I’m off the hook, Sylvie?” 
I aim for Hayley, and my ball smacks hers. 
“You  brute,”  she  says  as  her  ball  goes  spinning  into  the  bushes.  
I know it’s cruel to go after Hayley, but I’ve been annoyed with her since the drive up from New York to Alex’s parents’  summer house in Maine. “I have to pee, I have to pee, I have to pee,” she chanted at regular intervals, and Alex dutifully pulled over, which makes sense, I suppose, since he has the hots for her, even though she has a boyfriend named geoff, a reclusive  sculptor  who’s  also  a  weekend  race  car  driver.  Alex  is  Peter’s  best friend, and Peter is my boyfriend. Hayley, as the y in her name suggests, is the kind of woman who always has to be the center of attention. I have this theory that the Western world is  populated by two kinds of women: small women with big hair,  and average to big women with all kinds of hair. Small women with big hair aren’t necessarily small, but they have some quality that makes them childlike,  like little-girl  women.  Women like this exist in a state of grace; the world still extends to them, everything for their pleasure. Even though hayley has closely  cropped blonde hair, she’s clearly one of them.  
“Don’t be a sourpussy,” Alex says before he takes his turn.  “It’s all fun and games until someone’s whites get dirty.” 
“I give up,” Hayley says. 
“Don’t,” Alex says. “Just move your ball to the edge of the  bushes.” 
“Yeah,” Peter chimes in. 
I  look  at  Peter  but  fail  to  establish  eye  contact  with  him  through the mosquito netting that’s wrapped around the baseball cap he’s wearing. We’ve all donned these contraptions to  keep away the bugs. All Peter told me about Hayley before the  trip was that she was supersmart, even though she didn’t go to  college. This is code for cool in the language spoken by Peter  and Alex, who get turned on by women who read hegel, not as  well as they do, but well enough. 
“Those  aren’t  the  rules.”  My  voice  sounds  shrill.  “You  have to hit from wherever you find yourself.”  
“Fine,” Hayley says, suddenly turning away from us and  walking toward the bushes. “I can play by whatever rules.” 
“It’s  just  a  fucking  game,  Sylvie,”  Peter  says.  “We’re  not  setting organizational policy. We’re on vacation.” 
In the shadows of the blueberry bushes, Hayley misangles  her mallet, and her ball barely moves. 
“Can I just quit?” Hayley whines, but Alex is by her side,  telling her she can take a do-over: “Croquet rule #256 states  that ball must progress or regress by at least six inches, and if, whereby it fails, the stymied gent or lady must shoot again.” He  looks at me. “Agreed, Sylvie?” 
“Of course.” I feel myself soften a little toward Harley. 
“Have you some advice?” Alex asks Peter. 
“Do you mind if I show you how?” Peter asks Hayley. 
“I need all the help I can get,” she says. 
Peter is a master of croquet, not because he plays much,  but  because  he  is  a  ruthless  competitor  in  all  sports  that  involve  using  an  intermediary  device  to  hit  balls.  His  specialty is tennis, but he can also hold his own in badminton and pool.  If  there  were  an  olympics  of  social  games,  including  bridge  and hearts and perhaps backgammon and debate, Peter would  clean  up.  He  hates  to  lose.  When  I  once  reminded  him  that  social means sociable, he growled, “What’s the point?” Then  he  hitched  his  fingers  through  my  belt  loops  and  yanked  me  toward  him.  “I  eventually  won  you,  didn’t  I?”  this  is  true,  though it didn’t take much. I was pretty lost in something I still  can’t quite explain when Peter persuaded me to go out on a real  date with him. “Since kissing doesn’t seem to count as intent to  get serious in your book,” he said, “You’ve forced me to go old  school: dinner and a movie?”  
Now, I watch as Peter stands behind Hayley and wraps his  arms around her so that they’re standing parallel,  aiming toward the ocean and the second wicket. Peter shuffles in his flipflops, moving into position, and Hayley’s clogs answer. Then he  pulls back her arms, like he’s setting the pendulum of a grandfather clock into motion, and the heavy ball darts through the  kelly green grass like a small, furtive animal running for cover  and rolls right on-target toward the wicket. A nickel-size dimple appears in hayley’s cheek. And Peter’s face is stamped with  a clown’s grin so silly I can feel his jaw ache.
The cottage has five bedrooms, and Peter and I retreat into  one  at  the  far  end  of  the  second  floor.  There  are  mouse  droppings in the box of Kleenex next to the bed. Naked under  the cumulus cloud of goose down, we begin to fight.  
“So,” I say.
“What was that all about?” 
“What?” Peter answers. 
“You know. During croquet.” 
“I was helping her,” he says. 
“Why are you like this, Sylvie?” Peter opens a book the size of a cinder block on the history of New York. 
“I can’t believe you like people like her.” 
“Her  whole  Marxist  critique  of  higher  education?  Her  family’s hardly the proletariat. How do you think she can afford to work for a photographer?” 
“She didn’t go to college because she hated school.” 
“She’s interesting.” 
“Give me a break. She’s insipid. Were you listening to the  conversation on the way up?” I slump against my pillow. 
“Which one?” 
“Where she said she hated high school, but sixty-seven of  her classmates have friended her on Facebook.” 
“So what? I’m friends with people I don’t even remember.”  Peter pretends for a moment to get engrossed in a page of his  tome, which annoys me. 
“She contradicts herself constantly, and she doesn’t seem  the least bit aware of it. She told me that until six months ago  she  didn’t  own  any  shoes  besides  combat  boots.  Then  she  started wearing clogs and Converse low tops. It was as if she experienced some profound breakthrough when she realized she could wear clogs. I wanted to shake her and say, You’re twenty­ six. You can wear any kind of shoes you want. How does Alex  know her, anyway?” 
“They met in Costa Rica last summer.” 
“And he’s hoping for something to happen?” 
“He’d be thrilled. I’d be too.” 
“I’m sure you would.” I press the palm of my hand against  my chin. 
“Don’t start. You know that’s not what I mean. Kiss?” he  asks. 
Even  though  I  know  I  should  tamp  down  my  ugly  feelings, I feel them wriggling like worms in a container of fishing  bait. In the past year, I’ve only added one new name to my list:  Peter’s. “Gonna get married?” Laurie teases when we chat over  the phone. She has moved back home. “Gonna have babies?”  I’m twenty-eight, a socially appropriate age for settling down.  I love Peter, but being with someone means being with yourself  in a way that’s harder than when you are on your own.  
“I have a tattoo,” I say illogically. “Why doesn’t mine count  for anything?” 
My tattoo is small—just the call numbers for Clarissa inked  in neat penmanship across the lower left side of my back. I got it  on a whim in oxford when literature still felt urgent to me. The first time Peter peeled back my black wool tights, I gave him the  sexy one-line summary: “It’s about a coquette who’s ruined by  a rake.” Peter laughed: “You’re the thinking man’s bombshell.” 
Now Peter answers, “Of course yours counts. But it’s different. It’s an allusion to a book, for Christ’s sake.”
“So butterflies are better?” 
“Not better,” he says, “just different. Stop being so competitive.” 
I don’t move. “I don’t understand how you can like someone like her and like me, too.” 
“I can like her, but like you differently,” Peter says. “I can  think she’s wonderful and still love you.” 
I turn away. 
“All right, then,” Peter says. “No kiss.” 
But I turn back, and we begin kissing. We come up from  the covers, and I straddle Peter, and we start to have sex. His  face  comes  unmasked,  and  I  notice  the  things  that  are  pure  Peter:  how  half  of  his  left  eyebrow  has  been  rubbed  away  by  worry,  and  how  above  the  other  is  a  small  scar  he  got  from  jumping off the shed in his backyard when he was a child. His  fine blond hair sticks up. All of this, and especially his expression—which is always stunned when we first come together— reminds me of a little boy. I press my hand against Peter’s neck,  gently  at  first,  then  I  gradually  clamp  it  harder  between  my  thumb and index finger. I can feel his adam’s apple bob when  he swallows. Peter likes this; he likes it when I take control. He’s  told me it’s a turn-on, which is why I do it. Usually I loosen my  grip after a few seconds, sit back on my heels, forget about how  Peter looks unmasked, and concentrate on how we feel together.  But tonight I don’t.  
Peter  rasps;  his  expression  changes.  He  looks  at  me  as  though  I’m  a  stranger.  I  shift  my  weight  and  move  my  other  hand to Peter’s neck, my thumbs pressing in on both sides of his voice box. The flesh yields, but not the bones. His tongue  comes out of his mouth, the narrow tip of it touches his top lip,  and his eyes close. And then suddenly they open, both at the  same time, and he says, “Stop it, Sylvie. You’re hurting me.” 
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, reducing the pressure, turning my  fingers into something light and without intention, like birds’  feathers. “You should have said something.”
Peter pushes himself up on his elbows until he’s sitting. He  grabs my shoulders and presses me backward to the bed, and  we keep having sex until he comes. Then he rolls off and faces  the windows away from me, and I know that it’s over. 
It’s so quiet and still when Peter speaks, his voice is like an object that trips you in a dark room. 
“Why did you do that?” he demands. 
“Never mind. Good night.” 
Peter doesn’t move. His back is still turned to me. 
“Backs can’t kiss, can they? All right, lipless back, no kiss.  I get the picture.”

The Kissing List can be purchased at, iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, and IndiBound.

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