Saturday, April 25, 2015

Heartbreak and History
April 25, 2015 marks the centennial of one of the bloodiest battles of World War I: Gallipoli, or the Battle of the Dardanelles. Raging over the course of nine months, it is regarded as one of Winston Churchill's greatest military mistakes. The peninsula of Gallipoli is situated in the south and European part of Turkey between the Aegean Sea and the Straits of the Dardanelles. Churchill's aim was to attack Turkey and force its ally Germany to divide its forces into two fronts, but the campaign was doomed. Even though three British Navy ships were sunk scouting the landing area months before, losing any element of surprise, Churchill insisted on engaging well-entrenched Turkish troops with wave after wave of Allied soldiers in a futile attempt to gain ground. Eventually, the total distance they managed to secure was less than one mile inland at the cost of an estimated 132,000 lives--86,000 alone were Turks.

                        Anzac, the landing 1915 by George Lambert, 1922 shows the landing at Anzac Cove, 25 April 1915; courtesy of Wikipedia
Gallipoli is observed as ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand because the campaign marked the first time the former colonies of the British Empire participated in any conflict as independent nations --and the toll they paid in the loss of young men was high, approximated at more than 11,400 of the 25,000 British Commonwealth troops killed. Here is where the legend of Australian and New Zealand modern military bravery began, written in many stories, and written in blood. 

Why am I blogging about this today? Because a dear friend from Sydney traveled halfway around the world to be there on Gallipoli, in the predawn cold, to honor her country's fallen heroes, to keep their stories alive.
Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other dignitaries were also there.
(Yes, those are the same peaks as in the painting.)
I, too, would like to pay my respects. Someday, another tale may be written...


If you want to watch a fairly decent movie about the battle, check out the 1981 film (with a young Mel Gibson) Gallipoli:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Endless Quest For a Title That Zings

Maybe a rose by any other name will smell as sweet to the likes of Shakespeare, but a weak title will not sell as well to an agent or publisher. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, our manuscript's title is as important as the story's hook. Unfortunately, sometimes finding just the perfect title can be as elusive as finding gold at the end of the rainbow or chasing fairies.

Now you, my fair reader, may be wondering why I'm moaning about something that to you seems of little consequence. Simple, I am struggling, so far unsuccessfully, to come up with a compelling title for my current YA novel. The story is strong, the writing is solid (according to an external editor I hired, so don't worry, I'm not the one attesting to the writing), the characters compelling (ditto to the external editor's opinion), and the setting just different enough to be interesting. Yet still, I'm not ready to send it out.

"Why?" oh you, ever intrepid reader, may very well ask.

Simple, the lack of a title. Just as the loss of nail can lose a battle so too can a bad title sink your chances at selling your novel. Saying this reminds me of an old nursery rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

This is exactly where I am right now, a solid book without it's name. Since I'm currently struggling with a title, I decided to share my recent research, both through personal experience, and from articles. 

1. Condense your story's theme into one or two words, like Crank by Ellen Hopkins. Great story and obvious what it's about. 

2. Highlight one of the characters, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Lisbeth is one of the most compelling characters in modern literature, in my opinion at least. 

3. Highlight the setting, like Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Love this book and its prequels and sequel. Too bad his recent works are not very good. 

4. Tantalize with an obscure reference to the ending, my favorite is I Am the Cheese, Robert Cormier. I felt like I solved the hardest puzzle ever when I got to the end of the book and, bammo, understood the title. Love that. Would love to do the same if only I could. 

An excellent title seems so easy one's it's given. Unfortunately for now, such perfection remains elusive to me. For those struggling with similar title dilemmas, I've included links to some helpful articles and a fun, although not particularly useful title generator site.

Monday, April 20, 2015

TOUCHY SUBJECTS: Reinventing reality

I am a grounded person, mired in reality. I read it; I write it, and I live it. So when my characters start to sound similar to the real THEM, it’s time to move them to another country, change the number of kids they have, and give them a new look.

Such was the case in my first cozy mystery, Mortal Coil, with Champagne Books. The inspiration that fed my book’s mystery and its scandal is that the crimes described are not the same as the real crimes committed where my grandmother lived in a 300-year-old church-owned facility in a Philadelphia ghetto in the 1980’s.

Although an author won’t lose a case in court when the truth is proven, it’s wise not to be too specific if the history isn’t public record and easily available. John Grisham was right on the edge with his environmental story, Gray Mountain. It’s almost creative nonfiction, but he’s a lawyer, and his beef with strip mining is well validated in his research.

In Mortal Coil, I use a nursing home setting in Georgia with which I’m very familiar. I even had a chance to include a poetic view of Kennesaw Mountain, a Southern memorial that fascinates me.


Kennesaw Mountain blossomed to life with lacy pink and white dogwoods peeking through greening, winter branches and long-leaf pines--a festive prelude to the pre-summer season. Despite what was going on inside Kingsley (nursing Home), the outside fa├žade of the one-story building rested like the center of interest in a dry brush painting that changed daily.
Ellen felt restored looking at it and remembering how she had fallen in love with the South. For all its contradictions, Southerners’ resilience and warmth charmed her. Only here in the foothills of history did people commemorate their losses as well as their victories.

The subplot of my book is driven by a behind-the-scenes scandal of greed and neglect. My 23 years as an activity coordinator and later a community ombudsman for long-term care facilities informed my story.

Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, my grandmother died in that Philadelphia facility that treated her like a queen, but allowed a rapist from the kitchen staff to steal valuables from the unconscious patients’ rooms and murder three of them. My Ponytail Perp only killed them and took their hair as a trophy. What a sweetheart!

Champagne Books is running an in-house project about an active little town in Florida, a resort town where crazies are less inclined to kill and more inclined to think through a haze of their own making. If you like Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey, you will love our offerings. Florida writes itself, and Volusia County, according to Hiaasen, is a source of endless, nutty fun. Join us in 2016 to partake of our funny business.

Find Julie at:

Web site at
Twitter: @JulieEPainter
or Amazon:

Sunday, April 19, 2015


I spent today at a storytelling workshop - you know, those marvelous folks who perform original and folk tales, making spoken word into an art form. The day ended with two of my favorite tales, and I'll share versions of them here.

They speak well to the power of stories told by all tellers - written, spoken, musical, visual.

Once upon a time there was a little bird who loved to fly. The little bird flew and flew and flew, she loved it so. Until one day, her beak fell off.

But she could still fly. So she flew and flew and flew, and loved it so. Until one day, her feet fell off. 

But she could still fly. So she flew and flew and flew, and loved it so. Until one day, her wings fell off.

She could no longer fly.

Ah, she said. But I can remember what it felt like to fly, and to love it so. So she did. She remembered and told stories of flying, and loved it so.

We need stories to remember.

Once there was a little girl at school. The teacher said it was time for art; time to make a picture. The little girl asked, what should we draw? And the teacher answered, anything you like.

The little girl drew with such furious concentration that the teacher finally had to ask. What are you drawing?

I am drawing a picture of God, the little girl answered.

But you realize no one truly knows what God looks like, the teacher could not help but blurt. 

They will in a few minutes, the little girl said.

We need stories to create.

What stories are you telling?

Elizabeth Fountain writes stories of aliens and angels, humans and cats, and of course dogs who save the world. Find her novels An Alien's Guide to World Domination and You, Jane at

Friday, April 17, 2015

The fallacy behind romance in novels

Michael W. Davis

Here’s two interesting tidbits. 96% of readers for the pure romance genre are female. Given 70% of fiction readers are women, means the ladies shape how most represent amore in our novels to please the ladies, to some degree, including me, but not totally. I’ve coauthored three novels with female authors and both of us realized that, as men and women, we approach the dance of lovers differently. That’s not a good or back thing, just different. In fact, the top reviews we received on our coauthored books specifically noted the realism of the dialog from both male and female POV.

So what’s the fallacy alluded to in the title? Not only “romance” genre stories deal with guy/girl relationships. Regardless of theme, whether SciFi, political thriller, murder mystery, fantasy, paranormal, whatever, not all, but most novels have a romance element. Here are a few iconic examples. Ever watch Blade Runner or Dune (two classic SciFi)? Both have strong elements of guy/girl relationships. How about the Jesse Stone mystery series by Parker? Of the five I familiar with, four have amore in the storyline. How about The Patriot and From Here to Eternity (War movies). Both have definite love elements.  In terms of political thrillers, both Three Nights of the Condor and No Way Out blend romance within their plot. Note that all those I picked had male authors and all have romantic elements. No, not all SciFi/Mystery/thrillers/etc. deal with relationships as a sub theme, but many do. And all these examples where created by male authors.

My point? It’s a misnomer to believer that only “romance” novels represents amore, nor that guys do not relate to the dance we men and women do in the name of intimacy. I write across genres including suspense, political thrillers, mysteries and SciFi and every book weaves love within the storyline. It is true that how the romantic elements are depicted will depend on the gender of the author, but guys are not clueless to the reader lure of having guy/girl relationships as part of their theme. You’d be shocked how often at signings, when readers asked about a book, and I respond, “That one is a romantic suspense that won the Rose Award for best RS of 2009” the ladies react, “Romance? You can’t write romance, you’re a guy.” Yes we can, and we do, just differently from the ladies, and that’s a good thing. Remember. Variance is the spice of life.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Revised: Writing a Back Cover Blurb

You thought writing your book was difficult? Now that it’s finished, how about writing a blurb for the back cover?

How do you reduce your book to 250 words, explain what it’s about but not give away the ending? Not so easy.

Breaking it down into steps might help.

1.      Introduce your main character. For my book, The Reluctant Daughters, I have three main characters, so the back cover introduces all three, first the mother, “Matriarch of Steel, Elisabeth Riis,” then her daughter, “Daughter of Bitterness, Mary Ellen Riis,” followed the granddaughters of Elisabeth, “Daughters of Mystery and Hope, Barbara and Lily.

2.      Next you introduce the problem. In the case of this book, Mary Ellen is haunted by her past and is determined to keep her children from repeating her mistakes. Her problem is a powerful politician. Mary Ellen, born to a mother who can barely stand her, turns to a life living on the edge, marries a gambler, then turns to the low and deadly slums of opium addiction. The granddaughters find an evening of rebellious fun leads them on a trail of mystery.

3.      What is the story about? A teaser hints at the story line. “What does New York State Senator and Presidential Nominee Justin Pembroke have to do with Elisabeth’s sudden disappearance?
This story covers a period between 1865 through 1900.

Using the same basic concept, the back cover blurb for The Prince of Keegan Bay.

1.      The main character is introduced. “Based on the ancient Kushawan legend, the infant Hamilton Robbins must die before Christmas night. Seventy-year-old Doll Reynolds has other ideas.”

2.      The problem. “When the American born heir to the kingdom of Kushawa is hidden in an age-qualified retirement community, a battle of wits and tactics develops between the Kushawan Alliance of Royal Princes (KARP), determined to eliminate the infant, and a group of senior citizens.” The paragraph goes on with more detail about other characters involved in risking their lives to save the baby.

    If you are having trouble reducing your book to a few words, ask a friend who has read it to give you feedback on what they think your story is about. It might help you to distill your information to create an enticing blurb. A friend wrote an incredible memoir about how she wanted to die following drastic surgery, Afraid to Live. When it came time to write the back cover, she was at a loss. The story is so personal to her, she can’t see the basic elements necessary.

1.      Kally never wanted life-saving surgery, but when her daughters fed her tranquilizers before her appointment, though she had been determined to refuse, she went like a sheep to the slaughter. Surviving the arduous ordeal, several weeks later she decides she might as well take a European river cruise with her sister because they’d scheduled and paid for it the year before.

2.      During the trip Kally sticks stubbornly to her thoughts that she ought to have died, but slowly as the trip progresses, she begins to find meaning in her life through not only the art in museums, but in the life and love she sees in the people around her.

3.      She wrote the book, so we can assume she survived, but does she?

The above may or may not become the back cover blurb for my friend’s book, but it will give her a place to start. Now it’s your turn. With your work-in-progress, try writing an intriguing and compelling back cover.

Veronica Helen Hart is the author of six books, three published by Champagne Books, two by Double Edge Press and one self-published, Escape from Iran.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Calling All Authors: Can You Relate?

As a teacher, I tend to write more in summer and edit during school year, CAN ANYONE RELATE TO THAT?

So OMG it's finally spring, and being from Missouri I know I don't have as much right to complain as people from some of the others areas of the country or the world but I'm really glad winter is over, and I used to not care about the cold, but OMG, I'm gonna be 50 this month and I already hate the cold wind blowing through my bones:) LOL

So with the new weather and energy I have flowing through me, I hope to have more time and desire to write. I don't know about you all, but I always feel more frisky in the spring and summer and part of fall that the winter blahs.

I didn't used to get depressed at all in the winter months, but wow, this year almost got me. There were a few times I felt really down, and truly never feel down, no matter how stressed I get. I just shake it off and get over it and go work out and rejuvenate, but this year, it was rough.

Still, I hope to get back on the writing horse and go for a fast and furious ride because I have several books to edit and get out to my publisher who has been more than patient with me through my daughter's fight with cancer and bone marrow transplant, ugh, but now she is out of the hospital more than in, which is new, because for the last two years, it was the opposite: practically lived in the hospital, ugh!

Sorry, to boo hoo about that for a short rant. LOL. But I do feel truly blessed with my own health and energy level, and my students were wonderful this year at the high school and university where I teach, so I can't even complain about my job:)

I am taking classes at the same university where I teach, so even though I have a masters in history, I'm working on Pharmacy school classes with my daughter, not the one with cancer, the other one:) And I'm learning alot about what my daughter, the one with cancer, is going through regarding how her body is being attacked and how she is fighting it with her own immunity and the drugs the doctors give her.

This is a rough way to research, but ironically enough, I had started a rough draft of a book before my daughter got cancer about a man who spent his summer doing a 100K run, so many kilometers per day, as a fund raiser for cancer, based on a true story of a teacher in our district that did it, and his experience and the love he found while going through that process. An amazing journey and lots of stamina.

As a teacher, I tend to write more in summer and edit during school year, CAN ANYONE RELATE TO THAT?

Thanks for reading:) Tune in next time and anyone who wants to blog on my blog, send info via contact page:)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wrestling the Dreaded Synopsis

"If I’d wanted to tell the story in 1000 words, I wouldn’t have written the other 93,000.” This plaintive wail is the siren song of the novelist who’s been told s/he must present an agent or other literary gatekeeper with a synopsis of their deathless prose.

Perhaps it’s easier for The Planners—those crafty folk who when they had to do a term paper back in ENG 307 began by laying out all the index cards and filling them in nice and neat, then organizing those cards into neat stacks by topic and divine inspiration, and finally produced that holy of holies: The Outline. Then and only then did they warily proceed to write that paper six weeks ahead of the deadline.

I eschewed index cards in the same way I did 8:00am classes in the days of my ill-spent youth—they were something I knew existed but never really believed in. No, I hauled out my trusty thirty-pound Smith-Corona (yes, this was back in the days when men were men and a typewriter didn't fit in your pocket) and started in on that paper at midnight the night before the damned thing was due. It was my system and it worked just fine, thank you.

But a synopsis—that’s a horse of a different feather. To boil the entire cast of characters and their intertwining story-lines and associated hopes, fears and dreams into two to three pages without making the whole thing the ultimate snore-fest. This happened, then that happened, then something else happened, and then… sorry, did I wake you?

The problem is to tell the story briefly and succinctly while keeping intact the elements of humor, intrigue, romance and adventure that make it entertaining. To make the characters seem interesting and alive when they get such short shrift that a paper doll seems lively by comparison. Uh huh…

Novelists by their very nature create and expound and string words together in brilliant combinations that make mere mortals quake with barely concealed jealousy as they think “well, if I didn't have a real job and could spend all my time writing, I could have come up with something even better”. Speaking as a writer who does indeed have a real job and has to slot in his writing time at 4:00am or on lunch breaks, good luck with that, buddy.

But the point is that writing should be easy. After all, all the words are already there, right? Shakespeare made up most of them, and the guys who did the Bible got the rest. So it’s just a matter of stringing them all together in the right order and putting in a bit of punctuation here, and there. So why should putting together a synopsis be so bloody difficult?

Well, let’s break it down into words of one syllable, shall we, and see if that helps.

a)      Syn- from the root ‘sin’, an offense against God. Ok, that makes sense.

b)      Ops-  operations or procedures. Yeah, with you so far.

c)       Is- intransitive verb used to give description or judgment of something. Right..

So put them all together, simple as a,b,c. Although not necessarily in the same order (writers have passed their poetic license test and so are allowed to do this):

Syn-ops-is:  (n.) A procedure which is an offense against God.

Ah ha!

Well, this explains a lot. Unfortunately, I've rather strayed from the main point, which interestingly enough is also why I can’t seem to write the blasted synopsis. Tangential thinking (also known as stream-of-consciousness or up the creek without a pen) is great for creative writing, but not so good for the nitty-gritty of that synopsis. No, it needs a complete easy-to-follow story arc, from that opening inciting incident that sets the protagonist on course right through to the climax and resolution where he rides off into the sunset with nary a backward glance.

Ok, ok—so maybe, just maybe, I need to get out the index cards…

Keith W. Willis
Author of fantasy novel TRAITOR KNIGHT (debuts July 2015 from Champagne Books BURST imprint).
twitter: @kilbourneknight

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Plotter versus Pantser: Perhaps a new slant…

You need to know your novel’s ending before beginning. Strange advice at first perusal, I thought. Years earlier when I sat down to write my first full length novel I had no idea where it was going. I just knew I passionately wanted to write a book. A book I had promised myself all my life. Other than teaching high school English from time to time, I had no formal training in the art of the novel. Of course, since then I have read a slew of books on how to improve my craft. It’s a good thing you don’t realize how much you need to know before you begin a new career or you might be so overwhelmed you never start!

But I digress, what I have discovered is this: When you write a book without any plotting at all other rather than diving right in there is something that can happen to stop the process (other commitments to family and other novels that need editing) that can take you right out of the process. And after I had written five, I found I wasn’t finishing some of them when these commitments invariably raised their necessary heads. A writer’s nightmare. Unfinished books that started out as passionately as my first ones, but faltered when I had to leave them to starve for attention by the wayside while I attended to other things. I knew it wasn’t the fault of the story. With my first few novels I had the luxury of time to work all the wrinkles out along the way. But at some point that luxury melted away and I could not count on having the time to work it all out.

So on my very next novel, I decided to take some advice from a good book on writing and actually see the story from beginning to end. I made a timeline, made lots of notes, did my research, and for the first time spent two weeks getting prepared. And this is what happened: It worked! I am just now finishing that very novel though I have been called away from it numerous times. It worked because I always knew where I was when I picked it up again. I had my notes and a plan. Not a perfect plan. I found characters will always call the shots and add things you didn’t see coming as well they should. But enough of a plan to allow me to keep at it when I had the time to work on it. I know from now on this is what I’m going to do. My life does not look to ever unfold in that perfect cocoon that the first few novels allowed, so I will be prepared.

I’m wondering fellow writers, has this ever happened to you? Have you found that the process of writing a novel can unfold this differently? I would love to hear from you.

Hugs, January Bain

Forever Series

Champagne Books

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Embarrassing Moments At Work

On Monday I'm beginning a new job which is very different than anything I've done
in the past. I'm a little nervous and I started thinking about a few embarrassing moments I experienced as a waitress in high school.

As a waitress, I worked large banquets in an upscale hotel. Sometimes, the tables were so close together we had to squeeze between the guests in an attempt to serve them. At one wedding, the other servers and I had no option but to ignore the waitress golden rule and pass plates over people.
Struggling to reach a guest, I skimmed a hot plate across a bald man's head. Everyone laughed when he said, “Ouch, there's another reason I wish I had hair.”

At a military banquet, I had the honor of serving the head table which is positioned on a stage in front of the rest of the guests. Gracefully balanced above my shoulder, I carried the large oval tray to the
stand waiting on the marble floor in front of the stage. As customary, the higher ranking officers are served first. The rest of the military personnel waited quietly as I began to place the tray on the stand. The tray caught the edge of the stand and tipped slightly. As I struggled to free the tray, one by one, with a deafening noise, the dinners crashed to the floor. At least members of the armed forces
don't clap when you drop something.

Shortly after starting at a family diner I returned to the window with my ticket for the cook. When it was ready. “Max” called my number and yelled, “Order up!” I picked up the fried chicken dinners and “Max” asked me if I knew who I was serving. I didn't. He explained, one of the men at the table was the district manager of all the Wisconsin restaurants. Plates already in my hand I said, “No
way!” Spinning around to peek at him, the chicken sailed through the air and unto the floor. He was definitely watching me.

I've got a ton more embarrassing restaurant stories. Now that I think about it, maybe I wasn't such a good waitress. Help me feel better, anybody have any embarrassing or funny work stories.

I'm author Victoria Roder and I write something for everyone. If you like murder mystery check out Bolt Action. Ghost Stories? You'll love Haunting ofIngersull Penitentiary. Have children or grandchildren? My picture books are What If A Zebra Had Triangles and An Important Job to Do: A Noah's Are Tale. Kids reading chapter books? Sled Dog Tales and The Curse of King Ramesses II are fun. I also created a puzzle book for teens and adults and have a coloring book coming soon. Please check out my website Thanks, Victoria Roder