Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August Author Interview: Laura McNeill

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When fellow WFWA member Densie Webb mentioned Laura McNeill’s newest book, Center of Gravity, I had to get it. Check out the Amazon descriptioin, and you’ll understand why it was a must read for me. Also, check out Laura’s website www.lauramcneill.com


 Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is wonderful.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It’s temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town, Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game?

Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem.


ZM: The structure of Center of Gravity is intriguing! How did the rotating POV develop?

Laura: Thank you so much! When I first began writing the novel, I decided it would be compelling to have the story told from several different perspectives – I love the way Jodi Picoult does this in many of her books – and decided to give it a whirl with Center of Gravity. I think that, Jack, the 8-year-old protagonist, adds an element of truth and authenticity to the storyline. He is a pure and innocent observer, and tells things exactly as he sees them. As for Ava, the female protagonist, and Graham, her attorney, they both have different ways of telling the story, and each perspective – I hope – adds richness and depth to the novel.

ZM: Your books are classed as Women’s Fiction or Women’s Fiction with elements of Romance. What’s your opinion of Women’s Fiction as a genre?

Laura: I think that booksellers and bookstores have to put a genre label on books, but for me, if a story is well written, it doesn’t matter if what genre it’s been placed in. Women’s fiction is such a broad term—and there are so many sub-genres under that classification. Center of Gravity definitely falls under women’s fiction, and there are elements of romance and suspense.

It’s my hope that the Center of Gravity cover, the story summary, and recommendations from Amazon and Goodreads reviewers will intrigue readers enough to give the book a try—no matter what genre!

ZM: What comes first for you—character, theme, setting, or plot? How do your stories come together?

Laura: When planning out a novel, I generally have a story spark—an idea or question that intrigues me. It may be an idea from reading news headlines; it could be from personal experience, or something that a friend shares with me. If that idea stays with me, and I start thinking about possible characters, storylines, twists, etc., then I know that it’s something that I should pursue.

With Center of Gravity, the question that came to mind was “What if everything that you think is real and true in your life is a lie?” I spent a great deal of time plotting out the storyline, revising, and trying to get the character voices just right. I talked to friends about their break-ups; I interviewed marriage counselors and therapists, and did lots of research on personality disorders—so fascinating (and a little scary!).

Before Center of Gravity was published, I wrote four previous women’s fiction novels—all set in the South—under the pen name Lauren Clark, so setting Center of Gravity in Mobile, Alabama seemed a natural fit.

ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Laura: Reading a lot is a must for authors! I think reading—and reading in all different genres—recharges your creativity, triggers new ideas, and allows you to explore new settings, characters, and storylines.

I am such an eclectic reader, but among my favorite authors are Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult, Anita Hughes, Sue Monk Kidd, and Joshilyn Jackson. As for a favorite genre, women’s fiction is my go-to, but I also love YA (Divergent, Hunger Games) suspense/thriller (Stieg Larsson, James Patterson) and romantic comedy (Sophie Kinsella).

Generally, recommendations from friends, book club picks, talking to employees at our local indie bookstore, and a compelling or interesting cover/summary draw me to books for enjoyment. I love checking out what’s new on Goodreads, Amazon, and Audible. I travel quite a bit, so I stock up on all sorts of audiobooks for my time on the road.

ZM: I can’t wait for your next book! Tell us a bit about Sister Dear.

Laura: My second HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson book will be released in April of 2016. Sister Dear is the story of a woman, Allie Marshall, who goes to prison for a crime she doesn’t commit, leaving behind a 5-year old daughter.

When Allie is paroled 10 years later, she hopes to reclaim her quiet life and move on, but her daughter, now a teenager, soon challenges her innocence. In her quest to find justice, Allie discovers that the one person she trusts most committed the ultimate betrayal a decade earlier. Think White Oleander meets Orange is the New Black.


 Laura adores hot coffee, good manners, the color pink, and novels that keep her reading past midnight. She believes in the beauty of words, paying it forward, and that nerds rule the world. Laura is a fan of balmy summer nights, fireflies, and pristine mountain lakes. She lives in Alabama with her two sons.
You can find Laura Tweeting @Lauramcneillbks and blogging at lauramcneill.com. Laura’s suspense novel, Center of Gravity is available wherever books are sold. 

Next Week: IWSG: Who's Supporting You? 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

August: 4 Mini Book Reviews: L. N. Diamond, T. A. Forkner, J. Keim, L. McNeill

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I just know some of you are still at the beach and need a few books to read. ;-)

SHELTER US Laura Nicole Diamond: Women's Ficiton

This story is an emotional roller coaster that follows a mother's journey into the black heart of grief for her baby girl. You keep turning the pages into the night, but the dawn is more than worth the ride.

 WAKING UP JOY Tina Ann Forkner: Women's Fiction

Full of magic and mystery, pain and fear--and best of all--redemption.


When life served up a nasty divorce and joblessness, Anne Rutherford discovered a new life in Florida, a new business, and love.

CENTER OF GRAVITY Laura McNeill: Women's Fiction

Excellent! Must Read! This page-turner grips you from page one with stellar writing and a powerful First Person POV. It tells the story of Ava, Jack, and Mitchell. Ava must grow into the super hero her sons need.

Next Week: The August Author Interview is Laura McNeill! Come on back to The Shade for a treat.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Polishing Stone, Sanding Wood

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One of the endless tasks of writing is editing. I actually think that when we start writing, we have no clue just how many times we'll read the same sentences. We get tired of the process long before we finish. One of my very sweet, attentive beta readers was talking to me about the process she's seen my story go through. She's read the entire manuscript twice in the last couple of months. As she made her way through it the second time, she noticed the smoothing and shaping I had done since the first time.


She mentioned to me that it was almost like I was polishing a surface. Since she's my sister, Thea, she has observed and participated in the same process I have while our family of talented carpenters has shaped and sanded many a linear feet of wood. You start with coarse grit sandpaper and proceed to finer and finer grit as the wood smooths out. A finely sanded piece of wood feels like satin. 


The same process applies to polishing stones--and stories. We start with a rough pass that looks at story and character arcs. Later, we spend our editing on connecting the pieces smoothly. Then, we proceed to the finest of word choice, sentence patterns, and the final polish on our stories. It takes patience, persistence, and an open heart to change for the better. 

Zan Marie Steadham

My main WIP is nearing its final polishing. It's ready for a class on revision that I'm starting this Friday, August 14, with Barbara Rogan, a wonderful writer, former agent, and editor. Be sure to check out her Next Level Workshops if you feel you need a bit of expert, outside help. 

Zan Marie Steadham
So how do you polish your writing? Do you have any suggestions to share? 

Next Week: Mini Book Reviews! 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

IWSG: Attitude-Getting Your Head in the Game

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Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

My awesome co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG will be Nancy Gideon, Bob R Milne, Doreen McGettigan, Chrys Fey, Bish Denham, and Pat Garcia!


 I have to admit that I'd rather be "zleeping" too. But, my manuscript needs attention. After a few doses of caffeine each morning, I gear up, strap on my pads, and do battle with words. It's not always easy. That's why, as I near completion of my main WIP, I had to find a mantra for the journey.
  • Keep my feet on the ground,
  • Keep my head in the game,
  • Keep my heart open to instruction,
  • Respond with a learning spirit,
  • For all of us can improve.
Attitude is all it takes to chance a hard day into a day when the writing gets better.

Do you have any suggestions? How do you "get your head into the game"? 

Next Week: Polishing, Sanding, and Editing. ;-) 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

4 July Mini Book Reviews : Re-read Edition--L. Bujold, J. Clavell, D. Gabaldon

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PALADIN OF SOULS Lois McMaster Bujold: Fantasy with a healthy dose of Women's Fiction

Must Read for the 3-D characters who portray what heroic really means and a universe that is as multidimensional as the people in it. This is a fantasy and the sequel to The Curse of Chalion. Read Curse first.

TAI-PAN James Clavell: Historical Fiction

I periodically reread Clavell's Asian Saga for the amazing stories and vivid characters. TAI-PAN is the second in the series and is set during the founding of Hong Kong. With a tightly plotted story and an unforgettable main character--Dirk Straun--Clavell proves he is a mastery storyteller. Good read

WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD Diana Gabaldon: Historical Fiction

Diana Gabaldon has again crafted an amazing story, a masterpiece that ties up the threads from its predecessor, AN ECHO IN THE BONE, with a roller coaster of a ride. She writes every single one of her POV characters' hearts, minds, and souls with humanity. WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD is my second favorite of all the Gabaldon books. But be forewarned: There's more coming in this story. As always Diana Gabaldon's book is an absolutely Must Read!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

4 Mini Book Reviews for July (part 1)--R. Alford, S. Baker, M. Dilloway, B. White

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 I'm still on a mission to fulfill your beach read needs. ;-)

MOTHER OF MY SON Rachel Alford: Christian Women's Ficiton

Here's a lovely story of the mother of an unwanted child and a "childless" mother who connect through a young man. Forgiveness and redemption are the themes. Both are grounded in the characters' journey.

LEDBETTER STREET Susan Baker: Women's Fiction

Ledbetter Street's colorful cast of characters come from all walks of life and share genuine concern for each other as they deal with a wide range of social issues. 

SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW Margaret Dilloway: Women's Fiction

A lovingly told story of five women in both ancient Japan and modern America. Must Read!

THE PERFECT SON Barbara Claypole White: Women's Fiction

 What's the worst thing that can happen when you must have everything in control? That's exactly the question in Barbara Claypole White's latest--The Perfect Son. Her insightful and delicate touch with characters suffering from mental illness is a hallmark of her novels.  The Perfect Son solidifies my opinion of her expert story telling.

Next Week: Another Mini Book Reviews--Re-read edition!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

RIP, Sweet Cherry Tree

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Long before there was a Cherry Hill, GA, there were three Yoshino Cherry Trees in my side yard. And there was In the Shade of the Cherry Tree's original post

On June 30, John and I took down the old Cherry Tree, the last one of the original three, but in recent years, it has had fewer flowers and even fewer leaves. Add the increasingly dead limbs, and you have a sick, dying tree.

Rest easy, there is a newer tree already in place with plans for another one next spring--possibly a different variety of cherry tree to extend the blooming time. To put this in perspective, you have to realize that it's from this tree and its siblings, that all things Cherry Hill have sprung. 

Setting is one of the necessary building blocks of fiction. It helps readers ground their feet in our stories and allows them to "be" in it.  When I started Mother's Day in March 2008, I only knew that Laura Grace Chandler was meeting a child who would change her life forever. From that small beginning, I have developed the following works-in-progress:
  • Mother's Day
  • Friendly Fire
  • Consuming Fire/Justice and Mercy
  • Line of Fire
  • Camp Fire
  • Unexpected Child
  • The Founding of Cherry Hill
  • Elise Dooley's Story
And predating them all is one WIP that's not set in Cherry Hill. In fact, it's not even set on Earth. ;-)--The Dawn and the Lion.

So, in memory of the cherry trees that started all things Cherry Hill, I give you some pictures and some snips. Enjoy!

     The square was lined with cherry trees in full leaf casting cool shade over the brick sidewalks. I rather missed April’s pink clouds of cherry blossoms drifting over the carpet of rose, white, and pink azaleas at their feet. Though on a hot day in May, shade might be more refreshing. Either way, Cherry Hill always dressed for the season. (from Mother's Day)

     The two construction cranes that looked like they were mating over the Court House expansion, gave me pause. I knew it was my perspective. They weren’t actually touching. I’d checked. But it would explain the explosion of new buildings all over town. (from Mother's Day)

    I looked over the small lake. On the dam, crape myrtles in riotous bloom alternated with the cherry trees in full leaf. I took a deep breath. Another group’s grill behind our table rewarded me with a whiff of smoke. (from Mother's Day)

     The cool, green leaves of the cherry tree moved slightly when I stepped onto the porch. The low, repetitive call of a mourning dove hunting its mate sounded from the shadowy depths of the limbs. But no answer came. The moments stretched as I stood on the porch in the simmering air. The bird’s plaintive call sounded again. When there was no answer, it lifted on white-tipped wings. (from Mother's Day)

     I uncapped the pen again then looked out of the window at my garden. It was spectacular this year. Even though the heat would bake everyone’s annuals, my carefully selected perennials were bright and colorful, a welcoming space of solace and refuge, especially since Tom’s death. I wanted to provide Samantha with all the care she needed to grow strong. To provide her with shelter like the full-leaved cherry tree that shaded my study from the summer glare. (from Mother's Day)

Next week: Another Mini Book Review!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Author Interview: Barbara Claypole White

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Be sure to comment and include your email address for a chance to win a copy of The Perfect Son. I'll draw a lucky winner by random. :-) Here's your chance to get in on a great author!
[The giveaway is closed. Congratulations, Nicole!]

I first met Barbara Claypole White when the WFWA email loop formed before the association took official flight in September 2013. Be sure to check out Barbara’s website www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com  Her first book—The Unfinished Garden—was an amazing, deep look at OCD. The examination of an emotional illness made me sit up and cheer! Barbara is an author who can take complex issues and distill them into captivating stories. I’ve been a fan ever since.

The Unfinished Garden is a lovely story with two damaged characters finding the road a bit bumpy, but worth the trip. This is a good read that takes readers on a tour of living with OCD, and the problems it presents for those who love the sufferer. White's ability to share the journey of her characters allows readers to have empathy.

The In-Between Hour is an absolutely fabulous story! I'm never forget Will, Hannah, Jacob, and Galen. They're not characters; they're living, breathing people. Grief and are true to life and White’s story is deeply moving.

What's the worst thing that can happen when you must have everything in control? That's exactly the question in Barbara Claypole White's latest--The Perfect Son. Her insightful and delicate touch with characters suffering from mental illness is a hallmark of her novels.  The Perfect Son solidifies my opinion of her expert story telling.

ZM: Welcome to In the Shade of the Cherry Tree, Barbara! I love your books and the truth of families that live with OCD, dementia, grief, and Tourette’s. What’s been your inspiration for “Hopeful Family Drama with a Healthy Dose of Mental Illness”?

Barbara: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here, WFWA sister! Everything I write comes back to being the mother of a brilliant young man who has battled obsessive-compulsive disorder for the last sixteen years. We’ve visited hell together numerous times, and even when the OCD monster retreats into the shadows, I’m waiting for it to pounce. The sad reality is that mental illness is treatable not curable, demands constant management, and can often be fatal. As a mom I need to believe tomorrow can be better. And you know what? Often it is.

ZM: The Perfect Son is trending on Amazon—I saw you listed with the likes of Stephen King and Diana Gabaldon. Tell us what the road to publication for your latest book has been.

Barbara: I still can’t believe what’s happened with THE PERFECT SON. From day one this was my wild child, and it was written to the ticking clock of deadline. I had horrible problems with research and plot, lost more titles than anyone should have to lose, and right after I turned in the completed manuscript…my publisher cancelled my contract. But Cinderella does go to the ball if she has a kick-ass agent, and within two weeks I had another offer. When my new editor mentioned putting the book forward for the Kindle First Program, I didn’t want to even hope…

ZM: How do you work to flesh out your characters? Do they come to you fully formed, or do you have to mold them? I also noticed that many of them garden. Is that a nod to your own gardening experience?

I have a sense of the characters when I start, but nothing more. I research, research, research and then I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I spend months trying to get those first few chapters to speak to me. When a character says something that makes me punch the air and go, “yes!” I know I’ve found his or her voice. Once I have my characters’ voices, I can move forward with the story.

Yes, a number of my characters garden. I’m a huge woodland gardener, and that definitely plays a role. But I think it’s more about trying to understand the creative side of my characters’ personalities. Most of them battle some form of invisible disability and how they relate to art and music is fascinating to me. Is it therapeutic for them, does it give them escape? I devote a ridiculous amount of time to thinking through each character’s relationship to music, for example, because music is such a great manipulator of emotions.

ZM: You and I both write Women’s Fiction. It’s a very broad genre with many sub-categories. I love your use of family drama to help define your niche. What’s your definition of women’s fiction and how you deal with the misunderstanding that the entire genre is Chick Lit or another sub-genre?

Barbara: I wasted so much energy in the early days trying to explain—even to family members—that I didn’t write romance, and now I just tune it all out. I’m dark and I’m quirky, and I write emotionally layered drama that focuses on what it means to be part of a family, whether that role is as a husband or wife, a daughter or a son. Because I lean toward the male POV—I really am fascinated by the emotional lives of messed-up men!—some readers claim I don’t write women’s fiction. The truth is that many novels don’t fit neat genre definitions. For example, look at the work of Jodi Picoult or Diana Gabaldon. I think writers should write their passion and not worry about labels. That’s not exactly an answer, is it? 

ZM—Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Barbara: I don’t think I have a favorite genre, because I read all over the place. Basically if someone hands me a book and says, “This is really good, you should read it,” I do. I read a lot of memoirs, often for research, but sometimes I’m in the mood for a fast-paced thriller and sometimes I want to slow the world down with beautifully written literary fiction. I reread classics when I can (REBECCA is on my list for the summer), and I like to pick up debut fiction. If I had to single out favorite authors, I would choose Jodi Picoult, Marian Keyes, and the Irish writer Denyse Devlin/Woods. I’ve pretty much read everything those three authors have written.

ZM: What’s next? What story are you working on now?

Barbara: Hmm. I can’t answer that right now but stay tuned.

ZM: I, for one, can't wait! Thank you, Barbara for stopping In the Shade with us. Bring your next story on!

English born and educated, Barbara Claypole White lives in the North Carolina forest with her family. Inspired by her poet/musician son’s courageous battles against obsessive-compulsive disorder, Barbara writes hopeful stories about troubled families with a healthy dose of mental illness. Her debut novel, The Unfinished Garden, won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book, and The In-Between Hour was chosen by SIBA (the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick. For more information, or to connect with Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com.

 Next Week: The origins of Cherry Hill in pictures and snips!