Tuesday, September 16, 2014

September Mini Book Review--Ev Bishop, L.A. Heller, S. Monk Kidd, T. Walsh

Here's a healthy dose for reading with the rain sets in. Enjoy!

BIGGER THINGS Ev Bishop--Women's Fiction

Bishop deftly deconstructs all the faulty self-images women fall prey to, especially the ones associated with body image. All three of her focal characters have a secret and are fully rounded, understandable, and growing. This is a lovely read.

 THE NEVER NEVER SISTERS L. Alison Heller--Women's Fiction
 No two people grow up in the same family--even if it's the same one. The Never Never Sisters is a good exploration of this idea. Good read.

 THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES Sue Monk Kidd--Literary Woman's Fiction

Kidd conjures up a magical coming of age story that takes a deep look at the feminine divine. The collection of images of bees and women is intense and powerful. This is a must read.

THE MOON SISTERS Therese Walsh--Women's Fiction
This is a complex story that follows Olivia and Jazz Moon through the stages of grief. Neither sister has the complete picture. The Moon Sisters is a deeply felt read that will stick with you.

Which of these good reads catches your eyes the most?
Happy Reading! Next week I'll introduce you to Lara Lancomb, a romantic suspense author. ;-)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

September Writing Tip Week: How To Start Your Novel


We all know that the first 250 words of our novels can make or break getting an agent, publisher--but most of all--readers. So, how do we make sure our beginnings are pulling readers in? Thanks to the weekly Industry News from Women's Fiction Writers Association, I found a great blogpost on Anne R. Allen's blog. In it her guest, Janice Hardy, analyzed four failings of opening pages.
  1. Having too much backstory and information
  2. Crafting a one-dimensional scene
  3. Using a fake opening
  4. Having a lazy protagonist
Our next step is to analyze the way we usually open. I have to admit I'm most prone to including too much backstory and information. Cutting out the fat and saving it for later is a challenge. Thankfully, I've been a member of writing groups who have helped me see all the necessary bits that needed to be cut. My buddies at the Books and Writers Forum have been the victims readers of many of my failed attempts. 

So, I invite you to weigh in. What do you think about the first 250 words of FRIENDLY FIRE?


A cloud of sweet baby powder tickled my nose as Jen’s daughter Kayleigh helped a toddler to the serving tables. I hugged my arms to keep from grabbing the child from the teen and burying my nose in his bright silky hair. So many little foster children and none of them would spend Mother’s Day with their moms tomorrow.

How many times had my best friend Rosemary told me I needed to get out and back into the swing of things? Her constant concern chafed like a new shirt.

The foster family respite party wasn’t what she had in mind. All these poor children. So, what had I been thinking to choose this party of all places? Yet, here I was, pushing cookies, home-baked of course, on grade-school kids at the church’s foster family party.

Though I wasn't a mother, I knew the look of children whose parents were MIA. The tall thin blond at the end of the table was a poster child for them all. Her shoulders hunched as the noise of little children at play ricocheted off the fellowship hall’s block walls. Of course she was a foster child, too. But, unlike the others, she wasn’t playing. She didn’t even have a plate of goodies. Her only movement came from her curls that were caught in the current from the air conditioning.

My Tom, God rest his soul, would have sat cross-legged on the floor playing games with the kiddies or giving piggy back rides like some of the men were. We’d poured out our love on other people’s children for over thirty years in our classrooms. Now all I could do for them was bake cookies for them.


Here's another nifty link for you. Check out The Secret of How to Make Your Book Un-PutDown-able.


Next Week: September Mini Book Reveiws!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Very Special Day

Since September has a fifth Tuesday, I thought I'd swap the topics and give you a very personal post today. Thirty-seven years ago on September 4, 1977, I married the perfect man. Yes, I know, perfection is in the eye of the beholder, but I promise you that John is the perfect man for me. He's loving, caring, sacrificing, loyal, and always supportive. I owe my entire writing life to him and his support. 

So, I thought I'd share a few pictures from our happy day. We met at what was then West Georgia College, now know as the University of West Georgia in a political science class titled Foreign Relations. Since we're from two different towns in this area, we were blessed to share this class. By the way, the first day of class was on my twentieth birthday. Now that's a gift that keeps on giving. ;-)

May you all find the happiness we've shared. 

I love you!
The entire wedding party on the steps of Kennedy Chapel
Oh, how young we were! And we'd do it all over again.

Yes, it's the perfect setting for a small wedding

Next Week: A Writing Tip ;-)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Author Interview--Barbara Rogan: Writer, Agent, Editor, Teacher

I’ve read Barbara’s SAVING GRACE, CAFÉ NEVO, ROWING IN EDEN, and A DANGEROUS FICTION. I love all of them. Each is unique, compelling, and populated by wonderful characters. This across-the-board excellence is the mark of a great writer. Barbara Rogan is just that and a fabulous writing teacher, too. Besides regularly facilitating writing exercises at the Books and Writers Forum, she also teaches for Writers Digest’s online school and her own Next Level Workshops. For a full appreciation of her love of helping writers, you have to visit her blog—In Cold Ink—too.

I met Barbara Rogan at the CompuServe Books and Writers Forum when I became a member in late 2008. Her ability to teach, mentor, and write showed through immediately. She has worked in all areas of publishing as an editor, agent, and writer.  On August 13, 2013, I interviewed Barbara when A DANGEROUS FICTION was published and I thought it was time to catch up with her.
ZM: You’ve worked in all aspects of publishing. What’s been your favorite part of the publishing business?

Barbara: That would undoubtedly be the people I got to work with when I was a literary agent. I was an agent during what in retrospect seems like the heyday of publishing, and I had the pleasure of working with some of the great publishers, like Roger Straus Jr. of FSG, Barney Rossett of Grove, and Bob Gottlieb of Knopf. I was 23 years old when I founded my agency, and to them, I must have looked like a kid who ought to be working in the mail room. But they treated me with the utmost respect and collegiality, considered my submissions seriously, and talked up the books on their current lists. I got to know some amazing writers as well: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nadine Gordimer, and Madeleine L’Engle in particular stand out.

ZM: You’re blog covers all sorts of craft and marketing tips. I particularly like your interviews with industry insiders. What’s been the best part of blogging for you?

Barbara: As a writer who has worked in the publishing industry, I’ve seen that world from both sides. There are so many misconceptions and myths circulating among writers that I felt compelled to try and put a different perspective out there, demystify the industry a bit. So that is satisfying, and so are the many friendships I’ve struck up through the blog.

ZM: New writers often make rookie mistakes. What are some you’ve noticed over the years? If you had to pick one bit of advice for rookies, what would it be?

Barbara: Almost everyone goes through a period of confusion about point of view early on, but that is a natural stage in learning to write fiction. Generally my advice would be for writers to keep working on their craft. Learning to write effectively is a lifelong endeavor that doesn’t stop once you’re published. The best way to break into print is to write a book that, regardless of current trends and issues in the publishing industry, is simply irresistible.

To get there, most writers have to endure rejections along the way, so that is my second piece of advice. Writers need to toughen up, because rejection, though painful, is part of the process and may even be beneficial, in a cod-liver oil sort of way.

ZM: I still say your characters are the best things about your books. Do you have specific exercises for discovering them, or do they just show up when you start a novel?

Barbara: They evolve during the process of writing. I do a lot of preparatory work before I start a novel, and that involves thinking about who the characters need to be for the story I’m trying to tell. But no matter how much I plan and think, the characters don’t come alive until I begin writing them into scenes. Eventually, after multiple scenes, they take on enough heft of their own that they can surprise you.

ZM: Tell us how the sequel to A DANGEROUS FICTION is coming.  (By the way, I can’t wait to read it. ;-)

Barbara: Thank you! It’s coming along splendidly. A lot of the characters from A DANGEROUS FICTION come back in the second book, including Jo’s German shepherd buddy, Mingus. And Jo is revealing secrets I never knew she had. In addition to contending with another murder, Jo is forced in the new book to delve deeper into her own past.


Barbara Rogan is the author of eight novels and coauthor of two nonfiction books. Her fiction has been translated into six languages. She has taught fiction writing at Hofstra University and currently teaches for Writers Digest University and in her own online school, Next Level Workshops.  She lives on Long Island.

Next Week: A very special day!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

August Mini Book Review Week--Emily Giffin, Barbara O'Neal, Lind Yezak

I have only three new books for you this month, but because I'm slowly rereading Diana Gabaldon's WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD and devouring the details I missed in my first headlong read. That's a testimony to a great book, don't you think? ;-)

WHERE WE BELONG Emily Giffin--Women's Fiction

Giffin has written a poignant tale of the unintended consequences that a couple of teens set in motion with their explorations of each other. Every choice Marian makes to deal with her pregnancy at 18 reverberates down through the years until her daughter hunts her out. There's love, pain, and healing in this story. And a measure of peace and hope.

THE ALL YOU CAN DREAM BUFFET Barbara O'Neal--Women's Fiction

What happens when four women food bloggers all reach a turning point in their lives at that same time? They reach out to each other and take the journey together. O'Neal weaves these different characters' stories into a rich tapestry of love and growth.

THE CAT LADY'S SECRET Linda Yezak--Humorous Christian Romance

What happens when a woman with a secret, an eccentric cat lover, a veterinarian, and a small town mix? A delightful tale of love and laughter. Yezak's tale is a fun read, perfect for the beach. 


Have a great time reading and be sure to share a few suggestions for me to check out. 
Next week, you're in for an interview of a wonderful writer--Barbara Rogan. Don't miss it! 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

August Tips Week: Structuring A Story

All stories must have structure. At least that's what all the craft books say. ;-)

And this is a time when what everyone says is true. Think about trying to figure out a "story" that just meanders from one event to another without any purpose in the telling. It's annoying. So, in the interest of story structure, I thought I'd share three new sources of info I've found in the last few weeks.

Story Spine

Check out the full post HERE. This one excited me so much that I turned right around and did a spine for FRIENDLY FIRE. And it worked!!!! ;-)

Five Key Turning Points

This article shows the way story is structured around doors of no return in 6 stages. Check out Michael Hauge's post HERE. He shows how turning points work in Erin Brokovich and Gladiator. This is very detailed, useful information.

Dan Harmon's Story Structure

Charlotte Rains Dixon has a great post on Story Structure, too. In it she introduces Dan Harmon's structure that I think is a great way to explain many Women's Fiction stories.

Picture this as a circle with point #1 at the top and then each point follows clockwise.

1. A character is in a zone of comfort
2. But they want something.
3. So they enter into an unfamiliar situation
4. And adapt to it.
5. They get what they wanted!
6. But pay a heavy price.
7. They return to their familiar situation
8. Changed forever.


I can foresee a lot of my time working on finishing the draft of FRIENDLY FIRE involving these ideas. I hope it's helpful for your writing, too.

Next week: Mini Book Reviews!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Poem and an Update on FRIENDLY FIRE

I'm enjoying sharing my poetry on the snips and poetry weeks here In the Shade. Since my focus is on fiction at the moment, poetry is an occasional occupation for me. The poem has to jump out of my brain and demand to be written to get my attention. Here's one that will probably find itself in the fourth Cherry Hill book...if I ever get to it. ;-) It came to me in bits and pieces in a dream. I could hear it said by a particular character from my Cherry Hill stories. Talk about being eery!


A China Cup

A china cup—chipped,
A garden trowel—bent,
A measuring spoon—dented.
All too small, too fragile
To hold a life well lived.

Her portrait on the wall,
Her books waiting to be read,
Her appointments abandoned.
All too empty, too cold,
Because she is gone.

And so is he.
His shared life—
Beyond repair.


I'm starting a new push to get this story finished. There's 349 double-spaced pages in my compiled print out.  If I edit, rewrite, plug holes at a rate of 2.3 pages a day, I'll finish by December 31. Wish me luck! ;-) I've already dealt with 78 pages.

Next Week: Tips Week--Story Structure

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Character Traits: Why Does Laura Grace Bake?

The characters who stick in our minds the most are the ones who have identifiable actions and traits that are unique to them in the story. Some characters run their hands through their hair when upset or worried. Others fiddle with their glasses. Finding the right trait for a character is as important as their name and more important than hair and eye color.

A writer has to ask themselves: what makes my main character stand out? I got lucky with FRIENDLY FIRE'S main character--Laura Grace Chandler. She showed up in the very first scene I saw her in with her identifiable trait--her delectable baking.


“Isn’t it great, Laura Grace?” A grin crinkled my friend Jen’s eyes as she looked around the room, then she turned to me. “I didn’t expect so many foster kids, but we have enough goodies for an army. And it wouldn’t be a party without your teacakes.” 

I piled my cookies closer to the edge of the tray so the little ones could more easily reach them better. “Glad they’re a hit. You had a good idea to give the foster parents with a bit of respite.”


I've been asked many times what exactly what type of baked good tea cakes are. ;-) So, I thought you'd enjoy the recipe for Laura Grace's Tea Cakes. Thanks to my sister, Thea, I have a copy of the oldie, but goodie tea cakes we enjoyed as children.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3-4 cups self-rising flour

Mix all ingredients except for the flour. Gradually add flour until the dough is stiff enough to roll out. Roll out and cut. Be sure to roll it out between 1/8 to 1/4 inches thick.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Don't cook until the cookies are brown. They will be too crisp and burnt on the bottom.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies depending on what shape cutter you have. Ice if you wish. Our family loved butter cream frosting.


Laura Grace has somewhere between 50 and 75 different fun cutters. Butterflies, birds, fish, leaves, Christmas trees and bells...you name it and she has it. 

Have fun baking and save me a cookie. ;-)


Thanks, Charlotte Rains Dixon, for this new mantra: Process is everything. Product happens. ;-)

Next Week: Snips and Poetry Week!


Barbara Rogan's A DANGEROUS FICTION is on sale today in paperback! Check it out HERE.