Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Author Interview: Elle Druskin

I met Elle Druskin at my favorite online writing hangout—the Books and Writers Forum. She’s a great friend and a wonderful writer. Check out her website for “a little mystery, a touch of humor, and dash of romance.”

Elle writes humorous romance and I promise you’ve never met a more intriguing and fun cast of characters then those who populate her Liberty Heights (NJ) series.

Here’s the blurb from the latest Liberty Heights installment that published June 20--Wait Watchers.

Straight laced literary agent Portia Hart is hiding out in Liberty Heights from a crazed writer. She’s sprained her ankle, minus her eyeglasses and can’t see a thing. Newly widowed Truman Wilder is home after a mystery surrounding his wife’s death. The last thing he needs is Portia but this is Liberty Heights where lunacy and romance abound. Portia’s stuck at LouAnn Freedbush’s bed and breakfast. Sister BettyAnn is hysterical due to her eviction from Registered Witches of America. Uncle Rupert Freedbush is big game hunting in the backyard. Why? Because Uncle Rupert insists he’s Ernest Hemingway.

The Valentine clan snatched the property Truman needs for his optometry business. They want to be florists. The Valentines are experts thanks to attending loads of funerals only nobody knows where the bodies are buried. This is New Jersey, after all.
Portia isn’t sure how it happened but Elmo, an Alaskan Malamute, has been left in her custody. Elmo’s diet consists of her shoes. What does Wayne, the psychic beagle say about this? How did everyone end up at 1920s Parisian Lost Generation party?  Will Elmo eat the town out of footwear?
Men definitely make passes at gals who wear glasses or are nearly blind without them. Romance rules in Wait Watchers!

You can imagine the fun I had with this. Anything that involves a Freedbush is bound to be entertaining. Of all the eccentrics in Liberty Heights, any Freedbush inevitably wins the grand prize.


ZM—How did you discover that humorous romance was the genre for you?

Elle—First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to visit here. I really appreciate it.
Okay, here it goes. My first book To Catch A Cop, was my practice book. More or less, to figure out how to write a book. I wasn’t concerned with genre, but more interested if I had a viable story.  Just trying to see if I had anything remotely resembling a novel. No further ambition and I certainly wasn’t thinking about publication.

Fast forward to publication. I found it interesting that the book was reviewed as a romance and mystery. I never saw the mystery myself and I still don’t but that probably doesn’t matter. Let readers decide. They’re smart people and will figure it out. As I wrote, I found humorous material creeping in. Didn’t plan it. It just happened. Humor is subjective and I wasn’t sure if the things I thought were funny would be to other people. Since I wasn’t setting out to write humor, I didn’t think it mattered all that much.

Over the years, I think I have improved in terms of craft but also I’ve allowed my voice to truly express itself rather than suppress my natural instincts. That voice apparently translated into romantic humor. First of all, I like romance books. I like courtship stories which is essentially the romance formula although there can be lots of sub-genres such as romantic suspense, historical romance and so forth. I like the idea of people discovering each other and themselves in the process. Fine. That’s the romance side.

I come from a family with some excellent raconteurs (and a few who think they are and definitely are not <g>. Don’t tell them, they will be crushed). Undoubtedly that helps because I think of myself as a storyteller. Quite a few of those family members were not only great storytellers, but incredibly funny. Terrific timing. Snappy. Witty. The kind of people who can read the phone book and you roar with laughter.

I think I absorbed some of that by osmosis and it became part of my life view. Laugh as much as you can because it beats crying. I laugh harder at myself than anyone else and I laugh a lot.  I also come from a long line of eccentrics and that fits nicely with humor too. So yeah, I think being true to myself, creating a world within a book that has humor and quirky characters seems to be where my natural voice works best.

That doesn’t mean everything I write is funny, nor would I want it to be. There has to be something serious to balance it out, to make the humor appropriate and a relief from tension.  I do tend to have a “straight” man (or woman) as a character. The other characters provide the humor, the zany behavior, the quirks that whirl around that “straight” character. You can think of it like any comedy duo—there’s the partner who feeds the lines and the funny one.  I also don’t think you can force humor, it has to happen naturally.

ZM—Your books are delightful. Tell us about your journey from draft to publication. How do you like working with Muse It Up Publishing?

Elle—Draft to publication? Hmm. Most of the time I start with a germ of an idea. I don’t sit down and plot, write character sheets or anything like that. I allow the story to unfold in my head. This generally starts with a scene and almost always, as I am in the process of writing that scene, another one will start to form. Eventually, I have a story, a story that might need filling in to link those scenes, but a story. I do know what I am writing toward although not necessarily all the twists and turns to get there.

MuseItUpPublishing was a brand new company when I started with them. The founder and owner, Lea Schizas, was someone I had had contact with previously. She was timely, supportive and always kept her word. I thought a small publisher would be best for me and submitted Animal Crackers to Muse not realizing it would evolve into a series. I have found the “Musers” to be a terrific group of people. The company has grown tremendously with over 200 writers in a number of genres but the flip side is that it still is not too big to get personal responses from Lea and often,  very quickly. That says something about her work ethic. I also appreciate that she gets my voice and my editors are devoted to Liberty Heights. They urge me to keep writing the series because there always seems to be a loose thread of a story somewhere and they want to know what happens next in town. That’s pretty good and I’m happy with that.

I do have several beta readers although increasingly, I feel less need for them but nevertheless, they too are devoted to all things Liberty Heights. Once I am sure I have completed a manuscript, I send it to them for feedback. Without fail, they find scenes that require tightening and point out typos. They ask questions that force me to look critically at my own work. Inevitably, that leads to a much better, tighter manuscript before I submit.

ZM—I’ve read TO CATCH A COP and OUTBACK HERO, but I think you’ve found your stride in the Liberty Heights series. What’s in the water in Liberty Heights? Everywhere you turn there’s a new zany character or romance springing into bloom. What inspired your wonderful New Jersey town?

Elle—Good question. I was originally writing Animal Crackers as a stand-alone book. Basically, I liked the idea of a laid back veterinarian (I’ve met a lot of vets through my pets and they are always really nice people) and a stressed out workaholic. Opposites attract—a fairly common theme. Nothing unusual about that. I knew immediately his name was Jake Marx and Animal Crackers had to fit in somehow with that allusion to all the zany antics of the Marx Brothers.

Around the same time, I was discovered, or more correctly, found by my high school classmates. From New Jersey. I’ve spent my adult life outside the US. Couldn’t wait to travel, have adventures and experiences and I did. I still don’t know how they found me in Australia at the time but I am so glad they did. I never dreamed anyone thought about me or missed me but it seems they did and I was overwhelmed by the volume of emails begging me to come to the next reunion since I had never been to one. I gave my word that okay, wherever I was in the world I would come. Rash promise.

A few years later, that promise came back to nag my conscience. At the time I was living in Israel but I kept my word and flew over to Jersey with some trepidation which was totally misplaced. I had the time of my life, the most wonderful weekend of reunion activities. It was as if there had been no huge gap of missing years. It’s not a great leap to figure out that setting the book in New Jersey, in the fictional town of Liberty Heights had something to do with all those memories and reconnections that were happening.

Why Liberty Heights as a name? New Jersey has a fair amount of colonial history and I thought that name fit in those terms but also I  had the idea in the back of my head that relationships might entail giving up some things—previous ideas, beliefs, even one’s life view but that can also be liberating and provide a new sort of freedom. Liberty, right? Of course, it takes effort and self-examination, a bit of a climb. Heights. Yeah, corny but I still liked it.

As I was writing Animal Crackers, Jake Marx, that cutie veterinarian, kept talking to his cousin Ellie. The problem was Ellie Marx wasn’t in the book. No matter what I did, she kept getting in the way. I could see and hear her very clearly. I understood there was another story, another book that would arise from Animal Crackers and it truly pleased me because I didn’t want to leave Liberty Heights.
As the series evolved, several fortuitous things happened. In writing a series, even just the first two books, (I still didn’t know if it would go beyond two books at that point), I had created quite a few peripheral characters in Liberty Heights. I liken these characters to packages left by Arctic explorers in the event of an emergency. You can pick them up and use them later. Those characters were my packages and each one had a story to tell. The most interesting thing to me was my acceptance that Liberty Heights itself is a character too and I love that. I love the town, everyone in it, especially the more eccentric people and there are quite a few. I love that these books are not exactly traditional romance novels in the sense that characters grow and develop and reappear in the series so we find out how their lives are progressing.

I especially like the age range of characters. Because it is a series, I’ve had the chance to develop senior citizens as characters (and Liberty Heights seniors are pretty feisty, Must be something in the water. Or the air. Or it’s a Jersey thing <g>). I’ve also enjoyed having kids as characters and slowly watching them grow up. Quite a few readers have written to me telling me how much they enjoy the Liberty Heights kids and I’m so glad they do.

Is Liberty Heights a real place? Yes and no. Mostly no, although it’s real to me. It’s situated in Bergen County and all the towns mentioned in the book are real. Ft. Lee, Teaneck, Oradell. Real places. Check on any map.

My mom grew up in Englewood. I was raised in a town not far away so I know the territory even if I haven’t lived in Jersey for years. Jersey is a state of mind. Jersey people do things their own way and my experience of growing up Jersey included more than its fair share of feisty, funny and quirky people. I’m so glad Liberty Heights gives me the chance to tell those stories. The series is my love letter to a New Jersey childhood. BTW, the park and lake for skating in the winter are based on my childhood home town. We all did that every winter, watch for the flag (the one that looks like the Japanese flag—it appears in Hanky Panky—I honestly couldn’t make that up), and head to the lake with our skates.

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?

Elle—Reading is absolutely required. Not even negotiable. I read pretty much anything and everything and have a long list of authors I love. This is not a full list, just a few. Diana Gabaldon tops the list. Who doesn’t love Outlander? :-D

ZM--I hear you on Outlander!

Elle--I also love Amy Tan, Louise Penny, Rhys Bowen, Lawrence Block, Sharon Penman, Shelby Foote, Thomas Friedman, Dee Brown, Larry McMurtry, R. F. Delderfield, Bill Bryson, Faye Kellerman, Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Crusie and many, many others.

I read fiction in many genres. Mystery. Romance. Historical. Thriller. Fantasy. Young adult. A great story is a great story and will suck the reader in and I love getting yanked into a compelling story.

I read quite a bit of non-fiction too and I’m particularly partial to history. American history. World history. Medieval history. Pretty much anything. I find it all fascinating. To me, hardly anything tops a great book. It’s the ultimate pleasure (okay, there might be one or two things that top a great book but not more than that!) Thanks to Kindle and other devices, I always have a book with me. Everywhere. On the beach, on a bus, lounging around the pool, in waiting rooms. Give me a great book and I’m a happy camper.

ZM--Thank you, Elle! This was a ton of fun, just like your books.


A well-known academic and nurse by profession, Elle turned to fiction thinking that To Catch A Cop was just for practice, never dreaming it would end up nominated as Best Romantic Comedy of 2010 by The Romance Reviews.  Her many travels to all parts of the world and adventures occasionally feature in her books but her students are either relieved to disappointed to learn they are NOT characters in any of them!  To Catch A Cop is the first book in the To Catch series featuring Lindy Kellerman and Detective Fraser MacKinnon.  To Catch A Crook is the second book in the series.  Both are published by Red Rose Publishing. Outback Hero is a contemporary romance in tribute to the beautiful romantic Australian Outback and its wonderful people and is from Red Rose Publishing. Going To The Dogs--can a dog hating cop and cute dog trainer have a chance for love—was published by Muse It Up Publishing.  The Liberty Heights series, a contemporary series set in New Jersey where things are just a little bit different, debuted in 2012 and has five novels and two novellas so far.  It’s New Jersey like you never imagined. Elle should know, being the original Jersey Girl!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mini Book Reveiws!

I love letting y'all know about some great reads. Enjoy the mini book review.

BLACK AND BLUE Anna Quindlen--Women's Fiction

Quindlen shows her talent for getting deep into her characters with BLACK AND BLUE. It's a harrowing story of an abused wife who finally finds a measure of peace. This is a serious read, but its unvarnished look at a great social ill of our day deserves to be read and shared.

 THE PIRATE'S SECRET BABY Darlene Marshall--historical romance

Darlene Marshall has another smasher for you! I loved it. I figured out Robert's secret, but Lydia's caught me by surprise. All of the clues were there. Well done!

 STARGAZEY POINT Shelley Noble--women's fiction

This fabulous story brings the fight of tradition vs. progress into clarity. Noble populates Stargrazey Point with wonderful characters with important stories to tell. By the way, I want to ride the carrousel. ;-)

Stargazey Point is the WFWA book club choice for June at Goodreads.

SAVING GRACE Barbara Rogan--Literary

Rogan's book, SAVING GRACE, is a tour de force look into politics, family, and relationships. It's a great read. One you'll not soon forget.

And I saved the long-awaited latest from Diana Gabaldon for last.

historical, adventure, military, SF/fantasy, and indescribably good

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. If you haven't read Diana Gabaldon's books before, start at the beginning with OUTLANDER. You won't be sorry. The STARZ TV production of the first book debuts on August 9 at 9 p.m. 

Happy Reading! Next week I have a new Author Interview for you. Come to the Shade and meet Elle Druskin. ;-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Back Story and Flashbacks

What's the difference? That's a good question. One all writers need to understand. My writing buddy Claire defined the difference in the following way:
  • A flashback puts you in the head of the POV character at the time of the memory they're recalling; back story exposition keeps you in the head of the POV character now, as they look back and remember. Or as I like to think of it: flashbacks are active, they show an event from the past. Back story tells about the past.
She's on to something that others agree with. Tabitha Olson defines them in her post on Flashback vs. Back story:
  • Back story: a summary of an incident that has happened in the character’s past.
    Flashback: taking the reader to the past incident and showing it to him through action and dialog.
 Lately, I've been trying to start my WIP at a different place, using my first scene as a flashback. I thought about starting in scene three and using scene one as a flashback there. Then I read Randy Ingermanson's post (linked below) and he said the following:
  • Back story is a necessary part of any story. Strong back story makes a strong story. But in writing fiction, practice the fine art of withholding information. That creates mystery. It creates suspense. It keeps your reader reading.

    Can you hold off on showing any flashbacks until at least 25% of the way into your story? If not, then maybe the real story isn’t your story. Maybe your real story is the back story and you should have started sooner.

    Can you hold off on showing any flashbacks until you’re 75% of the way into your story? If so, you might have a real killer of a story. Remember, as long as you’ve got a secret, your reader wants to know it. Once you’ve told the secret, your reader no longer wants to know it.
That settled the question for me. The first scene, the one I've always seen as the beginning of the story, needs to be mentioned long before 25% in. Whew! That's a to-do I can scratch off the list. ;-)


Here are some links you might find useful on this topic:
 If your interested in a writing exercise on Flashbacks, check out this one at the Book and Writers Forum 

Happy Writing! May your flashbacks and back story work out smoothly. ;-)  


Pssst! It's here! Guess what I'm doing? ;-)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Snip Week--a poem and an update on FRIENDLY FIRE

It's the first week of the month and I promised you some snips, poetry, or something of the sort. I thought I'd share a "found poem". The rules are to read anything and collect phrases and then try to construct a poem from them. This is an exercise from Sara Crawford's THIRTY DAY WRITING CHALLENGE.

I used a review of the recent movie remake of Godzilla. Really. ;-) The not-so-good review turned into a commentary on a bad marriage. Yep, you read that right. Here goes. The found phrases are in Italics.

She’d gotten the short end of the stick.
Of course.
He looked like someone who
Everyone thinks is a standup guy
One communicating with a slow burn—
With the tone and character
To counter balance
Life’s pains.

Only the worried wife
Knew the disastrous truth
He was the world’s most famous monster
A man dedicated to thunderous applause
And spectacular blows.

Her life would be vastly improved
If she only existed for his short attention span
Of awakening his dormant,
Meticulous, cool notes
Of prolonged disdain.
 (copyright May 15, 2014)


I've reworked two scenes using this month's B&W Forum exercise on details. Making them count and tying them to the POV character's emotions is a big craft item for me. I've loved every minute of it. It's like the idea of setting details has finally clicked for me. 

I've also been working on digging deeper into my secondary characters--Rosemary and her son Dean. This is as eye-opening as the digging I did on Samantha earlier this year. It's all necessary to make FRIENDLY FIRE the best it can be--a layered story that will hook readers into my world of Cherry Hill.