Getting to know Kitty Felde #author #fiction #childrensmysteries #podcaster #journalist

Please help me welcome my first children’s book author, Kitty Felde. I think you’ll find her very interesting and refreshing, so let’s take a gander at her bio and then get to know her better.

Kitty Felde is an award-winning journalist, podcaster, and writer of children’s mysteries set on Capitol Hill.

She is also host and executive producer of the Book Club for Kids podcast – named one of the top 10 kidcasts in the world by The Times of London. The show has won the DC Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Humanities and the California Library Association Technology Award.

Her award-winning debut novel Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza (Chesapeake Press, 2020) is the tale of the 10-year-old daughter of a member of Congress who solves the mystery of the Demon Cat. It’s been adapted to the dramatic podcast The Fina Mendoza Mysteries.

Book 2 in the series State of the Union was released in August. A mysterious bird has pooped on the president’s head during the State of the Union address. Fina must find that bird and learn its secret message.

Kitty is a veteran public radio journalist, named “Radio Journalist of the Year” three times by the LA Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists. She hosted Southern California Public Radio’s daily “Talk of the City” for nearly a decade. She covered Capitol Hill for nearly another decade. Kitty’s also an award-winning playwright.

Author Social Links: Twitter * Facebook * Twitter2

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Kitty: I covered lots of State of the Union addresses over my years as a reporter on Capitol Hill. I loved that night of the year! The Capitol is even more lovely at night. Everyone dresses up special and has dinner and probably lots of wine, so everyone’s in a really good mood. It’s fun to lean over the balcony railing to see generals and Supreme Court Justices and all the Senators smushed into the House Chamber. And something always happens: Justice Bader Ginsburg falls asleep, a congressman yells “you lie!” at the president, there’s always a chance the first lady will stumble down the steep stairs.

I wanted to take everyone with me on one of those nights. To introduce the pomp and circumstance to kids. In this day of bitter partisanship, I want to inspire the next generation to think about public service. To see themselves in the future as a lawmaker. Or at least to show up at the polls and vote!

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Kitty: Fina’s older sister Gabby just showed up. Her voice was clear and distinct. She’s probably more like me than Fina.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Kitty: There was a woman who worked in the Capitol snack bar who used to wear a different wig every single day. For months, I thought it was a different person every day. I had been to the Bahamas one time, taken away from the town up into the hills where neighbors would gather in someone’s yard that had been turned into a restaurant. I could imagine a character like my wig lady dreaming of opening such a restaurant of her own. So she became Bahamian. And the Bahamian island of Andros, there’s a myth about a mysterious bird with long legs, the face of an owl, and the tail of a lizard named Chickcharney. That was the beginning of “State of the Union.”

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Kitty: I think Papa (Congressman Arturo Mendoza) is a tough one. He dearly loves his girls. And his mama. But he’s also very protective of his inner life. He’s still grieving for his late wife and feeling great responsibility for his constituents back in LA. So it was hard to get inside his head.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Kitty: I know a lot about Congress and the U.S. Capitol building and all the people who work there. But I keep finding things I DON’T know about. Luckily, people who work for the Architect of the Capitol helped me with statues and construction and such. The House Historian was happy to share back stories. And the House Chaplain’s office was thrilled to take me “behind the altar.” The US Capitol Historical Society has been most helpful with tales of ghosts and scary things in the Capitol. (Aside from insurrectionists…)

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Kitty: I’m not sure about the number of drafts. I have a terrific critique group and we tackle a chapter at a time. Maybe four drafts?

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Kitty: “State of the Union” is the second book in the Fina Mendoza Mystery series, so I already knew the characters and the setting and the “format” of the book. Book one took about five years. Book two took about a year. Book one (Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza) took longer not only because I didn’t know what I was doing (it was my first book!) but also because I didn’t have the confidence to send it out in the world.

I am more confident now. And I have a roadmap for the series. There will be 5 books and a podcast season for each book. I know some of what is coming next, but not everything. But I want to finish the series! So I’m expecting the next books will take less than a year.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Kitty: Tea. Pots and pots of tea. Walks when I’m stuck. And short bursts of writing on a consistent basis.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Kitty: You know, more than repetitive words, my downfall is punctuation. Where does the period go? Should I use a dash or an ellipse? Why CAN’T I use capital letters to make a point? I’m hopeless.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Kitty: Years ago, I wrote to an author to gripe about some small thing in one of his books. He wrote back, outraged at my critique. I realized that he was feeling the way I did back when I was an actor and got a bad review. So I wrote back. We were pen pals for year. It was because of Ron Powers that I even imagined that I was good enough to be a writer.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Kitty: My husband and I have an agreement: he gets the second bedroom for his office and I get the rest of the house. That said, my writing desk (an antique secretary that I’ve had since I was 12) is in the bedroom. It’s where I write first drafts. Then I print out pages and get out of the house. Pre-covid, I’d sit in coffee shops or libraries and work. Now I sit in my car at parks.

For reading, I have a cozy nook in the living room. Or if it’s particularly fine day, I camp out underneath the sycamores in the front yard.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Kitty: I was a public radio reporter for three decades. I started my first book early in the morning those days.

These days, I produce the Book Club for Kids podcast as my “day job.” But it doesn’t require a 40 hour a week schedule. I edit on Mondays and tape author interviews, conversations with my young reviewers, and collate celebrity readings from the books whenever they come up.

I enjoy talking to young readers about what they love (and hate) to read. It helps me with my own writing. But more than that, the things that resonate with kids is SO different from what I get out of a book. And those conversations about those “left turns” are what inspire me.

For example, a trio of 7th grade girls explained to me that dystopian novels are popular because the protagonist is a girl and the boys treat her with respect. Okay.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Kitty: I remember one of the first comments I got from a little girl who said she thought the book was going to be scary. She proclaimed it “not too scary.” That was the kind of kid I was: I wanted the kind of book this is, one that’s not too scary and full of family and heart.

I love the opportunity to go into classrooms and not only introduce kids to Chickcharney and the Demon Cat and Fina and the Mendoza family, but also to introduce them to Washington and the way government works, to hopefully inspire them, or at least to introduce basic civics.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Kitty: Ngaio Marsh. She was a theatre maven like me and writes those lovely mystery novels set in Britain and New Zealand (where I spent my honeymoon). She’s not as smarty pants as Dorothy L. Sayers (who I also love, but feel I’m missing a lot because I never went to school in Oxford) with a good sense of humor. I’d love to talk about plotting a mystery. And about how she managed to be SO prolific!

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Kitty: I’d love Fina to get picked up by Netflix or Nickelodeon and turned into a TV series. But success for me is getting my books into the hands of young readers, visiting classrooms, answering questions, and writing more books to spend more time with Fina Mendoza. And maybe someday, I’ll get a letter from an angry fan who will turn into a pen pal and maybe even run for Congress someday.

A mysterious bird poops on the head of the president during the State of the Union address. Can Fina Mendoza, the 10-year-old daughter of a congressman, outsmart the Secret Service, the Capitol Police, and most of Capitol Hill to find that bird…and learn its secret message? Fina is assisted in her investigation by a pair of congressional dogs – a giant orange Briard named Senator Something and a tiny mutt called Saint Sebastian. While Fina’s father is working on immigration reform legislation with his House colleagues inside the Capitol, her grandmother is nearly arrested outside with a group of activists.

Buy Links: Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Bookshop.org

What a fun concept, Kitty! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your books and your writing process with us.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know John Layne #author #western #historical #fiction #novels #books #amreading

My next guest writes in a genre I love to watch, as in old western movies while I’m revising or proofing. I’m happy to introduce to you author John Layne! Let’s take a moment to find out about his background and then delve into his inspiration and process. Here’s his bio:

John is an international, multi-award winning author of Western Fiction and long-time veteran of law enforcement beginning his police career in Houston, Texas, in 1981. He has held numerous positions in his 40 year career, including Detective for the past 26 years. He is currently a Sr. Detective for a state-wide law enforcement agency in North Texas.

​His professional writing career began in the sports industry where he penned articles for national magazines and online publications. He held the position of sports editor for two years where he wrote on professional, collegiate, and amateur athletics. ​

He grew up watching western movies and reading stories of the Old West. His theatrical influences include actors John Wayne, James Stewart, and Clint Eastwood as well as directors John Ford, Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks, and Andrew McLaglen. He drew literary inspiration from Louis L’Amour, Robert B. Parker, C. J. Box, and Lee Child. His passion for history and the classic western genre inspired him to write short stories and two novels on the Old West along with his first feature file screen play, all classic westerns set in 1877 Texas.​

John is an avid sports fan and horse enthusiast. He is a member of The Authors Guild, Western Writers of America, Western Fictioneers, Wyoming Writers Inc., and the Oklahoma Writers Federation.

Author Social Links: Facebook * Instagram

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

John: The Western genre is my favorite and a pure passion of mine. I grew up with the Western and love it today more than ever.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

John: U.S. Deputy Marshal Luxton Danner. I thought out his character before the writing began.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

John: Actual historical research. The border towns along the Red River were under siege from outlaw bands at the time of the story.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

John: The villain Tuff Jenkins. The story didn’t permit enough time and space to expound upon his background.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

John: Weeks of historical research from both the Texas Historical Society and the Oklahoma Historical Society along with the history of the railroads and the period societal norms. Everything from political positioning to the accurate descriptions and names of clothing the characters wore.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

John: This is a tough one. Actual drafts was probably 3, but there were numerous re-writes and editing that followed before my publisher and I was satisfied.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

John: My first book, Gunslingers took nearly 4 years from start to release. Red River Reunion took a solid year from start to release. With most of the research completed and the characters identified and defined, book two went much quicker. I would say that one year is now typical for me as long as I’m writing this series.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

John: I always go back and read the prior three chapters before I begin a new writing session. This allows me to immerse myself into the story and re-engage with the characters. I also need it to be quiet. I don’t write with any type of background sound or noise.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

John: During my drafts, I tend to use “than” and “had” within my sentences. When I go back for my re-writes, I usually delete most of those words because they really aren’t needed or I restructure the sentence to sound better.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

John: I have been influenced by a number of people over the years. I always note actors John Wayne, James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, and Clint Eastwood. Film directors John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Henry Hathaway. Literary models include Louis L’Amour, Robert B. Parker, C. J. Box, and Lee Child.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

John: My home office is my sanctuary. I have it decorated to perfection and I do my best work there.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

John: My day job is currently a police detective and has been for the last 40 years. Let’s just say I’m ready to write full time now.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

John: Actually just getting one book published. I was fortunate that my first manuscript caught the attention of a publishing company and agent. My first two books have been recognized with a combined 13 literary awards.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

John: This is a tough one, but I’ll go with Louis L’Amour. Years after his death, he’s still considered the King of the Western genre.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

John: Well, since I’m still in hot pursuit of wealth and fame, I’ll go with admiration. Not of me, but my work. I hope my readers and fans admire my work. That would define success for me, but I sure would like a best seller also! (Laughing)

In 1877 U.S. Deputy Marshal Luxton Danner and Texas Ranger Wes Payne are dispatched to the Red River border of Texas and the Indian Territory to protect settlements on the Texas side of the river. The settlements were constant victims of outlaw raiders that hid out in the Indian Territory because there was no law enforcement there. Danner and Payne embark on an adventure to rid the area of outlaw superiority and reclaim the town of Range for the settlers.

Buy Links:Website * LabradorPublishing * Amazon * anywhere books are sold.

Thanks for sharing your writing process and resulting story, John. Sounds like a great read and I bet doing the research for it was fascinating.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Laury A Egan #author #mystery #romance #suspense #magicalrealism #literaryfiction #books

My guest today is an accomplished publishing professional who has turned her attention to her first love, writing. Please help me welcome author Laury E. Egan! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out more about her writing process and her stories.

Laury A. Egan is the author of The Swimmer, The Outcast Oracle, A Bittersweet Tale, Jenny Kidd, The Ungodly Hour, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa, and Fog and Other Stories. Her novels range from psychological suspense, comedy, mystery/romance, young adult, to literary fiction. Four volumes of poetry have been published in limited edition: Snow, Shadows, a Stranger; Beneath the Lion’s Paw; The Sea & Beyond; and Presence & Absence. She lives on the northern coast of New Jersey.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Laury: After reading Death with Interruptions by José Saramago, I wanted to incorporate some magical realism in my writing and also to continue a trend toward more literary fiction. Although the main character, Bess Lynch, is nothing like my wife, who was also a therapist diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer, the subject, and the idea of writing about a psychologist’s struggles, were inspirations. Having been the primary caregiver and witnessing the arc of the disease through its unfortunately inevitable outcome, I also wanted to create a more positive ending, one told from a secular perspective. 

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Laury: The unconventional mystery in The Swimmer surrounds Stephen, the most enigmatic of the primary characters. He says he’s gay, yet Stephen becomes involved with Bess, and his past and present lives are shadowy. Although Stephen is the embodiment of the story’s magical realism, I could see him clearly from the beginning and knew how he would behave. His dialogue and behavior required almost no revision.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Laury: The end-of-life situation provided the “what-if” spark, which, in turn, led to the setting—Truro and Provincetown—where I thought a woman who wanted to make major decisions might travel to be alone or, as Bess describes the area, “the farthest I could journey out to sea without leaving land.”

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Laury: The protagonist, Bess Lynch, was the most challenging. As a therapist, she is used to being a caretaker, yet at this crucial point in her life, she needs to accept care. Many of Bess’ most valued attributes are suddenly challenged, so she is a character in extremis, one who must reassess her relationships with her husband and son, wrestle with her identity, and make decisions about how she will live and die. Bess is a nuanced, introspective woman, and I needed to follow her through the stages of her awareness as she reacts to the other players. In many ways, she’s a heroic figure—brave and honest—an easy part to write, yet she’s also bombarded with new realizations about her flaws—more difficult to write.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Laury: Because I had first-hand experience with my wife’s pancreatic cancer and her symptoms, treatments, and surgeries, I consulted my notes and double-checked some medical information online. Every person who has this cancer will respond differently and will be given different protocols, plus I mention in the book that details are accurate for 2013-2015 and new approaches have been developed since then.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Laury: By “drafts,” I include editorial rounds and polishes. So, by my count, there were 54 revisions, which is more than usual (typically I do 25-30 rounds). Because this was my first foray into magical realism and novel-length literary fiction, however, I wanted to make this maiden voyage successful. I also struggled with some of the family dynamics and tended to make Bess, the psychotherapist, too controlled and reserved, both tendencies similar to mine. As one reader said, wouldn’t Bess lose her cool? Yes, she would!

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Laury: I began writing the novel in August 2016 and completed the first draft in November, so this book tumbled out in a very short amount of time. The reasons for the abbreviated writing time were a linear plot, which requires less mental juggling; dealing with a limited cast; and a manuscript that was modest in length. Then I began the revisions, which took far longer and involved integrating suggestions from several readers. I was delayed by another title in production, and finally submitted The Swimmer to publishers in the fall of 2018. The contract with Heliotrope Books was signed in August 2019, but because the publisher was skipping fiction in 2020, the book was postponed until April 2021. As for the typical length of time a novel takes, well, they are all different. Some are good children and enter the world smoothly, whereas others get put in the corner and reexamined much later when I can view the novel objectively and see its merits and failures. An example of this is a psychological suspense which I’ve excavated from 2003. In recent months, I’ve cut over 11,000 words and am doing major revisions.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Laury: Because I started my professional writing late in life (though my career was in publishing), I feel serious pressure to produce now, to make up for “lost” time.  As a result, I usually work seven days a week, mostly starting at eight in the morning and finishing after five. For better or worse, I have few distractions, so this work ethic is easy to maintain. In many ways, I’ve become what I do, or as Andrew Carnegie (my university’s founder) wrote, “my heart is in my work.”

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Laury: Ouch. You put your finger on an issue that drives me berserk: repeated words. I frequently do “find” searches for some specific offenders, but often I do a round of reading looking for unnecessary insertions of “that,” “just,” and indirect softening phrases like “kind of”—oh, my, they get the red pencil busy! Each book tends to have a unique set of repetitive words depending on the genre, setting, and subject. It’s astonishing how impoverished the English language—how many words are there for “kiss,” for example?

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Laury: My mother was a very accomplished artist/painter who worked all day, five days a week. She was disciplined and dedicated and created for the process and not for financial remuneration. She believed in excellence and taking no shortcuts to get there. 

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Laury: I work at a desktop computer in a guest-room office. I could sit facing my ocean view, but this space keeps me focused on what I’m doing. That said, I always have paper at hand wherever I am. When I’m writing the first draft or in the throes of early rounds, I find that quiet time before sleep or while driving can produce epiphanies or reveal plot snags. If I don’t make notes immediately, I’m terrified of forgetting.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Laury: Although writing was my first passion, I veered into visual arts (graphic design and photography) for college and for the main part of my career. I still do some fine arts photography and teach the subject privately, but I’ve phased out my book design business over the last twenty years. While I enjoyed working with authors, editors, and production staff; creating the design of the entire book from manuscript to jacket and binding; I’m even more pleased being on the opposite side of the publishing desk and passionately believe writing was what I was meant to do. I’m very fortunate to be able to concentrate on my work. I’m also pleased when I have a chance to design my own covers, such as The Swimmer.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Laury: Whether this is a plus or a minus, I write diverse fiction, from psychological suspense to comedy to literary novels. I also think of myself as a “bridge” writer—one whose readership spans between straight and LGTBQ+ readers, with some titles exclusively falling on one side or the other, or some, like The Swimmer, mixing straight and gay characters. This fluidity feels comfortable and reflects my personality, so when I achieve this quality, I’m happiest. I also enjoy incorporating a poetic or literary style in books that might be deemed genre titles (suspense and mystery) and satisfying my fascination with psychology by creating in-depth characterizations.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Laury: I would love to share a bottle (or two or three) of champagne with Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Imagine the conversation between the two women! My next book (late 2021), Wave in D Minor, is about a composer writing an opera featuring these writers, which meant considerable research reading their journals and letters so I could create scenes and short snatches of lyrics. Even if armed with all this information, I would be too intimidated to talk to Woolf and Vita-Sackville West and would only ask questions. I’m sure the conversation would be as sparkling as the champagne.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Laury: I don’t define success as a writer the same way as I did my career as a book designer, in which I won numerous national awards and earned a decent income. Writing has always been my identity. It is who I am and has now become my life. Being widowed, without family, and dealing with partial disability, writing is my greatest pleasure. That said, reaching a higher level of “discoverability” would be wonderful.

The Swimmer: A fresh twist on a triangular relationship. A novel about compassion, generosity, love, selfishness, grief, bravery, and sacrifice.

Psychotherapist Bess Lynch makes a sojourn to Cape Cod to deal with her impending demise from pancreatic cancer. At the beach, she encounters an incandescently handsome man, who is mourning the loss of his husband to leukemia. They find solace in a tender affair until Bess’ son arrives and detonates the fragile calm. The dynamics between these three characters play out against Bess’ awareness that her cancer is metastasizing and her concerns about dying with independence and grace. With touches of magical realism, the novel rises above the somber subject into a lyrical elegy about kindness, love, and dignity.

“Egan’s story is for anyone contemplating the meaning of death, life, and everything in between: fear, regret, desire, hope, acceptance. A novel written with deep compassion and beautiful storytelling.”

—Lori Ostlund, author of After the Parade

Buy Links: Amazon

Signed copies available from the author: www.lauryaegan.com

Drawing from personal experience to write such a touching story must be satisfying. Thanks for sharing it with us, Laury!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Janyce Stefan-Cole #author #womensfiction #mystery #contemporary #thriller #books

How about a little murder mystery to kickstart the weekend? Please help me welcome as my guest author Janyce Stefan-Cole! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out whodunit…

JANYCE STEFAN-COLE is the author of the novels, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (Unbridled Books) and THE DETECTIVE’S GARDEN (Unbridled Books) and is included in: Rattapallax Magazine issue 36, The Broadkill Review, The Laurel Review, and The Open Space. “Conversation with a Tree” won Knock Literary Magazine’s Eco-lit prize and was republished in the anthology, BEING HUMAN; Editions Bibliotekos. Also: Fiction Writers Review, Pank, The Healing Muse, Main Street Rag, American Book Review, WG News + Arts, and the anthology, DICK FOR A DAY; Villard Books. Visiting novelist, Texas University of the Permian Basin.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Janyce: The Detective came to me first, as does happen but not always. I knew Emil was an atheist, and that atheists are “the most religious in the world”. My husband is an inherited atheist, so perhaps some of him features in protagonist, retired homicide detective, Emil Milosec. Also, I wanted to write in the male voice, and do so convincingly. A mystery presents itself in the form a severed female finger. The garden is Emil’s refuge; his deceased wife Elena, very much alive in Emil’s heart, created the garden in what had been a dump of a backyard at their Brooklyn brownstone. Emil has dug a hole with intentions of planting the apple tree his wife had long wanted in the garden. He discovers the severed finger there and, in an instant, his refuge is spoiled. He must discover who “planted” the finger and why. This takes him, first in memory, then actually to his boyhood home of Slovenia. There is revealed what his mind had refused to accept, and can no longer avoid: Emil Milosec, the law-defending, self-certain detective faces himself and finds a murderer.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Janyce: Emil Milosec, and his neighbor, Franco Montoya.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Janyce: I would say both character and setting. The garden is of course a metaphor for Eden. The irony being an atheist is its inhabitant.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Janyce: Emil is very complex, and he is a male, while I am female. I had to grasp a consistent male voice, and I had to break through a very reticent character. Elena is, of course, deceased from the story’s beginning. I had to bring her alive just enough to let the reader know how deeply she affected, still affects Emil.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Janyce: Happily, I have been to Slovenia, so was able to project that city believably. I had to research weapons, and certain police procedures. And I had to find certain words in Slovenian—that was tricky. I read the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament because Emil the atheist is at the same time very Old Testament. He argues with The Bible; the deity found in it.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Janyce: I wrote a story in 1999, “The Pepper Patch”. There is a pepper patch in Emil’s garden. His neighbor, Franco Montoya gave the seeds to Emil’s wife Elena, who planted them knowing Emil hated peppers. The story introduced me to Emil and my other main characters. I began to write a novel, Outside Eden, which evolved after perhaps three drafts to, THE DETECTIVE’S GARDEN.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Janyce: If you exclude the short story that led to the novel, I’d say three years, a bit more. Yes, the length is pretty typical. I average between three and four hundred manuscript pages. I don’t plan the number of pages.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Janyce: Solitude! I must pretend I am utterly alone in the world of my book. That means no phone calls or emails. I try to be at the desk by nine AM where I stay, no matter what, until lunch. Afternoons the world usually steps in, though I try for an afternoon session at the desk.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Janyce: Nod (he/she nodded) might be one. And then, is another I have to watch out for. Also, starting a sentence with and. For some reason I like to start sentences with and. I carefully rein that in.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Janyce: Not really living role models but many authors. Lewis Nordan was a wonderful Southern writer I got to know at an art colony. He was the real deal, and I looked up to him but was, happily, too bashful to make a complete annoyance of myself. We became friends. I don’t know that he actually took my writing seriously at the time.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Janyce: I have a wonderful studio in Brooklyn. Not quite quiet enough but I make it work. It is my lair. My sister gave me an apple green chaise that I read on. My husband, also a writer, works downstairs at the opposite end of the house. So I feel safe and physically isolated when I write.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Janyce: Thankfully, I haven’t had a day job in years. Last job was as a clerk for Time, Inc. I live modestly.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Janyce: Greatest achievement is having written three novels, so far. I was told in workshop, at one of the art colonies I attended, that I was writing a novel. Before that I’d not had the nerve or confidence to think I could write a novel. Others convinced me I could.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Janyce: I’d take tea with Charlotte Bronte because she was such a supreme storyteller. Likewise, Louise Erdrich. I’d like to have sat at a Paris café with Mavis Gallant. I’d gladly sit at the knee of Dostoyevsky. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had a profound effect on me in my late teens; I’d like to thank him. Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Jean Ryhs of Good Morning Midnight, any Orhan Pamuk book. The list goes on…

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Janyce: Success that I have been able to write well, to find a voice that turned out to be mine.

THE DETECTIVE’S GARDEN: A Love Story and Meditation on Murder

Brooklyn, 1995: hipsters are moving in, developers smell blood, and a housing bubble begins that will turn a sleepy semi-industrial waterfront into towers of glass and steel. Ex-homicide Detective Emil Milosec figures he’s safe in his garden, until a grim discovery in the pepper patch one hot June morning raises the possibility of real estate terrorists. He’d thought he was done detecting iniquity but now he’s back on a case. Originally from Slovenia, he’s the perennial outsider. So was his wife, the beauty from Trieste, Elena Morandi, who has died too young, taking her secrets with her. A cast of locals flavors the story, but it’s the ex-cop’s journey into his own darkness that makes the tale. A heat wave, a gun, a smattering of science: A bit of Shakespeare, tablespoons of the Old Testament, and hints of Sophocles yield a contemplative, noirish brew.

Buy Links: Indibound * Barnes & Noble * Amazon *Apple

Thanks for sharing your story premise and a bit about your writing process, Janyce!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Michael J. Coffino #author #attorney #storyteller #fiction #ghostwriter

My guest today has quite a background to share with us, one that informed his debut novel. But first let’s look at author Michael J. Coffino’s bio and then talk to him about what inspired him to write his first novel.

Before becoming a full-time author, ghostwriter, and freelance editor, Michael Coffino had two parallel careers in the San Francisco Bay Area: one in the courtroom, the other in the gymnasium. He was a business litigation and trial attorney and legal writing instructor for four decades and concurrently devoted twenty-five years as a basketball coach, primarily at the high school level.

He has authored or co-authored nine books, including Truth Is in the House, his debut novel (Köehler Books, July 2021).

Michael grew up in the Mott Haven and Highbridge neighborhoods of the Bronx. He earned a BS in Education from the City University of New York, and in 1976 moved to California, where he earned a JD degree from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

Michael plays guitar, holds a black belt in karate, is a workout junkie, hikes regularly in the hills and mountains of California and Colorado, and plays pickleball. He lives in Marin County, California, and has two adult sons, both teachers and basketball coaches.

Author Social Links: Website * Instagram * Facebook

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Michael: I set out to write a work of fiction to honor and celebrate my Bronx upbringing. I thrived growing up in the Bronx and remained proud of how we kids built a subculture removed from the clutches of traditional institutions like school, church, and family. My plan was to collect anecdotes from childhood friends and build a narrative from there.

But the first interviews I did propelled me down a different path after learning about a twin-homicide that resulted from a racial confrontation in a local neighborhood bar. I was in the military when it happened, and by the time I got discharged, my family had moved to another part of the Bronx. It took fifty years for me to learn of the tragedy, which took the lives of two boys I knew. I fixated on the event and began to explore a narrative about race.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Michael: Both main characters—Jaylen Jackson and Jimmy O’Farrell—are composites of different people in my life and each undertakes a journey to try to identify their core values and who they can be. Whether either can develop fully or mostly, and live enough to do so, is a subtext of the narrative.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Michael: Once I learned about the explosive tragedy at the local neighborhood bar, I dug deeper and came across a gang attack in a nearby neighborhood, also the product of racial tensions. I decided then to connect the two disparate events using two main characters—one white, the other black—as vehicles to explore the racial themes. From there, the book grew, more organically than by design.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Michael: It might seem counterintuitive but as between Jimmy and Jaylen, I found myself understanding Jaylen better and connecting with him easier. Some might find that odd, a white man connecting more with the black character than the white. But during my most conscientious years growing up in the Bronx, when my neighborhood had become integrated, I hung out with many guys reflected in the Jaylen character. I also think I instinctively conjured up more empathy for Jaylen Jackson; down deep I wanted to know him better. That is not to say I didn’t know or relate to Jimmy O’Farrell. I knew lots of “Jimmy O’Farrells” growing up. But the emotional engagement I had between the two was different.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Michael: I interviewed thirty people for anecdotes, inspiration, and factual authenticity—among them, former Bronx residents, educators, journalists, attorneys, firemen, law enforcement, medical personnel, and US military war veterans. Most I didn’t know; they were either referred to me or found via an internet search.

I also read countless books and watched countless videos and documentaries to pinpoint historical details and provide additional support for story authenticity. I didn’t want readers to suspend belief. I wanted them to identify with the time, place, and the emotive power of the narrative and its historical context.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Michael: Well, if my computer draft file is any guide, about twenty in varying degrees, although in terms of full-length rewrites, I’d guess about five to seven.

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?

Michael: It took less than a year, probably about 8-10 months, which includes working on other projects and servicing a few law clients. I tend to finish manuscripts in that time frame, especially memoir, which I co-author and ghostwrite for clients. I typically have three full manuscript projects going on at once. I like the balance of different projects. It keeps me fresh and mentally engaged.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Michael: I do have a ritual. I rise typically between 5 and 6 am (and sometimes earlier), make coffee, massage my hands with Melt therapy balls, and read for thirty minutes or so to awaken my mind. After reading, I start writing, typically until about 8:30 when I turn to my exercise of the day, whether a hike, playing pickleball, weights, or doing core work on a mat. After exercise, I return to the keyboard and write until late afternoon, in the range of 5 pm. Throughout the writing sessions, I take breaks whenever I feel the onset of diminished concentration.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Michael: I plead guilty. Some of my knee-jerk usages include: “indeed,” “embrace,” “what’s more,” “to be sure,” and “albeit,” mostly stubborn hangovers from law practice.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Michael: My children, two adult young men. They are wise beyond their years and have an unabashed tendency to pepper me with reality checks. Beyond them, I have always had deep admiration for George Carlin and Muhammed Ali, Carlin for his unapologetic irreverence and incisive wit, and Ali for his courage and understated brilliance.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Michael: I primarily write on a PC at a desk in a home office. When traveling, or needing a change of pace at a café, I write on my laptop. When not revising on the screen, with pen on paper, I relocate to my dining room table. I reserve my reading for two large comfortable chairs in my home, one in the living room and the other in the bedroom.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Michael: Writing and editing constitute my day job, although I still practice law here and there. I enjoy the legal work—it is intellectually challenging and helps pay the bills. But it doesn’t compare to the thrill of writing professionally.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Michael: I didn’t become a fulltime writer until five years ago. Since then, I have written nine books, some co-authored or ghostwritten. While I am immensely proud of Truth Is in the House, my early collective body of work—spread across several genres—is my greatest achievement (so far).

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Michael: Of the writers I admire, Oscar Wilde is at the top of the leader board. But, alas, he is long gone. To have sat with him, and engaged his intellect and sardonic edge, would have been a thrill. Today, it would have to be Richard Russo. Of all the fiction writers I’ve read, Russo has the most developed ability to capture the nuances of human imperfection and frailty in storytelling. I would cherish discussing character development, dialogue, and scene creation with him.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Michael: As it is for many authors, monetizing a writing career is no small feat. Long-term traditional success from a financial standpoint would of course be nice. But more than that, success to me as a writer means turning out stories on a consistent basis that provoke and entertain a wide berth of audience. Storytelling is a delightful activity, and to do it in a way that pleases others, that makes them cry, laugh, or otherwise emotionally engages them, would be the pinnacle of writing success.

As a young boy in the late 1950s, Jimmy O’Farrell emigrates with his family from Ireland to Manhattan to bask in the dawn of a new life. Thousands of miles away, the family of Jaylen Jackson seeks to build a life amid Jim Crow culture in Mississippi. Struggling to come of age in a racially divisive world, both boys as teenagers suffer separate horrific tragedies that shape their characters and life missions. Jimmy seeks to define what it means to stand for someone when the chips are down, while Jaylen embarks on a journey to gain respect beyond the color of his skin.

Fleeing the past, both families land in neighboring Bronx communities in the 1960s, where Jimmy and Jaylen’s lives first intersect on the basketball court and then in the Vietnam jungle. Repeatedly tested as men of different races, their friendship later faces its toughest challenge outside a Bronx bar—with fatal consequences.

Truth Is in the House is an epic and provocative tale that plumbs historical and modern racial themes and explores redemption, forgiveness, and the power of connection through the human spirit.

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N

Sounds like a very powerful story, Michael. Thanks so much for bringing the story and its themes to our attention today.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Michael Meyer #author #storyteller #action #adventure #crime #thriller #fiction

Please help me welcome a self-proclaimed storyteller, Michael Meyer, who found the courage to write a book and then another. Welcome, Michael! Let’s listen to what he has to say about his background and then we’ll find out more about his book.

I was a sales and marketing professional in the hospitality industry for more than forty years, working primarily with upscale properties/companies. I dabbled with writing in college; however, I had neither the money nor the patience to pursue a college education. I left school and moved to Key Largo to help support our family (more on that later). It was there I realized what a wild, funky, and fantastic world was available to provide education, entertainment, and enrichment in all of its splendor, pain, and madness.

I am not an author as much as a storyteller. Throughout my life, I have met many veterans of many wars. I have worked with them and had the pleasure of supporting them and their families through Serving Our Troops – a local group of Saint Paul people who serve the troops and their families a meal when they deploy and midway through their tour, 100% free.

As a result, I have heard their stories, opinions, and learned for good or bad war changes everyone. Exit Strategy offers a glimpse into two divergent psyches and interweaves today’s most challenging issues. It is the first of three, with Brian Kelly serving as the protagonist. I hope people enjoy it.

Author Social Links: Twitter

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Michael: It was something I had rolling around in my head, and eventually, I had to put it on paper.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Michael: Brian Kelly, he is parts (good and bad) of me and others who have played a role in my life thus far.

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Michael: I was terminated from a former employer after leaving a previous employer where I had worked for twelve years. The previous employer was a friend and mentor, but I felt my contributions were being taken for granted and spinning my wheels. He died not long after I left.

Betty: Which character(s) were the hardest to get to know? Why do you think?

Michael: The Olsens, because they were pure fiction. They were created from several people’s personality characteristics, both good and bad, yet no one I actually knew. I wanted Jenny to be complex. Part girl next door, part vamp, part loving wife, and one hundred percent a bad-assed combat vet. Born of the significant personal trauma experienced during her tour in Iraq.

I also enjoyed creating Carmen, who was also one hundred percent pure fiction. I enjoyed giving her a fascinating backstory, which I further developed in the sequel.

General Knapp was based on several people. I wanted him to be crass, yet, you could see him being a good guy. Then he says or does something so despicable, you want to see him meet his end.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Michael: I needed to research a lot of geography, weaponry, and psychology as well as the military because I have never served. I spoke with many friends who had served, not as an interview, but as they retold stories. You can see the pain, horror, comradery as they retell their memories.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Michael: It’s my first book, and my first and worst mistake was once I started writing, the story came to me pretty quickly, so I felt compelled to get it on paper. As if it would disappear. Converting it to something that resembled English was tough because I had so many errors. I hired an editor, a total waste of money. I gave it to my two daughters, both graduates of mass com and journalism from Big Ten universities, who eventually began editing each other’s edits. At one point,  I had ten drafts; finally, I started on page one and rewrote the entire manuscript using an outline or storyboard and the character list.

In my second book, I took my time,  created an outline for each chapter, developed the characters in advance, and bought Grammarly Pro!!!!!

Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you?

Michael: Seven years! My god, I hope not. Actually, my second came together in three years, but I was still working full-time and editing the first one.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Michael: None, that I’m aware of.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Michael: He/she “sat forward, leaned back,” also “as a result/resulting”

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Michael: My mother, she raised nineteen of us and also wrote. She was published in magazines and the Cincinnati Enquirer but never attempted a novel. It was her dream; I dedicated Exit Strategy to her.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Michael: We have a three-season porch with an adjoining deck; I use those until the winter gets too cold.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Michael: I am winding down my hospitality industry career. Currently consulting for the company I mentioned earlier. I have loved every minute of it. The hotel/resort sales business is one of the few where you live like a millionaire on someone else’s budget. I worked for a five-star resort in the Keys, moved to Minnesota (after hurricane Andrew), and worked for the top upscale hospitality company I could find. Traveled the country, the Caribbean, and Central America and had an absolute blast.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Michael: Book 1 – I have always been a good storyteller, but to actually decide to write a manuscript and sit down and do it. Going through all of the edits, making countless mistakes, going through numerous rejections (more than 500), and finally, having the gall, courage, the chutzpah to self-publis has been a monumental achievement.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Michael: Ernst Hemmingway, he was just a cool guy. He went to bull fights, fished the Keys, hung out in Key West, and wrote like a poet warrior. We have so many things in common, as I have done many of those same things. I would love to hang-out for one day. Grisham would be another. Clancey is a good storyteller but an absolute jackass. Flynn was a good guy, lived near-by, and told me to go for it! May he rest in peace.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Michael: First, I laugh, as I don’t have a writing career YET! Even so, I have already enjoyed success. I started doing this because when I regaled people with stories, or they read my articles in industry pubs, they would say you need to write a book. So I did. Then people read it, and they told me grammar aside, it was terrific. When is the sequel? Not out of consideration, but they truly meant it. That they enjoyed and truly wanted to know what happens next is my definition of success – everything else is gravy.

Exit Strategy begins with one of today’s most vexing problems, mass shootings, this one taking place at an elementary school on the first day of the new school year. Immediately, law enforcement from throughout three counties descends upon the school, joined by local FBI Special Agent John Regal. Over the next several hours, they work to evacuate the students and reunite them with their families.

The perpetrators are introduced during a charity golf tournament that took place a week earlier. It is here where we learn that nothing is really as it seems. While the shooting is taking place, a local racetrack casino is robbed of $50M, setting up a hunt for suspects that encompasses the United States, Caribbean, and Australia, leading to a conclusion that will literally blow you away and set up the sequel.

Nearly all of the main characters are veterans of the last sixty years of war. The book delves into the travesties endured, and how it shapes the futures of each character. It’s told in the third person and is a quick read at 250 pages.

Buy Links: * Apple * B&N * Amazon

Thanks for stopping by and sharing the inspiration of your story and a glimpse at your writing process, Michael.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know L. Bordetsky-Williams #author #Russian #literary #historical #fiction #books #histfic #history

I’m pleased to bring a fellow historical fiction author to the interview hotseat this morning. Join me in welcoming author Lisa Williams! Let’s look at her bio and then find out more about what inspired her to write her recent book.

L. Bordetsky-Williams (aka Lisa Williams) is the author of Forget Russia, published by Tailwinds Press, December 2020. Forget Russia is an Editors’ Choice Book of the Historical Novels Review.She has also publishedthe memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf, The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf, and three poetry chapbooks. She is a Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey and lives in New York City.

Author Social Links: Website * Twitter * Instagram * Facebook

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Lisa: My novel, Forget Russia, is based on my own family history. I wanted to understand the lives of my ancestors and how their lives intersected and influenced my own. My great-grandmother was raped and murdered in a pogrom in a small Ukrainian shtetl by Cossacks shortly after the Civil War between the Red and White armies ended. When the Red army finally was able to take over the Ukraine from the White and Ukrainian Nationalists, the retreating and defeated armies went into the Jewish shtetls and killed many Jews, who they equated with the Bolsheviks. I wanted to understand how this initial trauma affected the subsequent generations of women in the family. My grandmother came to America in 1921 after losing her mother in such a tragic and violent way. She settled in Roxbury, where her father, who had deserted the family years ago now lived with a new wife and children. It is not surprising that shortly after arriving, at the age of seventeen, she married a man approximately eighteen years her senior.

Then, in 1931, she and my grandfather actually returned to the Soviet Union with my mother and aunt, ages five and three. My grandfather, a carpenter, had come to America before the Revolution and had radicalized here. Life became incredibly difficult here during the Depression. It had always been a dream of his to return to the Soviet Union, the land of his birth, and build the revolution. While much has been written about Jewish Eastern European immigrants coming to this country, the experience of those American Russian Jews who returned to the Soviet Union to build the revolution in the early 30’s has been relatively unexamined.

In 1980, I was a Russian language student in Moscow at the Pushkin Institute. When I was there, I had the opportunity to meet the Soviet Jewish grandchildren of the Bolsheviks. Many of their ancestors had been imprisoned, killed, or exiled to labor camps by Stalin. It was heartbreaking to see how their ancestors’ dreams for a better, more equal society had been betrayed during Stalin’s purges. I also, for the first time, saw first-hand, how anti-semitic Soviet society was. On Rosh Hashanah Eve, we went to the only functioning synagogue in Moscow, and a car dashed across the cobble-stoned streets in an effort to intimidate and frighten the Jews gathered there.

My trip as a student to the Soviet Union truly changed my life. I spent three and a half months there, and from the moment I returned, I struggled to find the right form to express the ways that journey changed me. Finally, I realized the novel form would give me the freedom to intertwine the three generations’ stories. I also wanted to weave in a love story with an epic, historical setting, so the novel was the best form for that as well.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Lisa: My character Iosif, a young Soviet Jew, has a photograph of Leo Tolstoy hanging in his room. He is a true intellectual within a distinctly Russian and Soviet context. While he hates the absence of freedoms in his own country, he sees America as a sick and decadent place and imagines Americans only talk about business. For him, America is soul-less in its materialism, and yet the Soviet Union is as he calls it a nightmare where nothing works, and everyone worries that life will get even worse after Brezhnev dies.

Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?

Lisa: I did a tremendous amount of research for my novel, Forget Russia, over a number of years. I read accounts of Americans, some of them originally Russian Jews, who went to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. They were heartbreaking accounts of Americans who couldn’t leave the Soviet Union once the purges reached a peak in 1936. Many were imprisoned. I had the opportunity to interview a few Americans who went to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and managed to return to this country. I researched the 1930’s and the living conditions in Leningrad. I also read a tremendous amount about the Ukraine during the Civil War following the Russian Revolution. It was a very unstable place then, and when the White army finally lost control of the Ukraine, as they retreated, they entered the shtetls and murdered many Jews in widescale pogroms.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Lisa: I wrote about 30 or more drafts of the novel over a period of 20 years.

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?   

Lisa: I drink a lot of English Breakfast Tea and like to take long walks in Central Park since I live in NYC.

Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?

Lisa: I tend to over use the adverbs quickly and slowly.

Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?

Lisa: I look up to Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Marilynne Robinson.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Lisa: I tend to write at my desk that is part of my bedroom that also functions as a type of study.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it? 

Lisa: I work as Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and I really love teaching!

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Lisa: In Forget Russia, I have woven together the stories of 3 generations of Russian Jews journeying back and forth from Russia to the United States over the course of the 20th Century. Forget Russia is a tale of love, revolution, and betrayal. It is epic and historical in its scope. I am proud of that. In fact, the Historical Novel Society chose it as an Editors’ Choice Book.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why?

Lisa: When she was alive, I had a few opportunities to speak with Toni Morrison, and she deeply encouraged me to write. I’d love the opportunity to once more sit down to speak with her.

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Lisa: For me, success means being able to make people understand the suffering and longing of others through my writing. I then hope to inspire my readers to unite and take an active stance against all hate crimes wherever and whenever they have taken place. I also want to highlight the courage, struggles, and importance of the immigrant experience.

Forget Russia is about three generations of Russian-American Jews journeying back and forth, throughout the twentieth century, between America and Russia, searching for some kind of home and, of course, finding something altogether different. It is a tale of love, murder, abandonment, and betrayal. In 1980, Anna, an American college student journeys to the Soviet Union to confront her family’s past. As Anna dodges date rapists, KGB agents, and smooth-talking marketeers while navigating an alien culture for the first time, she must come to terms with the aspects of the past that haunt her own life. With its insight into the everyday rhythms of an almost forgotten way of life behind Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Forget Russia is a disquieting multi-generational epic about coming of age, forgotten history, and the loss of innocence in all of its forms.

Buy Links: Amazon * Bookshop  

This sounds like a very powerful story and one worth reading to gain a better or deeper understanding of what was happening. Thanks for sharing, Lisa!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Gayle M. Irwin #author #inspirational #sweet #contemporary #romance #pets #series

My guest today is a fellow animal lover. Like author Gayle M. Irwin, I have always adopted pets from an animal shelter or rescue. She takes her love farther though. Please help me welcome Gayle to the interview hot seat! Let’s take a look at her bio and then dive right in, shall we?

Gayle M. Irwin is an award-winning author and freelance writer, being recognized by Wyoming Writers, Inc., and the Wyoming Press Association for several of her works. She is a contributor to seven Chicken Soup for the Soul books and the author of many inspirational pet books and stories for both children and adults. Her sweet, contemporary romance series, Pet Rescue Romance, consists of Rescue Road, Finding Love at Compassion Ranch, Rhiann’s Rescue, and My Montana Love. Gayle volunteers for various animal rescue and humane society organizations and donates a percentage of all book sales to such groups. Learn more about her and her writing, sign up for her monthly pet parent newsletter, and follow her bi-monthly blog, all on her website: https://gaylemirwinauthor.com/.

Author Social Links: Facebook * Twitter * Pinterest

Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?

Gayle: I have worked for two different humane societies and I volunteer for various rescue groups; pet rescue and adoption is my passion. Therefore, when I decided to write romance books, I chose to weave the theme of pet rescue and adoption into my stories. I’ve created a series called the Pet Rescue Romance series – Rescue Road is the first novel in that series.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Gayle: My female protagonist. I based her a bit off myself. “Rhiann” is a freelance writer and is living in southwestern Montana; I began freelance writing (and later worked for a newspaper) in that region. “Rhiann” rescues animals and wants to establish an animal sanctuary on land she owns; I love helping pet rescue organizations, and if I could afford a large piece of property, I’d start an animal rescue sanctuary and family educational center (perhaps I’ll win the lottery and be able to see that dream happen! Lol).

Betty: Which story element sparked the idea for this story: setting, situation, character, or something else?

Gayle: Situation – I wanted to subtly educate readers about pet rescue and adoption. Nearly one million healthy dogs and cats are euthanized in animal shelters in the United States; if more people adopted and spayed and neutered their animals, that number would drastically drop. Through Rescue Road and other books in my series, I subtly show how rescue and adoption helps animals AND people; the stories, therefore, are both entertaining and educational.

Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?

Gayle: About 10. I started the story in a creative writing class at the local college and it was completely different – with a different title, different characters, and different genre (inspirational romance). Although the story turned out completely different, I like the direction it took (and I haven’t scrapped the original; it remains in a file on my computer and may sprout back to life in the next year or two!).

Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?

Gayle: I turn on instrumental, soothing music. I enjoy having music play while I write, but I can’t handle words (they sometimes end up on the page!). I also drink coffee in the morning in my “Rescue Mom” cup given by a friend, and I sip on water or fruity water during the afternoons. My pets (two dogs and two cats) often hang out in the home office with me. I find that comforting and peaceful.

Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?

Gayle: I write either in my home office, at the mountain cabin my husband and I own, or at a friend’s guest house on her ranch. I enjoy viewing nature so outside my home office window I have bird feeders and a bird bath at which I can see various songbirds, like chickadees, red finches, and woodpeckers. At the ranch are horses, llamas, white-tailed deer and turkeys, and at the cabin we have hummingbirds, robins, mule deer, pine squirrels, and the occasional red fox. Nature inspires me, and I weave elements of the outdoors into my stories.

Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?

Gayle: Yes, I have a part-time job at a pregnancy resource center. My colleagues and I help women who are experiencing unplanned pregnancies navigate the waters of their new journey through advocacy, free pregnancy testing and ultrasound, resources, and on-site programs. I oversee some of the staff and a group of volunteers plus I use my writing skills to create blog and social media posts. I also am a freelance writer for a few print magazines and online publications. I enjoy all of my work because of the people who are my colleagues, and I enjoy the freelancing because I write about a variety of things, from people features and business profiles to nature essays and pet stories. I enjoy the diversity of topics and projects.

Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?

Gayle: Creating a series. The idea for Rescue Road, as I mentioned earlier, was a completely different story, and it was to be a standalone. I’ve released three other books in the series and am working on a fourth (a Christmas novella). Once the first book was published, I realized I had more stories to share, and therefore, developed the idea for the series. I’m looking forward to adding the Christmas book and perhaps one more novel, or two more, to the series.

Betty: What other author would you like to sit down over dinner and talk to? Why? 

Gayle: Melissa Storm. She writes contemporary romance stories that feature animals, including In Love with the Veterinarian, In Love with the Rodeo Rider, and Lowcountry Love. She obviously enjoys weaving animals into her romance stories, so I think we’d have a lot in common. I also believe I could learn a lot from her about the craft of writing and the skill of marketing. Plus, we could talk for hours about our pets and our love for animals!

Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?

Gayle: I’m working on a plan to become a fulltime writer (freelance and author) by the end of 2022. That would be success to me – making a living from my writing. I don’t need wealth or fame, just enough money to sustain my household. I believe that would give me great joy as I so enjoy sharing stories, whether in book form, through magazines, or online publications. I’m on a journey toward that goal, and though the work is hard, that hard work also brings me joy as I reach new readers with my books and receive a new “yes” from a publication regarding an article.

Freelance writer Rhiann Kelly shelved romance for years. Her dream of starting an animal sanctuary takes deep roots after finding the perfect location in southwestern Montana and purchasing the property for back taxes. Emergency medical technician Levi Butler knows his elderly friend left the ranch to him in his will. Levi anxiously awaits the probate to be complete so he can plan his retirement and begin his dream of raising and selling horses. When Rhiann and Levi find each other at the ranch simultaneously, sparks fly – and not the romantic kind. Yet their mutual attraction deepens, especially after Levi finds Rhiann injured in an accident. Meantime, land developer Dallas Patterson sets his sights on charming Rhiann to obtain the land. Can Rhiann and Levi work together to detour Patterson and find a solution in which neither needs to give up their dream, or will the fence line of their hearts – and the property – separate them forever? Can their broken paths weave their hearts together as they travel the rescue road?

Buy Links: Amazon * Books2Read

Thanks for sharing your pet rescue series with us, Gayle! They sound like a good read and a good way to help those organizations that care for and rescue animals.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Jennifer J. Chow #author #cozymystery #characters #YA #fiction #books

I’m so pleased that author Jennifer J. Chow has given her character, Mimi Lee, the opportunity to come cat…er, chat with us today. Let’s take a look at Jennifer’s bio and then get right to talking with Mimi. Here we go!

Jennifer J. Chow is the Lefty Award-nominated author of the Sassy Cat Mysteries and the forthcoming L.A. Night Market Mysteries (Berkley/Penguin Random House). The first in the Sassy Cat series, Mimi Lee Gets A Clue, was selected as an Overdrive Recommended Read, one of PopSugar’s Best Summer Beach Reads, staff picks for both Richland Library and Changing Hands Bookstore, and a Reader’s Digest Best Read from the 2020 Quarantine Book Club. Jennifer has also published other Asian-American novels involving secrets and mysteries. She’s active in Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Crime Writers of Color.

Author Social Links: Website * Instagram * Twitter * Facebook

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Mimi Lee: Fusion. My mom is Malaysian Chinese, and my dad is Caucasian.

Betty: What kind of schooling did you have?

Mimi Lee: I got my undergrad degree in psychology at UCLA. Go Bruins! It’s a slight bone of contention with my boyfriend, Josh, who went to USC.

Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement?

Mimi Lee: Hollywoof. It’s my very own pet grooming salon in Los Angeles. I’m glad that years of dog walking and pet sitting have led me to my dream job.

Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?

Mimi Lee: Lots of stuff, but my meet-cute was a meet-oops with Josh because of a misunderstanding we had in our apartment complex’s shared laundry room. And that was on top of him seeing my delicates!

Betty: What’s your greatest fear?

Mimi Lee: That something bad will happen to my friends and family—that’s why I’m keen to clear their names whenever they get on the police’s radar.

Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?

Mimi Lee: I share a lot with my younger sister, Alice, but even she doesn’t know about my talking sassy cat, Marshmallow.

Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?

Mimi Lee: I love my close-knit family, although I’m glad that Ma has stopped her ludicrous matchmaking schemes now that I have Josh in my life.

Betty: What characteristics are you looking for in a potential lover/spouse?

Mimi Lee: Tall, handsome, and rich—in kindness toward animals.

Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?

Mimi Lee: I like a good YA novel and sometimes an entertaining show while snuggling with my two favorite guys, Josh and Marshmallow.

Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?

Mimi Lee: Good at looking out for my family and friends. Bad at following directions from a certain local homicide detective.

Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?

Mimi Lee: Keys, money, cell phone, and some handy pet wipes—to clean my furry friends’ paws.

Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?

Mimi Lee: I love sushi and the occasional boba—but you can’t really refrigerate those drinks too long or the tapioca balls will harden.

When a local teacher is found dead, LA’s newest pet groomer Mimi Lee finds herself in a pawful predicament—with her younger sister’s livelihood on the line.

Mimi Lee is on top of the world. She has a thriving pet grooming business, the sweetest boyfriend, and a talking cat to boot. When she arrives at the elementary school where her sister Alice works, she’s expecting a fun girls’ night out—but instead finds a teacher slumped over in her car, dead.

Alice was the last one to see Helen Reed, which instantly marks her as the prime suspect. Unable to sit quietly and let the authorities walk all over her sister, Mimi starts snooping and talks to Helen’s closest contacts, including one jumpy principal, a two-faced fiancé, and three sketchy teachers. With the help of her sassy but savvy cat, Marshmallow, and a cute kitten named Nimbus, the clock’s ticking for Mimi to get to the bottom of yet another case before her sister gets schooled.

Buy Links: Bookshop.org * PenguinRandomhouse

I love cozy mysteries with cats as active crime solvers. Don’t you? Thanks so much for stopping in, Mimi Lee!

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!

Getting to know Mary K. Tilghman #author #contemporary #historical #journalist

Do you enjoy cruises? My guest today doesn’t…until she does. So what changed? Please welcome journalist Donna, visiting from author Mary Tilghman’s The Last Gift! First a quick peek at Mary’s background and then we’ll find out more about Donna. Ready? Here we go!

Mary K. Tilghman, a journalist for forty years, finds inspiration for her books in the sites she visited when she wrote six travel guides for Frommer’s. These places and their history set the scene for her novels, both historical and contemporary.

Mary is the author of two Maryland-based historical novels, Divided Loyalties, set during the Civil War in Sharpsburg, and Love Letters & Gingerbread, set in 19th Century Annapolis.

Divided Loyalties was cited in CBSBaltimore’s “Five Baltimore Authors To Put On Your Summer Reading List.”

The mountains of Western Maryland serve as the backdrop for Inn By The Lake. Her newest novel, The Last Gift, published as an e-book by Champagne Book Group, takes place during an Adriatic cruise. It is due out in paperback this summer.

Mary is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America, Maryland Romance Writers, and the Maryland Writers Association.

A Maryland native, Mary and her husband Ray have three grown children, all of whom still live in Maryland.

Author Social Links: Website * Instagram * Twitter

Character Interview: Donna

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Donna: Idyllic. My sister and I were very close, even though she’s much older than me. I had friends, of course, but I confided all my hopes and dreams, angers and frustrations with Karen. I was so sad when she fell in love and got married. I was happy for her, of course, but that close sister friendship faded away as she got caught up in marriage and then babies.

Betty: What kind of schooling did you have? Did you enjoy it?

Donna: I loved school. I loved to read and I realized—well, Karen realized—I had a knack for writing. I didn’t go to any special schools, just my neighborhood school and the local university. But I was always a diligent student. Do you think that’s how I became an unattached, workaholic adult?

Betty: When did you have your first kiss and with who? How did it go?

Donna: Men, it seemed, didn’t want to make room for my hopes and dreams. Even in high school, they seemed preoccupied with their own futures. So it took a long time for me to give a guy a chance. His name was Gary. We went to the senior prom together—our first date. After our first slow dance together, he didn’t let go. There on the dance floor he took my face in his hands, looked at me deeply as if this was an important moment. I realized what was happening, forgot the room was full of teenagers, and closed my eyes. The kiss was tender, soft, and lovely. But then some smart-aleck made a rude comment and ruined it all. We broke apart, both of our faces red, and hurried off the dance floor. The second kiss later that night was even better. I thought I was falling in love that night.

Betty: What do you think is your greatest achievement? Why?

Donna: Being an aunt to Jake and Madison, my sister’s children. I was going to say becoming a real journalist because that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. But over the years I have always made time for those two children. I’m so proud that they’ve decided I can be their friend, their confidant. Jake is a teenager and Madison is in middle school so that’s huge. I’ve gone to their sporting events and in the last year since their father died I’ve done all I could to support them. I can’t fill the hole left since Brian passed away but I can make sure they know they are loved.

Betty: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?

Donna: I was terrified the moment I reached the gangplank for this cruise. I’d promised Karen I would go but the closer we got to the ship, the more frightened I became. I knew I didn’t like boats but I hadn’t expected to have a panic attack. If it weren’t for the kindness of that ship’s officer, I might have missed the most wonderful trip of my life. And I don’t think Karen would have forgiven me.

Betty: If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be and why?

Donna: When I was eleven or twelve, I went on a friend’s sailboat. He was showing off, making it lean over as we skipped over the ripples on the river. It was too fast for me but all he did was make fun of me and tell me to relax. I wish I had been able to gain control of my fears that day and told that kid off.

Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?

Donna: Fear of failure. Nobody gets in my way. Nobody gets the best of me. I can’t stand the idea of failing so when I found myself falling apart on a stupid boat—I know it’s a ship—I had to figure out quickly how I was going to overcome my fears so that my sister Karen would have a good trip. That was so important.

Betty: How much of your true self do you share with others?

Donna: I’m pretty private. Okay, I’m shy. Only a few people know me well. My sister always. When I found Scottie was so easy to talk to I guess I kind of opened up to him.

Betty: Are you close to your family? Do you wish your relationship with them was different in any way? If so, how?

Donna: I miss my parents. We were a close-knit family. Just the four of us. Now it’s just Karen and me. I think Mom especially would be glad to see how we’ve remained so close—and she would have loved Jake and Madison.

Betty: What characteristics are you looking for in a potential lover/spouse?

Donna: I always think of Rita in “Groundhog Day” when she describes her perfect mate: Well, first of all, he’s too humble to know he’s perfect…He’s intelligent, supportive, funny…He’s romantic and courageous.” Never mind that Bill Murray keeps commenting as she talks—I always liked that list of attributes.

Betty: How do you like to relax? What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?

Donna: Relax? Who has time to relax? I work and then I crash. Sleep and repeat. I do like to keep novels on my phone. I love Scottish romances and historical novels.

Betty: If you could change yourself in some way, what change would you make? Why?

Donna: Maybe I should learn to relax. Seriously, I realized on the cruise I was too focused on work. My sister lives in the moment. She’s good at living in the past—she is newly widowed—but she enjoys her time with her children. She savors every course at dinner. She stops to smell the roses. She literally stops to smell the roses. Drives me crazy when we’re in a hurry.

Betty: What do you think you’re good at? Bad at?

Donna: I’m a great planner. I love details. I guess that’s why the boss asked me to organize the upcoming press convention. So many things to think about. I had a great time getting everything together. Even though I’m shy, when I get to working those phones, it’s really fun. And I do love seeing all the arrangements work out.

Betty: What items do you carry in your pockets or handbag?

Donna: Always a handful of pens and a notebook. I’m old school, writing down all my notes for a story. I don’t go anywhere without my cell phone. I carry a wallet with nothing in it but my driver’s license and credit card and a couple of dollars for the kids who wash car windows at the stop lights. That’s all.

Betty: What foods and beverages do you routinely have in your refrigerator?

Donna: Leftovers from the previous night’s take-out. I’d love to say champagne and aged cheese but I don’t keep any of that there. I never have anyone over. I’m barely at home.

Sail away with Donna, an up-and-coming journalist who tears herself away from work—but not her laptop—to join her sister on a Mediterranean cruise. The trip is a big step for Karen whose husband booked the voyage just before his sudden death a year ago.

There’s only one thing, Karen warns her forever-single sister: Donna won’t find love on this ship.

Scottie, a ship’s officer, has given his life to the sea but when Donna discovers she’s afraid of boats, he lends her a hand and loses his heart.

Buy Links: ChampagneBooks * Amazon * B&N

Thanks for stopping by, Donna! It’s been nice getting to know you. Thanks also to Mary for letting you have a few minutes away to join us.

Happy reading!

Betty

P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!