Let’s Meet Tawny Lindholm, character of Debbie Burke #author #crimefiction #suspense #fiction #books

My guest today is the star of the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series by author Debbie Burke. A quick peek at Debbie’s bio and then we’ll see what Tawny has to share with us.

Debbie Burke is a suspense novelist, staff writer for two senior newspapers, and blogger at The Kill Zone, a popular website covering crime fiction. Her Tawny Lindholm Thriller series plunges the widowed 50-ish heroine into fast-paced twisty plots with quirky characters and snappy dialogue. As a founding member of the Authors of the Flathead, Debbie is active in the vibrant Montana writing community and helps plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference. She enjoys speaking at book clubs and local schools, as well as mentoring young writers.

Social Links: Website * Twitter * Blog

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Tawny: I grew up naïve and sheltered in a small Montana town where everyone knew everyone. I married young to a man 15 years older who protected me more than I realized. After he died, I learned the hard way that trusting the wrong person can be fatal.

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

Tawny: Don’t ask! I hated school and was always this close to flunking out because I couldn’t read or spell. My alcoholic dad used to say, “It’s a good thing you’re pretty, honey, ’cause you sure are dumb.” Later I learned about dyslexia but that early stigma still dogs me.

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

Tawny: Being a loyal friend whom people trust and feel safe confiding their secrets to. My lover and boss is Tillman Rosenbaum, a 6’7” bombastic attorney who even intimidates judges. Tillman doesn’t trust anyone but he trusts me. He always says my superpower is I can get clients to tell me what they’re too afraid to tell him. In my job as his investigator, that ability compensates for my bad spelling!

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

Tawny: Too many to count. As a fair-skinned redhead, when I blush, everybody knows it. Happens often!

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

Tawny: I wouldn’t have gotten into a situation where I had to kill a man in self-defense.

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

Tawny: Letting down someone I love who depends on me.

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

Tawny: Way too much. Most of the time, I’m an open book. In my job, I have to work hard to keep feelings hidden, especially in the courtroom.

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

Tawny: I still miss my late husband. My son Neal reminds me of him: hard-working, conscientious, but also mischievous. My daughter Emma…well, I feel like a failure. She’s in her 30s going on 13, as irresponsible as Neal is responsible. She flits from one man to another, one job to another, always looking for greener grass. I love her but, oh Lord, she makes me crazy. Tillman’s three children I cherish as if I’d given birth to them. He’s a good provider but a lousy father and it’s an ongoing challenge to build a bridge across their estrangement. 

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

Tawny:  I tell you one thing for sure—Tillman has none of the characteristics I would have chosen. He’s confrontational, I’m conciliatory. He loves the spotlight, I shrink from it. He’s logical and rational, I’m emotional. He’s cynical, I’m too trusting. We’re yin and yang. Sometimes we balance each other, sometimes we’re totally out of whack. But you can’t help who you fall in love with. Since the day we met, it’s never been dull.

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

Tawny: Physical activities like hiking in the mountains, Zumba, working in my garden. Making love with Tillman. Is that TMI?

Investigator Tawny Lindholm broke Rule #1: Don’t sleep with the guy who signs your paycheck. She loves her boss, Tillman Rosenbaum, a brilliant, high-powered attorney, but his dysfunctional family scares her. After she rescues his teenage daughter from a suicide attempt, she can’t turn away from the troubled girl. Meanwhile, a drone is watching Tillman’s every move, manipulated by powerful enemies who are determined to destroy him and everyone he loves. Can Tawny protect his children and unravel the treacherous plot against him?

Buy Links: Amazon * Books2Read

Thanks to Tawny for stopping by and chatting with us. I’m sure she has to get back to work in Debbie’s next book, but it’s been fun getting to know her.

It’s a brand new year and I hope it’s a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous one for you! 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 Roslyn Reid #author #awardwinning #paranormal #mystery #books #supernatural #suspense

Please help me welcome a fellow Authors Guild member to the interview hot seat! Roslyn Reid brings a refreshing new style of storytelling to us. Let’s take a peek at her bio and then dive right in, shall we?

Amazon best-selling and award-winning author Roslyn Reid’s first mystery, A Scandal at Crystalline, debuted to almost a dozen five-star reviews on Amazon. It reveals the sinister side of raku pottery and kicks off a series of quirky mysteries set in Maine, featuring Black private detective James Early and his teenage son Tikki. The Spiricom, the second book in The Early Mysteries series, debuted in September 2021.

Reid lives with her corgi, Great Pyrenees, and husband in Downeast Maine, where she gardens, lifts weights, and hikes. A former model, she contributed to Llewellyn’s annual almanacs for several decades and has written for a few of the local newspapers.

Social media: Facebook * Facebook2

Betty: Breaking news! Roslyn learned not too long ago (as in, around December 16, 2021) that The Spiricom won the 2021 N.N. Light Book of the Year Award in the Paranormal Mystery category! Congratulations, Roz! Now, on with the interview.

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

Roslyn: It just came out of the ether when I woke up one morning. And the next morning. And the next. Finally, I decided to write it down.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Roslyn: I’d say the main character, James Early, and his son Tikki. They even arrived with names.

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

Roslyn: It was an episode of the original Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV show, where the wife killed her husband with a leg of lamb and then cooked the murder weapon and served it to the cops who were investigating.

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

Roslyn: Chandler Hammond, because he’s missing for the entire book.

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

Roslyn: Court documents and victims—I based the Ponzi scheme on a real one my BFF got involved in.

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

Roslyn: About 4 or 5.

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?

Roslyn: A couple of years. I’d say this was typical, depending on how much detail I need.

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

Roslyn: I write in bed. Always have.

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

Roslyn: According to one of my editors, it’s “so.” So try finding an alternative for that!

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

Roslyn: My writing role model is Raymond Chandler. He was also a literary critic, so he knew what worked.

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

Roslyn: As I said, in bed. I read on the couch, which used to be a bed. J

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

Roslyn: No, I am happily retired.

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

Roslyn: Getting my first book published. It took 5 years.

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

Roslyn: Tess Gerritsen, because she lives about an hour away and is practically a neighbor. In fact, she does sit-down dinners with Authors Guild members, but I didn’t have the fee for her latest one. L

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?

Roslyn: If something I’ve written accomplishes what I wanted it to do, that’s success. I can usually tell by the feedback.

She was killed on their wedding day…but he couldn’t let her go.

Tall and handsome Dr. Spencer Py was a well-respected environmental Scientist. But one moment can change everything. When a car crash kills his new bride Melanie and leaves him bound to a wheelchair, he’s left racked with despair over his failure to save her. Grief turns to obsession, and one fateful night he stumbles upon plans for the Spiricom on the internet, Thomas Edison’s device for communicating with the dead. Determined to be united with his beloved, he embarks on a journey to build the device, never imagining the results, and unwittingly drawing Detective James Early into the scariest case of his life.

Purchase links: Amazon

Wishing you all the success with your writing, Roz! Thanks for stopping by!

Happy Holidays and 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: Melanie Chartoff #author #actress #stage #screen #voice #essayist

Let’s mix it up a bit today, shall we? My guest author today is a very creative woman who is going to share a bit about the inside of a creative personality. She’s written a book about her life and struggles which sounds fascinating. Please help me welcome author Melanie Chartoff to the interview hot seat! Here’s a look at her background, and then we’ll find out more about her.

Beginning as an actor On and Off Broadway, Melanie Chartoff is best known for the characters she created on Fridays, Seinfeld, Newhart, and Rugrats. Recently published in McSweeney’s, Medium, Entropy, Purple Clover, The Jewish Journal, Funny Times, Five on the Fifth, Glint, Entropy, Verdad, Bluestem, Evening Street Press, Mused, Jewlarious, Defenestration, Better after 50, Living the Second Act, and three editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul (Simon and Schuster), Odd Woman Out: Essays and Stories is her first book.

Author Social Links: Facebook * Twitter * Instagram

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Melanie: An amusement park. Hilarious yet dangerous, thrilling, and scary.

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

Melanie: Small town public school—lucky I lived til 10th grade. Chose my college because they gave me a small drama scholarship and it was an hour from New York City. The drama department there was run by dilettantes on tenure who prepared us for fallback jobs, for failure as actors.

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

Melanie: First peck from a furry face teen boy. First real kiss in Junior High—and I got so aroused I was terrified—I felt how easy it would be to lose control so I stayed a virgin til I was nearly 23.

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

Melanie: Surviving show biz and making a real home for myself and in myself, and finally getting married to a wonderful man at age 65, a dream I’d harbored since I was 12.

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

Melanie: Having a tooth knocked out in a staged fight on live television.

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

Melanie: I’d trade in my original father for a kinder model.

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

Melanie: Afraid of having water close over my head—I can’t swim. Now you all know!

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

Melanie: In my book, I reveal my many shames and comedic overcompensations.

Betty: Are you close to your family?

Melanie: No. My sister and I are estranged, and I’ve not been able to see my mother in a year and a half due to COVID, and she can’t hear me on the phone.

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

Melanie: I wish they would stop blaming me for the choices they made in their lives. I wish my sister was open to discussion and to going to therapy of some sort to ameliorate her regrets and resentments and her dependence on my mother who is now 97.

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

Melanie: I have it all in my brand new and only forever husband. He is kind, deep, brilliant, empathetic, devoted to his therapy patients, and very, very funny.

Betty: How do you like to relax?

Melanie: Do yoga, walk by the sea, esp in foreign lands, and lately often recall a Sunday by the ocean in Polignara a Mare, Italy.

Betty: What kind of entertainment do you enjoy?

Melanie: International streaming series and films that take us far away from the American political and pop cultural scene. We love Chaiflicks (on which I appear) a distribution site for Jewish themed films from many lands—Africa, Germany, Austria, S. America. Astounding small stories with enormous impact.

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

Melanie: I would rid myself of the lupus and arthritis which limits me. I’ve learned to live with it all, but would be far happier without it.

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

Melanie: Self-discipline, teaching charisma, entertaining, singing, acting, improvising, and dancing, but I won’t twerk. I’m bad at swimming! Being ignored by old friends without explanation.

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

Melanie: Cell phone is ever present. Lip balm, a q link, a key.

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

Melanie: Pellegrino. Iced herbal tea.

Go backstage on Broadway, behind the scenes on network television, and inside the complicated psyche of a talented performer struggling to play the role of a complete human. Odd Woman Out intimately exposes the nature of identity in the life of a performing artist, snapshotting the hopeful search for a self Chartoff could love, and someone else’s self to love, too.

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N

Thanks so much for letting us take a peek behind the curtain, Melanie! Wishing you all the best in the new year, too.

Happy Holidays and 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 Sharon Skinner #author of #paranormal #mustread #fiction #books #kidlit

I’m happy to welcome an author who writes young adult and middle-grade novels for a change of pace. Please help me welcome Sharon Skinner to the interview hot seat! Take a peek at her bio and then we’ll dive into the interview.

Sharon Skinner holds an MA in Creative Writing and is an Author Accelerator Certified Book Coach and freelance editor, whose goal is to help writers weave their words into stories that shine. She writes fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and the occasional steampunk, for audiences of all ages.

Skinner is a proud US Navy veteran, and one of the first women who served aboard a US Navy vessel, the USS Jason (AR-8). In October 1980, she was among the crew of approximately 800 men and 45 women when the Jason deployed for a six-month WestPac cruise in support of troops during the Iran hostage crisis.

She is an active member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and serves as the Regional Advisor for SCBWI AZ. Her Young Adult and Middle-Grade novels tend to explore complex relationships, particularly those between mothers and daughters. Her picture book, Rocket Shoes! is “a rhyming story for every kid who wants to fly—and wonders when it’s okay to break the rules.”

Author Social Links: Twitter * Instagram * LinkedIn

More information can be found at sharonskinner.com or bookcoachingbysharon.com

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

Sharon: This story actually stemmed from a short story I wrote called Coffee & Cues. It was a story based on a personal experience that I struggled to write until I remembered that I am at heart a fiction writer, and I could make the story into whatever I wanted. It was extremely cathartic to be able to take a less than positive moment in my life and rewrite it with an outcome that was more to my liking.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Sharon: The story’s protagonist, Merissa. She is the teenager I want to have been when I was growing up. Despite her lack of confidence and sometimes poor choices, she speaks her mind and her wit has a real bite.

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

Sharon: Pretty much every writing project I undertake starts with character. I have to work for plot, which I have plenty of tools in my kit to help with, but if I don’t have a fabulous character to hang out with for the duration, I won’t ever make it to the finish line.

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

Sharon: I don’t seem to have a lot of trouble getting inside my characters. I think it has a lot to do with my theater background. Getting into characters is something I have always loved doing. That said, I often have to go back and revise my work to ensure the villains are well-rounded and remain the heroes of their own story.

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

Sharon: It has been decades since I was in high school, so I had to do a deep dive into what high school looks like, topics of study, etc. I also had to make lunar timelines and a seasonal chart for what plants would be in bloom during the story.

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

Sharon: Collars went through a ton of drafts, I didn’t keep a solid count on the number but it was at least ten, possibly more, but I am happy with the way the story turned out, and I actually have a sequel in the works.

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?

Sharon: Collars & Curses took me about four years from start to finish. I think most of my books have taken me close to that amount of time to write from start to finish. This is partly due to the fact that I have a full-time job as well as a side business as a Freelance Editor and Book Coach and partly because I am generally working on more than one book at a time. The positive outcome of having more than one project going at any given time is that I have been able to average completing/publishing a book a year for the past ten years.

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

Sharon: I like to do my drafting on my laptop away from the distraction of email and the internet. When I take my laptop into the living room and plop down on the end of the couch, I am there to write and nothing more. It’s a lot harder to do that on my desktop where my bad habits can get the best of me, like researching in the middle of a scene and then falling into the rabbit hole of the web.

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

Sharon: I used to say that “looked” and “turned and looked” used to be my most overused words/phrases, but I’ve gotten better at not using them as much. Now, it’s more likely to be a tired simile or an aging cliché, but instead of calling those favorites or overused, I consider them placeholders for when it’s time to revise.

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

Sharon: I don’t know that I would call them role models, but there are a number of writers whose work I admire and I aspire to develop my craft to write on that level. I use the work of such authors as mentor texts, delving into what they do well, their use of structure and language to write deeply engaging and emotional stories. Topping the list right now are Becky Chambers, TJ Klune, Julie Berry, Justina Ireland, Erin Morgenstern, Daniel Nayeri, Laura Amy Schlitz, Thana Lai, and Dan Santat.

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

Sharon: I like to draft in my living room on my laptop. I still like to revise my own work on hardcopy. My brain processes the words differently when I step away from what I have written on the computer and see it on the page. When I read other author’s published works, I prefer a physical book. I do most of my reading at night for 1-2 hours before I go to sleep and having a physical book gets my eyes and brain off the computer.

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

Sharon: Yes, I do. I am a Grant Professional, so I am a sort of technical writer/persuasive storyteller by day. I do like my work, but fiction is my true passion. I love writing and editing fiction and helping other writers through my Book Coaching service.

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

Sharon: Successfully completing my trilogy, The Healer’s Legacy series, was one of the most challenging things I have done as a writer. So, I would call that my greatest achievement to date as an author.

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

Sharon: There are several, but I think I would have a great time hanging out with Becky Chambers. Her writing is so solid. As I have said, I love to spend time with interesting characters, and her characters are just so fascinating and diverse.

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?

Sharon: I am a firm believer in what Simon Sinek calls “knowing your why.” Publishing can feel so competitive at times, especially since we all have to be so public about what we are doing in order to reach readers. Seeing what other authors are doing/accomplishing can cause us to measure our work and accomplishments against theirs, which is a true recipe for feeling like we are not successful. But if you know your “why,” the reason that you write and publish, the only yardstick you have to measure against is your own. For me, it’s all about reaching readers and connecting. I want them to connect with my work, to be moved, to relate, and to feel like taking the journey with my characters was well worth the time and effort. When I hear from readers how deeply they have connected with my stories, that’s when I know I am a successful author.

Think being a High School sophomore is hard? Try doing it when your messed up genetic code turns you into a wolf every full moon. Not only does Merissa have to deal with high school divas, bullies and pop quizzes, she also has to hide the awkward truth that once a month she really does get bitchy.

And just when she thinks she’s found someone to whom she can actually relate, her new classmate Bree turns out to be an arrogant witch.

Literally.

If they weren’t the only non-Norms in the entire town of Fair Glen—aside from the annoying half-Elf, Jeryd, who shows up and complicates things—Merissa might not give Bree the time of day.

But when Bree is drawn into a curse that causes chaos at school and threatens the town, Merissa must find a way to vanquish the dark power behind the curse and keep her parents from finding out about it.

All without failing biology.

Buy Links: Website * BrickCaveMedia * Indiebound * Amazon

I love that you start with character and base the action on what they would do and how they’d react. Thanks, Sharon, for coming by and letting us learn more about your motivation and writing process.

Happy Holidays and 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 MaryAnn Shank #author #action #adventure #Somali #fiction #NewAge #LGBTQ

My guest author today brings her own unique experiences to storytelling. Please help me welcome MaryAnn Shank to the interview hot seat! Let’s peek at her bio and then we’ll find out more about what inspired her story.

In the 1960s MaryAnn answered President Kennedy’s call to, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” This idealistic young woman went to Somalia as part of the new Peace Corps, and when she returned home two years later even her own mother did not recognize her. Now, after fifty years, she has set her experiences in this exotic, mystical land to print. In between, MaryAnn served as a research librarian, a business writer, and a web coach helping entrepreneurs create new businesses. It took the screams of TV newscasters shouting about “Somali war lords” and the massive misrepresentation of Somalia in Black Hawk Down to persuade MaryAnn to put pen to paper to tell the real stories of Somalia, as she does here.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

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

MaryAnn: Fifty years ago I spent two years in Somalia, with the Peace Corps. This was not the Peace Corps that you see in brochures, with palm trees and laughing children. This was the Peace Corps of extremes – live bullets, seething hatred…and kindness beyond belief. It was a very dramatic time in my life, and is a story that I have wanted to tell for a long time. It has taken me all of those 50 years to focus my thoughts so that I could write the story. I wanted honesty in the story, and I wanted the world to know that not all Somalis are represented in Black Hawk Down.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

MaryAnn: We might suspect the main character, a woman, a lesbian. But that isn’t so. I actually had a difficult time writing her story. Perhaps she was just too close. A couple of men were much clearer.

One was Padre Vittorio, the head of the orphanage, the one intent on giving “his” orphaned boys a real chance at life. The power of his goodness stays with me even now.

Omar “Chicago”, our landlord, was another. There was a great deal that I have never understood about Omar, but I do know that he would have given his life to protect me. I depicted those men as clearly as I remembered them.

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

MaryAnn: I was watching the news one day and saw the reports of the “Somali pirates” and how terrible the “Somali warlords” were. I nearly jumped out of my chair. There are no “pirates”, no “warlords” in Somalia. Most clans have elders they respect and look to for guidance, even to judge a dispute. These clan leaders are far more intent on maintaining peace among the tribes than in fighting them.

I heard this depiction of Somalis as “war lords” again and again. The news media had found a fear it enjoyed: African war lords.

Somalis are a strong people. They walk with their backs straight and eyes level, no matter their station in life. They have faced severe drought, devastating floods, centuries of foreign invasion. And yet they have survived. They are a proud people. They are tall, dark, and very beautiful. Of course they scared the daylights out of modern white men, but there was no need for the fear. Somalis are also among the kindest people I have ever known.

Bringing this duality of “strength” and “kindness” into one story was the real challenge. I opted to center the story on a young woman much like myself, one who knew first hand the intensity of emotions in Somalia. I wanted my readers to be able to relate to Somalis through the eyes of this young woman, so I opted to tell stories about her life in Somalia. Each story speaks to this duality of strength and kindness, even the stories with bullets flying.

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

MaryAnn: It was very hard to get to know the Somalis themselves. They are a private people. I was intrigued with folk tales and songs, but they were reluctant to share even that with me. I didn’t learn the story of the Goddess Arawello until many years after I returned to the U.S. Somalis had been battered and ridiculed for so long that they held their culture close to their hearts. My being a woman confounded them even further, for they had woefully little contact with foreign women. The emotions they did express were extremely subtle, like they put on a “public face” whenever they saw a foreigner. They all knew what these public faces said, but I had a much harder time deciphering them.

And since I was writing about real experiences, I often included real people, especially real foreigners and real Peace Corps volunteers. The more I could “invent” a character, the easier it was to write about that character. Friends are hard to put into a story. I didn’t want my friends’ warts to dominate a story. I knew that we had all had our challenges in Somalia. But I wanted it to be real. It was a constant balancing act.

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

MaryAnn: Fortunately, I didn’t have to do a lot of research. A lot of research simply would not have been possible; it had never been written. I was there, I knew most of it. But other Somali Peace Corps Volunteers were a huge help with details, like I had forgotten about the glorious pink bougainvillea on the government buildings. And one volunteer told me the story of his cat, which I had to include.

And my friend Abdi who lives nearby was kind enough to read the final draft and correct a few things, one even that Wikipedia had gotten wrong! Abdi is a Somali who lived in Baidoa, the town I was in, and he attended the Catholic school where I taught. We missed meeting in Baidoa by a couple of months. I left Baidoa about two months before he went to the Catholic school. But Abdi came to the US on a basketball scholarship and stayed, marrying a wonderful woman named Mary. We serendipitously met, discovering that we were neighbors. We’ve spent many hours talking about Baidoa life. He and his extended family here have been a magnificent source of information and inspiration for me.

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

MaryAnn: Lots. Each chapter became a story in its own right, and each story was revised many, many times. The only story that came intact was the one about Christmas in Baidoa and my conversation with Padre Vittorio.

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?

MaryAnn: If Mystical Land of Myrrh were a poem, I would likely finish it in a few hours … or a few weeks.

If it were a business plan, I could whip that out in a few days … or a few weeks … something that I did for over a decade in the venture capital world.

If it were a web page, odds are that I would devote an hour or two to writing it before loading it up.

But Mystical Land of Myrrh isn’t any of those things. It is an historical novel, a biographical novel. A very personal novel. That is why it took fifty years for the words to be set on paper; fifty years for me to focus my thoughts, prodded no doubt by the unfair, shattering bad press of the U.S. government when the president put Somalia on the “no entry” list, when the media told the stories of Black Hawk Down and the Somali pirates, with barely a sentence devoted to the Somali point of view. It was all so wrong, but I didn’t know how to make it “right.” The Mystical Land of Myrrh is a small step in that direction.

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

MaryAnn: I begin with handwritten sketches, usually over a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee house. That forms the “skeleton” of the story. For The Mystical Land of Myrrh the “skeleton” had to be trimmed down and down and down – I had just too many stories to fit into a book, so I had to do a lot of selection.

I also like to gather around me “things” that feel like the story. In the case of The Mystical Land of Myrrh, I brought out a real piece of myrrh, a small carving of a lion that a Somali did, and a carved headrest that nomads use. I put these in my display case (out of reach of my two kitties). Things like this seem to keep me grounded in the environment I want to be in.

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

MaryAnn: “And” and “But” are the biggies. There always seems to be more to write AND those conjunctions do the job – lol.

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

MaryAnn: I have two role models whose examples are with me every day: my two grandmothers. Both grandmothers were born in the late 19th century and lived to see the world transformed through two world wars and immense technology.

One grandmother raised two boys by herself, supporting the family with a one-pump gas station and a small apple orchard. She told me long ago that her proudest time was when she could put two decals on her front window: one for a son who went into the Army, and one for a son who went into the Navy. This was during World War II.

The other grandmother, a Christian Scientist, turned to nursing to support her family of five children and a crippled husband. Few occupations were open to women, so she chose nursing, in spite of her religion.

I am in total awe of the strength of character and resourcefulness of these two women. The challenges were simply dumped on them, and they responded without question, raising families that anyone would be proud of.

I know there are many women today who find themselves in similar situations, and I have but the highest respect for them all. I simply feel so blessed to find two such strong, loving women in my own family tree.

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

MaryAnn: My coffee house, of course. I am also working on some children’s stories about a little fairy, and I find inspiration for her in a nearby park. She seems to scamper and hide behind bushes, just to tease me.

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

MaryAnn: I am retired now. My former jobs – a research/children’s librarian, a researcher/writer for a venture capital firm, a web coach for entrepreneurs – all honed skills that I use daily now. I have indeed enjoyed my career and am pleased to live in southern Oregon where inspiration is contagious.

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

MaryAnn: First, just beginning to write is a major accomplishment. It is scary. It is a solitary task that no one understands until they try it themselves.

Second, finishing a book. “Finishing” is a tough word, for it is hard to “finish” anything artistic. There just comes a point where it has to be introduced to the world, and that is a major achievement. I am proud that I am able to speak of a people so sorely misunderstood, my biggest regret being that I couldn’t find a way to paint them more completely.

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

MaryAnn: Shel Silverstein. I was a librarian when the book Where The Sidewalk Ends was first published. I have never seen poetry so enrapture children, and adults too. I don’t know that I could learn that much from him, for he is genuinely gifted, but I know it would be a raucous, wonderful dinner!

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?

MaryAnn: I am old enough to know that money isn’t the answer to anything. I treasure a nod or a smile from a reader, an acknowledgement that Yes … Yes.

Moira, a young Peace Corps Volunteer, and a lesbian, confronts a magical, sometimes terrifying land of Somalia. Ancient tales hold Somalia together while modern warfare tears it apart. Moira quenches her soul at the women’s watering hole, and in the classrooms of her students, while all manner of peoples – local clan leaders, nomads, earthy waitresses, Italian ex-pats and the orphans of the Catholic sanctuary – all pull at her energy. Over it all is the aura of Arawello, the Somali Goddess Queen, who once rose from Her people to save the nation, and who may do so again. So strong is the pull on Moira’s heart that in the end even she hardly recognizes herself anymore.

Buy Links: Amazon

That’s a fascinating background to The Mystical Land of Myrrh. I hope many people will read it to learn more about your experiences in Somalia.

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 Lynn Downey #author #historical #western #mystery #historian

I’m happy to welcome a fellow lover of history to the interview hot seat today. Cinch into your chair for a ride with author Lynn Downy and her debut novel set on a dude ranch! Let’s take a look at her bio and then find out more about her and her inspiration.

I’m a native California writer, historian, and archivist. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but didn’t get paid for it until 1985, when I started publishing articles and books about the history of the West. I was the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years and wrote the first biography of the founder, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World. And my grandmother’s experience in a TB sanatorium in the 1920s led to Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women, which won a WILLA award from Women Writing the West. My next book is a history of dude ranching, American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, which will be released in March of 2022. I’m obsessed with the dude ranch, which is also the setting for my first novel, Dudes Rush In, a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award. I’m the Vice President/President-Elect of Women Writing the West, and a member of Western Writers of America. I live in the northern California wine country with 4 cats and a Pinot Noir vineyard in my back yard.

Author Social Links: Website * Blog * Instagram

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

Lynn: I have been writing books and articles about history for over 30 years, and I love to read historical mysteries. In 2012 I was reading one of Donis Casey’s wonderful Alafair Tucker mysteries, and when I finished, I thought to myself, “Gee, I’d love to write a historical novel.” Well, I had to grab pen and paper because as soon as I had that thought, the characters and plot of a story started running through my head as though someone had turned on a movie projector.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Lynn: My main character Phoebe McFarland, and the woman who wrote the diary that she discovers, Ellender Shepherd, both came to me almost fully-formed. They are very different, in back story, looks, and time period, and that actually made it easier for me to flesh them out as I worked on the book.

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

Lynn: I’m fascinated by the concept of the dude ranch, which is the perfect setting for a novel, especially a mystery: an isolated location with its own language and customs, filled with people from different places with unique back stories of their own. Stick everyone together in the ranch house, throw in cowboys, horses, and beautiful scenery, and the drama will happen.

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

Lynn: It was hardest for me to get into the head of the male characters. I think this is partly a function of being a woman, and partly being a first-time novelist. Luckily, I had a wonderful editor at my publisher, Pronghorn Press, who helped me get those details onto the page. The men in my book were a little two-dimensional, which I needed to fix.

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

Lynn: Historical research is my profession and my favorite thing to do, so I dived into the history of dude ranches, focusing on the 1950s. I have stayed at a few dude ranches, and I was able to translate those experiences into the book, making sure I stayed true to the decade in which my story is set. My fictional town, Tribulation, is based on one of my favorite places in the world, Wickenburg, Arizona, and I used aspects of its history for both plot and setting.

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

Lynn: I wrote 2 drafts of my manuscript before it was picked up by Pronghorn Press. Annette, the publisher and editor, liked my story but she made many editorial suggestions to strengthen the narrative. I ended up reorganizing some chapters and doing a lot of rewriting, all of which I started as the COVID pandemic took hold in the spring of 2020. I spent the entire first month of the lockdown working about 5 hours a day on my manuscript. It was a great way to distract myself from the horrors, was the hardest work I’ve ever done as a writer, and was also a great joy.

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?

Lynn: Dudes Rush In is my first novel, and I started it when I was still working full time. The germ of the idea came to me in the summer of 2012, I semi-retired in 2014, worked on it exclusively in 2018, and the book came out in the fall of 2020. I call that a long time! I’m working on the second book in the series now and I expect it to come out next year or the beginning of 2023. That’s certainly an improvement.

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

Lynn: I always listen to music, and it has to be music that’s pertinent to whatever I’m writing. When I was working on Dudes Rush In, I listened to a lot of Western swing and theme music written for Western TV shows and movies. And I threw in some 1950s jazz, too.

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

Lynn: I have a passive voice problem. When I edit—whether non-fiction or fiction—I have to go through the manuscript and fix limp, lifeless sentences.

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

Lynn: One of them is writer Donis Casey, whose work not only inspired me to try fiction, she was also personally supportive to me when I made a tentative beginning. Her family history inspired her books, and I also use my own family as a starting point in my novel. She is one of those authors who believes in lifting up others as they travel their own paths.

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

Lynn: I write on my computer in my home office, and I cover the walls with photos, pages from magazines, and other artifacts that pertain to what I’m writing. I surround myself with these visuals so that I’m immersed in whatever world I am trying to create. Sometimes my office looks like those rooms on TV crime shows that stalkers or serial killers have filled with the objects of their obsession. But it works for me! I like editing on paper in a bustling coffee shop, but that was out of the question for a long time in 2020 and 2021. So, I take my printed pages into my living room, sit on the couch and put on some music, hoping one of my cats won’t bat the pen out of my hand.

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

Lynn: I’m a consulting archivist and historian. I work with companies, museums, and libraries to organize their historical materials, and I write everything from social media posts to books for my clients. I did this work full time until 2014, when I decided to move into the world of consulting, which allows me to choose my projects and gives me more time to write. History and historical archives are my profession and where my heart lives.

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

Lynn: Being persistent and true to my stories. I sent the manuscript of my book Arequipa Sanatorium: Life in California’s Lung Resort for Women to a publisher I had worked with before. It was rejected (with extreme prejudice) and I was in such despair I almost gave up on it, but the book was something I had wanted to write for over 30 years. I had to keep going. Then, a historian friend introduced me to an editor at the University of Oklahoma Press, who looked at the manuscript, made some suggestions for improvement, and then saw it through to publication. As I mentioned earlier, the book won a WILLA award from Women Writing the West. I believed in my story and dug in and worked hard to make it happen. It’s a lesson I think about whenever I write something new. And the University of Oklahoma Press is also publishing my next book, so this connection has been personally and professionally fulfilling.

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

Lynn: I would love to chat with historian and author Heather Cox Richardson, who has a unique perspective on how the American West helped to shape national history. And she has a clear-eyed way of looking at modern politics through a historical lens.

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?

Lynn: Success for me is getting better at what I do, and writing the best version of whatever book I’m working on. Because it’s all about the story, which means it’s ultimately all about the reader.

In 1952 San Francisco, restless war widow and aspiring writer Phoebe McFarland decides to change her life and spend six months on her sister-in-law’s dude ranch in Tribulation, Arizona, called the H Double Bar. She has enjoyed many vacations at the ranch, she loves the desert, and is happy for the opportunity to spend time with her late husband’s family. In exchange for room and board, she helps out in the office and hopes to finally finish the novel she is working on. When a group of magazine writers comes to stay, including an attractive single man, Phoebe sees a chance to connect with the professionals. But Tribulation soon lives up to its name. When Phoebe finds an old diary hidden in her desk, she stumbles onto secrets from Tribulation’s past that collide with a shocking revelation of her own, leading her down a trail to both discovery and danger.

Buy Links: Website * Amazon * Bookshop

I enjoy stories with horses and cowboys, so this one is going on my ever-growing TBR list. Thanks for sharing, Lynn!

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 Tony Damascus, character of author Luanne Oleas #author #familysaga #inspirational #contemporary #romance #literary #fiction

Okay, gang, buckle in for my next guest, Tony Damascus, who has taken time away from his book to be grilled—er, interviewed by me. Thanks to author Luanne Oleas for giving him some time off to stop in. Let’s find out a bit about Luanne, and then we’ll dive into the interview.

Luanne Oleas was born in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley, the setting for her novel, Flying Blind: A Cropduster’s Story. For several years, she worked as a reporter, features writer, and weekly columnist at the Salinas Californian newspaper with reprints in publications such as Reader’s Digest. After moving to the Silicon Valley, she turned her talents to technical writing, finishing her career at HP. She left high tech in 2017 to write novels full-time.

Her first novel, A Primrose In November, is a family saga set in England and France. It’s a story about loving, losing, and learning to love again.

When she isn’t publicizing Flying Blind, Luanne works on her upcoming novel, tentatively titled When Alice Played The Lottery. It’s the story of a 50-year-old widowed receptionist who starts a lottery pool with nine multi-cultural coworkers at a failing Silicon Valley startup. Just as the layoffs start, the coworkers win the big jackpot and go on to star in their own reality TV show. It takes place in the Silicon Valley where Luanne lives with her husband and Blackberry the cat.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Tony: Fractured. My name is Tony Damascus and my life began normally enough with Mom and Dad, but it split wide open before I turned two. Mom died, Dad took off, and I entered the foster care system. Care is a loose term. Maybe I wasn’t the easiest kid to have around but locking me in a closet didn’t help. I spent a lot of time drawing airplanes and staring out the window.

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

Tony: I attended public school—occasionally. It was good to get away from my foster family, but it was hard to stay out of trouble. By high school, I visited my classes off and on—enough to graduate. I spent more time at the airport than I did in any after-school activities. I did like getting to know the girls though, but I wasn’t always the guy parents wanted to see coming up the walk.

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

Tony: It’s hard to remember exactly, but I want to say I was four. It was with my foster mother. You might think that doesn’t count, but trust me, if you had kissed her, you’d be counting it. My foster father counted it. I mean, she may have been a slut, but in my situation, I took what affection I could get.

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

Tony: Easy question. Becoming a pilot was my greatest achievement. It wasn’t easy, flying for 15 minutes at a time and trying to build up the hours needed for my private and commercial licenses. Of course, the flying I dig the most is ag flying. Cropdusting. The hard part is eventually, you have to land. But being alone in the cockpit, with the earth below looking well-ordered, is a trip.

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

Tony: Whoa. . . It’s hard to narrow it down to just one embarrassing incident. Getting caught with the boss’s wife is up there. It’s even worse when he fires you. Then, starts shooting at you. I did get caught using the spray plane to waterski on the Salinas River. That was kind of a bummer. Getting caught, I mean. Making rooster tails with the landing gear was great. I accidentally shot a hole through the neighbor’s bathroom window. That was embarrassing. It didn’t do much for our relationship either. The guy never let me borrow his lawnmower again.

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

Tony: Just one? I suppose I should have stopped drinking sooner. Of course, it was fun for a long time, until it wasn’t. Oddly enough, it didn’t really seem to affect my flying, but it effed up more than one relationship. Of course, it inspired most of them, based on what I was drinking—and how much—when I met a woman. It ruined several marriages, but only one that mattered.

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

Tony: Falling in love. Things were humming along just fine until that happened. Before that, I was partying like there was no tomorrow and having a grand time. I could tell you stories about a masseuse I dated but we’ll keep this PG. I suppose the only one who knew my fear, or let me know he knew, was my best friend, Bill. He was one of those stable guys with a library card and morals. It’s a little odd that we became best friends. Flying connected us. It’s probably a good thing we became friends. The dude saved my life. No B.S. He really did.

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

Tony: Oh, everyone pretty much gets all of me. How long they stick around and tolerate it is another story. I don’t hold back. Like when I had to teach that priest how to fly. Huge mistake putting me in as his instructor. Especially when I was describing how flying fast and low was like making love with a beautiful woman. He didn’t know what I was talking about. When he asked me if it was like praying, I didn’t know what he was talking about.

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

Tony: Are we close? Ha-ha-ha, very funny. I would have to say we are about as close as a group of porcupines. How do I wish my relationship was different? Well, with my foster family, I wish I didn’t know ’em. Especially my foster brothers. My wife invited them to the wedding. One shot up heroin and the other stole the maid of honor’s purse. As far as my real parents, I wish they had stuck around longer. Especially my mom.

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

Tony: Well, being good in bed matters. In fact, that used to be my only requirement until I met Angela. Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t even get her in bed for a few months. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t cook. Finally, someone looked beyond how screwed-up I was and just got me. I never thought of myself as a provider. Hell, I could barely take care of a dog. But with Angela, I found I wanted to protect her.

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

Tony: I like women, guns, and yellow airplanes, not necessarily in that order. Flying relaxes me. It also turns me on. Listening to music definitely helps. My favorite tune is “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. Anything by the Rolling Stones works for me. Listening to music AND flying at the same time rocks. I did try duck hunting once, but my leg was in a cast at the time, and it got stuck in the mud. I had a motorcycle for a while. That was cool. I had to get rid of it to collect the insurance when I lost my job. I miss that old Hog.

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

Tony: You know, giving that priest flying lessons made me wonder if there was more to life than sex and flying. I’m not talking about getting saved, but when your plane goes down and it looks like you might die, you wonder about whether there’s more to life than you know. I guess I wish I was willing to believe that faith crap. I think it might make me a better person.

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

Tony: I’m awesome at flying. I think I’m good in bed, too. I can fix an engine. Any engine. They used to call me the piano tuner because I fixed them by sound. Even with my lousy hearing. What am I bad at? You name it. Making a relationship work. Staying employed. Staying sober. I’m horrible with money. If I have it, I spend it.

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

Tony: In my pocket right now, I have a lighter with a Great Lakes biplane on it. Don’t tell Angela—I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings—but that masseuse gave it to me as a birthday present. That gal was fun to hang out with—until she got divorced from her long-haul trucker husband. Then she started rubbing me the wrong way, if you get my meaning. She started hounding me to settle down. What a drag! I also used to have a beer opener that looked like a naked lady, but it fell out of my pocket at the airstrip one day.

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

Tony: Beer. And more beer. Once I had this gal as a maid (she thought she was my girlfriend, but she was really just a housekeeper with benefits. I was the benefit.) Anyway, she used to make this great pineapple upside-down cake. It went well with screwdrivers. I like barbequing steaks, too. Great big ones.

Tony flees Texas at the point of a shotgun and finds himself unemployed. Taking a temporary job as a flight instructor, he demonstrates flying spray runs to his worst student, Father Roberto. Imagine the Great Waldo Pepper teaching Mother Theresa to fly in Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley in 1972.

An ace in the air, but a mess on the ground, Tony needs to tame his inner demons. Can he stay alive long enough to do that? Is flying fast and low really like making love to a beautiful woman?

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N

 Wow, Tony, you’ve had quite a life. I hope things work out for you in the best way possible. Thanks again, Luanne, for letting Tony stop by and talk to 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 Gayle Leeson #author #cozymystery #mystery #ghosts #haunting #fiction #books #mustread #amreading

I have a lovely surprise for you today, everyone! Author Gayle Leeson has given her character Amanda Tucker some time off out of her story, Designs on Murder, to come chat with me for a few minutes. Let’s take a glance at Gayle’s bio and then we’ll get to know Amanda.

Gayle Leeson is a pseudonym for Gayle Trent. Gayle has also written as Amanda Lee and Gayle Trent. As Amanda Lee, she wrote the Embroidery Mystery series, and as Gayle Trent, she writes the Daphne Martin Cake Mystery series and the Myrtle Crumb Mystery series. Going forward, Gayle intends to keep her writing under the Gayle Leeson name. Please check out her Ghostly Fashionista and Down South Café series.

Author Social Links: Newsletter * Facebook * BookBub

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Amanda: For the most part, it was great. My mom was—ha! is—a little overbearing and demanding sometimes, but my dad spoiled me rotten. Plus, Grandpa Dave and Grandma Jodie lived nearby, and I loved spending time with them. In fact, I still do enjoy living close to Grandpa Dave and see him nearly every day. Grandma Jodie is no longer with us, and Mom and Dad moved to Florida, so Grandpa and I keep a close eye on each other.

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

Amanda: I went to public school, and it was all right. I loved drawing and sewing and making patterns, so I excelled more away from school than I did inside it. Still, I made good grades, and I recently graduated from college with a degree in business administration.

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

Amanda: I feel that opening my shop this past year was my greatest achievement. Doing something so bold was both exhilarating and frightening; but I took the leap, the business has been successful, and I’m so glad I took the risk.

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

Amanda: Well, this happens on a regular basis—I’m trying to talk with people in my shop and find myself answering Max, the ghost that they can’t see or hear! I’m sure my coworkers often think I’ve lost my mind.

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

Amanda: I’d like to have found Max sooner.

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

Amanda: Failure. I think Grandpa Dave knows, but he has enough confidence in me for the both of us.

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

Amanda: Very little unless I’m really close to them. There are only a handful of people who know about Max, and that’s because they can communicate with her too.

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

Amanda: I am. I wish my mom and I were closer. Now that I’m an adult with my own business/life, I realize that much of her domineering behavior comes from a place of love and fear. That doesn’t always make it easier to live with, but I can make an effort to understand her better.

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

Amanda: I love reading and watching old movies. Max and I have a sort of book club now. She adores reading but hadn’t been able to do so until I introduced her to eBooks.

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

Amanda: I think I’d like to be more fearless—like Max!

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

Amanda: I’m excellent at designing a dress and creating a pattern for it. I’m horrible at saying no. I need to be less of a people-pleaser!

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

Amanda: I’m never without a tape measure and a sewing kit.

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

Amanda: – Tea, bottled water, salads, fruits, and something chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth.

What if you discovered your lively new friend wasn’t really…alive?

When Amanda decides to lease a space in historic Abingdon, Virginia’s Shops on Main, she’s surprised to learn that she has a resident ghost. But soon Maxine “Max,” a young woman who died in 1930, isn’t the only dead person at the retail complex. Mark, a web designer who rented space at Shops on Main, is shot in his office.

Amanda is afraid that one of her new “friends” is a killer, and Max is encouraging her to solve Mark’s murder a la Nancy Drew. Easy for Max to want to investigate–she can’t end up the killer’s next victim!

Buy Links: Amazon * B&N * IndieBound * IndieboundAudio

I hope you catch the killer without any scary moments yourself, Amanda. Thanks for swinging by!

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 Fred Misurella #Author #Contemporary #WomensFiction #LiteraryFiction #FamilyLife

My guest today is an intriguing character from one of Fred Misurella’s novels. Please help me welcome Jamie Sasso straight from between the covers of A Pontiac in the Woods. First we’ll get a quick look at Fred’s background and then we’ll dive right in with finding our more about Jamie.

A Pontiac in the Woods is the fourth in Fred Misurella’s cycle of novels about the modern American family. The others are Only Sons, a saga of two competing Italian immigrant families in rural Pennsylvania; Arrangement in Black and White, the story of an interracial marriage in Connecticut; and A Summer of Good-Byes, about an American couple’s attempt to restart their marriage on a visit to Provence in the face of past infertility and the wife’s recent extramarital affair. Misurella has also written Lies to Live By: Stories, and Short Time, a novella about the Vietnam War. His literary journalism has appeared in Partisan Review, Salmagundi, Voices in Italian Americana, Italian Americana, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times Book Review, and other journals. His essays on Primo Levi appear in The Legacy of Primo Levi and Answering Auschwitz. He is the current book review editor for VIA (Voices in Italian Americana), a former Fulbright scholar in France, and a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. He lives with his wife and children in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

Author Social Links: Website * Facebook

Betty: How would you describe your childhood?

Jamie: Miserable, especially at the beginning. I was abandoned as an infant, adopted by an older set of loving parents who died when I was still a young teen. From there it was catch as catch can because I never really knew what I wanted to do, or even what was possible. Then a social worker, Mr. Santa, began helping me.

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

Jamie: A pretty good public school full of kids and parents with snotty noses constantly pointing skyward. So, to be truthful, I didn’t enjoy it. In fact I fought a lot because everyone thought I was weird. Maybe I was. But running track with the boys helped, and when I met nerdy Misha I finally found someone I could trust (and dance with).

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

Jamie: Please, that’s really my business, don’t you think? In any case, it went, and it went well enough from there for me to want more. But you know, there’s a lot more important stuff in life than sucking tongues, so let’s get to it.

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

Jamie:  Achievement? For a fourteen-year-old girl living on her own (yes, in the woods, in a Pontiac) what do you think the answer should be? I survived. In a certain way I thrived, which is even better than survival because it gave me a sense of what path I could take and what I might be able to do if I kept pushing forward.

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

Jamie: My drug-addled birth parents, who abandoned me. And then my living situation after my adoptive parents died, while a distant, no-brain cousin told me to fuck off because he just wanted money. Who could be proud of that? I kept wondering what I had done, if it was somehow all my fault.

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

Jamie: That’s a no-brainer, believe me. I’d like my adoptive, loving Mum and Dad to have lived many, many years longer. I still miss them and feel cheated I couldn’t see them grow old and content with me and what I might become. I think of them and miss them every single hour of every single day.

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

Jamie: A repeat abandonment, and the whole world either should know and understand that already or is incredibly dense.

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

Jamie: A lot, I think. Read my story. I pretty much let it all hang out, even the sucking tongues parts.

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

Jamie: Sometimes I think Mum and Dad were too good to live. Maybe I jinxed them; maybe I was too bad to have them with me all this time. I just wish I could hug them again and explain the shit that I’ve been doing.

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

Jamie:  Jesus, what a question! Somebody who will love me and stay with me a long, long time without getting bored or disgusted; nice eyes wouldn’t be bad either.

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

Jamie: Again, read my story: I love to run; I love to dance. And before the pandemic, New York was perfect for both those things when Misha and I went there.

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

Jamie: I’d like to stop feeling abandoned again or threatened by it all the time. Even with Mr. Santa and Misha that shit comes over me still. I cannot stop feeling alone.

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

Jamie: Good at dancing, better at running. I ran with the boys’ cross country team in high school (there was no girls’ team) and was faster than all but the top one or two. Bad? I don’t know. I’m bad at feeling sorry for people who haven’t suffered as I have. Is that selfish? Probably so.

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

Jamie: Please… I’m a constant runner. I like to keep things light. I don’t carry a handbag; no phone either; just some identification in my pocket and, maybe, a paperback or two in a very tiny backpack.

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

Jamie: Don’t have a refrigerator, so it’s all canned food and boxes. But that may change if things work out the way I want them to. Check out my story for more details.

Jamie Sasso finds herself alone, with no family or home. Cast adrift by a distant cousin in another state, she finds she cannot tolerate her county’s foster care program. But where can she live, how can she feed herself, and in what way can she plan for her future? Will she even have a future? A Pontiac in the Woods explores those issues and raises meaningful questions about them. With the help of a social worker, Mr. Santa, Misha, a young man she meets at a dance, and her school’s track coach she begins to find her way. But the way is never smooth. More important, she cannot find for sure where that way will lead.

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I hope you find the stability and loving home you’re seeking, Jamie. Best of luck to you! And thanks to Fred for giving you the freedom to come talk with us today. It’s been interesting!

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 Joel Allegretti #author #poets #poetrylovers #prose #fiction #water #oceans

I’d like to introduce you to an author who is also a poet. Please help me welcome Joel Allegretti! He has quite a background, so let’s glance at his publishing history and then find out more about what makes him tick.

Joel Allegretti is the author of, most recently, Platypus (NYQ Books, 2017), a collection of poems, prose, and performance texts, and Our Dolphin (Thrice Publishing, 2016), a novella. His second book of poems, Father Silicon (The Poet’s Press, 2006), was selected by The Kansas City Star as one of 100 Noteworthy Books of 2006.

He is the editor of Rabbit Ears: TV Poems (NYQ Books, 2015). The Boston Globe called Rabbit Ears “cleverly edited” and “a smart exploration of the many, many meanings of TV.” Rain Taxi said, “With its diversity of content and poetic form, Rabbit Ears feels more rich and eclectic than any other poetry anthology on the market.”

Allegretti has published his poems in The New York Quarterly, Barrow Street, Smartish Pace, PANK,and many other journals.

His short stories have appeared in The MacGuffin, The Adroit Journal,and Pennsylvania Literary Journal, among others. His musical compositions have appeared in Maintenant: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing & Art and in anthologies from great weather for MEDIA and Thrice Publishing. His performance texts have been staged at La MaMa, Medicine Show Theatre, the Cornelia Street Café, and the Sidewalk Café, all in New York.

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

Joel: Our Dolphin indulges some of my literary interests. Latin American magic realism has had a huge influence on me, particularly the writings of Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. I wouldn’t have come up with phrases like “a gull of mythological proportions” and “the face that brought her infinite despair” had I not read García Márquez’s novels and short stories, which I read in translation.

The inspiration for the main character, Emilio, a deformed teenager, was my favorite literary character, Erik, better known as the Phantom of the Opera.

The scenes in Tangier were inspired by a day trip I took to the city in 1990 and by the writings of Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs, who’s my favorite Beat. In fact, one of the key characters in the Tangier section, Moore, is based on Burroughs. While I had recollections of my trip as I wrote the book, the Tangier in Our Dolphin is really a Tangier of my imagination.

Betty: Which character arrived fully or mostly developed?

Joel: I’d have to say Serafino, the talking dolphin. He doesn’t have a history. He just is.

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

Joel: It was the idea of a supernatural animal appearing out of nowhere for the benefit of a young outcast. I chose a dolphin because I’ve always liked dolphins. I was a fan of the TV show Flipper when I was growing up.

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

Joel: Since I created the characters, I didn’t have any trouble getting to know them. Part of my program, however, was to create characters I didn’t want the reader to know well. The primary example is Mr. Charles, the owner of the brothel in Tangier. He’s a horrifying human being. He’s snide, pompous, and sadistic, a flamboyant villain without a redeeming characteristic. I don’t reveal anything about his background. The reader knows his nationality (English), but that’s it. I want the reader to take Mr. Charles at face value and not wonder why he’s so malevolent or how he found his way to his despicable occupation or what he was like when he was ten years old.

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

Joel: Even though I had visited Tangier—as I mentioned, it was only a day trip—and had read quite a bit of fiction and non-fiction about both the city and Morocco itself, including Paul Bowles’s translations of books by Moroccan authors Mohamed Choukri and Mohammed Mrabet, I wanted to make sure I got details right. So, I became a fact-checker. I looked at photographs, too. Fortunately, I was familiar with the subject and knew what needed confirmation.

I can’t say for sure, but to put myself in a Tangier state of mind, I probably listened to Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, a recording of Moroccan trance musicians that Rolling Stones Records released in 1971. I’ve owned a copy of the LP for decades.

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

Joel: Our Dolphin began its life as a novel called Christ Sang for the Dolphins. I wrote the first draft over the course of a few years as I busied myself with other things, not the least of which was earning an income. I did more work on it from time to time and changed the title to Music for Dolphins. Years later came the high-octane revision. I went through it with mental hedge clippers. “This can go. This can go. This adds nothing.” I reduced it from 46,000 words to 19,000 words. I changed the title yet again, to Our Dolphin, and submitted three chapters to Thrice Publishing, which was launching a novella series. The editor, Bob Spryszak, requested the full manuscript. To my astonishment, he chose Our Dolphin as the introductory title in the series. Bob provided excellent guidance as we worked our way to the book’s publication.

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?

Joel: I began the first draft in 1993, I believe. I wrote the final draft in 2015. I didn’t work on the book consistently, though. There were years when I didn’t touch it or even think about it.

I seldom work in long forms, so the length of time it took to write Our Dolphin was atypical.

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

Joel: I write first drafts in longhand. I use Pilot pens with blue ink.

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

Joel: I wouldn’t say any particular words or phrases recur in my works, but I seem to gravitate toward water imagery. I’m predominantly a poet. References to bodies of water show up in poem after poem; e.g., “The Sea at Our Door,” “The Sea Serpent,” and “The Moon Reconsidered as the Tide’s Puppeteer.” And then there’s Our Dolphin.

I was at HomeGoods one day this year, and when I was on line to check out, I saw a 5″x7″ wooden sign that read, “MY HEART SLEEPS BY THE SEA.” I thought, If I don’t buy it now, I know I’ll come back for it. It’s on my desk, where it looks to be right at home.

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

Joel: The writers who inspired me, starting when I was in my early double-digit years, often show up in my work in some fashion, even if their influence isn’t overt: Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Leonard Cohen, and the aforementioned García Márquez and Borges, to name the most prominent.

It’s hard to say why this author influenced me, but that one didn’t. I read a lot of Graham Greene and W. Somerset Maugham in the ’80s and a lot of Jack London in the ’80s and ’90s, but they had no impact on my writing.

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

Joel: I was born under the sign of Cancer. We crab folks like our homes. I write and revise in my home office or on my dining-room table. My home office is also my reading room.

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

Joel: I’m retired now. My last position in the working world was Director of Media Relations for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the national membership organization of CPAs. I counseled the CEO, his senior staff, and other spokespeople for interviews with print, online, and broadcast media. I dealt with the Associated Press, 60 Minutes, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, among many, many, many other outlets.

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

Joel: I suppose my answer could change at any time. For the sake of answering it here, I’ll say the publication of my first book. It’s always a special occasion for a writer.

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

Joel: Maybe not over dinner, but over a cup of coffee or tea I’d like to ask Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King how they maintain their enthusiasm for writing after so many years and so many books.

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?

I realized in early 2021 that I had accomplished my literary goals:

  • I wanted to publish a book. My first book, a collection of poetry called The Plague Psalms, came out in 2000.
  • I wanted to publish in some big-name literary journals. Check.
  • I wanted to publish a novel. I published a novella. Close enough.
  • I wanted to edit a poetry anthology. Check.
  • I wanted an affiliation with the poetry press NYQ Books. Rabbit Ears: TV Poems and my latest collection, Platypus, are with NYQ Books.

It wasn’t a goal, but one of my poems, “The Sea at Our Door,” made it into a college textbook, so I’ve sort of elbowed my way into academia.

Another poem, “Epitaph: Edie Sedgwick,” appeared as one of 100 poems by 100 poets in an anthology called Visiting Bob: Poems Inspired by the Life and Work of Bob Dylan (New Rivers Press, 2018). Bob Dylan has been important to me since I was 16, so making it into the book was a special publication credit, even more so when I discovered that Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Patti Smith were among the other contributors.

I grew up reading Jules Verne and go back to him from time to time. In late 2020 I saw a call for submissions from the North American Jules Verne Society, an organization of Verne scholars, for an anthology, Extraordinary Visions: Stories Inspired by Jules Verne. I wrote a short story titled “Gabriel at the Jules Verne Traveling Adventure Show,” revised it I don’t know how many times, submitted it, and crossed my fingers. A few months later, I received an acceptance. After I read the note, I got up from my desk and said, “Yes!”

Emilio Canto, a deformed adolescent, lives with his parents in an unnamed Italian fishing village. While in bed one night he hears a cry coming from the shore. He leaves his bed to investigate and finds that a dolphin has beached itself. With great effort, Emilio helps it back into the water. He watches it swim away, then lies down on the sand and falls asleep.

“Something troubled the water as it headed toward land. A pair of grateful eyes broke the surface and watched the sleeping youth. ‘Thank you, Emilio,’ the dolphin said. ‘We’ll see each other again very soon.’ It spun like an acrobat and pursued the deep.”

Emilio meets the dolphin a second time and discovers its extraordinary ability. He names the creature Serafino.

Because of his deformity, Emilio decides to run away from home. He convinces a Portuguese sailor to take him on his boat. They travel to Tangier, where the sailor gets Emilio intoxicated on a hashish confection and sells him to a male brothel.

Serafino learns of Emilio’s plight and swims to Tangier to rescue him.

For the reader, the conclusion will come as a genuine surprise.

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I love going to the beach and would love to meet a dolphin in person one day. Thanks so much, Joel, for telling us about your stories and your poems.

Happy fall!

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!