March 30, 2012

Made It Moment: Mike Esola

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:59 am

The Ice Gorilla

Could you do it? That’s the question that immediately popped into my mind after reading this Moment. After that came all sorts of other intriguing questions such as whether you should want to do it–is this what making it really means–and if indeed it is one metric of success (as it must be) what kinds of books will meet this goal. Which goal? You’ll have to read on and learn what making it means to Mike.

Mike Esola

I’m still currently working on making it. For myself I’ve set the goal of selling one million books. It’s a large goal and I know that, but it gives me something to shoot for each and every day I sit down at the computer, something to keep me motivated for each day. When I hit that goal I’ll know I’ve made it and arrived. Until then I have a lot of work to do. For all aspiring authors out there, keep pushing yourself to heights that are far beyond what you ever imagined, I continue to do this myself. In the end I believe it will be well worth it.

I have set the bar very high in terms of book sales because to me being an author is all about doing something day in and day out. With this in mind, it is all about sustainability, and what it will take to keep yourself motivated to work seven days a week. If I merely set the bar at just getting a book done and complete, when I get there how will I find the added motivation to keep going? My goal of one million book sales is enormously large, and I am fully and ready to prepare myself to work extremely hard for it. By setting the goal of one million books, I continue to push myself each day to work harder, be more productive, and try and make this goal a reality. I’ve learned that for myself setting smaller goals doesn’t provide me with the fuel that I need to get the job done. Each author has to determine what size goal works best for themselves, because it should not be just about how many books you sell that ultimately determines your success. Success is a strange thing, and at the end of the day it is up to each person to determine what success means to them.

I merely have this one million book sales goal to ensure that I never stop working, always keep my eye on the goal, and most importantly, never, never, give up. They say that a persistent author will eventually be a published author, and I couldn’t agree more.

Michael Esola currently serves as the Founder and President of Esola Entertainment, a global think tank focused on releasing products and services with a true mass market appeal. Esola resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where he is hard at work on his next novel.

March 28, 2012

Made It Moment: Steven Torres

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:25 am

The Concrete Maze

This Made It Moment begins with the biggest, bolt-from-the-blue piece of luck I’ve ever heard about–and I’ve heard a lot of stories. So have you, if you follow this forum, and I believe Steven’s will have you shaking your head in disbelief. But wait. It gets…well, worse. Don’t worry, after that it gets better. And then Steven leaves us with the best form of making it of all. Beloved followers of this forum, we’ve all accomplished what Steven comes to, and I agree that it’s the best form of success of all.

Steven Torres

This is hard. Did I tell you that I wrote my first novel a dozen years ago, bought a Writer’s Digest book on writing markets, sent out a cover letter with the first three chapters to seven different publishers and got a phone call the very next day from one of them? That’s got to rank as a made it moment, no?

Signing my first contract (with the same editor who called me) a few months later, cashing my first check, holding the galleys, holding the hardback, showing the hardback to my father – I was as proud as a new papa.

Until my father asked me why someone else’s name (the series protagonist’s) was on the cover. Yes. Then I walked into the late, lamented Black Orchid Bookshop in NYC to announce myself (sheepishly) only to be told that although they had 25 copies of my book they were hoping I’d sign, my publisher had told them I didn’t do signings. Imagine.

How about an anti-made-it-moment? That would be walking into the happily still living Mysterious Bookshop in NYC, hoping to introduce myself to Otto Penzler, only to have Walter Moseley walk in a few steps behind me. Otto had 250 copies of Moseley’s title waiting for signatures. I beat a hasty retreat.

Starred reviews, a story accepted in a magazine, a prize for a short story, a nostalgia piece for the New York Times. THE NEW YORK TIMES! A keynote address for a Puerto Rican Day Parade…

I knew this would be hard. This is just a resume, no?

How about this? I go to Bouchercon, the mother of all mystery conventions. I remember my first – it was in Las Vegas. And it was dreadful. I don’t drink, I don’t gamble and showgirls? My wife would kill me. Not to mention the feathers…

But how about my most recent Bouchercon? St. Louis. Reed Farrel Coleman slapped me on the back, SJ Rozan gave me a hug, Ted Fitzgerald shook my hand. I had lunch with Russel McLean of Scotland and Christa Faust who makes every place her own. A burger with Gerald So. Breakfast with Jennifer Jordan, a talk with Linda Landrigan, a chat with Simon Wood and Blake Crouch…

It dawned on me – I’m a little slow, so it took ten years – that I’ve become a part of a community. People recognize my name and my face and sometimes both. They embrace me. They don’t cross the street when they see me coming (well, except maybe for Reed….) So maybe that’s the Made-It-Moment.

Because when you sit down to write a Made-It-Moment piece, you should, perhaps, start by defining what “it” is. As a writer, maybe the resume approach is enough – a half dozen novels, a couple dozen short stories, a dozen or more magazine articles – you can’t ask for too much more. But these are paltry things when compared with a single human interaction.

So there I am, Bouchercon 2011, St. Louis, standing in a ballroom filled with people. Many I know, many know me. I’ve made it – one of the few “its” that really matter: connection with my fellow human beings, friendship.

Steven Torres was born and raised in the Bronx, has lived in Puerto Rico, upstate New York and, now, Connecticut with his wife and daughter. He’s the author of THE CONCRETE MAZE and KILLING WAYS 2: URBAN STORIES as well as the PRECINCT PUERTO RICO series for St. Martin’s Press. Steven’s hard at work on a novel about a former Soviet commando he inadvertently named after a Russian figure skater, Viktor Petrenko. Steven blogs at

March 26, 2012

Made It Moment: Alex Lukeman

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 12:12 pm

White Jade

In today’s Moment, thriller writer Alex Lukeman explores the concept of how relative ‘making it’ can really be. The horizon recedes almost every time we approach it. Lest that perspective seem gloomy, however, Alex ends on the most positive note of all. Read on and see how he’s weathered the waves of this writing life.

Alex Lukeman

Thanks, Jenny, for inviting me to write about my “Made it Moment”. It’s an interesting question, because what makes it for me or any writer can be anything from a $25.00 check for a magazine story to a contract advance of thousands of dollars.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I must have submitted fifty stories to various magazines, only to receive the famous form letter rejection in the mail (no email back then!).

In 1969 I wrote a novella titled The Bane of Kanthos, a Sword and Sorcery epic. Typed it out on an old Royal in a month. I sent it, errors and all, to ACE paperbacks, famous for their doubles in science fiction. It was “over the transom” as they say (remember transoms?). They bought it! Wow! $1200.00 advance, which in 1969 was real money.

Oh, joy, I was a writer at last. Or so I thought. I used the money to go to Mexico for three months. ACE wanted a second book in the series. I wrote it, but it was a mess, mainly because it was very dark, more of an eruption of my unconscious than a decent book. They rejected it, of course. That’s when I began to get a clue that there was a lot more to writing than putting words on paper, even if the plot was good.

I sold a couple of non-fiction books, small publishers, then landed a contract for a book about sleep with M. Evans, a great company run by George DeKay. He was a wonderful man, very supportive. Sadly, he’s now gone. He bought four of my books. That was a real “made it moment”, that first book with George.

Now I’ve gone the Indie route and write Thrillers featuring a covert counter-terrorism unit with strong female and male protagonists. White Jade is first in the series and is garnering excellent reader reviews. So, maybe, another Made it Moment has finally arrived. I like to think they’ll keep coming.

Alex Lukeman lives in Northern California in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. He likes riding old, fast motorcycles, sipping Barnados rum and playing guitar, usually not at the same time.

Alex writes action/adventure thrillers. WHITE JADE is the first in a series featuring the PROJECT, a covert counter-terrorism unit. THE LANCE is second in the series. The third book, The Seventh Pillar, is now available. A fourth book will be coming out later in 2012.

March 25, 2012

What It’s Like to Meet a Master: by Leah Rhyne

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 1:40 pm

Leah Rhyne is an emerging writer, former student, and friend of mine. She also happened to have an experience that made me as green with envy as one of the bodily emissions Stephen King might write about. Whichever author may have shaped the inner contents of your writer’s soul, you can probably imagine getting to meet that person. Leah did–and I hung on every word of her description. Please read on, and leave a comment about the writer you’d get shaky in the knees at meeting!

Leah Rhyne

I grew up reading the Stephen King classics.  IT. THE SHINING. CARRIE. They were my early favorites, and I read them all before the age of fifteen.  He terrified me, inspired me, challenged me.

(He also gave me an unhealthy fear of balloons and storm drains.)

When I learned he would give the closing address at the Savannah Book Festival, my husband and I bought tickets as soon as the box office opened.

On the Big Day, we waited hours to be among the 400 fans to get books signed by Mr. King. Once our signing cards were in-hand, we entered the auditorium and squeezed our way into fourth row seats, with more time to kill and Miles Davis on the sound system.

Finally, the lights dimmed and the music silenced and Mr. King took the stage, wearing jeans, a t-shirt and loafers.  He was taller than I imagined, and skinnier, but there he was, less than a hundred feet from where I sat with a silly, sheepish grin on my face.

An hour later, I jumped to my feet for a standing ovation, amazed at how time had flown.  While he held the audience captive, Mr. King regaled us with:

  • His very own Made-It Moment, on a door-less public toilet when he was about 26. An ancient, bald bathroom attendant requested his autograph while Mr. King tried to attend the call of a very angry nature.
  • His love of books, including LORD OF THE FLIES, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and George R.R. Martin’s series, A SONG OF FIRE AND ICE.  All of these are books I, too, love.
  • Some tidbits about his writing style.  He writes “by the seat of his pants” (a comment made funnier by his earlier mention of pulling up his pants because he has no butt), letting his characters do as they please, often surprised at where they wind up. Sometimes he’ll let a character rest for a while, and when the character reappears in his head, he’s astonished at the interesting thing it’s done.
  • A reading from his upcoming novel, DR. SLEEP, which is the sequel to THE SHINING, and the audience drooled with excitement.

And then, it was time for the book signing.

Mr. King apologized in advance for the assembly-line signing. There’d be no time to chat or for pictures.  There were 400 of us waiting to get our books signed, a Herculean task on his part.

But still, as I lined up, I was anxious. I wanted to say something, to tell him that I was a writer, just starting out, that I loved his books and wanted to be his new best friend. I had five seconds to make an impression.

Me With Stephen King
Suddenly, there I was, handing over my book. I’d chosen ON WRITING, and wondered if he’d comment.  He didn’t.  Without thinking, I blurted out, “Thank you,” and smiled, a goofy, manic smile.  He looked up, expectant, and I realized I’d trailed off in a way that indicated I would say more.

I took a deep breath, and continued. “For years of inspiration and terror, Sir.”

He smiled, looked down at my book, then back up at me, still smiling.  “Well, I guess that’s a good combination,” he said.

And that was it.  This is no fantasy. I didn’t become his new best friend. He didn’t invite me to dinner so we could chat about our craft.  He’s not going to read my book.

But in that instant, I spoke to a living legend, and I made him smile.

I’d call that a good day.

Leah Rhyne is a Jersey girl, but she’s lived in the South long enough to call people “sir” and “ma’am” now, without much of a trace of irony.

In her day job, she is a Senior Quality Assurance Analyst at a multi-national computer software company. At night and on weekends, she’s a full-time wife and mother. Her daughter is growing up nerdy and she likes it that way.

Leah had been writing essays, blog-posts and other miscellaneous items for years when a friend challenged her to participate in NaNoWriMo in 2010. It wasn’t until three days in, when her husband jokingly told her to write about “zombie cows” that her first novel began to take shape. The ideas kept coming, and still won’t stop.

In Leah’s “spare” time, she loves running and yoga and playing fetch with her  hound dog.

March 23, 2012

Made It Moment: Laurie Bellesheim

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:43 am

Surviving Emily

Usually when we talk about making it, we’re talking about conventional definitions of success: getting an agent or a contract or a great review. Selling X number of copies, hitting a list. All of these things and more have been discussed in this forum. So has connecting with readers–the true measure of a writer’s reach. Laurie Bellesheim’s Moment mentions a special kind of connection, the sort that happens when you write a book for a particular purpose, because something moved you so deeply you could only give voice to it in writing. I hope that Laurie’s message of hope gets out there, and I hope she continues to connect, because as she says, that’s how she’ll know she’s made it.

Laurie Bellesheim

In my elementary years, I dreamt of being a great writer someday and ‘making it” big as the next Judy Bloom. When other kids were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, my answer was usually quite different. I wanted to be a ‘mommy’ and a ‘famous author’.  I admit my awful grammar and childish stories about my pets did not give my family much faith in my future of writing, but that did not stop me from trying. I perfected those short stories year after year and in high school I covered every napkin and book cover I could find with my poems.

I can say now however, that although I wrote on and off through-out most of my youth, my writing back then lacked that something special, the spark of passion that that I had yet to find. That didn’t come until years later when I realized what writing really meant to me.

After the tragic loss of a close friend during my first year in college, I went into a bit of a depression. After a period of feeling blocked, I began to try writing again, using my words as a way to express my grief and what I couldn’t communicate vocally, I spilled out onto paper. Writing became my outlet, a way to channel all my thoughts, dreams, and creativity. It was during that desperate time that I discovered what writing truly meant to me and it’s been a part of my life ever since. But it wasn’t just my passion that I found; it was something much more. I found that I had an important story to tell, one that would not only honor my friend who passed, but also help others, and help raise awareness about epilepsy and the deadly condition of SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy).

I knew that “Made-It Moment” happened or rather I “Accomplished” what I have always dreamt of doing, when my first novel, Surviving Emily, was published in September, 2011. I may not be the next Judy Bloom that I had envisioned as a child, or even a renowned author, but I am the great writer and proud mommy that I once said I would be! As someone who writes from the heart, success for me is to be able to say that I have written a story that has great meaning and purpose.

My success however, doesn’t end here. With each new person that I am able to touch with my story, for every heart-felt comment that I have received, and for every person that has come forward to tell me about their own personal grief after reading my novel, I am inspired to write more. So perhaps I haven’t quite “Made-It” yet. Maybe I’ve just gotten started.

Laurie Bellesheim, a published poet, belongs to several writers’ organizations including Writer’s Digest, Authors Den and Bellesheim was inspired to write Surviving Emily because she lost a close friend to Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy when she was 18. Before writing Surviving Emily, her first novel, Bellesheim was a social worker for six years, working with the Department of Children and Families. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children.

March 21, 2012

Made It Moment: Barbra Annino

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:17 am


Again the world wide family of the internet results in an author who comes to the blog and shares some of the peak and valley moments along the long road to publishing success. I think you’ll relate to many of Barbra Annino’s Almost-Moments. The ones we are sure mean we are finally, finally here–only to find out, Nope, not yet. The writers who eventually succeed feel the crush of those near misses, then get up, and go for it again. If we do, in the end, we make it. Just like Barbra.

Barbra Annino

The Yellow Brick Road of Publishing

When Jenny invited me to discuss the moment I thought I had “made it” in this business on her blog, my first thought was that there had been so many.My second thought was–nope. There was only one. Let me start from the beginning.

I did everything one is supposed to do to become an author, starting with my English degree. I studied the craft for years. Worked in every writing and editing job I could get my hands on. I wrote the best book that was in me, set up a schedule with specific goals to finish that book, lined up beta readers, got feedback and revised, revised, revised. Perfected the query, researched agents, read guidelines and sent it only to those who represented my genre. I landed an agent. Even landed a publisher.

But here’s the real, straight-up deal. Trying to get and stay published is a lot like Dorothy’s trip to Oz and back except without the free shoes.

In September of 2007, I queried over 100 agents and a dozen publishers. I received several partial and full requests, but no offers. In February of 2008, I attended a conference where I pitched to agents and one small press publisher. That publisher took the first three chapters back to her room, invited me to dinner and gushed about those chapters. She asked for the full between the salad and the soup and introduced me to everyone as her new author. She also asked me to submit a short story with those same characters for a charity anthology she was producing. I was over the rainbow.

I sent the full to the publisher the Monday after the conference. Then I waited. And waited. I began my second novel using the same characters. I had planned a three book series, each written as a stand-alone. In May, I received an offer of representation. After a lengthy conversation where I asked all the questions writers should ask, I signed with him. A week later, he called to tell me that an editor at one of the Big Six was interested. I could practically see the Emerald City sparkling in the distance.

I attended the conference again in 2009 and was scheduled for a multi-author signing for the anthology. Book two was then complete. I couldn’t believe I was signing next to authors I had read and admired for years. My husband was snapping photos when the publisher approached him. “I don’t know why she decided not to go with us,” she said to him. He called me over. “You two need to talk.” Turned out she never got the email.

The Big Six editor finally passed in July of 2009. I fired my agent. Then in 2010, I got an offer from a different small press. Again, I was delighted. I had arrived! But alas, upon publication, there was a mix-up in editorial and my book suffered for it. Greatly.

I took my rights back, took my power back and self published my first title, OPAL FIRE in March of 2011.

My made it moment? An email from a reader. It is taped on the wall in front of my computer. It closes with this: “Keep writing Barbra. You’re on my list of favorites and I’ll be watching for new books from you. Recommending Opal Fire in my online forum.”

That is who I write for now.

Barbra Annino is a Chicago native, a book junkie and Springsteen addict. A former bartender and humor columnist for Illinois Magazine, she finds the funny in just about everything. Except those Humane Society commercials, which she holds personally responsible for the reason she has three Great Danes.

She lives in picturesque Galena, Illinois where she ran a Bed and Breakfast for five years. Now, she’s a happily married freelance writer and Lowe’s regular who is constantly covered in dust and paint thanks to an 1855 brick home, which her family shares with friendly spirits. Or not. But that’s what people tell her.

She is currently working on TIGER’S EYE, the third book in the Stacy Justice series.

March 19, 2012

Made It Moment: Ashley King

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:33 am

Dancing Daffodil Daisy

One of the really, really (can I say this again?) really nice things about being a writer is that other writers reach out to you and a great conversation starts. It was in that way that I met author Ashley King’s husband, Michael, with whom I talked about getting the word out. “Of course,” I said, “You’ll have to do a Made It Moment for my blog!” I never know what these are going to say, and Ashley’s is a wonderful surprise because it points to the need in all of us to love people for their uniquenesses–not judge them for their differences. Ashley’s charming picture book imparts the same message. I hope you will take a look, and maybe share a time when you felt judged for a difference.

For me it was being short. Ouch. And also for being the kid who hid away in a corner, reading, at every play date.

Too bad Ashley King wasn’t writing her story books then. I could’ve used one.

Ashley King

Like many first time authors, I’m finding it a bit difficult to pinpoint my “I Made It Moment.”  Perhaps it occurred when my illustrator started to cry after reading my first children’s book manuscript of “Dancing Daffodil Daisy.”  After witnessing similar reactions from other adults who had read my book, I knew I had something that was connecting with the hearts of readers.  As I think about it, that was my first “I Made It Moment.”  I wrote a story that, although intended for children, was inspiring adults to appreciate and use their wiggles for positive purposes.  With the rise in diagnoses of Attention Deficit Disorder, there has been a greater rise in the negative social stigmas that come with those diagnoses.  Daisy inspires kids (and adults) to put aside the negative stigmas and learn to appreciate and use their “wiggles” to bring a positive purpose to life.

I’m hopeful my next “I Made It Moment” will be increased sales of “Dancing Daffodil Daisy.”  Like many contemporary, beginning authors, I have chosen the self-publishing route.  After trying Xulon Press, we made a switch to Createspace and found them to be very helpful, responsive, and quick.  I’m the creative piece, and my husband is trying his best at the marketing piece.  He’s creating events on Facebook (i.e. “100 Copies of Dancing Daffodil Daisy Sold by New Year’s Day”), encouraging others to share the book with their Facebook friends, creating a Facebook fan page, and searching out great blogs to get the message out about Daisy.  As readers get excited about Daisy, I’m just as excited to introduce them to my second character, Timmy LeBedhead, who is enthralled with his discovery of a squirrely bird egg.  He just needs to catch it, and the country town fair is making that endeavor a bit difficult.

Ashley King lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two boys, and yellow lab (who can’t seem to stop chewing everything in the house). She enjoys teaching art at a private school in Massachusetts, dancing, and helping her husband with the children’s ministry at her local church.

“Dancing Daffodil Daisy’s” author also had the “wiggles” as a child. Ashley is looking forward to publishing her next two books: “Timmy LeBedhead” and “Maddie Sue Moorsoop.”

March 15, 2012

Guest Post: Gerrie Ferris Finger

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:53 am


I am so happy to welcome Gerrie Ferris Finger back to the blog because I have followed her series ever since the first amazing contest win that launched her writing career. Gerrie’s post today contains some invaluable advice on writing the sophomore novel–and the ones that come after–and also on building suspense. Best of all, if you leave a comment, you’ll be entered to win an ARC before almost everyone else in the world gets one of Gerrie’s latest book!

Gerrie Ferris Finger

For me, every manuscript means getting a foot hold in a crevice when climbing a rugged cliff. Every book is avoiding slippery slopes and anticipating falling rocks. But oh the joy when I reach the top, when an acquiring editor accepts my manuscript, when a contract comes in the mail, and when I finally hold that printed edition in my hands.

I got there in 2010 with THE END GAME   I’d ascended the airy height successfully and thought, “I’ve made it! Yeah!”

Sooner or later, I had to ask myself: Didn’t you mean this to be a series?” Answer: Yes. Directive: Then get to it.

Like me, unless you know yourself to be a one book writer, ala Harper Lee, you get to start over. It’s not any easier getting a foothold on the second full-length novel than the first, and it’s not easier avoiding slippery slopes and foreseeing falling rocks.

Getting a Foothold

Alas, I left real life bliss to tackle fictional catastrophe – and face rejection. In today’s publishing world, rejection often comes if the first book doesn’t achieve the success expected by the publisher. No more bringing writers along until they find their audiences.

Since I prefer avoiding catastrophe in my life, I don’t walk the sidewalks in iffy neighborhoods or ride a motorcycle without a helmet. However careful I may be, I’m not in control of every situation and expect suspense at every turn. What if I’m in my bank and a robber points a gun at the teller?

I’ve learned to harness suspense by taking the “what if” approach in starting a novel. What if my heroine leaves her purse in the back seat of a taxi? What if my hero spots a man with a van forcing a woman into the back?  Action occurs, characters emerge and the cliff-climb begins.

Last Temptation

I’ve a foot up the cliff in my second book because I know the main characters, Moriah Dru and Richard Lake. They first appeared in THE END GAME when I thought what if a call awakens them to a disastrous fire where two young girls are missing and their foster parents are dead in the blaze. By chapter two I had a good foothold on the villain and the resolution.

In THE LAST TEMPTATION I thought what if Dru and Lake are eating a lunch and a call comes in:

Lake was about to dig into his coconut pie when the call came. When it ended, the white flash of his smile ended, too.

Slippery Slopes

I encounter slippery slopes too often, and I don’t know a writer who hasn’t. It’s also called telling not showing, back story, info dump, character bores, lackluster scenes, dialogue drag, impossible plot and generally going off half-cocked.

For me, what derails plot most often is lack of action, long paragraphs of interior dialogue and static do-nothing. Readers go to movies and see the heroes and villains in action. ACTION. Don’t tell readers what’s going on. Get them involved. In editing  I take scenes where I’ve hit the main points and re-write to let readers see and hear and feel what led up to the action.

Falling Rocks

Falling rocks I want. I’m writing a mystery/suspense. My readers are reading suspense because they want to find out what happens next to whom and why. Therefore, I must create vigilant, apprehensive anticipation, also known as waiting for the falling shoe. This is done party with setting—cemetery, dark night, creaky house—but it’s the characters that provide most of the suspense. If readers don’t care about the characters I’ve created—if the main characters are cardboard cutouts or unpleasant —they won’t care what happens to them.

There is joy in writerville, though. Once my first draft is finished, the fun begins. I edit and revise to my heart’s content, taking care not to edit the life out of the story. (A well-known instructor once told his class, “Don’t smooth out all the wrinkles. Placid lakes are boring.)

When I’m done I know I’ve created a world and people that no one else could have.

Retired journalist Gerrie Ferris Finger won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition That novel, THE END GAME, was the first in the Moriah Dru/Richard Lake series. The second in the series, THE LAST TEMPTATION, was a finalist in the St. Martin’s/Best Private Investigator contest and will be released July 2012. After spending twenty years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter, editor, and columnist, she moved to coastal Georgia with her husband, Alan, and standard poodle, Bogey.

March 13, 2012

Made It Moment 2: Debbi Mack

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:07 am


You know John Lennon’s line about life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans? Well, Debbi Mack’s life–and her Moments–are living proof. You can read Debbi’s first Made It Moment here and I am so glad to have her back on the blog with the third in her Sam McRae mystery series just out, some stellar climbing of lists under her belt, and even some pretty amazing appearances (one is embedded here as a video). I wish ever greater success for Debbi–and that she keeps taking those other plans and making them turn out even better than the original would have been!

Debbi Mack

When my first novel IDENTITY CRISIS was published, so many years ago, by a small press that will remain nameless, I was on top of the world. I felt like I’d finally gotten my big break. I knew the road ahead would be a long and hard one, but I was willing to work hard to market and promote my book.

Not long after I signed the contract, I had a stroke. I recovered fully or so it seemed. A few months afterward, I developed a rare movement disorder called dystonia. As a result, my left hand and foot began to clench constantly.

Then, nine months after my novel was published, the press went out of business. All the authors ranted about how unfair that was. Talk to me about unfair, I wanted to tell them. :)

Years later, I decided to self-publish the out-of-print first novel. After all, what did I have to lose? I had revised the first book to make it a sequel and written the third novel in what I hoped to make a series of Sam McRae mysteries. However, as often happens, things didn’t turn out quite as planned. I revised the third book and made it the sequel.

Then, last year, the most amazing things happened. My once out-of-print novel, IDENTITY CRISIS became a New York Times ebook fiction bestseller. And both novels hit the Amazon Top 100 here in the US. Then they both hit the Amazon UK Top 100. And when my second novel LEAST WANTED hit the Top 10 on Amazon UK, this completely blew me away.

Then I was invited to speak on this panel at a pre-BoucherconSisters in Crime event.

Can you see where I’m heading with this? Life is a journey, comprised of a series of made-it moments.

Now, finally, I’ve reached another milestone. I’ve published RIPTIDE, my third Sam McRae mystery novel. This makes me the author of an actual mystery series, and not just a book and a sequel.

This alone makes me extremely happy. Especially given my condition.

However, I keep looking forward to where life’s journey may take me, because you just never know, do you?

Debbi Mack has published two other novels in the Sam McRae mystery series: the New York Times ebook bestseller Identity Crisis, and the sequel Least Wanted. She’s also published Five Uneasy Pieces, a short story collection that includes her Derringer Award–nominated story “The Right to Remain Silent.” Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and publications, including Shaken: Stories for Japan, an anthology created to benefit Japanese tsunami relief efforts.

A former attorney, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, reference librarian, and freelance writer/researcher. She’s currently working on a young adult novel, planning Sam’s next adventure, and generally mulling over other projects. You can find her online at her website. She also has five blogs, including My Life on the Midlist, The Book Grrl and Random and Sundry Things. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

March 12, 2012

Made It Moment: Bill Meissner

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:10 am

Spirits In The Grass

This Made It Moment, perhaps the most poetic this forum has seen, proves two things. One, there is some serious talent at the NYWW Perfect Pitch Conference (which is where I met author Bill Meissner) and two, a Moment can be about things that happen long before we have any concept of success. Read on for a Monday morning literary treat.

Bill Meissner


A finished novel is like a full-grown tree in your back yard.   As readers walk past, they see—and hopefully appreciate—the solid trunk, a kaleidoscope of branches, and the succulent green leaves shimmering in the sunlight and glowing in the moonlight.  But what a casual reader doesn’t see is the complexity of what’s below it, the tangle of roots they never know is there.  Some Australian eucalyptus tree roots reach down 180 feet—almost as far as the height of the tree—and your novel/tree is no different.

So, what are those roots beneath a finished novel?  What are those extensions down there in the darkness that curl around rocks, anchoring the tree as they search for water and nutrients?

They’re the experiences—positive, negative or both—that informed or led to the writing of the book.  There’s so much back there:  It’s your childhood; it’s running down hillsides toward trains and spilling strawberry Kool Aid on the sidewalk.  It’s the time you first swam in a deep, glacial lake and felt the fear of sinking into the azure water below.

It’s the sound of crickets at night as you lay in a field, watching the streaks of northern lights and the slow whirl of the stars.  It’s the dust devil rising from the school yard that you ran toward as a kindergartener, blinking, arms wide.  It’s the panic when your father—teaching you to drive—put you behind the steering wheel of an old stick-shift Plymouth in a parking lot and simply said, “Drive.”   It’s the first touch of your future wife’s hand, her eyes meeting yours and doing a dance.  It’s your tangle of dreams when you sleep.  It’s a total eclipse of the sun; it’s a full moon rising and catching in the dark net of the sky.  It’s the last sad breath of a parent, the first cry of a child as he or she is born.  It’s a song, and the silence after that song.

It’s the very first word on the tip of your tongue when you’re a baby.  It’s writing [complete with corny dinosaur and evil wizard illustrations] a  six-page adventure story on your father’s work stationery when you were ten.  It’s sitting in a closed room and spontaneously scribbling your first poem in high school, though you weren’t even sure what it meant.  It’s discovering, by chance, THE CENTAUR by John Updike as a teenager and being mystified by it, and wondering, for the first time, if you, too, could some day be a novelist.  It’s your first attempt at a short story when you were nineteen—a story that was only one and a half pages long, because you couldn’t think of anything else to write.  It’s the shaky first paragraph of your first published short story, your first chapter of a would-be novel.  It’s the last, twenty-first draft of your last chapter of that novel.  It’s staring at a blank page.  It’s crows, flying across that page before you begin to write.  It’s all this, and more.

What I’m trying to explain is that any moment of ‘making it,’—that  exhilarating, celebratory dash across the finish line with your arms in the air—has so much that came before it, so many informing back-story moments that you can’t chronicle all of them.  They’re hidden from the reader; they’re the hundreds of unseen pages beneath each printed page.

Once you’ve finished writing the book, you can sit back and feel the accomplishment.  It’s like admiring the huge, intricate tree close to your house, the slant of morning sun skimming off its leaves.  But you can’t gaze at it without acknowledging the roots below the surface, because—as you know so well—they’re equally extensive.  And equally important.

SPIRITS IN THE GRASS, about a small town ballplayer who finds the remains of an ancient Native American burial ground on a baseball field, was published in 2008 by the University of Notre Dame Press and won the 2008 Midwest Book Award. The book was released as an ebook in Feburary, 2012 by the UND Press.

Meissner’s two books of short stories are THE ROAD TO COSMOS, [University of Notre Dame Press, 2006] and HITTING INTO THE WIND [Random House/SMU Press]. He has published four books of poems: AMERICAN COMPASS, [U. of Notre Dame Press], LEARNING TO BREATHE UNDERWATER and THE SLEEPWALKER’S SON [both from Ohio U. Press], and TWIN SONS OF DIFFERENT MIRRORS [Milkweed Editions].

He is director of creative writing at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

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