November 29, 2012

Made It Moment II: Judy Hogan

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 11:33 pm

Killer Frost

Judy Hogan is the first author I’ve seen who let her Made It Moment be revealed by the voice of another. Yet what Judy did makes an awful lot of sense, because if you read through the more than 250 Moments in this forum (first let me collect them into a book, a project I would love to do), one thing that seems pretty constant is the role readers play in a writer’s making it. Judy’s first published mystery, Killer Frost, has spoken powerfully to readers, and when you hear from this one, you’ll see why.

Judy’s first Moment appears here, and it ran even before her book was published. Prophetic, as Judy speaks about below. And while I’m on the topic–she makes a mean loaf of bread!

Judy Hogan

Then, when a wind comes along and lifts you,
you have to trust it, let it take you into a whole
new place in your life and in the lives of other people,
a new room where communion is frequent and possible.
The Telling That Changes Everything XIV.

My poems have often been prophetic, as was this one, which I wrote last March, five months before Killer Frost appeared.  To have my first mystery novel published was a high point in my literary life, but even more reassuring and reinforcing has been the discovery that people love it, that for my readers the characters live and breathe; they have a real existence apart from me.  The biggest challenge for me, as a writer, was to find and delight readers.  Why else did I go to all this trouble to get published?  Yet I had no idea how much it would lift me into a whole new place, give me a deeper, more permanent sense of my identity, and put me into communion with other people.  My self-esteem now feels profoundly and permanently rooted.

These new readers keep telling me how real my characters and their dilemmas are to them.  So many agents and editors rejected my mysteries, including Killer Frost, but so far the readers are in my corner, and they want the other books in the series which I have written: nine in all, for I kept writing.  Killer Frost is the sixth.  I did the whole thing backwards in one way, but it feels to me now like I did it right.  Killer Frost found me readers.  They’re a small number, but they’re talking.  Here is one comment I especially treasure, coming from Gary Tyson, the African American Chief of Police in a neighboring town in my county, Siler City.

Judy, I just finished reading Killer Frost. It was one of the most incredible books that I have read.  I became engulfed in the reality of the plot.  In my mind, I became an eyewitness to a struggle that is all too common in many African American families.  The characters were indeed real.  They were as real as folks that I come into contact with on a regular basis.  The unsung heroes that make a difference in so many young people’s lives each and every day.  Folks like Malvina (AKA Margie Horton Ellison) who was community organizing before it became fashionable.

The book flowed with such grace.  It kept me engaged.  There were also some jewels that could be plucked from the plot.  One was the awesome power of protest.  If only folks still remembered the protests of the Civil Rights Movement.  Folks would be doing more than “being sick and tired of being sick and tired” with ungodly stuff that is on the news and spoken at our kitchen tables on a daily basis.  Another jewel to be plucked was the dire need for good leadership and mentorship.  The raw kind of leadership that is willing to go down with the ship if the cause is right.  (We know that God looks after his soldiers.)  The kind of leadership that will either give a young person a gentle push, or, if needed, a swift kick in the butt to get them back on track (Mr. Oscar’s type).  The book offered a lot of drama with no blood, guts, and sex that dominates our airwaves and books in our current society. You were able to capture a lot of drama, with a few horrific moments, in a clean kind of old-fashioned manner.  How refreshing to read a modern day drama with an old-fashioned twist.

Wow!  Thanks for a narrative that reminds us all that, even with the dire problems we face today, “the frost” has not destroyed our determination to overcome.

Judy Hogan founded Carolina Wren Press (1976-91), and was co-editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal (1970-81).  She has published five volumes of poetry and two prose works with small presses. She has taught creative writing since 1974. She joined Sisters in Crime in 2007 and has focused on writing and publishing traditional mystery novels since.  In 2011 she was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Mystery contest.  The twists and turns of her life’s path over the years have given her plenty to write about.  She is also a small farmer and lives in Moncure, N.C.

November 28, 2012

Made It Moment II: Charles Salzberg

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 7:05 pm

Swann Dives In

Charles Salzberg is an author who has played such an important role in my writerly life that it’s hard to encapsulate it in an introduction. First, there was the fact that I met Charles when I attended NYWW’s Perfect Pitch…after which I met the agent who not-so-long-ago sold my first novel. Charles helped craft the pitch for the novel I was working on into something that attracted an agent (and 3 editors). He’s a master at seeing through to the bones of a novel, of developmental editing. He’s also an author himself–and if you like your mystery taken with a dash of shrewdness and a dollop of realism, both Swann novels are for you. Last, Charles’ website is a true work of art, worth a visit just as eye candy.

Did I say last? Last is really contained in the Made It Moment you’re about to read. Because now, as I stand poised on what feels like the rim of a cliff, Charles’ influence continues. One thing we writers–we humans–have to learn is how to meet failures with something besides a crash landing. How to turn them, wherever possible, into successes. In this Moment, Charles shows us how.

Charles Salzberg

Before I received the confirming email, Google alerts kicked in.  My first detective novel, Swann’s Last Song, had been nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.

I was shocked.  Not because I didn’t think the novel was good, though not good enough to win an award, but because the whole thing was a mistake. I’d never meant to write a detective novel and certainly not one that might be taken seriously by the crime community.  In fact, when I first wrote the book, almost 25 years ago, I thought of it as an anti-detective novel, a literary exercise that would play with the genre, turn it upside down by creating a traditional detective who follows all the clues but doesn’t solve the crime.

But that didn’t go over so well with agents or publishers, so I stuck the manuscript in a drawer, and buried it on an old computer, only to resurrect it years later when I caved in and changed the ending, thereby getting it published.

And now it was nominated for an award.  I didn’t think I’d win, but after a while, I don’t care what anyone says, you get a taste for it.  You can see all those bios that read “Shamus Award winning novelist,” and you even say to yourself, “little do they know that it’s a one-off,” because in SLS, at the end, the detective is so disillusioned that he quits the business.

I lost, as I knew I would.  But then something strange happened.  I got pissed off.  I wanted another shot at it.  I wanted to win something, anything.  And so I did something completely unplanned: I wrote a sequel.  I rescued Swann from the dung heap of a real day job and put him back to work as a skip tracer.  The result was Swann Dives In.   And now, since I’m having so much fun with the character, I’ve just finished a third.

So I guess the “made” moment was not being nominated for an award, but losing it.

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, New York Magazine, GQ, Elle, Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, The New York Times Arts and Leisure, The New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times Book Review,  the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and various other publications.

He is the author of From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, An Oral History of the NBA, and On A Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place:, Baseball’s 10 Worst Teams of the Century, and co-author of My Zany Life and Times, by Soupy Sales, Catch Them Being Good, by Tony DiCicco and Colleen Hacker, Phd., and The Mad Fisherman, by Charlie Moore.

His novel, Swann’s Last Song, was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel.  The sequel, Swann Dives In, will be published in October, 2012.  He also has a Swann short story in Long Island Noir (Akashic Books.)  His novel, Devil in the Hole, will be published in July, 2013.

November 25, 2012

Made It Moment: David Williamson

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:35 pm

47th Indiana

In keeping with the theme of family and legacy we have going on the blog right now, today’s guest describes how not only his ancestry, but also his wife’s, dates back to the Civil War…and what it’s like to immerse yourself as a writer in that kind of history. But David Williamson’s Moment ties into subjects we discuss here on Suspense Your Disbelief in another way, too. I think many writers will relate to the stumbling block David ran into when the story he wished to tell didn’t quite fit his publisher’s needs. The new paradigm of indie publishing gave David an outlet for his writing–and gave his forefathers’ voices. Please join me in welcoming them *all* to the blog.

David, I’d say you made it.

David And Brenda Williamson

I would like to thank Jenny for asking me to contribute to her writers’ blog with the understanding that I accepted the offer even though I have never had a “made it” moment.  Over the years I have had a variety of “no kidding” moments though—as in, “No kidding, you want to publish my manuscript?”—and perhaps that qualifies me.

The latest two moments as a writer came when McFarland & Co., Publishers accepted my manuscript on the history of the 3rd Mississippi Battalion/45th Mississippi Infantry and the second came a number of years later when they asked me if I had another one to send them, which I did.  (Maybe a third moment came when Jenny asked me to contribute to her blog.)

When I first learned about it as a youngster, I wanted to find out as much as I could about what my maternal ancestors had done during the Civil War (my paternal ancestors were in Scotland at the time and were involved in other matters).  Gradually I picked up bits and pieces of information about my great-great grandfather, Pvt. Ferdinand Kirkbride of the 104th Ohio, and my great grandfather, Pvt. Eli E. Rose of the 47th Indiana.

Years later, while trying to write the history of the 47th Indiana, I met my future wife, Brenda, and she diverted my attention to, among other things, the history of her great-great grandfather Pvt. William B. Johnston’s unit, the 3rd Battalion/45th Mississippi Regiment, which her father had asked her to research.  I helped her to find out what unit William B. was in and began working on the 3rd Mississippi Battalion as well as on the 47th Indiana and the 104th Ohio, believing that they would result in three very different histories.  Eventually, while gathering information on the movements of the 3rd Mississippi Battalion, I noticed that at the outset of William T. Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign, their path began to converge with the 104th Ohio’s and they continued to close in on each other during John Bell Hood’s movement into Tennessee later that year, which, to our surprise, culminated in their direct confrontation at the breastworks in front of the Carter cotton gin during the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.  With that, I put aside my other research and wrote the history of the 3rd Mississippi Battalion, including both their perspective and the perspective of their adversaries in the 104th Ohio.  McFarland accepted it and it became The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and the 45th Mississippi Regiment: A Civil War History.

I then turned my attention to the long delayed history of the 47th Indiana.  Much of their history is based on letters from the front written by their chaplain, Rev. Samuel Sawyer, an interesting character in his own right, as well as letters from enlisted men and from the newly emerging profession of newspaper reporter (the “Bohemian Brigade”) to a variety of  newspapers; but the bulk of my information came from some 120 letters written by their organizer and commander, then Colonel James R. Slack, to his wife, Ann, from 1862 to 1865.    Utilizing my sociologist/historian background, I focused on the social and political context of life on the home front, which, for those interested in things or events other than battles, includes the stuff thrillers are made of:  violent antiwar activity, espionage, sabotage, conspiracy, treachery, intrigue, military trials, and a precedent setting Supreme Court habeas corpus case (Ex parte Milligan), which Slack became involved in, that remains relevant in today’s so-called “war on terrorism.”  McFarland accepted the manuscript and it became The 47th Indiana Volunteer Infantry: A Civil War History.

What they did not accept were the verbatim transcriptions of all of General Slack’s letters, insisting, because of the length of the book, that I excerpt only the pertinent military-related comments he made.  That meant much of Ann’s home life, which included raising their three children, taking care of their farm, and seeing to Slack’s law office while he was away, was left out, as were most of Slack’s comments about other townspeople, Milligan excepted.  When they did not want the full letters as a second book, I decided to try my hand at self-publication; and, with the help of, converted them to an e-book called Slack’s War: the Civil War Letters of General James R. Slack, 47th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, to His Wife, Ann, 1862 to 1865.

Nor did they want the regimental court-martial records, which included all of the 47th Indiana’s court-martial records for both officers and enlisted men held at the National Archives.  Since there were only nine cases, I transcribed them all verbatim, wrote summaries of each, and again with the help of, turned them into an e-book called The Forty-seventh Indiana Volunteer Infantry Court-Martial Case Files.


David Williamson lives in Mississippi with his wife, Brenda, and their cat, Wilde Oscar.

November 23, 2012

Made It Moment: Chris Angus

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:20 am

London Underground

Chris Angus’ Made It Moment contains a lot of elements that speak to this time of Thanksgiving. Family and legacy and tradition. All three became part of Chris’ road to this writing life–and he blends them uniquely, like a great Thanksgiving feast. I hope you will enjoy this Moment in the aftermath of yesterday’s feasting.

And I hope you will take it as an offering of thanks from me to you. Being able to introduce new authors–or a new slice of a known author’s life–to readers on this blog is something that’s both a thrill and an honor. This blog is a family of its own, and today I give thanks for every one of you.

Chris Angus

In that old 1940s film, The Naked City, a sort of police procedural set in New York City, the famous tag line was: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City.” That sounds about right for the number of ways there are to become a writer.

I come from a family full of writers. As a result, I resisted it as career choice for a long time. I was thirty when I began to write a weekly newspaper column on canoeing. It showed me not only how writing can grow into a profession but also how one thing leads to another. I went from newspaper columnist to article writer to book review editor to finally publishing my first book, an expanded collection of essays from my column. That will always seem like my “made it” moment, to be able to show the other writers in my family a book of my own.

Early on, when I was just starting out with my newspaper column, my mother had grown too ill to continue writing her murder mystery series about an Agatha Christie-type character she called Mrs. Wagstaff. With her blessing, I tried to keep the series going. I wrote three Mrs. Wagstaff novels. None were published, but it got me interested in writing fiction. I gravitated to a genre that appealed to me more: thrillers.

I love the fast pace, the exotic characters and locales. I enjoy weaving plots rich in history and science. My books are set all over the world, in Greenland, Iceland, China and Africa. One classic bit of advice all writers hear sooner or later is: “Write about what you know.”  That always seemed wrong to me. What could be more boring than to only write about things you know? And if the writer is bored you can bet the reader will be too. What I tell young writers today is: “Write about what interests you, and if it happens to be something you know nothing about, then you will have to do a lot of research. But research is not drudgery if you are fascinated by your subject, and I guarantee your passion will shine through in your words.”

Christopher Angus comes from a literary family consisting of seven published writers. His father and mother, both professors of English Literature and authors of numerous works of fiction, were the best-selling collaborators of a series of anthologies published by Random House.

For ten years, Book Review Editor for Adirondac magazine, he has also been a newspaper columnist and has published more than 400 essays, articles, book introductions, columns and reviews in a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, Albany Times-Union, Adirondack Life, American Forests, Wordsworth American Classics, Adirondack Explorer and many more.

He is the award-winning author of several works of nonfiction, including Oswegatchie: A North Country River (North Country Books–2006), The Extraordinary Adirondack Journey of Clarence Petty: Wilderness Guide, Pilot and Conservationist (Syracuse University Press—2002), Images of America: St. Lawrence County (Arcadia Press—2001), andReflections From Canoe Country (Syracuse University Press—1997).

He has been active in efforts to reopen Adirondack rivers to the public.

Chris recently released The Last Titanic Story  with Iguana Books and Flypaper  from Cool Well Press.

His third novel, London Underground, is now available from Iguana Books!

November 20, 2012

Made It Moment: Rita Kempley

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:20 am

The Vessel

In life there are second acts, despite F. Scott Fitzgerald’s feeling on the subject. Indie publishing has provided one for writers all over. And this Moment proves it. Careers change–whole industries may meet an upheaval of tsunami-size–but Rita Kempley didn’t allow herself to be swept away.

Rita faced the plunge of print media, and the even worse specter of depression, with the kind of creativity that I think is the salvation for many writers. Most of us struggle with some kind of inner demon–they’re often what appear on the page. But Rita got beyond her own story to give us a futuristic thriller. And as she takes the reader to another world, so did she stage her own second act.

Rita Kempley

Sometimes you don’t know you need a change until it’s foist upon you. So it was for me after 24 grueling years laboring at The Washington Post. I had written my heart out, but like Rodney Dangerfield, I got no respect. That didn’t stop me from waging an ultimately futile political battle to remain a movie critic in the toxic environment that was The Post’s newsroom.

Really, the party was so over, but I dug in my heels. Sixty-hour workweeks, lame editors, much less pay than my male colleagues: What’s not to like? Hoo-boy, did I ever need a wake-up call. In retrospect, though, I doubt even a smack in the puss would have awakened me to how the creativity had been sucked out of me. I hung on until a fairly lucrative buyout was offered, then was stripped on my press credentials and shown the door.

I didn’t know it then, but I would soon learn how worthless I would feel without that position. Though it was a relief to get the hell out of what I had come to call the land fill, I felt as if I was in mourning. Indeed I was. The Rita Kempley who reviewed movies, interviewed stars and went to premieres, film festivals and yes, even the occasional Hollywood party, was no more. Though I had never realized it, I had become my byline. And now that me didn’t exist.

I had a husband, a cat and many friends, but all I could see was time, vast lingering voids waiting to be filled. For two years, I slept as much of the day away as I could. I was depressed, which is nothing new for a bi-polar person, and hoped to die in my sleep as there was a good chance that was what I would be doing when the time came.

If I’d been a child star, I probably would have become addicted to crack and signed on to a pathetic reality TV show. Luckily my husband was there to support me along with former colleagues who had been through the same ordeal. My garden beckoned. I’ve found digging in the dirt puts one back in touch with reality more effectively than hallucinogens. I ordered hundreds of bulbs. I’ve always found that planting bulbs is a reaffirmation of life. Cooking fancy meals is good, too, so I began to add new dishes to my repertoire, had friends over to dinner, threw parties and started going to the gym again.

The cat and I still took too many naps together, but I began to think about a second act. I could teach, everyone said, or volunteer. Perhaps I could walk dogs or sell my gardening skills. Thanks anyway, I said, but I was beginning to feel like putting words on a paper again. Whether anybody ever read those words mattered, but not so much as putting them there in the first place.

Words have always dazzled me. Like a fairy tale heroine in a bewitched forest, I lose my way in a dictionary or a thesaurus. I love to play with them, polish them, toss them into the air and see where they fall. I love to line them up and knock them down like bowling pins, spin them around and watch them get dizzy. I used to get dizzy, too, and sometimes couldn’t see the story for the words.

That may be why I got out a old screenplay that my husband, Ed Schneider, and I had co-written years earlier. It was a futuristic thriller called “Birthright” and as far as I was concerned, it was done. We had some interest in the script initially, but ultimately there were no takers. Although the characters weren’t compelling – I would have called them cardboard in my reviewing days – I had always liked the mystery and the setting. This will be quick and easy, I thought. A tweak or two at best.

If you want to get Hollywood’s attention, I have been told, it is smarter to write a book than a screenplay. All righty then. Let some other schmo do the adaptation. Only I discovered, writing screenplays is more like building a house while writing a book is more like gardening. Lots of digging, lots of pruning, lots of weeding.

Two years passed and the characters were beginning to take shape, but the story still wasn’t there. I realized this because I was learning to become a storyteller. It was no longer about the words or me, it had become about the book.

Initially, I hesitated to call the pile of paper a “book” as I only had about a hundred pages. I’m not a fast writer, but I pressed on till I had a hundred more. And then more after that. How could this be? The longest piece I had ever written in my previous incarnation was a celebrity profile that ran 52 inches. Now I had well over 300 pages in a narrative form. Tada! The time had come to find an agent.

A flurry of rejections later, I made an appointment with my psychiatrist. We came up with a diagnosis of post-partum depression. The rejections weren’t the problem – a writer friend said I had some of the nicest rejection letters she had every seen. No, I longed for my book, especially my characters. We had spent most days and many, many nights together over the past four years and I missed them terribly. The book, now called “The Vessel,” went back in the drawer while I explored memoir writing and finally took a couple of webinars on writing a novel. I gave up on the memoir because I was sick of writing about me – hard to believe I know – and took a second and then a third pass at “The Vessel.”

That’s when I began to really like what I had written. I began to suspect I knew what I was doing. I sent the novel out to a few agents in January and February, but as expected, none were interested. It didn’t matter so much anymore. The publishing industry was obviously going the way of print journalism and self-publishing was practically legitimate. So I thought to myself, as I often do when authority is concerned, “Screw ’em,” and sent the manuscript off to start the e-publishing process.

Weeks later, as I was reading the proofs one last time, I caught myself thinking “Hey, this is pretty damned good.” From that point on, it really hasn’t much mattered how many copies I’ve sold. (Of course, I want to complete the circle, because a book isn’t really a book until it’s read.) What matters is that I’m not beating myself up anymore. I don’t know if it will last, but writing a book and publishing it myself seems to have done more for me than Prozac.

Rita Kempley, writer, journalist and editor, spent nearly 25 years in the dark as a film critic for The Washington Post. Thousands of screenings later she swears she can review a movie without seeing it. In addition to covering the Cannes and Sundance film festivals, she profiled scores of film personalities. She was also a regular commentator on two local FM-radio shows and hosted “Usual Suspects,” her popular weekly film chats on Washington Post Live Online.

November 14, 2012

Made It Moment: Cara Lopez Lee

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 12:41 pm

They Only Eat Their Husbands

Sometimes a Moment will make me laugh and sometimes it will make me cry. This one did both. Cara Lopez Lee has some funny women in her life, and she knows the value of a good crack from a girlfriend. (Wait till one explains how Cara knew she’d made it). Cara also has one very instrumental woman in her life, as most of us do, whether that woman is present or absent. I’m talking about our moms. In the end, Cara’s Made It Moment shows us the fine stamp of motherhood, and how we yearn for it whenever it comes into our lives.

Cara Lopez Lee

When Jenny Milchman asked me to answer the question, “how did I know I’d made it?” I was tempted to laugh.

“I made it?” I thought. “When did that happen?”

My memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands, has received positive reviews and achieved respectable sales in a post-apocalyptic publishing world. Still, sometimes my inner-critic says, “You can’t say you’ve made it until Terry Gross or Oprah calls.”

A friend and fellow-author told me recently, “You knew you’d made it when someone asked you to write a post on the subject of when you knew you’d made it.” This time I did laugh.

I told my friend about the moment my editor sat across from me at a writer’s conference and said he was prepared to offer me a contract right then. “I had to restrain myself from leaping on him and humping his leg like an excited dachshund.” Instead, I thanked him for the offer and told him I’d think about it.

Then I floated out of that conference onto the streets of Denver’s LoDo district, phoned my husband, and squealed like a teenage girl, “I have a publisher!”

Soon after that, my editor was reading a 900-page book in bed when it slipped from his hands and jabbed him in the eye, tearing his cornea. Sounds like a bad joke, right? But it really happened. It took him months to heal from that job-related injury – the equivalent of a ballplayer ripping a tendon – so he began letting authors go. I felt sorry for him, but I’ll admit I probably felt more sorry for myself. I was the opposite of Mary Tyler Moore, tossing my book into the air to some guy singing, “You’re not gon-na make it after a-all.”

But my editor kept me on. A year later, I broke the spine of a book with a photo of me kayaking on the cover and read out loud to 80 cheering friends at my book release party.

I thought, “I’m really an author.”

Then I drove around the American West in my dented, rattling ’95 Honda Civic Hatchback, and spoke to groups ranging from forty people…to one. Yup, reading to one person is really weird.

But I thought, “My audience and I are discovering each other.”

A young Canadian woman who was traveling the world emailed from Australia to tell me she’d read my book twice. She wrote, “Thanks for writing such a smart and funny book. It’s been an inspiration to me.”

I thought, “I have fans.”

One woman messaged me about reading my book when she was deciding to leave her abusive husband, a man who once threatened to put her body in a wood-chipper so no one would ever find her. When she left him, she traveled to Alaska, a place she had long wanted to visit but he had never let her go. In her note to me, she wrote, “I took your book with me and re-read it on the plane. You were great company.”

I thought, “My story is making a difference!”

My friend asked me for some advice, about whether to let a small press publish her memoir or wait for a better offer. I suggested that she and I not try to measure what it takes to “make it” by external results, but rather by an internal evaluation of what we value most. What I value most are relationships. For me, stories are another way to connect with others. That’s when I realized the moment I knew I’d made it:

My memoir is about my relationships with alcoholic men in Alaska and the relationship I developed with myself on my solo trek around the world. But the subject of my parents did come up. I didn’t grow up with my mother. In fact, you know that old joke, “My parents moved away without telling me”? One day when I was twelve, I phoned her only to learn that her number had been disconnected. I didn’t see her for seven years. We’re friends now, and I understand how her own painful history played a role in our past relationship. Still, I feared that after she read what I had to say about her abandonment, she might vanish again.

Instead, my mother sent me a letter saying she loved my book. “It’s all in there,” she wrote, “gritty determination, longing, love, friendship, humor, misery, anguish, leaping joy, gasping awe, suffocating loneliness, and eternal hope.”

That’s when I knew I’d made it.

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands (Ghost Road Press, 2010), co-author of the novel Back in the Real World (Graham Publishing Group, 2011), and a contributor to the new anthology 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror (Thunder Horse Press, 2012). Her Girls Trek Too blog is dedicated to inspiring women to live life as an adventure. She has written stories for The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Wazee Journal, HGTV, and Food Network. She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.

November 11, 2012

Made It Moment: Fleur Bradley

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


Some of you may know that last year a wonderful author named Carla Buckley extended one of the best invitations I’ve ever gotten. It was to become a part of ITW’s Debut Authors Program, and if you write anything in the neighborhood of thriller or suspense, I invite you to look us up because although we’re a bunch of people who put characters through sheer you-know-what on the page, man, do we have fun.

I’m as proud of each of the Debuts as if I played a role–some kind of midwife maybe, or a midwife’s assistant, OK, maybe a doula–in their novels. And when I read Fleur Bradley’s Moment, I understood why. Writing a book is about making something out of nothing. It’s a miracle on the page. Whether we read, write, edit, promote, or something else…playing a role in making a book come to life is something we can all take pride in at the end of every day.

Fleur Bradley

When I started this whole writing and submitting business, I thought my ‘Made It’ moment would be when I signed a book contract. I mean, what better benchmark, right?

Not so.

Sure, that book contract was cool (and a little scary—thank goodness for my agent). That confirmation of Harper Children’s buying three books I had yet to write. But for some reason, it didn’t feel very real.

It wasn’t until I talked to my new editor for the first time that I had that ‘Made It’ moment. We chatted about the book for a little while, both excited to start work on the Double Vision series. And then she told me how there was a meeting at Harper Children’s, where some of the staff talked about my main character Linc. How they loved his voice, and liked a part in the manuscript where Linc worries about his dad having to apply for a job after his family gets sued.

That was my ‘Made It’ moment. To hear that people I didn’t know, far away in New York, were talking about a character I created as if he was real. Because Linc feels very real to me—and they got it.

What’s even better is that now, after many other people have read Double Vision, Linc is generally the favorite part mentioned. And I can’t wait to write his next adventure.

F. T. Bradley is originally from the Netherlands and still likes to travel, like Linc, whenever she gets a chance. Her husband’s Air Force career has F. T. and their two daughters moving all around the world, but for the moment the family lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This is the first book in her new series about Lincoln Baker and Ben Green. Find F.T. Bradley on the web, follow her on Twitter, or on her blog.

November 7, 2012

Made It Moment: Yannis Karatsioris

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 1:46 pm


The Book Of The Forsaken

I often get into conversations, online and in-person, about different ways to break down the brick wall of publication. The appetite for such ways is as big as the world of writers, and so I’m happy whenever I learn about a new one.

Authonomy, a Big 6 (no, it’s not yet the Big 5, though it may well go that way) publisher’s introduction of crowd-sourcing to one group of submissions, particularly intrigued me. People often complain about the gatekeepers and what they miss. Some feel that readers must be the best judges of content, since they are the end-user when it comes to a book. If that’s true, then turning readers into assessors is a very smart thing to do indeed.

Below, please meet one author who decided to use Authonomy as his testing ground…with very interesting results.

Yannis Karatsioris

I was invited by Jenny to talk about my experience on Authonomy, the online platform for writers sponsored by HarperCollins UK. (*Thank you, Jenny!*)

This invite came as a result of me being an Editor’s Desk winner on Authonomy, meaning I got an award –a review from one of HC’s editors (and unofficially consideration for publication, too). But before I get into how I made it, and what happened along the way, I’d like to mention a few things about me.

One, I’m a non-native, Greek actually. And a young non-native at that, as I just turned 29.

This is the main reason I signed up for the authonomy experience. I wanted to see how good I am in respect to producing literature in a second language. I have already published a fantasy novel in Greece, have staged a play and won a national award for a fantasy novelette. But I wasn’t sure I had it in me to compete with native-plus-talented authors, aspiring as the case may be.

The second reason I chose authonomy and not another site for writers is that I’m a goal-oriented person and knew that I would do my best if there were something tangible at the end of the road. Being reviewed by HC felt tangible enough. So I registered and uploaded the 10k words that is the minimum for one to take part and go public.

The response to the story from the community was immediate and I hit #40 (out of six or seven thousand books at the time) within two months. The shining reviews made me doubt my earlier doubts, and I thought I actually had a chance. I won the gold medal this February, after six months of being reviewed by the members of the site.

I learned a good deal of things regarding the editing and/or revising of my manuscripts, I met great people, made a handful of friends, and I answered the question whether as a non-native writer I’m good enough to be read out of Greece.

After submitting the manuscript to thirty agents, (a low number for those who know how this works) only because I chose whom to submit to carefully, I got the too-well-known polite response twenty-something times, and two positive comments. I chose not to contact indie and other small publishers and just go with it on my own.

“The Book of the Forsaken” is available for less than a month now after being proofread and edited, both in Kindle format and as a paperback. And all one has to do is read the opening pages to see how different and engaging I hope the book is.

It has a long way to go, but as I said, I’m goal-oriented…

Yannis Karatsioris, Greek born and raised, is 29 years old and lives in Athens, Greece. He has staged a play, published a fantasy novel in Greek and, after winning the gold medal on HarperCollins’ competition on with The Book of the Forsaken, is now making his first steps in the publishing world out of Greece.


November 5, 2012

Made It Moment: Margaret Tanner

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:00 pm

Savage Possession

Margaret Tanner’s Made It Moment proves two things. One, a good writer knows how to laugh at herself. Not because we’re so smart. Just because by the time you actually make it to the point of being a good writer, enough crazy, deflating, is-heartbreaking-too-strong-a-word stuff has happened that we’d better be able to laugh. Read on for some of what happened to this historical romance writer from Down Under.

But first, I promised to tell you the other thing this Moment proves, and that’s that the Amazon reader and discussion forums are fonts of some of the best community on the web. I want to give a shout out for The Spinning Wheel, which introduced me to Margaret, and other authors who have shared their Moments, and many, many more whom I hope will do the same.

Margaret Tanner

I shook from head to shoulder as I read the e-mail.  The one that I had strived for years to receive. An offer of publication. The Call as we romance writers say. It was the icing on my road to publication cake. Months later, when I actually held a print copy of my first ever novel in my hot little hand, I knew I had made it. I caressed the cover like a lover, inhaled its perfume and slept with the book under my pillow for days.

I started out when e-publishing was in its infancy and most publishers still wanted a paper version of your manuscript. The following is part of a talk I gave at my local writing group about my road to the Made It Moment.

You have written a fabulous novel, your mother loved it and your girlfriend said it was the best story she had ever read.

Now, who is the lucky publisher? You know everyone will want it. The dollar sign lights up in your eyes. Six figure advance? Well, maybe you would take five for starters. You are already debating what you will wear to your first book launch.

Who will play the lead role when your masterpiece is made into a movie?

These are the questions you ask yourself.

I have had so many near misses, I could write a book about it.  A publisher accepted my book, then was taken over by another publisher who didn’t want my work.  I got myself an agent who unfortunately died. I finally got published and my book was out for a couple of months…then the company went out of business.

What do you do?  Lie in a corner in the foetal position. Kick, scream, etc.

NO, throw yourself a pity party if you like, have a few chockies/drinks and get on with it.

I have sent manuscripts to the large category romance publishers. The bigger the better, I thought and I received rejection letters, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

My blood was up; the bit was between my teeth.  I had to get my story out of the “slush” pile and on to the Senior Editors desk. But how?

A few weeks before Christmas a friend of ours, who was a sales representative, proposed a daring plan that couldn’t fail. He said. “Wrap the manuscript up in Christmas paper, put a fancy ribbon on it and send it to the senior editor. No junior editor would dare open the boss’ Christmas present.” What a master stroke, I thought, the man was a genius.

Well, a couple of months later, said present winged its way back to me, pretty ribbons intact, sticky tape untouched by human hand. The brief note said: Thank you for the gift, but we don’t accept presents. Merry Christmas etc. etc. I felt like the world had ended.

Then I got smart.

I joined a local writers group, attended conferences, and honed my skill, researched the markets and it paid off without the devious manoeuvres. I am now published with Whiskey Creek Press, The Wild Rose Press and Books We Love.

So, exactly what did I do to get my first acceptance?

Firstly, I researched the market trying to find out which publisher would publish the kind of stories I wrote. No point sending a hot steamy romance to a publisher of sweet and tender romance, or erotica to a Christian publisher, because no matter how wonderful your story is, they will never publish them. I had by this time figured out that I didn’t write category/formula romance. (i.e. the hero and heroine must meet on page one, share their first kiss on page eight, can only go as far as the bedroom door and so on). In fact, I discovered my stories were more along the lines of historical fiction with romantic elements.

I found two publishers, Whiskey Creek Press and Lovestruck Press. Being the desperate character that I was, and it was a definite no-no in those days, but I still sent full manuscripts to both publishers at the same time–two different stories at least. Whiskey Press sent me an email saying they wanted my story. Yay! I was on my way. Two days later, Lovestruck contacted me saying they wanted the other one. So that is how I started.

Sadly, tragedy struck the Lovestruck owners and they had to close down. I received my copyright back, but by this time I realized no author should have all their eggs in the one basket, so I queried The Wild Rose Press and they took me on board. Recently, I was invited to submit some of my out of copyright novels to Books We Love. And I now have several novels published with them.

Perseverance, knowing your market, confidence in the quality of your work combined with a dash of luck, and you will obtain your Made It Moment.

Margaret Tanner is a multi-published Australian author. She loves delving into the pages of history as she carries out research for her historical romance novels, and prides herself on being historically accurate. No book is too old or tattered for her to trawl through, no museum too dusty, or cemetery too overgrown. Many of her novels have been inspired by the hardships and triumphs of her pioneering ancestors in frontier Australia.

November 4, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Kathleen Kaska

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 10:38 pm

The Man Who Saved The Whooping Crane

When I got an invite from mystery author Linda Rodriguez, whose blog you can find here, to participate in TNBT, I had three reactions. One, I felt that little frisson of joy that happens to me any time someone does something that makes it seem like I’m a Real Writer, i.e., one who’d be writing a book. Two, I thought, Next Big Thing, ha. And three, I recoiled in horror because I never talk about a work-in-progress until I’ve penned the words ‘the’ and ‘end’.

I solved problem #2 by asking a writer I know for whom the words Next + Big do suit whether she’d like to trade blog posts with me. And Kathleen Kaska agreed, even though her post makes me a little green–a third book in her historical, musical, fashionable mystery series one month from coming out, and a fourth in the works. And how did I solve #3? Well, the answer to that will be over at Kathleen’s blog next week.

But for now let’s turn to the biggest reason I asked Kathleen to Blog Swap. I wanted to know what her next book is about!

Kathleen Kaska

Kathleen Kaska writes the award-winning Sydney Lockhart mystery series set in the 1950s when women were caught between the dichotomy of career and marriage; when fashion exploded with a never-before-seen flair; and movies and music had the country dancing with gusto. Her first mystery, Murder at the Arlington, won the 2008 Salvo Press Manuscript Contest. This book, along with her second mystery, Murder at the Luther, were selected as bonus-books for the Pulpwood Queen Book Group, the largest book group in the country. The third book in the series, Murder at the Galvez, will be out on December 7.


What is your working title of your book?


Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is the fourth book in my Sydney Lockhart mystery series. Sydney is a reporter and her assignments take her to different locales, each in a historic hotel. In this story, she’s back home in Austin, Texas, so I selected the Driskill Hotel as the venue for murder. I’m excited about this book because Austin was my home for twenty-five years. My research allowed me to discover what the town was like in the 1950s before it grew to a city of almost a million.

What genre does your book fall under?

This series can best be described as a cozy mystery with a noir feel. I’m a big fan of the hardboiled mystery writers like Raymond Chandler, Rex Stout, and Dashiell Hammett. When I began writing my books, I modeled my protagonists after those wisecracking, tough guy detectives, but I wanted my main character to be a woman.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sydney is a tall, sassy redhead, and I think Drew Barrymore would be perfect. Sydney’s cousin and pain-in-the butt sidekick, Ruth, is a perky little fashionista who often pretends to be a dumb blonde. Reese Witherspoon comes to mind for Ruth. And for Sydney’s sexy, detective boyfriend, there’s only one choice, Leonardo DiCaprio.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This is a synopsis for Murder at the Galvez, which will be released on December 7.

Another hotel, another murder, another attempt on reporter Sydney Lockhart’s life takes place at the Galvez Hotel while she investigates the eighteen-year-old unsolved murder of her grandfather.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m thrilled to announce I just signed with a new publisher, LL-Publications.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m currently working on the first draft of Murder at the Driskill and it is taking more time than usual. I can finish a draft in about eight months, but I’ve had a very busy year with two new releases and the reissuing of three of my out-of-print mystery trivia books all in a span of eight months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My Sydney Lockhart mystery series has often been compared to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Although set in the 1950s in various locales rather than modern-day Trenton, Sydney and Stephanie have one main characteristic in common; they are both too brazen for their own good.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I love writing humor because that’s what I love reading. Crafting mysteries has always intrigued me. After publishing three nonfiction books, I began working on my mystery series. Agatha Christie has been my biggest inspiration as well as the hardboiled authors I’ve mentioned.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The series is set in a decade that proved to be a pivotal point for women in terms of lifestyle choices. I write about an independent woman, struggling to make it in a man’s world, not an easy feat back then. Also, the places I write about are real. The readers have an opportunity to travel back in time and discover what life was like in these historic hotels. In my first book, Murder at the Arlington, which takes place at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, I write about the world of gambling and gangsters, which went underground after the town was cleaned up in the 1940s. Each hotel has a story to tell. All I have to do is to sniff it out.

Turn in to two more mystery writers and learn about their latest books and their inspirations.

Look for Peg Herring’s interview on November 19. Peg writes the award-winning Dead Detective Mystery Series.

Peter Townsend, author of Ghostly Images, shares his interview answers on November 26.

Before bringing Sydney into the world of murder and mayhem, Kathleen Kaska published three mystery-trivia books in the Classic Triviography Mystery Series. Two of them are finalists for the EPIC award in nonfiction.

Also this year, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, was released by University Press of Florida and has been nominated for the George Perkins Marsh award for environmental history.

When she is not writing, Kathleen and her husband spend time traveling the backroads and byways around the country, looking for new venues for her mysteries, and bird watching along the Texas coast. It was her passion for birds that led to the publication of The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane.

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