Monday, December 15, 2014

Local Flavor--How to Spice Up Your Stories (without including recipes!)

There is a benefit to becoming an avid reader at a young age... you get to travel the world and experience many cultures and customs before you're old enough to drive.

This is especially good when your family vacations were always at nearby relatives' homes.

I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and my only "travels" were to visit Dad's family in Roswell, New Mexico and the surrounding area or Mom's family in Chihuahua, Mexico. Disneyland vacations were not something most people in my neighborhood did. Since holidays and vacations were always spent in the same geographical area, we never experienced anything but what we'd always grown up with... and that included holiday traditions that I'd never read about in a book.

From the time I was old enough to read, I was always engrossed in a book my dad had ordered from Reader's Digest called "The Book of Christmas". In it were several condensed versions of Christmas classics, including "A Christmas Carol". To me, reading about the way that the Cratchit family celebrated Christmas was akin to reading science fiction: They had goose for Christmas? What in the world is plum pudding?  We always had turkey and ham... and why didn't they have tamales, like we did?

Other stories introduced foreign customs, like caroling. We didn't go caroling; we had posadas for nine days before Christmas, reenacting Joseph and Mary's search for lodging. We didn't have gingerbread cookies; we had bizcochitos, cinnamon and anise flavored cookies that were only made for special occasions like Christmas or weddings. A neighbor whose mother-in-law came from England for the holidays brought Christmas crackers; to us, they were a bit like hand-held piƱatas! And while eggnog wasn't unheard of--we called it rompope--most of the time, instead of hot chocolate, we had champurrado, a hot drink made with corn flour, milk, chocolate, and anise (trust me, it's an acquired taste!)

As I got older, it occurred to me that the world-view I was acquiring from books very rarely included the world in which I had grown up and still inhabited. So when I decided to become a writer, I took to heart the old oft-repeated advice to "write what you know". While I might not know much about murder (trust me!), I do know a lot about the area where my Black Horse Campground characters live... it's where I grew up and where I still live. And readers will get a glimpse--and a taste--of life in Bonney County, which is probably very different from where many of them live.

Have a blessed and merry Christmas... wherever you are!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Simple Things

It's that time of year when simplicity and extravagance seem to be fighting each other in every facet of our lives. At a time when we would love to keep things simple because there are so many "things" fighting for our attention that we can't possibly do them all extravagantly, we oftentimes wear ourselves out trying to do the impossible.

In the last few years, we've tried to keep Christmas simple. No mountains of gifts for every single person we know; no over-the-top 18-course gourmet dinner parties; no decorating every room in the house, even the bathroom, down to the holiday-themed toilet paper. We have learned that one simple gift that reflects what the recipient really likes can mean so much more than overwhelming them with a lot of expensive gifts that mean little to them. A simple pot of soup dinner can be just as enjoyable as a party with twelve different appetizers (even more enjoyable, since the hostess is probably more relaxed and in a more "party" frame of mind.) And while it's fun to tour a home decorated to the rafters for the holidays, staying in such a home, even for just an evening, can be uncomfortable ("I wasn't sure if I was supposed to use the candy-cane striped paper in the bathroom... or the Christmas cookie shaped hand soaps.")

The same goes for reading and writing. I remember a scene from one of my favorite books, "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith. In it, Francie Nolan, a poor girl in Brooklyn, wants to be a writer, but her teacher continually gives low grades to her essays about her father (who, though a gentle and loving man, is an alcoholic and rarely supports his family) and her life in a tenement (where she and her brother pick through trash for junk to sell and her mother pays the rent by keeping the tenement clean.) So Francie decides to write a novel about a wealthy girl who lives a fabulously wealthy life and eats a dinner of exotic desserts because her usual gourmet dinner seems to be very dull to her. Before too long, Francie realizes that she doesn't believe a thing she's writing and that it's no different than what she wants to write, but she's doing it all wrong.

I think writers have a responsibility to their readers to keep it as simple as possible. Yes, there are certain writers who have made their name by writing about the rich and famous and fabulously glamorous, but most of us can't relate to those kinds of characters or stories. In the Black Horse Campground mystery series, Corrie lives a simple life of working day to day and trying to keep up with her bills. She loves her work and doesn't dream of a glamorous life. I recently finished a romance series by the late, great Aimee Thurlo. While some romances hint of glamour and exotic locales, hers are set near the Navajo reservation with characters who are hard-working people who value loyalty, family, love, and honor above anything material.

Many writers are given the advice to write what they know, but the best advice I've been given is to write the kind of book I want to read. It's extremely gratifying to see that the kind of books I write are also the kind of books others want to read as well.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Feeling the Love!

I was at work today, at the other job I really love. I was at Noisy Water Winery, working the cheese counter which means offering samples of the 20-some varieties of cheese we sell, and doing a lot of what I do whenever I get a chance: people watching.

So, in a sense, I was doing the REAL job as well, since a lot of writing comes from observing.

Anyway, a group of people came in, an older couple with a younger man and woman. I set them up with a cheese and cracker platter and they sat at a table, enjoying each other's company and some great wines and cheeses. It became apparent that they were regulars and were in town for the Thanksgiving holiday and had chosen to spend the afternoon at Noisy Water. Near closing time, my husband walked in and sat at the table they had just vacated, waiting for me to finish up. The people were shopping and the older gentleman and his wife struck up a conversation with my husband. I wasn't really listening to what was said, since I was busy helping customers, but I did hear my husband say, "Yes, that's my wife at the cheese counter. She's a published author, too, and that's her book for sale over on the counter."

Immediately the couple rushed over to the counter to tell me that they had bought my book and LOVED it, the man being especially careful to tell me that he wasn't a reader, but that he loved the story and the characters. When they found out that there was a second book, and soon to be a THIRD book, they were beside themselves with excitement. The woman promptly plunked "No Lifeguard on Duty" on the pile of merchandise they were buying and asked me to sign it.

I won't bore everyone with the details of their praise (which was beginning to embarrass me after awhile... not that I felt any need to discourage them, however!) but I'm still floating on that little pink cloud their kind and enthusiastic words had put me on.

Often when people find out I'm a published author, one of their first questions ends up being, "So how much money have you made from your books?" I don't know if they believe me when I say I don't do it for the money. I guess they figure that I have to keep it a secret. But the truth is that the real rewards from writing and being published don't come in a check (although the checks ARE nice!) The real reward comes from the connection: hearing a reader say how much they enjoyed the story... how they couldn't put it down... how they loved the characters and felt like they wanted to meet them in real life... and how they hoped the next book was a sequel because they really, REALLY wanted to read about those characters again.

I got my reward today. It's better than a big royalty check. It's the real reason I keep writing.

What a great way to wrap up a weekend of giving thanks!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Attitude--What Makes or Breaks Just About Everything!

As many of you know, I had some problems with my computer in the last few weeks. A vicious ransomware attack necessitated the removal of my operating system and the installation of a new one This pretty much left my poor laptop with an irreversible case of amnesia... all my files were corrupted beyond recovery, leaving me and my computer tech no choice but to delete them all.

What did that mean, specifically? Well, all my word files are gone... including the first 22,000 words of the next book in my Black Horse Campground series. Yes, I know, I should have backed them up on thumb drives (and thanks to the many friends who gifted me with thumb drives after the meltdown!) My e-mail addresses and all e-mails prior to last Thursday are gone. Some of my photo files are intact, others are gone. Pretty much I am starting over with a completely clean slate, which is simultaneously exciting and devastating.

So why am I not sobbing and pounding my head against the wall?

For one thing, it would accomplish very little except, perhaps, making me feel a little better (at least until the pain from hitting the wall kicked in.) All the panicking, despair, wailing and keening, and overall freaking-out in the world isn't going to bring my files back. It would, however, be an enormous waste of time and energy... time and energy best spent reorganizing, regrouping, and (wait for it!) rewriting.

Secondly, what have I really lost? Not my laptop--the hard drive is perfectly fine and my computer tech assures me I'll get another year or two of use out of it (it's almost five years old) and I just don't have the money to shell out for a new one. That's a win! And I haven't lost my story, despite the 22k words that I wrote and didn't save. I still have the story in my head and in my heart. It will be rewritten. Perhaps it won't be the exact same story I wrote down a few weeks ago... but it might just be better!

Third, and most important, I've learned that your attitude says a lot about you. It's one thing to tell people you're going through a hard time or had some problems. But unless they are in a position to do something about it, besides offer sympathy, going on and on about it and dragging your little black cloud around with you is not going to accomplish anything except maybe thin out your social contacts. It's not that people are mean or unsympathetic; it's just that they, too, might have problems as well and when you do nothing but complain and bemoan the universe's conspiracy to destroy you, it becomes clear that your world has no room for anyone but yourself. That doesn't make you someone a lot of people want to be around.

Writers do live in their own little world populated by their characters and sometimes it's hard to leave the safe confines and venture out into the "real world" populated by real people and their very real problems. But like everyone else, we do rely on the rest of humanity to make a living and live in the world. There's no reason to make everyone's life more miserable than it already might be. Many people, perhaps more than we suspect, carry a very heavy burden that few people know about. You know who they are: they're the people we enjoy talking to, the people who always seem to have a positive energy emanating from them, the people who make us feel better just by coming into contact with them.

What is important is to decide which kind of person you want to be. And in this season of giving thanks, it's a good time to focus on developing an attitude of gratitude for what we have and not focusing so much on what we have lost or what we've never had. Because sometimes, being richer and better off has a lot more to do with our attitude than with what we have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cozy--In Writing and In Life

Fall seems to have taken its sweet time arriving here in southern New Mexico. The trees are still holding on to their leaves and many of them are still green. A warm sweater or jacket is welcome in the mornings and evenings, but a short-sleeved t-shirt feels just fine in the middle of the day. And a bowl of hearty stew sounds perfect for dinner, but for lunch, something much lighter feels called for.

Still, there's one word I find myself using to describe this time of year, and that's "cozy". Whatever your definition of cozy might be, here's mine:

The smell of pumpkin bread baking.

The crackle of a fire in a woodstove or fireplace.

A hand-crocheted afghan.

Marshmallows melting in a swirl of hot cocoa.

The glow of a porch light as you pull into the driveway after dark.

These are just a few things that I use to describe "cozy", but they all convey the same idea: "cozy" means something familiar, comforting, welcoming. A feeling of being home in a place you love and where you feel loved.

It was no accident that the mysteries I write are labeled "cozies". There are many genres of books and many sub-genres as well. I write mysteries, but they aren't police procedurals, or thrillers, or suspense. They are cozies. What, exactly, does that mean?

Well, for one thing, they generally take place in a location that feels very much like one's ideal of a home should be. Many times they take place in a small town, like my Black Horse Campground series does, and the mysteries involve a cast of characters that can be best (or worst) described as ordinary people. Of course, "ordinary" can be a compliment or an insult, but many "ordinary" people are actually quite extraordinary or do extraordinary things. That's what makes them so interesting.

Also, in cozies, there is usually a rather large cast of characters that the reader becomes familiar with; in fact, they become old friends, in the sense that the reader knows exactly how they're going to react in a given situation and which ones will be helpful, which ones won't, which ones are good for a laugh, and which ones make you grit your teeth in frustration. Very much like real life, right?

That, really, seems to be the defining feature of cozies--reading them seems to be like reading about your own life, your own home. Even before I began writing my stories, I looked forward to reading stories like them. When I'd see a new title in a cozy series, I'd be as excited as someone who had just booked a trip home for the holidays. It meant that soon I'd be in a place that was familiar and comfortable, with people I knew well and who knew me. That I'd soon be very much involved in the lives of those people and following the events of their day-to-day life as a problem would appear and we (myself included) would band together to solve it and restore order and peace to our little corner of the world.

Soon, I hope, I'll be booking (pun intended!) a trip back to Bonney County for my readers and I hope they are just as eager for the visit as I am.

Happy November, everyone!

Monday, October 27, 2014

On Writing Reviews

As much as I read, you'd think I would have had a lot more experience with writing reviews BEFORE I became a published author. After all, has been around for a long time and has always published reviews from readers. So why wasn't it until I became an author that I started writing reviews?

First off, it's probably a holdover from my childhood: "If you can't say something nice...." And, unfortunately, over the course of my life, there are probably a lot more instances when it was better for me to keep quiet than to say what I thought of a particular book. Or at least, I thought it was better.

Secondly, there's a fine line between saying you like or don't like, love or hate, a particular book and writing a review. A review means you have to look beyond your personal likes or dislikes of a particular work. It's like looking at a painting of, say, Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and saying you love/hate it because it has a lot of blue in it. And blue is your most/least favorite color. You have to go deeper than that.

When offering or asked to review a book, you have to be honest with yourself about how objective you can be. If something as trivial as the fact that the protagonist's name is the same as your spouse's ex can make you hate the story, gracefully decline the request to review. You can't make this personal. Also, if you're just not a huge fan of sci fi/fantasy, political thrillers, westerns, romances, etc. then don't offer to review a book you normally wouldn't read. You have to be willing to really get into the story in order to make your review worth reading.

And then there's the hardest part of all... what if you really, REALLY didn't like the story or if the writer didn't do a very good job of writing the story? What if, after struggling through to the end, you can't find much good to say other than the writer is a good friend of yours or you've liked other work but this one just doesn't do it for you? 

This is where writing a review can be tricky, especially if you're having it published in a public forum, especially if it's a product review. A good review can be beneficial to a writer, but primarily it has to be beneficial to the potential reader. If you write a glowing review of a book that is badly written, thinly plotted, or outright boring, you're not only not doing any favors to the reader, you're not helping the writer, either (assuming, of course, that the writer is a professional  who WANTS to improve, but that's another topic for another blog post... one titled "Don't Be That Guy".) People don't like to be tricked out of their money and an undeserved glowing review may inspire someone to plunk down their money on a book they are not going to enjoy. And they're not going to like you, the reviewer, very much, either.

A good review should be more than just a simple, "This book was amazing and everyone should read it!" cheer. Why did you think it was amazing? Did it make you cry, laugh out loud, really think, keep you up all night? Why should everyone (define "everyone") read it? Because it makes sense of suffering, it lifts the spirit, it draws a picture in a way that has never before been seen? There's no need to give an outline of the entire book including the climax and denouement (please, don't!), but tell us what the story is about, who the main characters are, and what you liked best about the story (the dialogue, the humor, the descriptions, etc.)

And lest you think a good review has to be four or five stars and unrelievedly praise the book, think again. A good review can also point out flaws and problems with the book... but it doesn't have to be mean-spirited and cruel. You don't have to like the book to write a good review (at least from the reader's point-of-view) but it's not necessary to totally trash the book or the author. And a good author will take a good hard look at a "bad" review and learn something from it (it might even be that the reviewer doesn't know what he or she is talking about, in which case it's best to just laugh and go on about the business of writing another book.)

In the last few months I've gotten pretty good at writing reviews and I've been asked to write reviews for fellow authors (even got to write my first back cover blurb, booyah!) I look at it like this: I've been given a great responsibility, not just to the author, but to the reader as well. And as a reader, long before I became a writer, I appreciate the honesty of a reviewer who takes the time to tell me what it is about a book that I will love. Or not.

Plus, I get to read a lot of books and not feel guilty if dinner is late. After all, it IS work!

Oh, the trials and tribulations of reviewing books....

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A New Novel by Oak Tree Press Author, Janet L. Greger!

Today on The Back Deck Blog, fellow OTP author, Janet (J.L.) Greger joins us to talk about herself and her newest novel, "Malignancy", the latest in her Sara Almquist series. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and let's see what Janet's up to these days!

Tell us about your self and your latest book.
I love to travel to slightly exotic places. In 2013, I went to Cuba. My tour guide was determined for our group to see Cuba as more than a place to see vintage U.S. cars. I figured many of her comments were carefully rehearsed propaganda. However, one of her claims caught my attention. She said Cuban researchers had patented a drug for cancer.

When I got home, I investigated her claim. Researchers at the Center of Molecular Immunology in Havana patented a therapeutic cancer vaccine to treat a rare type of lung cancer. That got me thinking. The result is MALIGNANCY.

Realistically the U.S. government might send (in the near future) scientists to Cuba to explore the possibility of creating government-sponsored exchanges between the two countries. (Several non-government-sponsored scientific exchanges already exist. Scientific exchanges were one of the early steps in the normalization of our relationship with China in the 1970s.) I thought Sara Almquist, the epidemiologist and heroine of my previous medical thrillers Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain would be the perfect protagonist to do a little “scientific diplomacy” in Cuba.

Here’s a blurb on MALIGNANCY. Men disguised as police officers shoot at Sara Almquist twice in one day. The real police suspect Jim Mazzone, a drug czar who Sara has tangled with several times, will order more hits on Sara. Thus when colleagues in the State Department invite Sara to arrange scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, she jumps at the chance to get out of town and to see the mysterious Xave Zack, who rescued her in Bolivia again. Maybe, she should question their motives.

This thriller has lots of action, descriptions of modern scenes in Cuba, bits of science, and something no other thriller has – a middle-aged woman heroine.

Malignancy is available at Amazon and Oak Tree Press:

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
About the time I was granted tenure as a professor in the biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I realized there were some “truths” I wanted to tell that could never be published in a scientific journal.

What steps did you take to learn the art of novel writing?
I read all types of novels voraciously.

Who are your favorite authors and how did they influence you?
John Grisham because he treats the legal system with respect but shows some of its darker secrets, sort of like I wanted to do about universities. J.K. Rowling because of her fantastic imagination.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I like to travel. The scenes in Bolivia (Ignore the Pain) and in Cuba (Malignancy) are as I saw them, but I “revved up” the action. For example: while I wandered across the roof of St. Francis Church in La Paz, Bolivia, Sara is chased across the roof by drug dealers.

I love to spend time with my Japanese Chin, Bug. We do pet therapy together at hospitals in Albuquerque. The Bug in my novels is closely based on the real Bug. He’s even cuter than the picture suggests. 

You can learn about me at my website:, at JL Greger’s Bugs:,

What are you working on next?
I’m finishing an anthology of short stories tentatively titled, “Other People’s Mothers.” Every story has a seed of real experience in it. Many of the stories show the humorous side family life. Several of these tales are about child abuse, generally not physical but psychological. Americans like to think child abuse didn’t occur in “nice homes” in small towns during the last half of the twentieth century, but then we don’t all agree on what constitutes normal parenting techniques.

Thanks for joining us, Janet, and congratulations on the new book. Catch you in Tucson in the spring for the Festival of Books!

Monday, October 20, 2014

November is Coming....

... and that means different things to different people.

If you're a fairly normal person (choose your definition of "normal"), the thought of November approaching means things like winter is getting closer, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and it's time to start baking and cooking like there is no tomorrow. Depending on the kind of person you are, these thoughts can elicit feelings of joy, anticipation, and excitement... or dread, despair, and desperation.

If you're a writer (the antonym of "normal") then the thought of November approaching means one thing.

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month.

And it can elicit the same feelings... just maybe not in the same order.

NaNo can be a very effective "kick in the butt" for those of us who have trouble getting started and keeping going. Nothing like a deadline to inspire creativity, or, if it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done.

For the last two years, I haven't "won" at NaNo (before I go further, let me explain NaNo to those who are unfamiliar with it--November is a month designated to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days) and, by winning, I mean completing the requisite 50k words by midnight on November 30. The last two years, I was fortunate to be able to break the 20k mark on my writing. However, because it doesn't cost a thing and a huge cash prize isn't at stake, I'm not the least bit devastated by my "losses".

The reason is because despite my "failure" to reach 50k words in 30 days, I DID get several thousand words on paper (or screen)... words that formed a story or part of a story that hadn't existed prior to November 1. Both times that I "failed" to finish NaNo, I was able to jump start the next book in my Black Horse Campground series. And that is my goal for this November of 2014: the first draft of book four in the series.

Will I make 50,000 words? Maybe, maybe not. Eventually, I know I'll get far more when the final draft of Book Four goes to my publisher.

I just need a little "kick" start!

Monday, October 13, 2014

On Being A Professional Writer (or, How To Be A Writer Without Alienating Everyone You Meet)

Writing is one of those professions that sometimes, like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect.

And sometimes it's the writer's fault.

I have participated in many an online forum for writers and attended numerous book events, sometimes as the author, but most of the time as a member of the audience (let me add to that: mainly as an author, trying to learn about writing and being a professional writer.) And in the process, I've been privileged (?) to witness a few things that became indelibly etched in my mind as key steps to being a professional.

First off, and this is most often seen in anonymous online groups, it's never a good idea to bash the work of other writers, whether they are published or not, whether YOU are published or not. The writing community should boost its members and offer constructive advice on improving the craft. No one appreciates a "know-it-all" who sets him or herself up as an expert on the craft of writing (especially if their own writing doesn't reflect it.)

Secondly, be open to constructive advice (or criticism) about your own work. To be so enamored of your own work that you can't possibly see any room for improvement is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for failure. No one is perfect. Everyone can improve. And yes, criticism or a negative review of your work can hurt. Becoming defensive and lashing out at the reviewer or critique partner and questioning their reasons without taking a good hard look at WHY they had a problem with your work is not going to help you in the long run. Here, the key is to start with people you know personally who can be honest with you and have your best interests at heart. If they tell you that your work needs *ahem* work, then do yourself a favor and listen to them before you unleash your work on the less understanding, more critical public. Many people don't feel the need to be nice in a public forum, especially online.

Third, when you're attending a book event where an author is discussing their work and trying to sell their work, do not be the writer who takes advantage of a captive audience to promote your own book. That author may have traveled a long distance to get to the venue and only has a set amount of time. That author is there to talk about HIS or HER own book, not anyone else's... especially yours. And trying to steal their limelight means they won't have anything nice to say about you to anyone else (especially their publisher!)

In conjunction with that, it's also bad form to approach the author after the event and tout your book in hopes of gaining some promotional boost from a "big league" author. Some authors might not mind, but many barely have the time to write and promote their own books. And not everyone is willing or has the time to mentor an aspiring author. They worked hard to get to where they are; you shouldn't expect anyone to make it any easier for you. And don't ask them to "put in a good word for you" with their publisher. They are not going to jeopardize their career to push an author they 1) do not know, and 2) whose work they have not read.

Lastly, and this is hard for a lot of fledgling writers to accept, there ARE other things to talk about besides writing (and by "writing", I mean your own writing.) If someone asks what you do for a living or what you like to do, by all means, take the opportunity to speak of your work (especially if you're published and trying to sell it!) but DON'T kill all future conversation and possible friendship by talking exclusively about yourself and your work. You'll make a far more lasting and favorable impression on people if you talk about other things and show you're a well-rounded person, not someone who obsesses about themselves and their writing. And if someone mentions that they, too, are a writer, offer them encouragement and wish them well.

Always remember where you came from, think about where you're going, and consider who you would like to have with you when you get there. It can be lonely at the top... and at the bottom, if you're not careful about how you climb that ladder.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Back Deck Blog Presents Catholic Writers Guild Member Leslie Lynch and Her New Book, "Christmas Hope"!

Today, I have a special guest joining us on The Back Deck Blog! Award winning author Leslie Lynch gives voice to characters who struggle to find healing for their brokenness—and discover unconventional solutions to life’s unexpected twists.

Leslie lives near Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband and her adult children’s cats.  While not engaged in wrestling the beautiful and prolific greenery of their yard into submission, she flies as a volunteer for the Civil Air Patrol, loves the exuberant creativity and color of quilting and pottery…and, of course, writes.

You can find her at, on Facebook at LeslieLynchWrites, and on Twitter @Leslie_Lynch_

Path to publication:

In the late nineties, I flew radio personalities around Louisville, Kentucky, for traffic reports. I loved the flying, but sometimes the work could tend toward mind-numbingly boring. On those flights, besides challenging myself to fly with extreme precision, my imagination began to wander. I would often be one of the few people on the airport property at oh-dark-thirty while getting the plane ready for departure. Put those two elements together, and voila! Lannis Parker, heroine of my first book, Hijacked, was born.


I spent years writing that story, in part because I had to teach myself how to use a computer, and also because I didn’t know how to write a book. (Never mind the stolen moments in trying to get a sentence or paragraph written.) Then I discovered Romance Writers of America®. The organization was and is a treasure trove of information, and better, is teeming with generous authors willing to help other authors. I found my local chapter, Louisville Romance Writers, and began the hard part of the journey.

I took countless online courses, attended conferences and workshops, entered contests, and slowly learned the craft of writing. After innumerable revisions, Hijacked was a finalist in RWA®’s most prestigious contest for unpublished manuscripts in 2013. However, that honor did not translate into an offer of representation by an agent or contract by an editor. The publishing industry was (and still is) going through major upheaval. While no one rejected my work as weak, no one was willing, in this climate, to take a chance on it.

The hidden benefit to this long and tortuous journey was this: I discovered my voice. Heavily influenced by secular fiction initially, I had included words with which I was uncomfortable and a sex scene that was so patently wrong for the characters and the context that I cringed as I wrote it. I deleted those elements and tried to fit Hijacked into the Inspirational romance subgenre. However, many Inspy readers didn’t like the still-gritty tone. I’ve finally found a place that works for me, with an organic inclusion of God/God-related issues along with very human characters who face difficult situations. I began to understand that traditional publishers would require changes that I was no longer willing to accommodate.

Several friends had independently published their books, and I began looking at their journeys. It became clear that becoming an indie author might be the right fit for me. I published Hijacked in June, Unholy Bonds in July, and Opal’s Jubilee in August. This has been an entire new and extreme learning curve—but it’s an exciting one. It’s a tremendous amount of work, but I like having control over many aspects of publishing that traditionally published authors do not.

Currently, I have a Christmas novella that will be released in October as both a stand-alone and as part of a bundle with nine other authors. I’m excited and honored to be part of this project!

Sam Bledsoe prefers his reclusive existence. A one-man landscape business keeps a roof over his head and food on the table—and keeps his badly scarred face away from curious eyes. But when a woman faints on her way from neighbor Maggie Ross’s house, he doesn’t hesitate. He rushes to help while grappling with memories of the incident that burned him so badly.
Free spirit Becca Sweet is pregnant—and down on her luck. The father of her unborn baby showed his true colors when he showed her the door. The apartment she has lined up isn’t available until the first of the year, and with Christmas and a storm on the way, living in her car is no longer an option. Becca appeals to her no-nonsense sister for help, but Maggie, unaware of Becca’s pregnancy, chooses that moment to dish out some tough love.
When Sam comes to Becca’s rescue, their battered hearts collide. In a moment of holiday magic, they discover that Christmas hope applies to all—even to them. And will hope lead to love, the most precious Christmas gift of all?

My advice for other authors? Learn your craft. If you don’t have that part down, none of the rest will matter. Find critique partners (I know, one could write an entire book on how to accomplish the task embodied in those three words!) and learn how to take constructive critique without getting defensive. Then repeat those steps and be persistent.

One last piece of advice: Publishing, while it may not seem like it, is a small world. Be nice, and always present your best, professional self, whether in person or online.  

Thanks for joining us and letting us get to know you and your work, Leslie! Here's hoping you find many more readers and they find you and your work as well!

Monday, October 6, 2014

A New Novel by OTP Author John M. Wills!

Today on The Back Deck Blog, fellow Oak Tree Press author, John M. Wills, is joining us to talk about his new book, "Healer", which was released a few weeks ago. I've already read it and highly recommend it! So let's get to know a little more about John and his latest work!


Tell us a little about yourself and your latest book.

I’m retired from the FBI. Before that I spent 2 years in the military and 12 years as a Chicago cop. I’ve been married to the love of my life, Christine, for 44 years. We’ve been blessed with three children and 4 grandchildren.

My new release is called, HEALER. It’s the story of 16-year-old Billy Anderson who faces more than his share of adversity. Heckled in school because of a birth defect, and suffering the loss of both parents, he nevertheless maintains his strong faith and faces each day with remarkable courage. Billy’s life takes a dramatic turn one day when while attending church, an elderly woman dies in his arms. Before she takes her last breath, she tells him, “Receive the gift of healing.” This remarkable gift changes not only Billy’s life, but everyone around him.

(With my apologies, I can't seem to upload images to my blog today, so I'm going to post the link to "Healer")

      When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

It was after I retired from the FBI. I began writing articles on officer training and safety, but yearned to write fiction. While I continue to write non-fiction, I’ve published more than 150 articles to date, I enjoy writing novels, short stories, and poetry.

               What steps did you take to learn the art of novel writing?

I’m self taught, trial and error has been my writing instructor. Those who have followed my career tell me they see the progression. However, 33 years of writing police reports and affidavits certainly helped my writing development.

             Who are some of your favorite writers and how did they influence you?

I enjoy reading works by Richard Paul Evans and Dan Walsh. Their character development and smooth dialogue quickly caught my attention, as well as their wholesome stories.


              What do you do when you're not writing?


I read . . . a lot. I’m a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Reading books by different authors and genres other than my own makes for a better writer. I’m not sure other writers grasp that simple truth, but I’ve discovered it’s a marvelous way of improving one’s own craft.

                  What are you working on next?


I’m working on a novel about a troubled marriage. I think it’s a topic everyone can relate to, inasmuch as there are so many divorces and separations in our lives.

 Thanks for joining us today, John, and I hope everyone gets a chance to read "Healer"! Thanks for giving me this opportunity to promote your work!

Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Have a Good Day

It's easy to get discouraged these days. All you have to do is listen to people, whether on the news or in everyday life. You'll hear enough bad news to make you seriously consider moving into a cave on a high mountain and not leave a forwarding address.

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch... we've all had those days.

There always seems to be an overabundance of bad things happening to good people. If you watch or listen to the news, you begin to wonder if anything good ever happens anymore. As a result, many people begin to develop a negative attitude toward life in general. They get a flat tire on their car and suddenly the whole day is ruined. A bad grade on test or lousy performance review means that their whole life is ruined. Their doctor gives them the news that their blood pressure is too high and they're borderline diabetic and it's a tragedy on par with getting the news that they only have a week to live.

Real tragedy is, of course, tragic when it occurs. But many people have gotten into the habit of seeing every minor setback or disappointment through magnified lenses. Sure, it's an annoyance when your order is delivered and it's wrong (especially when you're on a tight lunch schedule) or road construction delays you on your way to work (when you're already running late as it is.) But in the grand scheme of things, just how important, how devastating, how life-changing are such events?

What happens when REAL tragedy strikes? What if that tire didn't go flat until you were on the highway doing 65 mph? What if your boss says your performance is fine but due to cutbacks, you're no longer employed? What if your doctor says it's stage IV cancer? If you can't handle your pumpkin spice latte going out of season or a shopping cart ding in your bumper, how will you be able to deal with the big stuff?

At some point, all of us (myself included) need to learn how to think more positively, even when it seems like everything is going wrong. I mean, seriously, what is "everything" that is going wrong? Is the sun still shining? Are you breathing? Did you have something to eat today, a place to sleep last night? I don't mean to make light of people who live with true disabilities and terminal diseases and are homeless... surely they have reason to complain. But in all honesty, most people I've met who truly are suffering from tragedy have a better outlook and positive attitude than those of us who are merely inconvenienced by day-to-day events of everyday life.

I think we can all learn to be a little more patient with others, with ourselves, and with life in general in spite of the daily speed bumps and irritating quirks and shortcomings. It's amazing how taking a deep breath and just shrugging or laughing off life's little setbacks can make a huge difference in how one deals with life's BIG setbacks. In fact, it changes your whole attitude about everything. You learn to appreciate all the good that goes on around you all the time... and you learn that there is actually more good than bad.

I think it's worth a try. Who's with me on this?

"Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you."--Charlotte Whitton

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Margaret LaCovara-Reveira!

On today's Back Deck Blog, I'd like to introduce another Catholic Writers Guild member, Margaret LaCovara-Reveira. Though Margaret has yet to publish a book, she is actively writing and sharing her faith through her blog. Let's get to know Margaret!
Margaret LaCovara-Reveira, age 61, is a lifelong native New Yorker who has worked in law enforcement since 1978.  Following a 16 year absence, Margaret returned to the Catholic Church in September 2011.  Margaret loves the Lord and her passion is to instruct others on God's covenant promises and the truth of His Word.  Her blog, Exuberant Catholic, can be found in Word Press -, and her writings are also contained in  Margaret and her husband reside in New York City where she is an active participant of her parish, Our Lady of Grace.

Although the desire to write was fostered in Margaret at the age of 10, she did not give it serious consideration and opted to pursue a different path. In 2004, the Lord spoke to her heart and informed her that to be a writer was His will for her life.  Margaret continued to seek Him in prayer, and in a step of faith, initiated Exuberant Catholic.  Although she continues to work in a profession that she loves, Margaret realizes that the Lord will eventually call her to write on a full-time basis.  
That wraps up my Catholic Writers Guild member blog blitz on The Back Deck Blog! Hope you enjoyed meeting some of my friends and perhaps found some food for thought in their work!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Creating Memorable Characters

Quick: How many characters from books can you name?

Time's up! Okay, now, how many characters can you name from books you've actually read?

Of course, almost anyone can name a lot of characters from books and, thanks to movies, you don't even have to have read the books (believe me, I can tell you who the characters from the Twilight series are and I haven't read the books or seen the movies.) But how often do we read books and have very little remembrance of the characters?
When writing in a particular genre like mystery or romance, it's especially important for a writer to create memorable characters. The reason is because each genre has certain characters that must be included in order for the story to fit the genre: a mystery must include a victim (whether they survive to the end of the book or not depends on the kind of mystery), the villain or perpetrator, and the sleuth. Also included must be the secondary characters who may be “red herrings” to lead the sleuth astray of the truth. Since my Black Horse Campground series revolves around mysteries, we'll focus on that genre.

Since all mysteries must necessarily include these characters, there's always a danger of creating “cookie-cutter” characters—characters that look, sound, and act similarly to other characters in other books in the same genre. When I first became interested in becoming a mystery writer, I was 10 or 12 years old and I had been a big fan of Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators. Naturally, my early inclinations were to create sleuths who were bright teenage girls (with their own cars, of course) or young adolescent boys who happened to have access to a vintage limo (okay, THAT would be hard to imitate without giving away the source of inspiration!) But that highlights my point: each of these sleuths had something to make them stick in your mind.


As I got older, I got hooked on reading Agatha Christie mysteries and she has created some of the most memorable sleuths since Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes (that name alone will stick in your mind, never mind all the other traits Holmes has become famous for!) Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot remain in your mind for their unique traits—Poirot's appearance and eccentricities and Miss Marple's “ordinariness”. Those two sleuths are examples of opposite ends of the spectrum of making a character memorable.
The “different”kind of character—there is something about this kind of character that sticks in your mind because of a physical trait that sets them apart from other characters in the story and other characters in other books. Another author who pulled this off is George C. Chesbro, whose PI, Dr. Robert Fredrickson, a.k.a. “Mongo the Magnificent”, is the epitome of different: a retired circus performer who is a university professor along with being a private investigator and also happens to be a dwarf. Not only does a unique character like this stick in the reader's mind, the character is bound to have a circle of friends and other situations that can add complications or opportunities to the character's story. The problem is that utilizing this form of creating a unique character is that the writer runs the risk of creating a caricature instead of a character. Even Agatha Christie grew tired of Hercule Poirot and his eccentricities after a while!

The “ordinary” kind of character—this is the Miss Marple proto-type: an ordinary, every day kind of person who finds him or herself involved in the action of the story. And yet, Miss Marple, because she could be your aunt or grandmother and is generally the kind of little old lady a reader can care about, is a character that sticks in your mind. The danger lies in creating an ordinary character that doesn't do anything, just has things happen to them. An “ordinary” character must, at the very least, have an extraordinary sense of curiosity or justice or something that makes them pursue the mystery... or else they get mixed up in the mystery themselves and have no choice but to act in order to protect themselves or their business or whatever happens to matter to them. And an “ordinary” character doesn't have to be a civilian, like Miss Marple; even a police officer can be an “ordinary” character, just doing his or her job, until something about the case makes it personal. What makes an “ordinary” character stand out is what makes us care about that character.

Not sure who this actress is, but I never could quite see Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple!

In my Black Horse Campground mysteries, the characters are all as “ordinary” as you can get... just small-town folks (including the local law enforcement) who appeal to readers on a personal level. I wanted to create characters who stick in a reader's memory because they have come to genuinely care about the characters and what happens to them. I believe the easiest way for a writer to accomplish this is to make sure that he or she, the writer, cares about the characters.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Karl Bjorn Erickson!

Today, The Back Deck Blog is pleased to host Catholic Writers Guild member, Karl Bjorn Erickson! Karl Erickson is a man of many talents: a recent political candidate for Oregon's 20th District, author and essayist, photographer, and State of Oregon employee since 1997.  He is also active within his local Catholic parish.  
Karl has called Salem home since 1996.  He lives on the south side with his wife, two children, and an ever-growing Newfoundland puppy named Chester.  While he's been state employee for nearly two decades, he identifies himself primarily in the role of a author and essayist.  He's the writer of two lighthearted children’s books: Toupee Mice and Tristan’s Travels.  Both are published by Rafka Press.  His wife, Kimberly Erickson is their wonderful illustrator.  He also recently completed his first mystery novel (for older audiences), The Blood Cries Out.  The latter tale is set primarily between Seattle and Friday Harbor.

Besides writing fiction, his articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications--from America, The National Catholic Weekly and Seattle Pacific University's Response to a guest opinion writer for both the Portland Tribune and Statesman Journal.  While he also enjoys humorous writing, he doesn't do much on a regular basis.
In Karl’s infrequent "spare time," he works as a Status Examiner for the Oregon State Employment Department.  He first began working for the State of Oregon at the Department of Revenue in the summer of 1997.  He's worked as a Revenue Agent, Status Examiner, Tax Auditor, and (again!) as a Status Examiner.  (He even was one of the founding members of DOR's Tobacco Tax Task Force back in July of 2001, but he's hopeful he'll never need to check another Oregon cigarette tax stamp again in his state career.) 

When time allows, he loves hiking in the Pacific Northwest forests or along the Pacific Ocean, and you will often spot him carrying his trusty Canon EOS Rebel T3 camera.  (One of Karl's favorite hikes is into Mt. Jefferson's beautiful Lake Pamelia.)  Karl and Kimberly also enjoy playing with their new Newfoundland--a quickly growing puppy in excess of one hundred pounds.
Visit Karl's website ( and get to know this multi-talented gentleman and, if you have the time, pick up a copy of "The Blood Cries Out"! I'm only a third of the way through it and I'm hooked!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Karina Fabian!

Today on The Back Deck Blog, I'm tickled to introduce Karina Fabian, Catholic Writers Guild member and author of science fiction and fantasy novels! Let's learn more about Karina and her work!

Karina Fabian is a mild-mannered writer for Top Ten Reviews and mother of four. But in her other lives, she's a snarky dragon detective, a nun doing dangerous rescue missions beyond Mars, a psychic driven insane by his abilities, a zombie exterminator… Her rich fantasy life has compelled her to become a writer, and she has written 9 science fiction, fantasy or horror novels and has stories in dozens of anthologies and magazines. She's won multiple awards for her fiction, but the best reward is when an editor or fan asks her to write some more.

Because her imagination suffers from "squirrel!" syndrome even worse than the dogs in UP, she alternates her writing efforts among multiple universes. She recently submitted the last novel in the Mind Over Trilogy and wrote a novella to marry off two of the main characters. Her serial novella coming out in Liberty Island in November features zombie Exterminators Neeta Lyffe and Ted Hacker as they take on skiing zombies on the slopes of Utah. Neeta Lyffe's first book, Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator, is now out in audiobook as well. She has two science fiction novels with publishers for consideration and is working on the next DragonEye, and maybe… SQUIRREL!

Karina also writes about the lives of the saints for a Catholic service called SaintConnection, plus homilies for FAITH Catholic. And, of course, her new full-time job is writing reviews of small-medium business services like eCommerce and social media monitoring software. In addition to writing, Karina has taught online classes on aspects of writing and marketing from worldbuilding to time management and even housekeeping for writers.

You can learn more at

"One of my favorite metaphors comes from Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time Trilogy.  She describes life as a sonnet: we are all given a strict structure and rules, yet have complete freedom within those rules to create ourselves into unique individuals. 

Fiction writing is like that:  There are rules to follow on grammar and story structure, yet we have incredible freedom of imagination.  No matter how strict the rules, no two people will create the same thing.  My story, Greater Treasures, is a good example of this.  I wrote this story while watching The Maltese Falcon,( so while I watched the movie, I took careful note of the plot progression and iconic scenes, like the confrontation between Sam Spade and the police chief.  So I had the structure and basic character set: detective, partner, police chief, damsel in distress with a dark secret, even the competing treasure hunter and his henchman.  Then, I exercised my creativity by placing this structure into my DragonEye universe and let my characters in that world play out their parts.

The result is a very different story from the one written by Dashiell Hammet.  The stakes are higher:  the life of Vern’s best friend (Sister Grace) vs. the fate of an entire world (one that has not treated Vern very well).  The femme fatal, of course, would not be able to use her feminine wiles on Vern, who’s a dragon.  She needed a different pull.  In addition, Vern is a little more savvy than Sam Spade (Sorry, Sam); plus, he’s seen The Maltese Falcon.  If you’ve seen or read The Maltese Falcon, then you might recognize some of the events and catch a couple of in-jokes; however, there’s no mistaking Greater Treasures for the noir classic—if it becomes a classic itself, it will do so on its own terms.
There’s a saying that there are only 10 original ideas (or 4 or 42 or…)  The number does not really matter, because it’s not the idea or the structure that define the story.  It’s what you do within that structure that makes it yours."

Karina, thanks for visiting us and letting us get to know you better and for sharing a glimpse of your work and some great writing advice!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Meet Catholic Writers Guild Member Ellen Gable Hrkach!

Today, I'm pleased to have Ellen Gable Hrkach visiting with us on The Back Deck! Grab a glass of tea or a cup of coffee and get to know Ellen and her books and work!

Ellen Gable Hrkach is a freelance writer and author of five books, President of the Catholic Writers Guild, self-publishing book coach, speaker, NFP teacher and book reviewer. Since 2010, Ellen’s books have been downloaded over 500,000 times on Kindle.  She and her husband are the parents of five (nearly grown) sons and they live in rural Pakenham, Ontario Canada.

(Released April 2014) A Subtle Grace (O’Donovan Family #2) is already a bestseller! (#1 Religious Drama) 1896, Philadelphia: In this sequel to “In Name Only” (2009, FQP), “A Subtle Grace” continues the story of the wealthy and unconventional O’Donovan Family as they approach the dawn of a new century. At 19, Kathleen (oldest daughter) is unmarried with no prospects. Fearing the lonely fate of an old maid, her impatience leads to an infatuation with the first man who shows interest. The suave, handsome son of the local police chief seems a perfect match. But will her impulsive manner prevent her from recognizing her true beloved? A disturbing turn of events brings a dark shadow that threatens the life-long happiness she desires.
(Note: Although “A Subtle Grace” is a sequel, it can be read as a stand alone book, independently of the first book in the series.)
Amazon Kindle:
Novel website:

Ellen’s other books:
In Name Only (O’Donovan Family #1) (published 2009, winner 2010 IPPY Gold Medal in Religious Fiction and Amazon Kindle #1 Bestseller March-April 2012) One sentence synopsis: 1876, Philadelphia: Orphaned teen girl marries virtuous man but he dies and she must marry his immoral and obnoxious brother.
Amazon Kindle:
Novel website:

Stealing Jenny
(Amazon Kindle #1 Bestseller in Religious Drama with 240,000 downloads)
One sentence synopsis: Mentally unstable woman kidnaps pregnant mother of five.
Amazon Kindle:
Novel website:

Come My Beloved: Inspiring Stories of Catholic Courtship
12 true life courtship stories
Novel website:

Emily’s Hope
Based on true parallel stories of a modern woman and her great-grandmother.
Amazon Kindle:
novel website:

I began writing fiction in 2001 after my husband suggested that I write a novel based on the parallel true stories of myself and my great-grandmother.  Although Emily’s Hope is overtly preachy and not as well-written as my other novels, I learned the basics of novel writing over the course of those four years.  Back then, there was only one Catholic fiction publisher (Ignatius). They weren't taking submissions and the only option was to self-publish.  It was a lot more difficult in those days (no Print on Demand companies and there was a stigma attached to so-called “Vanity Publishing.”)  I hired editors, proofreaders, and others to assist me.

Advice to writers: Never give up, keep writing and trying to polish your skills. Avoid being “preachy.”  Write a good story well and the message will shine through.​  If you're going to self-publish, hire others (editors, proofreaders and cover designers) who can help you to produce a professional quality product to compete with the bigger publishers.

Thanks for visiting with us today, Ellen, and sharing your story, your books, and your great advice! Here's hoping you find many new readers here on The Back Deck!