Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Meet OTP Author Janet Greger!

Today, The Back Deck Blog is spotlighting Oak Tree Press author, Janet (J.L.) Greger, author of the Sara Almquist medical thriller/mystery series. Janet shares some invaluable advice for writers using her own series and characters as examples. Let's learn more about Janet and her writing technique:

Make Characters Realistic but Not Real

Are you like me? I think it’s a mistake to base a character too closely on real people. On the other hand, interesting characters need realistic “warts.”

In mysteries and thrillers, the protagonist needs to be capable of solving problems. I can’t be the only reader tired of “dizzy” snoops in cozies who clumsily stumble into police investigations. I also don’t want to read about another neurotic genius, like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. Let’s face it - most problems are solved by normal people, albeit sometimes smarter or more observant than most.

Sara Almquist, the lead character in my medical thrillers Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain, is an epidemiologist. That profession gives her legitimate reasons to pry into everyone else’s business. She’s normal, but maybe a bit cranky and perhaps dotty about her dog Bug, who is based closely on my real Japanese Chin. (Please note I use “who” not “which” as an adjective to describe Bug.)

Realistic characters are amalgams. The dean of the medical school in my medical mystery Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight is a polished, aloof gentleman, but he feels no remorse when he assigns his associate dean Linda tasks that all but turn her into cannon fodder. He is a chimera of dozens of deans I’ve observed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I was a faculty member, and elsewhere.

Fantasy characters can be in real locations. Although I don’t base my characters on real people, some of my scenes are exactly as I saw them. I climbed over the roof of Iglesia de San Francisco in La Paz, Bolivia as my heroine Sara does in Ignore the Pain. My trek was leisurely; hers wasn’t.

Realistic characters have emotions and attitudes. Six percent of the children born in Bolivia die before their fifth birthday. That statement is fact and lacks emotion.

In Ignore the Pain, I tried to show how my heroine Sara’s beliefs and attitudes changed as she advised Bolivians on complex, nuanced public health problems. Although she knows cocaine is dangerous, she understands why miners in decrepit mines at thirteen thousand feet chew coca leaves after she visits a mine of Potosí, Bolivia. I hope the situations she sees arouse empathy and other emotions in the readers, as they do in Sara.

Now it’s your turn. How do you create realistic fictional characters?

Bio: JL Greger is no longer a biology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; instead she’s putting tidbits of science and romance into her medical thrillers/ mysteries - Ignore the Pain, Coming Flu, and Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. She and Bug, her Japanese Chin dog, live in the Southwest. Her website is at Her blog JL Greger’s Bugs is at

Blurb: In Ignore the Pain, Sara Almquist couldn’t say no when invited to be the epidemiologist on a public health mission to assess children’s health in Bolivia. Soon someone from her past in New Mexico is chasing her through the Witches’ Market of La Paz and trying to trap her at the silver mines of Potosí. Unfortunately, she can’t trust her new colleagues, especially the unsavory but sexy Xave Zack, because any one of them might be under the control of the coca industry in Bolivia. And coca is everywhere in Bolivia.

Sara and Xave will travel to Cuba in a fourth novel, called Malignancy. Oak Tree Press will be publishing this novel in the fall of 2014.

Amazon sell links for: Ignore the Pain ,
Coming Flu, and
Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight

Thanks for sharing your advice and letting The Back Deck Blog readers have a chance to get to know you and your work, Janet!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Meet OTP Author Carolyn Niethammer!

Today, The Back Deck Blog is featuring one of Oak Tree Press's newest authors, Carolyn Niethammer. If you love historical fiction set in the Wild West with a strong female protagonist, you'll love her first novel, "The Piano Player". Let's learn more about Carolyn and her writing story!

Hello everyone. My name is Carolyn Niethammer and I am very excited about the release this month of my first novel (and tenth book) The Piano Player. Although I’ve been marketing my books for nearly forty years, having a novel is a new and exciting experience. The piano player in the title is Mary Rose, a well-born young woman who comes to Tombstone in 1882 and goes to work as an entertainer at the Bird Cage Theatre. She finds that nothing she previously learned about proper womanhood pertains anymore, and she must toughen up and transform herself into Frisco Rosie if she wants to survive.

The novel isn’t a huge departure from my previous writing, other than being largely made up. All my earlier books are set in the West. Five of them involve food, mostly recipes for edible wild plants. And food continues to be addressed in this book. One of the main characters in The Piano Player is Nellie Cashman, based on the real Nellie, a famous cook and boarding house owner. After Tombstone collapsed as the silver mines filled with water, she travelled from boomtown to boomtown, always elevating the level of food service wherever she settled. When gold was discovered in the Yukon in 1897, she hiked in over the ice to try to stake a claim even though she was nearly 50 years old. In the novel, Rosie goes with her, hoping to find a claim with a payoff big enough to let her establish her own saloon business. But since it is a novel, things don’t go as planned, and both women have to reinvent how they are going to survive in far north Dawson City.
Some people are natural fiction writers; I had to study. In fact, as a journalism major I had to unlearn much of my schooling to become a good novelist. Among the many books I studied, my most important guide was the classic Structuring Your Novel: From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript by Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald. My copy is so well used the pages are falling out. How to Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier and Frances Spatz Leighton was also good. The most fun was a class I took on-line in writing sex scenes. Turns out there is an orderly progression to seduction to get the reader ready along with the heroine. There are no explicit sex scenes in The Piano Player, but we know what is going on and are left to imagine the rest.
The fiction writing experience has been so much fun that I’m 30,000 words into my next still-untitled novel. I’ve had to stop writing for a bit to get The Piano Player off the ground and I’ve left the heroine in the new book in a very unsettling situation. She’ll just have to wait for me to get back to her.

You can visit Carolyn at She shares a blog about Southwestern food with three other women at The Piano Player is available at Oak Tree Press and Amazon. Her other books can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble or ordered from your local independent book seller.

Thanks for sharing your publication story, Carolyn! Even "natural born" fiction writers have a lot to learn! We look forward to more novels from you!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Meet OTP Author James R. Callan!

Today, The Back Deck Blog is featuring Oak Tree Press author, James R. Callan, who wrote the mysteries "A Ton of Gold" and "Cleansed by Fire" as well as some wonderful non-fiction books on the craft of writing. Let's get to know Jim a little bit better!

I intended to write when I got out of college, but soon found I could not support a family on writing. So, I took a forty-year detour through mathematics. Then one day I said, “The kids are all out of school and self-supporting. I can go back to my first love, writing. Now, I write mystery and suspense novels, plus a few non-fiction books. 

My latest suspense is A Ton of Gold. It looks at how an old Texas folk tale affected the lives of people today. For young, brilliant Crystal Moore, the folk tale causes murder, kidnapping and arson. And in the midst of this, the man who almost destroyed Crystal psychologically is coming back. This time, he can ruin her career. She will need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, her street-wise friend, and her feisty grandmother.

I have also written two books on the writing craft for Oak Tree Press. Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel (2013) and How to Write Great Dialog (2014).


The best advice for writers is to read and write. Read good authors, in your genre and outside your genre. Write. Every day, if at all possible. Read aloud what you have written. Better yet, let someone else read it aloud while you listen.

If you are a beginner, read a few books on the craft of writing. Do not try to read everything on writing or you will never get around to actually writing. But select a few good books on the craft and read those. Find a good writers’ conference, one which has workshops on specific aspects of writing, and attend.

And lastly, if you are writing, have the courage to call yourself a writer. You may not be published. You may be a pre-published writer. But, if you are writing, think of yourself as a writer. Don’t be afraid to tell people you are a writer.

Thanks for joining us on The Back Deck today, Jim. I hope my readers will check out your books, especially those aspiring to be writers as well!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

I've been nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award by the very inspiring Lorna Lund Collins!

The purpose is simple. It’s designed to introduce authors to readers and to other writers who are creating some of the finest blogs on the Internet today. I was nominated by author Lorna Lund Collins. When you have a chance, check out her blog ( and writing. I think you’ll enjoy both.

Here are the rules of the contest:
  • Thank and link back to the amazing person who nominated you. (Thank you, Lorna!)
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself
Okay, here are my seven facts:
1.  I actually considered joining the military--U.S. Air Force, to be exact--when I was a senior in high school.
2.  I have never learned to swim.
3.  In addition to writing and cake decorating, my other creative endeavors include ceramics and cross stitch... I just have time for neither one!
4.  In 1991, we were in Rome where my brother-in-law was ordained by Pope (now Saint) John Paul II... and I got to touch the hand of the man who was recently canonized and has been declared Patron of the Catholic Literary Revival!
5.  When my husband, Paul, and I married in July of 1988, we drove to Niagara Falls, NY for our honeymoon (in a 1985 Nissan pickup truck with NO air conditioning!) It was the summer of one of the worst droughts ever and when we crossed the Mississippi River at St. Louis, it was nothing but mud!
6.  I was born and raised in El Paso, TX and had never traveled any further east than Carlsbad, NM before my honeymoon (see #6) and had never traveled anywhere but in the state of New Mexico!
7.  My maiden name is Romero and my parents and siblings all have Hispanic first names (Gilberto, Juana, Carlos, and one older and one younger sister named Maria)... and then there's me: Amy. No, it's not an "Americanized" name or nickname. That's what my older sister wanted to name me and that's my given name!
Nominate fifteen other amazing blogs and remember to comment on their blogs to let them know you have nominated them. Also, follow the blogger who nominated you.

Here are the 15 people I’ve nominated. Do yourself a favor and check out their blogs and writing, too:
Rabbi Ilene Schneider
Erin McCole Cupp

Friday, July 18, 2014

Meet OTP Author Ilene Schneider!

Today, I'm tickled to be hosting Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Oak Tree Press author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mystery series. If you like your mysteries with a healthy dose of humor, you'll love this series!

Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., one of the first six women rabbis ordained in the U.S., has finally decided what she wants to be when she grows up. She has recently retired from her day job to devote full time to writing. She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries: Chanukah Guilt, which was a finalist for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2007, was one of My Shelf’s 2007 Top Ten Reads, and was a Midwest Book Review Reviewers Choice Book; and Unleavened Dead, which won First Place from the Public Safety Writers Association, and was a finalist for the Deadly Ink David Award for Best Mystery of 2012. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine called Unleavened Dead “… a solid, funny mystery that provides an insider’s look at Jewish life.” A resident of Marlton, NJ, near Philadelphia, she is working on the third book in the series, Yom Killer, and is also the author of Talk Dirty Yiddish.
Please visit her website/blog: or email her at


Rabbi Aviva Cohen is a 50-something, twice-divorced rabbi who has been living a fairly uneventful life in South Jersey. True, she has a family that is rather unconventional. And her first ex-husband has moved to her town. But her life took a truly interesting – and sinister – turn when she became an unwitting, but not all that unwilling, amateur sleuth.

In the first Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery, Chanukah Guilt, when Aviva agreed to officiate at the funeral of an unpopular land developer, she didn’t expect to be told by two different people that he had been murdered. Nor did she expect that the first funeral would result in a suicide. Her search for the story behind the suicide (or was it murder?) lead her to discover the truism “appearances can be deceiving” is accurate, while putting her life in jeopardy.

In the second book in the series, Unleavened Dead, two members of Rabbi Aviva Cohen’s congregation are found dead, victims of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. But Aviva has info that leads her to doubt it was an accident. Then, police suspect Aviva’s niece’s partner in a hit-and-run death. Aviva is sure the woman is innocent, even though her SUV has a body-sized dent on the hood. As she looks into the two disparate cases, Aviva discovers they may be connected, and her amateur sleuthing takes a sinister turn that involves sexual abuse of teenage girls, money laundering, stolen identities, and an FBI investigation.


I have four bits of advice for aspiring writers. They’re not original with me, but have stood me in good stead.
  1. Don’t give up. If you can’t find an agent (and remember, it takes only one who believes in you and your book) or if the agent can’t find a publisher, try querying small and midsized publishers that do not require agent submissions and are willing to take a chance on an unknown. (That is the path I followed.) And if you still are not successful and are sure your book is publishing-worthy (and has been ruthlessly edited, preferably by strangers, and formatted by a professional, and read by people who recognize and appreciate good writing) then self-publish.
  2. Grow a thick skin; but don’t get overly confident. There will be critics who will hate your book for the same reasons others love it. Take all of it – the good and the bad – with equanimity.
  3. Don’t expect to get rich. The reason there are news articles about writers whose blogs are optioned for Hollywood or writers who sign seven-figure multi-book contracts is because those occurrences are so rare.
  4. Get out there and push yourself. The days of the reclusive writer slaving away in an attic garret (or, more likely these days, parents’ basement) are over. As are the days of publisher-financed book tours and advertising blitzes, unless you’re a bestselling author who doesn’t need the extra hype. If you don’t have an internet presence, if you don’t spend part of your writing time on social media, if you don’t participate in Listservs, if you don’t attend writer and fan conferences at which you participate on panels, your book, no matter how good, will remain unknown and unread.
    Now get out there and write!  
Thanks for sharing your story, your books, and your advice with us, Ilene (especially tip #4 for me!)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Meet OTP Author Walter Luce!

Today, The Back Deck Blog is featuring one of Oak Tree Press's newest authors, Walter Luce.  Walter is the author of the Eva Pennington series and the Turk Donatelli series. Let's get to know a little more about Walter:

I was born in Vermont where I still spend my summers. I’ve been a successful real estate developer in Florida, Georgia, and California. I now live in the Palm Springs, California, area with my wife, Bonnie, where I wrote my first of six novels so far, Eva Pennington.

The oldest of seven in my family, I graduated from Braintree Randolph Union High School in 1962, and attended Miami Dade Junior college after being honorably discharged from the Army in 1967.

The third in my Eva Pennington series, EVA PENNINGTON – DAMSELS OF DIVERSION, was just released. The first is available on Kindle only EVA MARIE PENNINGTON which I’ve rewritten and will be released in paperback in a few months. EVA PENNINGTON – TROUBLE IN GEORGIA the second in the series was released last year.
My Turk Donatelli series, MIAMI EXIT, ATLANTA EXIT and VERMONT BOUND, was recently published by Oak Tree Press and is doing very well.
We own a cabin (Camp Cupcake) in the foothills of the Vermont National Forest and I have a writer’s loft on the second floor. In the desert, I write from my in-house real estate development office. Between five and six AM I secure my first of three cups of coffee, read the Wall Street Journal, check my emails, work on my real estate deals, reread what I wrote the day before and then write anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 words. 
In the ‘70s, my wife taught college journalism and was a MENSA member. She talked me into going to one of their meetings. After three meetings, I was determined to do what they were talking about doing…writing a book. Thirty years later, I wrote my first novel for all the wrong reasons—not being a well-educated man, I thought if I wrote a book people would think I was smart. By the way, none of them ever wrote that book they talked about and writing a book didn’t make me any smarter. When the real estate industry fell apart in 2006, my wife, Bonnie, said to me, “Stop complaining about having nothing to do, and dust off that novel you wrote thirty years ago, and work on getting it published.”
The best (writing) advice (I ever received) was to just write -- don’t worry about what you write; just write. The worst advice I ever got was to trust your banker.
I start with an idea and just let the characters take me for a ride. It’s easier now that publishers and the public like shorter novels. I love the ride. I write not to get published…I write because I can’t stop writing. If I was never published I would still write…its therapy.
Visit my website or contact me at
Thanks for telling The Back Deck Blog readers about you, Walter, and write on!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Meet OTP Author Amy M. Bennett!

It's Monday morning on The Back Deck and today, I'm hosting Oak Tree Press author... me! I hope no one minds long-winded blogs... those of you who know me personally have heard this all before (or been along for the ride!)

I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas and lived there until 1988 when I married and moved to New Mexico. I attended Lee/Magoffin Elementary (in the Northeast) until 5th grade and then my parents transferred my sister and me to Blessed Sacrament School. It was there that I met one of the best teachers the world has ever offered, Mrs. Patricia Quinn, who taught 7th and 8th grade history and literature. She encouraged us to read and write and she was a master storyteller. We knew that when she took off her reading glasses and rested her elbow on the podium, we could close our books and listen while she told us stories of growing up "on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., five blocks from the White House"!

In a way, she was my first writing coach. Her stories came alive in the way she described the people (characters) in her stories so we came to feel that we knew them, and the way she masterfully set the scene for us without making her stories sound like encyclopedia entries (I'll never forget the story about how she was supposed to clean the drip pan under the ice box and neglected the chore all one summer and the ice box fell through the rotted wood floor under it and into the basement!) I loved the writing assignments she gave us and usually wrote more than she requested!

I continued my Catholic education at Father Yermo High School, where I met another wonderful writing mentor, Mrs. Patricia Hollis. She was teacher-sponsor of our high school paper, which featured a lot of creative writing and short stories from the students. I was always thrilled when I was asked to write a short story for the paper, and Mrs. Hollis taught me the value of "less is more" when I tended to turn a one-page story into a three-page one! She was a stickler for correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling, skills I'm so grateful to have as a professional writer.

I graduated in 1985 and in 1988, I married the most wonderful man in the world, Paul Bennett. We moved to Alamogordo, New Mexico and have been living in the area since then (except for a six-month stint in Mt. Kisco, New York). Our son, Paul Michael, was born in 1994 and, during the two years I stayed home raising him before I had to return to work, I started working on a novel. That effort is lying in a box or drawer somewhere, with Paul urging me to take it out, dust it off, and work on it some more but I have to confess, I'm almost afraid to see just how bad my early efforts really were!

I worked for a local supermarket for a couple years then in 1998, I went to work for Walmart Supercenter as a cake decorator. Cake decorating was a skill I had learned at the age of 11, when my mother signed me up to take classes from a neighbor who had taken the Wilton course at J.C. Penney's. I'm pretty sure I never asked for cake decorating classes, but sometimes, Mother does know best and I've been decorating ever since! I transferred from the Alamogordo store to the Walmart Supercenter in Ruidoso Downs, NM shortly after my brother-in-law's wife passed away from primary pulmonary hypertension in 2002. Their three children were ages 7, 5, and 2 and the family banded together (six of us, trying to take the place of one) to help him raise the children while he worked. My job allowed me to adjust my work hours to 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. so I could come home early and homeschool the kids along with my son.

During this time, I had continued writing and even taken the Writer's Digest Novel Writing course and was subscribing to The Writer and Writer's Digest. These were expenses that were never questioned in the household budget, just as my writing time was considered as important as time spent doing "real" work, laundry, and homeschooling. I discovered National Novel Writing Month in 2000 and have tried to participate every year. Since then I've written two more novels and collected an even larger amount of rejection slips. But I kept it all quiet; I was a "closet" writer, never talking about my work, never even showing it to anyone, not even my husband. "End of the Road" was a mystery novel I started as a NaNoWriMo project, in 2007.  I didn't make the required 50k word-count, but I had something and I did something I had never done before: I showed my work to someone else.

My husband, Paul, and his sister, Cynthia, both read my rough draft, 30k "novel" and they both said, "You have to finish this!" Paul is not a reader and Cynthia is a college professor with a master's degree in languages. Thus was the fire to finish the novel kindled and where I discovered my first-reader and my editor.

 After finishing "End of the Road" in 2009, I began to search for a publisher. During that time, I became acquainted the J. Michael Orenduff, author of "The Pot Thief" mysteries, which were published by Oak Tree Press. I had discovered his books while Paul and I were visiting a winery in Albuquerque and I saw his books on the winery's sales shelves. His main character had a fondness for the winery's champagne and I wondered if he'd had to get permission to use the winery's name in his books, since my main character had an affinity for a local winery's wine, Jo Mamma's White, from Noisy Water Winery (where I began working part time in 2011.) I e-mailed him and asked him about it and he surprised me by writing back immediately and asking, "Are you writing a book?" Brave man! I admitted to it and he made the incredible offer to look over the first fifty pages. I told him that I was submitting it to a first novel contest, sponsored by Poisoned Pen Press. He suggested a few changes in the manuscript and wished me luck and then said if it didn't work out to let him know. Shortly after, I met him at a signing in Ruidoso, where I made the off-hand comment about writing between "the real jobs". He pointed his finger at me and said, "The WRITING is the REAL job."

When I didn't win the Poisoned Pen Press contest, I licked my wounds for a couple days, then sent an e-mail to Mike. He told me about Oak Tree Press's Dark Oak mystery contest and encouraged me to enter. In 2012, "End of the Road" won the contest and the rest, as it's said, is history!

If I have to give advice about writing (and believe me, I'm still learning), it's that talent is never enough. You have to be persistent. It was tempting to give up after so many rejections. Yet I never wanted to go the self-publishing route; I knew it would take longer, but I wanted someone to say, "Yes, your book IS good and WE are going to publish it for you!" I believe it made me work harder and never settle for "good enough". You also have to be willing to keep learning. The publishing world changes every day (the whole world in general changes every day!) and someone who wants to write for publication needs to know what's going on.

And it helps to have people who believe in you. It's not enough to have cheerleaders (my sister, Toni, is tops in that department, along with my friend, Patty!) who love you no matter what. Find someone willing to look over your work, cultivate friendships among people who care about you enough to say, "Your story needs work. Fix it!", and always have a good attitude about victory AND defeat.

When all is said and done, what matters most is writing what you love to write and doing it to the best of your abilities. Finding a publisher (thank you, Billie!) and audience (thanks to everyone!) are all just bonuses.

Write on!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Meet OTP author Lorna Collins!

Today, The Back Deck Blog is hosting Oak Tree Press author, Lorna Collins. Lorna offers invaluable writing advice to all hopefuls. And lest everyone think all writers do is write about other people doing interesting things, wait till you learn about Lorna and her husband, Larry!

Lorna Collins and her husband, Larry, helped build the Universal Studios Japan theme park. Their memoir, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, was published in 2005. They have also written two mysteries: Murder… They Wrote and Murder in Paradise, and are currently working on more. They just completed The Memory Keeper, set in San Juan Capistrano.

Lorna co-wrote Snowflake Secrets, Seasons of Love, An Aspen Grove Christmas, The Art of Love, and Directions of Love, 2011 EPIC eBook Award winner. Her fantasy/mystery/romance, Ghost Writer, was published in 2012.
In addition, Lorna is a professional editor.

Advice for Writers:

Learn the basics! As an editor, I see far too many novice writers who have never learned the foundational elements of writing and storytelling.

 The Mechanics

Master spelling, paragraphing, punctuation, etc. Don’t depend on Spell Check or Grammar Check. They are often wrong. If you are weak in any or all of these areas, find a good editor and/or proofreader, and make sure they review everything before you submit it for publication.

Active Verbs

Use active, rather than passive verbs. e.g.: NOT: There was a table and chairs in the middle of the room, and the table was set for four. INSTEAD: He entered the room and noticed the table was set for four.

Repeated Words

Eliminate them. (See ‘the table’ in the passive example above.) We all have favorite words, and we use them often. Discover yours, and search for them. Replace the ones too close together in the manuscript.

 Point of View

It doesn’t matter whether you are writing in first person or third, each scene can only be told in the point-of-view of one character! Head hopping is one of my particular irritants. You can only know the thoughts of one character at a time—often and usually your protagonist. You can shift point-of-view, but only after a hiatus or in a separate chapter. Limit the number of POV characters to two, or at most, three per book. As you write, ask yourself, ‘'Whose head am I in? How does this character now this?” Make sure you can answer these questions before you proceed.

 Story Arc

Every story must have a beginning, middle and ending. Make sure the arc of your story is complete at the end—without any unresolved storylines. You can write series books, but each one must stand alone. I judge several contests, and I mark down any series book which is not complete in itself.

Character Arc

Your main characters must all change within the story, or you do not have a story. Be sure the development of your characters is completed by the end of the book.

Chapter Arc

Just like the book, each chapter must have a beginning, middle, and end.

Dialog Tags

The endless repetition of ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ makes for boring reading. Instead, replace the tag with an action to identify the speaker. e.g.: “How are you today?” John extended his hand.
Take a Writing Class or Find a Critique Group or Partner

Take a college-level writing class or join a group, preferably of other published authors who write well. Our own critique group began as a class at Saddleback College well over twenty years ago, and many of the members are multi-published. They can quickly identify issues in a manuscript the writer would never have noticed. And they can also make suggestions for improving the writing. I don’t know what we’d do with out them.

Keep Writing

Finally, if writing is your passion, stay with it!
Thanks for the great advice, Lorna, and for letting us get to know you and Larry a little better! Here's hoping my Back Deck readers will check out your other work!


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Meet OTP Author Marilyn Meredith!

Today on The Back Deck Blog, I'm hosting fellow Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Meredith, author of the Rocky Bluff P.D. mysteries. Let's get to know one of OTP's more prolific authors!

Amy asked me to introduce myself. My name is Marilyn Meredith, but I write the Rocky Bluff P.D. mysteries as F. M. Meredith. I wish I’d stuck with the name everyone knows me by, but back when that first book was making the rounds of publishers; I thought using my initials might entice more men readers to pick up Final Respects. That might have worked, except the publisher who picked it up, put my picture on the back cover.

That particular publisher put out Final Respects and Bad Tidings. Problems ensued that I won’t go into, but I found another publisher for Fringe Benefits and Smell of Death. The books looked wonderful, but the publisher decided to close her company. So once again I had to find a home for the Rocky Bluff P.D. series.

I’d been attending (and planning the program for) the Public Safety Writers Association’s conference. One of the regular attendees was (and is) Billie Johnson, Oak Tree Press’s owner and publisher. We became friends, and I asked if she’d be interested in picking up the series. She asked me to be a speaker at a writers’ conference she’d organized in her hometown of Taylor, IL and I agreed. While I was there, she brought me a contract for the next book in the series, No Sanctuary. And as they say, the rest is history. I’ve been with Oak Tree Press for the rest of the series—and OTP has reprinted the earlier books.

There are 10 in all, including; An Axe to Grind, Angel Lost, No Bells, Dangerous Impulses, and the latest, Murder in the Worst Degree.

I also write the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series which is with another publisher.

My goal with the Rocky Bluff P.D. series has always been to show what happens in the private lives of the officers, including family, affects the job, and what happens on the job affects their private lives.

This is what one person wrote about the latest, “A fun, fast read! Like I said on Goodreads, I enjoyed your novel like I enjoy episodes of Castle and Southland.”—Nancy LiPetri

In my own private life, I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. I have a huge family and we do a lot together. I write nearly every day.

My advice to anyone who is a writer or wants to write, is to read the kind of books you want to write, attend writers’ conferences, if you can find a good one, join a writers critique group, and write, write, write.

And probably, the most important, don’t give up. This isn’t an easy profession. I’ve known some wonderful writers who couldn’t take criticism or rejections and just quit. Quitting won’t get you published.

Thanks, Marilyn, for joining us today and letting us get to know you better, as well as giving us some great advice on writing (and anything else we want to do!) I hope my readers will take the opportunity to get to know more about you and your books!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sharing is Caring!

As most of  you know, I've been hosting fellow Oak Tree Press authors on The Back Deck Blog on Wednesdays and Fridays during the month of July (and I've got a lineup extending into August!) I hope many of you have taken the time to read about my colleagues, their books, their road to publication, and maybe, just maybe, ventured further and looked into possibly reading their work.

I wish I could say that I've read every single book written by my fellow authors. Alas, there is only so much time to read (let alone write) after all the "necessary" work in life, not to mention sleeping and keeping the family alive. I have, however, lengthened my "to read" list considerably and will probably have to live to the age of 120 if I intend to get to all of them in this lifetime!

Still, I'm hoping that by featuring these talented writers on my blog and presenting them to my readers and friends who, quite probably, have never heard of these authors, that they may find a wider audience for their work. Of course, they are sharing the blog on their social media and websites as well and hopefully exposing their fellow authors to new potential readers.

It's all about helping each other out. None of us can claim the fame and exposure and following of a Stephen King or any other popular writer, but every one of us knows people who don't know the rest of us, and if we can get just one or two others interested in the work of our fellow writers, the ripple effect could be very encouraging and beneficial to us all.

In any field of work (yes, writing IS work), there are two camps: the people who want to help others succeed and the people who are terrified of any competition. Those are the people who may have struggled for a long time to achieve their success and fear that some young (or not so young) newcomer might take away a bit of the attention their work has garnered and possibly knock them out of the "winner's circle" for which they have worked for so long.

To a certain extent, I don't blame them. Some have worked long, hard years to succeed and it seems natural to resent an upstart who seems to want to coast to some success on their coattails. Maybe some of them, back in their struggling days, also hoped for a kind word of encouragement or a promotional boost from fellow writers who had some success and never received it.

I've been writing for over 20 years, hoping for the day when my work would be published and achieve some sales success. Now that I have been published and achieved some (emphasis on "some") success, I find it difficult to understand how a published author can turn their backs on others who have struggled along as well.

We can't always help out the ones who are still looking for the publisher or agent willing to take a chance on them (meaning I'm willing to give you the OTP website address and guidelines, but I'm not going to tout your book to my boss... unless it's something I wish I'd written!) It's those who are already out there, but lost in the teeming hordes of other new and newly-published writers, that I feel we (who are among those same people) not only can but should help each other with a kind word or a shout out on our social media.

Sharing is caring (I hope I got everyone for the month of July; I don't want to leave anyone out!)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Meet OTP Author Holli Castillo!

Today, The Back Deck Blog is featuring Holli Castillo, author of the Crescent City mystery series published by Oak Tree Press. She is also the unofficial poster girl for perseverance and "No excuses!" Let's get to know Holli a little better:

I have been a Louisiana appellate public defender since March of 2000. I quit my job as a prosecutor at the New Orleans D.A.’s Office in December of 1999 so I could stay home with my daughter, who was a few months old at the time. The appellate job was offered to me a few months later and was perfect because it allowed me to work from home. It was then that I finally decided to start seriously working on my writing career.
The first in the Crescent City Mystery Series, Gumbo Justice, was published in 2009 by Oak Tree Press. The series revolves around Ryan Murphy, a tough, spunky female prosecutor in New Orleans. She is highly competitive, a necessity to keep up with the unofficial boy’s club. She also has a big mouth, which sometimes puts her in tough spots, as well as draws the disapproval of her father, who is a police captain in one of the eight New Orleans police districts. Her brothers and her boyfriend are also NOPD. While Ryan is a pit bull of a prosecutor, she is also a magnet for trouble, particularly when she insinuates herself in situations that shouldn’t concern her. There’s always bound to be drama around Ryan, most of it self-imposed.

My road to publication was somewhat rocky. When I believed the novel was finished, which was the beginning of 2004, I researched and found agents I felt might publish my novel. I queried and received between 30 and 40 rejections. I was lucky, though, because a good deal of the rejections had notes on them for me about the reason for the rejection. Some were the standard, “So sorry, your work is not right for our agency.”
Some of the rejections, however, included notes as to why my work wasn’t right for their agency. For instance, one agent circled the word serial killer on my query and wrote, “Not for us,” next to it. Another said they didn’t handle such dark material. A third said my dialog was unbelievable.

This led me to conclude first, that I hadn’t researched agents as carefully as I had thought, and second, maybe my work wasn’t quite as ready for publication as I had thought.

At that point, I took a Writer’s Digest online novel workshop. It was designed for writers who had finished writing the novel and wanted feedback to get published. G. Micki Hayden was the teacher, and her advice proved to be extremely valuable. One of the biggest pieces of advice she offered was about my ending, which she pointed out was not going to be satisfying to the readers and thus would limit my ability to lure an agent. At the end of the course, I re-wrote the ending, changed a few things that weren’t working, and decided to start the querying process again. This was near the end of 2004.
My first step was to spend more time researching agents and publishers. This time, I chose to query mainly publishers. Honestly, the reason was because I felt I had tapped out the agent market to some extent and didn’t want to re-query agents I had already queried. This time, I bought books published by the publishers I was interested in. I realized at this step that some publishers that seemed right for me in the Writer’s Market weren’t actually right for my work in real life. Just because a publisher publishes mysteries written by new authors doesn’t mean my novel fit into what they published. The idea of specialized genres had never entered my equation before.

I was finally ready to send out the queries and did so, sending out to fewer, but more targeted, publishers, with a few agents thrown in for good measure. I received a relatively quick response from an agent requesting the manuscript. I mailed it off to her and waited.

Not too longer after that, September of 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit. Everything in New Orleans was a mess. We were fortunate in that we didn’t lose everything, but had some structural damage. No flooding at my house, but repairs had to be made and household items had to be replaced. Plus we had no phone, no internet, and no mail for quite some time. For months, we were the only family back in our neighborhood, only the men in the neighborhood returning to work. Needless to say, thoughts of writing and getting published went on the back burner for quite a while. Not to mention that having no contact with the rest of the world thing.
Finally, things got back on track. By then, I had heard back from the agent, who was no longer taking new writers due to health reasons. I had also received a request for my manuscript from Billie Johnson at Oak Tree Press, my current publisher based upon an email query. I sent her my manuscript and then waited for a response. She got back to me and said she wanted to publish it and we began to start talking timing. The book was on the calendar for summer of 2008. We discussed the cover, the blurb, and all those other good things publishers discuss with the writer.

And then, in June of 2008, three days after my oldest daughter’s ninth birthday, my two daughters and I were in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. We were scheduled to go to Alabama the next day to adopt a puppy from a rescue shelter not too far from where we had purchased an evacuation house. My first puppy, just four months old, was in the car with us as well.

The wreck delayed the publication of the novel for a year (as well as delayed getting the second puppy for several more years.) I was in the hospital for two weeks, getting titanium rods and plates put in my left thigh, left arm, and right ankle. I had over 80 staples throughout my body, burns, bruises, sprains, broken bones, including missing two inches of my femur and fracturing a lower vertebrae. I was in a wheelchair for seven months, and it was a year before I could walk, albeit with a limp. My girls were also injured, my oldest with a seatbelt laceration to her abdomen, my youngest, who was six at the time, with a broken wrist, a cut that required staples under her eye, and nerve damage to her legs that took nearly two years before she could walk and run normally again.
My doctor said I was lucky because I should have been eating out of a straw after that kind of a wreck. Two years earlier, my Jeep had been stolen and wrecked by teenage thieves, deploying the airbag. When the dealership repaired the car, apparently they neglected to fix the airbag. This turned out to be a Godsend during my collision because the airbag actually flew off with the steering wheel and landed in the seat next to me. If the airbag had deployed, my doctor believed I would have likely suffered facial injuries, internal injuries, or possibly death. I don’t consider myself lucky, although I do say I am the luckiest unlucky person in the world.

The only positive thing was that while I was laid up unable to do anything else, I spent a lot of time on the computer, doing promotion, engaging in social media and learning the online ropes. Almost exactly a year to the date of the car wreck, Gumbo Justice was published.

Fortunately, Jambalaya Justice was born without so much drama, although it did take almost two years to write. Currently, I am working on Chocolate City Justice, the third in the Crescent City Mystery Series, which should be out this year.

The best advice I can give to other writers is to not give up just because getting published seems tough, but also to pay attention to why you might be getting rejected. Don’t assume that all advice is bad or doesn’t apply to you. Writers have to be confident or they would never want anyone to read what they’ve written, but they should temper that with the humility to recognize when something in the writing isn’t working.

Completing the work makes you a writer. Getting it on the pages to sell makes you a published writer. If you want to move from the first category into the second category and you’re not getting anywhere, you might need to take a step back from the work to figure out why.

The second best advice I can give is if you are going to self-publish, hire a good editor. Even with a publisher and a number of people looking over my manuscripts before they get published, typos or errors get through. I can only imagine how many more would be present if I didn’t have other people doing some of that work for me.

Since I finished writing Gumbo Justice, I’ve had another daughter, adopted two deaf cats and two more dogs, got a guinea pig, and finally bought another car a mere six years after the wreck (you could say I was kind of shell shocked about getting another vehicle.) I still live in New Orleans with my husband et al and anticipate writing about Ryan and her mysteries until my publisher gets sick of me.


Thanks for joining us on The Back Deck today, Holli, and sharing your story! I hope many readers will pick up the Crescent City mysteries and get to know you better through your stories!