Archive for the ‘writing craft’ Category

God gave me three gifts of inspiration in life and literature.

Image: www.newsweek.com

I was 24 years old Nov 6th 1988, standing in an operating room as doctors performed an emergency c-section on my wife. My son was dying in her womb. My son was dying. I stood there in shock and dismay, how could this be happening? I watched the surgeon cut into my bride, move organs and then reach into her abdomen and delicately pull out a small struggling life strangled by an umbilical cord. My son’s body was blue, he wasn’t crying. They freed him and his body soon took on a healthy pink color. My son, Thomas Michael, my boy had arrived, earlier than expected and seemingly no worse for the dramatic entrance. Things seemed normal for at first but Tom soon had developed breathing issues, his lungs weren’t developed properly and he was sick.

I listened in shock as the doctor explained Highland Membrane Disease, fluid buildup and under-developed lungs and a series of other issues afflicting my son. My wife had given birth with pneumonia and was having her own health issues. I remember her tears as other moms were able to hold their babies, and  she couldn’t. We waited for several hours while the doctors were tending to Tom. My father stayed by our side offering his support and encouragement, he was the rock we both leaned on. A doctor finally came and told us they couldn’t help and Tom had to be sent to Children’s Hospital and placed on a respirator. Twenty minutes later I watched my son, attached to machines, being loaded into an ambulance and transferred into Boston from the small suburban hospital. The doctors would call me tomorrow. I stood there in shock, as the ambulance drove away carrying my son, my father literally holding me up as my whole world just imploded.

I looked at my dad, lost and hopeless, “Dad, what do I do? I can’t fight this battle. Why? Why my boy?”

My father hugged me, his face wet with his own tears, “God is watching over him now, Greg. You need to take all your strength and stand tall, for that woman up there and your boy. You need to grow up fast, son. You need to keep it together for your family. You told me once how strong you are, call upon it now and be strong for all of them.”

I awoke the next morning to the ringing phone at 5:30AM, I felt ill as I picked it up. It was Children’s Hospital, Tom had had a rough night but was holding his own for now but they couldn’t make any promises and I should prepare my wife for the worst. I hung up the phone, took a breath and looked at the cross hanging on our bedroom wall, “Don’t you take my boy, you can’t have him!” I’ d never sworn or threatened God before, but I let loose a string of blasphemies I’d only used on people facing me in a street brawl. He wasn’t going to die and I wasn’t going to tell my wife about the phone call from the hospital.

I got in my truck and I drove to Boston. I was escorted to a small incubator-like unit, inside was my son, hooked up to machines to do his breathing and to help cleanse his blood. His face was swollen and yellow, nothing like the child I saw the night before. THE nurses left me alone; I couldn’t touch my son I could only stare through the glass.

“Thomas, it’s your dad. I know you can hear me, son. Fight, do you hear me! You fight and you live. Don’t go with the Angels, you stay here, with me. I don’t want to lose you, do you understand? Mom and Dad love you so please don’t leave, you just got here. You just got here.” I felt my tears, “Don’t leave me son.” I sat in silence for three hours, my hand touching the glass, watching my boy, willing him to live. Imagining my strength flowing from me, through the glass barrier and into his frail, tiny body. I repeated the mental image every time I saw him, it didn’t matter who I was with or who was around and I didn’t care what anyone thought, each day he lived was a gift and a victory. And if he needed my life to survive he could have it.

Thomas made a miraculous recovery and is part of a Children’s Hospital medical journal, he shouldn’t have lived, but he did, he beat the odds and fought the ultimate fight, the first month of his existence; the battle for his life. Tom is 27 years old now, a remarkable young man with tenacity and a will to do things his way. That tenacity has caused some friction but no matter what his trial, he always finds a way to make things work out in the end, he never seems to give up on anything or anyone. In the end he finds a way to fight through.

When I find myself going through a rough patch, I remember a frightened young father staring through a glass barrier at a new life and urging that life to fight on and beat the odds. Within those memories I find the strength to rise up and keep pushing forward. My battles and issues have never been as severe as the one he fought and won over 27 years ago. Whether I’m struggling with a chapter in a novel, writing a blog or facing a financial or life hardship I look over at my son and see that twinkle in his eye or that crooked smile he inherited from his dad and I know I can get through. Tom was the one who pushed me to submit my first book and write the follow up. He inspired and motivated me to keep working on my novels when nobody seemed interested in a half-alien private detective. He gave me the confidence and the gift of his insight on the second and third book in the Hybrid series serving as critic and creative collaborator. Tom just didn’t influence my writing he is the spark that fanned the creative flame. A flame that would never have existed if he’d lost his fight so many years ago. He is the best son a father could ever hope to have.

Image: chsaanow.com

Three years ago my youngest daughter, Christie, at the age of eleven, decided she wanted to try out for an out of town swim team. I’d coached her in basketball and softball in open town leagues but this was something different.  I watched her first competitive meet from the upper balcony at Milford High School, as my baby girl stood waiting for her event with sport swim wear, a racing cap and tinted goggles.  The feeling of dread weighed in my gut like I’d just eaten a cinder block as she stepped upon the diving block against other swimmers. For the first time, I wasn’t there coaching her, I couldn’t walk up to her and give her advice or encouragement, she was on her own.

The starting horn sounded and the race was on . . . everyone around me screamed and cheered, I watched in muted silence willing her on in my mind, hands balled into tight fists. It was the longest 25 yards in my life. But she finished and won her heat. It was a long year of ups and downs for her and a great deal of frustration but she grew into the sport and more importantly developed new friendships. At the awards banquet she was awarded the most improved swimmer, a trophy she has in her bedroom to this day. She’s still a competitive swimmer and will be on the High School league this fall. I’ve watched her develop into a strong competitor and have seen her conquer her insecurity and lack of self-confidence. She now believes in herself and the difference in her personality is a wonderful thing to behold. Gone is the need to be just like her big sister rather she yearns to be “Christie.”

My youngest has reminded me that the road isn’t always easy in life but those who stay true to themselves and don’t go with the crowd will prosper in the long run. She found a place for herself; it was different from herr friend’s passions in dancing and boys, it was in the pool training and competing, working to shave off that fraction of a second and master a smooth flip turn. I’ve taken that lesson and applied it in my own writing. I’m not going to write like everyone else, I’m going to write about what I want and express how I feel. My political blogs have earned me a great deal of hate mail because I call a spade a spade. I won’t ever apologize for my morals or ethics or my freedom to express them and I won’t bow to political correctness. I did for a while and took the easier choice, it gave me less headaches but I let myself  be silenced. Life isn’t about taking the easy road it’s about making the hard choices, following your passions and not following the herd blindly. As I watch my daughter in the pool working and training through each practice, I’m reminded of that lesson.

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January 24th 2015. It’s three in the morning, the snowfall is near white out condition and I’m looking at the weather in Connecticut and New York. My destination is the Javitz Convention Center in Manhattan. Only an experienced driver or a madman would head out in this weather. But my older daughter was auditioning for “The Voice” and needed me to drive her. “It’ll be an adventure,” she said flashing me that patented angelic smile reserved for when she really wanted something. So a week later here we are, headed off in the storm, Rachel looking out into the darkness and me gripping the steering wheel as we sloshed through the snow. We saw several spinouts and accidents but we had to keep going. Half the time my car was barely holding the road and any turn of the wheel would make us an accident statistic. A four hour ride took seven terrifying hours. But we made it.

The lines and crowds were spectacular. I waited in line with her for another ninety minutes and the group she was with was called in. Because of her age, she didn’t require a parent escort, I got to sit around and fret and hope and pray that she’d come out with a pink ticket. I had my Visa card and would gladly charge the $500.00 it would cost to stay in a hotel if she made the cut to tomorrow. Another hour later she texted me, “I didn’t get picked.” My heart sank. There must have been something wrong, my daughter sings like the most beautiful songbird. I dreaded the long ride home. Another snowstorm would be welcome over the black cloud that would be hanging over my car all the way back to Massachusetts.

I saw Rachel and she smiled, she wasn’t upset and simply said, “They loved my voice, but I didn’t have the right look, whatever that means, oh and I saw Blake Shelton, he was here for Saturday Night Live.’ I was blown away, she handled the disappointment like a trooper, we laughed on the way back to the car and I enjoyed the time with her. The ride back was light and fun despite the snow falling again. That ride home was one of those memories I will treasure forever, I gained a new insight and admiration for Rachel. She took what most would have taken as a debilitating setback and saw it as a positive experience. She wasn’t daunted or discouraged.

Life doesn’t always deal a natural strait flush or four of a kind, sometimes you’re dealt a crappy hand and just have to wait for that hand play out and start with a fresh set of cards. I was never more proud of my daughter than at that moment, she’d had solos before and large parts in plays etc, but this was an indication of her inner strength character. She understood and accepted disappointment without anger or frustration. It was a lesson in how to handle rejection and disappointment.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some letters of rejection from Penguin, DAW and a few hunting magazines and I’ve learned that handling and coping with rejection is more important than celebrating success. Failure builds character and determination. It makes me a better writer and will no doubt make Rachel a better singer. It also defines how we handle life’s larger setbacks; we can accept them and move forward, learning from the experience or be debilitated by failure and never try again. My daughter learned the lesson and discovered the right attitude. When I get down on myself or when things seem to be falling apart I like to flash back to that drive home and the precious hours we spent bonding over an unsuccessful Voice audition. I brush off the setback and try again, pushing myself harder.

 

As parents we spend our lives teaching our children, hoping the lessons sink in, I look at my children and realize how much I’ve relearned from them, my lessons being re-taught through their lives. There’s no bigger reward for me as a father than to spend individual time with my children, to reignite the bond and simply catch up with their hectic lives and let them know even though I’m not always around, I’ll always be there and they’ll always be with me, no matter how far away life’s journey takes them.

Greg Ballan is the author of the science fiction thrillers Hybrid and Hybrid Forced Vegeance. You can purchase them both at Lachesis Publishingamazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and kobo.

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Movies often fire my imagination and inspire my writing. These days, I watch movies carefully to see what storytelling tricks I can glean. Special features on DVDs can be instructive, helping me see what choices the directors and writers made to tell their stories. Movies can give me a frame of reference when I’m visualizing a location in one of my novels or imagining how a character might react in trying circumstances. Today, I want to look back at three movies that I found particularly influential.

There’s a good chance I wouldn’t be a novelist if not for The Milagro Beanfield War, directed by Robert Redford and based on the novel by John Nichols. It tells the story of a developer who wants to build a resort in a small New Mexico town and those people who stand up to him, including Joe Mondragon, who resuscitates his father’s beanfield with water slated to irrigate the development’s green lawns. An angel with an accordion and a serape gives our heroes a nudge. For most critics, it explored magical realism in the desert southwest. For me, it showed the kinds of things my family and friends do. The movie showed me that the stories I experience everyday can be worth telling. I started looking at the stories of my mom’s family homesteading in New Mexico and began to imagine what it would be like if people homesteaded an alien world. That led directly to my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro.

I studied German extensively in my college years. My professors not only had us read German literature, but introduced us to German cinema. A major film that came out during that time was Wolfgang Peterson’s film, Das Boot. It is a tense, occasionally humorous, often frightening film that showed the grim realities of crewing a U-Boat during World War II. The movie helped me understand one thing that long bugged me about science fiction films. The space ships often look too clean and everything is so spacious. It struck me that space travel would be much more like working on a submarine. It would be claustrophobic. Fire would mean disaster because it could exhaust the air supply very fast. Every bit of space aboard the ships would be used as wisely as possible to keep costs down. When I started imagining the star vessels in my books, The Pirates of Sufiro and Children of the Old Stars, I imagined that they would be more like the submarine in Das Boot than the Starship Enterprise. This realization helped me visualize my spaceships and think about how the officers and crew would interact with each other.

While I might not have written a novel if not for The Milagro Beanfield War, I wouldn’t have written horror if not for another film I discovered during those years studying German. Werner Herzog’s 1979 film Nosferatu is a remake of the classic 1922 silent film. What made Herzog’s movie special is Klaus Kinski’s portrayal of Count Dracula, which creeped me out while making me care about him at the same time. Characters such as Lord Draco, Alexandra, and Rudolfo from my Scarlet Order vampire novels owe a lot to Kinski’s performance. What’s more, the vampire makeup in that film helped to inspire the human-created monsters in Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Perhaps more important than even these elements, Nosferatu taught me that horror is one of the ways to explore human emotion in the extreme. We see humans at their worst as they give into temptations and at their best as they sacrifice themselves for noble causes.

As I write this, I’m working through the second editorial pass of my forthcoming novel The Astronomer’s Crypt and I find these movies have influenced this work as well. The setting is my beloved southwestern United States, which I learned to utilize from The Milagro Beanfield War. I endeavor to create tension like that in Das Boot and we see humans at their best and worst as we do in Nosferatu. I’m sure this won’t be the last novel to be influenced by these amazing films.

You can purchase David Lee Summers’s books at Lachesis Publishing, on amazon, Barnes and Noble, kobo, and iBooks.

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Venice, Italy was captured by Patricia Barletta’s imagination before she captured this photo.

Where does your story take place? In a galaxy far, far away? Or maybe in an anthill teeming with tiny creatures? No matter where you’ve chosen to place your characters, they have to be someplace. The setting of a story is much more than logistics – making sure a character doesn’t trip over a table or walk out a door that wasn’t there before. Setting is also a state of mind. We think one way if we’re on a busy city street in the summer and another if we’re trudging through the mountains in the middle of a blizzard. Characters in a story should, too. What if you’ve never experienced either of those conditions, but one or the other is important to the tale you want to tell? What if you want to set your story in a place where you’ve never been? How do you do that and make it authentic?

Image: www.ispirando.it

My book, Moon Dark, is set in Venice, Italy, in 1797. I’d never been to Italy when I decided to set my story there, and I certainly couldn’t time-travel back to the late eighteenth century. I knew a little bit about the city, that it had canals and gondolas, and a celebration called Carnevale, but not much else. So I had to do some serious research about the physical place, as well as its history and customs.

The first sources I went to were travel guides. These are great for giving the layout of a place, as well as the tourist attractions like historical sites, which were in everyday use in my historical story. Most have detailed street maps. Some show the floor plans and interiors of important buildings, and some others give details that only the natives know. This type of information is important if you want your characters to appear like they belong where you’ve put them.

Image: Merlin TV series http://www.bbc.co.uk

Next, my research took me to political histories of Venice. Even if you’re writing a story set in the present, a little knowledge of the setting’s history helps fill in background details, because no one lives in a vacuum. No matter who or what your character is, he/she/it should know or want to know something about the past, whether immediate or distant, because it impacts the present. In my case, I discovered that Venice has a long history of keeping secrets and protecting herself by using spies, called capo neri. Putting them in my story added another layer of danger and suspense.

One of Canaletto’s paintings of Venice Image: www.telegraph.co.uk

Every region of the world has its own rules of conduct, and we interact with each other differently now than we did in the past. I needed to discover how the Venetians lived their lives and where they slept. I delved into social histories, which explained customs and mores of the time. Since the buildings in Venice are unique because they have entrances which open directly onto the canals, I looked at books on architecture. Fortunately, at the time my story is set, landscape painting was the hot fad, and Canaletto was its master in Venice, so I was able to look at his artwork reproduced in books that showed scenes of the city. For stories set in the modern era, photography books work well. And of course there’s the app, Google Earth.

I happened to find a memoir written by a Venetian about his ancestor who lived at the time of my story, which gave me fabulous details about Venice and her inhabitants. Journals, travelogues, and newspapers are some other good resources for discovering what the people of a time and place are thinking about. Your characters may be focused on the action in your story, but other stuff is going on around them.

The next stop in my research journey took me to fashion books, because people move differently in corsets and petticoats and waistcoats and breeches than they do in tee shirts and jeans. Besides, readers of romance want to know what the characters in a story are wearing. Finally, cookbooks reveal how and what people from a specific region eat. You are what you eat, right? And don’t forget to check the weather. It’s not sunny and seventy-two degrees everywhere all the time. You can get details about conditions at different times of the year online. You can even find out the specific date the moon was full centuries ago.

Patricia Barletta (right) with her friend enjoying Venice.

Serendipity plays a big role in research. I’ve tripped over quite a few interesting details that I’ve used in my stories to make my characters and settings more authentic. Once you get the sense of a place, you can extrapolate and let your imagination run wild. I don’t think there ever was a Canale di l’Ombres (Canal of Shadows) in the real city of Venice, but I put one there.

I finally got to travel to Italy last year and see Venice. It was everything I imagined – magical and mysterious and beautiful. And I was thrilled to discover that a lot of my descriptions matched the actual sites. But I can’t decide which was more fun: creating it in my imagination or riding through its canals and walking its alleys.

Moon Dark

Patricia Barletta writes historical romance with paranormal elements. Her first release with Lachesis Publishing is MOON DARK and it’s the first in a new and exciting series called the AURIANO CURSE SERIES. You can buy it here at Lachesis Publishing or on amazon, kobo, Barnes and Noble.

Find out more about Patricia Barletta and her books on her website: www.patriciabarletta.com.

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Yamaha 50cc – Just like Dad used to ride.

When I was about eight years old, my dad put me on the back of his white Yamaha 50cc motorcycle for a ride. We ended up in a field by the shopping center and he asked if I wanted to ride by myself.

Are you kidding me?

He helped me get a leg up and balanced the bike for me. A quick tutorial on the controls, and I was off. Well, off for about fifty feet when I hit a rut in the dirt and promptly fell over, spraining my arm. When we got home, mom wasn’t too happy and that was the end of my motorcycle training.

Later, my older brother by eight years came home with a big, blue bike. It was so shiny and I loved how the paint sparkled in the sun. He’d take me for rides and I’d laugh the entire time; it felt so good to go fast. Then he wrecked it on a busy street and broke his leg. Determined to keep us alive, my mom declared no more motorcycles or riding while we lived with her. She even said no to flying lessons, which seemed a whole lot safer (to me, anyway). That was the seventies, if you’re counting.

Teri and Ivan

In the eighties, I got married, had a couple of great sons, divorced, and forgot about going fast. Until I met Ivan.

By now it was 2011 and here was a guy with a couple of motorcycles who’d been riding most of his life. That’s when I remembered the feeling of going fast. The little girl inside me was excited by the prospect of learning to ride. The fifty-something-year-old woman was feeling iffy about the whole thing, but game to give it a go. I am nothing, if not willing to try most anything at least once.

So, in 2012, I learned to ride.

Get your motor runnin’ . . .

Four years later, I’ve discovered a lot about myself while motorcycling. For starters, I know everyone in a car wants to kill me. Now, I’m not pessimistic by nature, but people in cars just don’t see motorcycles, so YOU have to always be aware of THEM. Second, I worry too much (see previous point). And, riding is a lot like yoga. I’m always practicing to do something better or with more awareness than the last time I was out.

One of the unexpected perks of riding is how it’s changed the way I see the world. The colors around me are much more vibrant when I’m on a bike. I can’t escape the ‘scents’ of the road, be it a flat skunk, trailer of pigs, or someone cooking on a grill. Everything is more immediate, in the moment. It’s these things, and others, which I believe have made me a better writer, particularly with sensory detail.

Confidence can come in many ways.

I’ve also learned to take risks and I’ve watched that translate over into my stories as well. I’ve never written contemporary mystery, but when tempted with the opportunity, immediately jumped on it. Stepping out of comfort zones is how we grow. I believe strong women are the most interesting ones, so those are who I write about, be it a ninth century healer, a Victorian time traveler, or an ex-Detroit detective returning to her small home town to take over as police captain. My goal is always to inspire others to take chances and live their dreams.

Teri Barnett writes historical, paranormal, and time travel romance. You can purchase her books  Through the Mists of Time, Shadow Dreams, and Pagan Fire at Lachesis Publishing. or you can purchase Teri’s books on amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Connect with Teri Barnett online via facebook and twitter, and check out her web site.

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Ray Bradbury

In May 1983, I was 16 years old and a junior at San Bernardino High School in California. One of my best friends, Rodney King, was a senior at Pacific High School across town. Rod told me that Ray Bradbury was scheduled to give a presentation at his school. I was on San Bernardino High’s newspaper and persuaded my teachers to give me permission to report on the presentation.

On the morning of Ray Bradbury’s talk, Rod picked me up and we drove to Pacific High School. We were walking across campus, when the principal stopped us. She saw I was carrying a tape recorder and asked if we were reporters from other schools. I confirmed I was. She then said, “Mr. Bradbury is having lunch in the library, would you care to join him?” Of course, we leapt at the opportunity. There he was, the man himself! Ray Bradbury in the library talking to teachers and administrators. He seemed pleased to see some students there as well and we joined in the conversation.

David Lee Summers’ signed copy of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Once we finished lunch, we adjourned to the auditorium where Bradbury spoke and answered questions about his work. Afterwards Rod and I went up to him to say goodbye and thank him for talking to us. He pulled us aside and said, “I’m going out for cocktails with some of the teachers after this. Would you care to join us?” Of course we agreed and spent another hour with him. It was truly a magical day. I remember he told the story of how he came up with the story “The Veldt” from The Illustrated Man. He read some of his poetry. He encouraged us to read and write every day. All of that has remained with me over the years. Sadly, these were the days before everyone carried a cell phone much less invented he word “Selfie,” so I don’t have a picture with him, but he signed my copies of Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I treasure to this day.

I next had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Bradbury about two years later when he spoke at California State University at San Bernardino. That was a brief visit and he signed a copy of Dinosaur Tales for me. What I most remember is that when I stepped up to him in the autograph line, he immediately recognized me, stepped around the desk where he was signing, and gave me a hug.

I didn’t see Mr. Bradbury again until early 1995. At that point, I was living in Tucson. He came out to speak at a writer’s workshop held at the University of Arizona. I attended with my wife, Kumie, and my friend, William Grother. He gave a wonderful presentation over lunch where he told us a person should read a short story, a poem and an essay every day. “Imagine how much you will learn,” he said. He also told us about his experiences in Ireland, writing the Moby Dick screenplay for John Huston. Again, I had an opportunity to visit with Mr. Bradbury. He gave me and Kumie hugs and we left him to speak to other fans.

A couple of years later, I saw a copy of Green Shadows, White Whale, book of collected Ray Bradbury’s stories about working for John Huston in Ireland. I remembered his stories from the workshop so fondly that I immediately bought the book and read it right away.

About that time, I was also reading submissions for a magazine I was editing called Hadrosaur Tales. Three stories in a row that described a knight climbing a mountain to slay some hapless dragon. I found myself asking, “Isn’t there a fresh way to tell this story?” I thought of Ray Bradbury in Ireland, writing Moby Dick. The question occurred to me, what if teams of people flew out in airships and hunted dragons? I wrote the story of a young man named Rado who joined such a crew. Rado was named for Ray Douglas Bradbury. When the story was published in Realms of Fantasy magazine, I sent Mr. Bradbury a copy and told him the story of how I came up with the idea. He wrote back a few days later and said how much he enjoyed that day in 1983 at Pacific High School, how proud he was of me, and that “The Slayers” was a “fine story.”

Ray Bradbury in 1978 (The Paris Review)

If you’d like to hear Ray Bradbury speak, my friend Gloria McMillian recently pointed me to a YouTube video recorded in 2001, the year my story was published in Realms of Fantasy. In it, he gives terrific advice and tells many great stories from his years as a writer. You can watch it at: here.

Back in 1983, Ray Bradbury told the story of visiting a carnival when he was a child. A man called Mr. Electrico strapped himself into an electric chair. With lightning arcing all around, Mr. Electrico pointed a lightning rod at the young Bradbury and said, “live forever!” That’s the moment Ray Bradbury decided to be a writer, so he could live forever.

That day, Ray Bradbury pointed at me and said, “Live forever, submit your stories now!” I have lived by that ever since and now it’s my turn to point to you. “Live forever!” 

You can purchase David Lee Summers’s books at Lachesis Publishing, on amazon, Barnes and Noble, kobo, and iBooks.

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Richard Blacburn’s latest release is RISE OF THE GATEKEEPER

I’ve given many talks in schools and set up many a book signing and I’ve learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with you here.

I try to plan my talks to coincide with topics that the teacher has covered, that way I’m giving concrete examples to help the kids in their studies. Even if it has to do with applying grammar techniques to make a story come alive. For example, I get a kick out of demonstrating how a sentence benefits from using the active tense, or “showing” the story by not using dialogue-tag adverbs. And many teachers forget that too!

image: www.medievalgears.com

Kids love to be entertained, so I always take along my historical silver coins and my medieval chain mail coat (jupon) and helmet. If there is time after the talk, I’ll let them try them it on so they can feel the heaviness of it and understand how difficult it was to wear it on a constant basis when fighting in battle.

Image: www.kitchendrawer.net

In Australia students like to have a writer’s autograph, so I have a ready supply of cards with the picture of my book cover and my contact info to give out that I can sign for them. I must admit, I get a bit of a big head at being asked for my autograph. I’ve had a number of students send me examples of their work for my comments. I always reply to them with positive and constructive feedback to encourage their writing.

Because of making these connections with kids in the schools, the kids will then show up at my book signings with the parents. At book signings I decorate my “lair” with my medieval armour to tempt any passersby. The good thing about such a display is, it shows what genre I’m writing in. So anyone not at all interested will stay clear. That saves me giving my time unnecessarily.

Image: www.alamy.com

When people approach, I have at least two different spiels. The first gives the generality of my books in a few seconds. If interested, I’ll expand with spiel number two. Sometimes I might have to answer the occasional “where’s the bathroom” type question. So I make sure to know that one!

I also find it’s great to do research ahead of time when giving talks in schools or setting up a book signing. If a shopping mall is having a special event on a particular week or day  – I’ll try to set up a signing for that day because I know there will be more traffic at the mall.

Sometimes you have to have a few tricks up your sleeve. I’ve had a shopper wanting to tell me, in only one short hour, how they had hand-written 100,000 pages of their life history and they were all of 20 years old! I’ve had people want to save my eternal soul if I would only listen for ten minutes. Then there are the re-enactment people. For them the past is their religion and if they can trick me into showing I don’t know what I’m writing about, they’ll verbally crucify me. What is a worry, is that there are so many of them out there. So be aware.

Before your first book signing, go to a few book signings to see what works and what doesn’t. I’ve seen writers sitting behind their books looking bored. I’ve even seen one doing the crossword in the paper. I always stand up behind my display. I look at passing shoppers and smile. I say ‘gooday’ as any good Australian will. If there is the slightest hint of interest, I ask if they enjoy reading medieval adventure stories. If they haven’t run away, I click into spiel one or two, depending on their reaction to my invitation to come over and see my books.

School talks and book signings take time and practice. But they are worth it because they put you face-to-face with potential readers, and in these modern times where everything comes at us in a flash on the internet, it’s nice to make that human connection. Especially when talking about history.

Richard Blackburn has written a three-book YA time travel/adventure series for Lachesis Publishing, called Guardians of the Gate, featuring a university student who travels back to Medieval England only to discover she has some amazing powers she never knew she had. Book 1 Dawn of the Sentinel and Book 2, Return of the Sentinel, and Book 3: Rise of the Gatekeeper. You can purchase the books at Lachesis Publishing, amazon, barnes and noble, kobo and iBooks.

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Image: shuspectrum.wordpress.com

Like most creative people, I happen to have a ‘day” job. One of those regular things your have to pay the bills, the grind! Of course I would love to make money with my art, but until then, I have to slave away, and I do mean, slave away

The secret to having a regular job while you are waiting for the New York Times to come calling is to find one you love, and I have done just that. I am lucky to have found work, at the ripe old age of forty-eight, as a person trainer at my local gym. I specialize in weight management and weight loss. I help people do what I love: exercising.

Lindy hamming it up with Cameron

I fell into this job quite by accident. Eight years ago, I gave birth to my son, Cameron. To put it bluntly, I “porked out”. I put on lots of weight and just shrugged it off to middle age. When my birthday rolled around my husband, dropping a not-s-subtle-hint, gave me a gym membership. I thought to myself, “nice, honey”, but I decided to give it a try. I started working with an amazing personal trainer who helped me lose the weight, gain muscle mass, boost my metabolism and straighten out my nutrition habits, which were not that spectacular (I still love a nice slice of pizza every once in a while).

Pretty soon, I had people coming up to me asking how I did it! They were just as amazed as I was at my dedication, determination, and how I managed to shed the pounds.

One fateful day, about a year ago, I noticed that my gym happened to be hiring personal trainers. The gym provided the education and certifications needed. I thought I would give it a shot, not imagining in a million years they would hire me! So, in my late-forties, I handed in my application. Lo and behold, they called me in for an interview, than another, then I met the owner of the gym. He told me he liked the fact that I was an “older woman” (!) who was in great shape and I could inspire others. I took it as a compliment.

Lindy clearly knows what she’s doing.

So, I started my trainer training. My co-workers were, and are, hot sexy young college students. Whenever I play ’80s music they call it the “oldies”! We have a great time working together, and I feel my job is very rewarding.

How do I incorporate my writing into my work-out? Just yesterday I was telling a client about City of Toys, she loves to read on the treadmill. And she said she would check it out.

I  would love to perhaps write a fitness book one day. A very positive and encouraging message that it can be done! You can fit back into your skinny jeans again and you don’t have to give them away to the Salvation Army. It would be non-fiction of course, but I would use my own life experience, and hopefully give inspiration and motivation to others that yes, you can do it! At any age!

You can get Lindy’s books at Lachesis Publishing or on amazon, and kobo and iBooks

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The Mayall 4 Meter Telescope

The WIYN 3.5-Meter Telescope

By day I’m a mild-mannered writer of science fiction and horror. By night, I operate the Mayall 4-meter telescope and the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory outside Tucson, Arizona. These two telescopes have contributed greatly to our understanding of the universe. They’ve played a role in the discovery of dark matter, the large scale structure of the universe, dark energy, planets outside the solar system and much more. Working with these telescopes has also done much to inspire my writing.

 

Giant Star Spot K.Strassmeier, Vienna, NOAO/AURA/NSF

For many years, I specialized in observations of spotted binary stars. Spotted, in this case means that they have spots, like sunspots, only much larger. In some cases the spots can take up over a third of the star’s surface. Binary means that two stars orbit each other. These are very active, violent stars and I visit such a system in the opening scenes of Children of the Old Stars.

I’ve spent many nights at Kitt Peak pointing telescopes at globular clusters. These are great spherical clouds of ancient stars that orbit our galaxy. In fact, the “old star” part of my “Old Star/New Earth” series gets its name from these stellar groups, which in my novels prove to be the home of an ancient and powerful life form. The series’s overall storyline was inspired by taking one of the deepest images of our galaxy’s center and imagining a way for humans to get there and see it firsthand.

Maria Mitchell Observatory

Before working at Kitt Peak, I spent a summer working at the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island, off the Massachusetts coast. Nantucket was once the center of the American whaling industry and is home to many proud, old families. What’s more, the novel Moby-Dick opens on Nantucket Island. When I imagined a character who would sail off into the unknown frontiers surrounding our galaxy and at its heart, I immediately looked to a man born and bred from a long line of Nantucket sailors and you’ll find the island featured prominently in The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth.

Not only does work at an observatory inspire my science fiction, but it has a way of inspiring my horror as well. At one time, one of my co-workers used to joke that those of us who operate telescopes were the vampires of the mountain because you never saw us before sunset or after sunrise. She was also a fan of vampire fiction who introduced me to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire. Because of that, I began to ask what if a telescope operator really was a vampire? That line of questioning led me on the path to writing my novels Vampires of the Scarlet Order and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.

Haunted hallway? Photo by David Lee Summers

Lest you think vampires are the scariest thing you might encounter at an observatory, we do have our share of ghost stories. There are tales of the rocking chair in the 4-meter lounge that rocks all by itself. Last winter police reported getting a 911 call from the observatory. When the telescope operator on duty checked the number, it came from inside a locked, empty elevator. Just a month ago, the breaker to the kitchen tripped mysteriously. The breaker is located in one of the spookiest hallways in the building, where I often feel someone is walking right behind me. Now, all of these stories actually have rational explanations, but the shivers these tales induce helped me to create The Astronomer’s Crypt, the first of a horror series that I have written for Lachesis Publishing.

MilkyWay Over KPNO: P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF

Writing is a passion and a calling for me, but I’m grateful for my career in astronomy. Even if I were to leave it, I’ve seen wonders and had experiences that will inspire many books to come.

You can purchase David Lee Summers’s books at Lachesis Publishing, on amazon, Barnes and Noble, kobo, and iBooks.

Connect with David Lee Summers. online via facebook and twitter, and check out his web site.

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CJ Carmichael and BFF Jane Porter

CJC: I first met Jane Porter at a writer’s conference in Victoria. She was traveling from Seattle, while I had come from Calgary. We instantly connected and spent hours talking passionately about our desire to write and become published. Happily it happened for us both within the next eighteen months. Here I chat with Jane about her career, the highs and the lows, and the secrets behind her success.

Jane can you begin by telling us who inspired you early on in your career and why?

JP: I was an early reader and devoured everything I could get my hands on. Some of my favorite books when I was in first through fourth grade were the books by Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder. What I loved about Louisa and Laura was that while they wrote books for little girls, their stories featured aspiring writers. I loved that these were the ultimate book girl stories. They modeled literary success and provided a road map for me by creating a career out of their passion. I wanted the same thing. It was my goal since I was 9 or 10. I will say I am lucky in that I had a lot of help and support early on from my dad. My father was a professor and a writer and he encouraged me when I wrote. He’d go over my poems or stories and talk to me about choices or stanza or rhyme meter. He also found places for me to publish.  Looking back, it was definitely an advantage having a parent make writing seem like the most normal of activities.

CJC: I have especially loved your The Good Woman and She’s Gone Country. I think in both cases I really connected with the heroines and their dilemmas were so compelling I couldn’t stop reading. What is one of your favourite Jane Porter books and why?

JP: It is so hard to pick a Jane Porter favorite but I do love “Odd Mom Out” because it’s honest and real but has a happy ever after which is important to me, and my readers. Another favorite is “Flirting with Forty” because that was the book my husband inspired . . . but the book then inspired ‘us’. I don’t know if I would have thought we could go the distance if the story hadn’t made me believe it was possible.

CJC: I love that answer Jane. You and Ty are not a conventional couple. You are a wee bit older. And he’s a surfer dude from Hawaii while you’re such a book girl. But you really have made a great life together—not to mention an adorable son. Tell me, when did you realize that you were truly a successful author?

JP: I don’t feel like I am a truly successful author. I don’t relate to myself as an author, but a writer. I am most passionate about the work, and the creative act and then about a story when it’s completed. I do set the bar high for each book and I struggle to get it where I want it to go. The words don’t just flow. It can be a battle but maybe what makes me successful is that I stick with it. I believe in giving my readers a great story every time. My focus is always on surprising and delighting my readers.

Flirting with Forty was a hit movie on Lifetime starring Heather Locklear

CJC: That’s a humble answer Jane. You’ve published so many excellent books with Harlequin, Grand Central, Berkley, not to mention Tule, the publishing business you started. And then there was your movie deal for Flirting With Forty. But what advice can you give authors who are just starting out or who haven’t broken through?

JP: Don’t give up. I think that is truly the best advice I can give: don’t give up and keep learning. Focus on the craft. Go to conferences, attend workshops, read writing books, but also read, read, read everything. And then write. A lot. And write some more. Grow a thick skin, ask for feedback and continue to submit and grow thicker skin and work on revising and keep the faith that you’re doing what you are meant to be doing. Writing is a muscle. You’ve got to make it strong and you have to take care of your head so you can handle the ups and downs in publishing.

Jane Porter’s office is filled with the fruits of her hard work and determination.

CJC: I believe Stephen King has given the same advice and I agree. I really don’t think you can read too much, or too widely, if you want to be a writer. Tell me, what are the qualities that make a romance novel a true “keeper”? – a beloved book that you will read over and over again?

JP: I rarely read a book a second time. (I don’t watch movies a second time, either!) But I do have a keeper shelf and that shelf is filled with books that delighted me. A keeper book is one that engaged me and entertained me to the degree that I laughed and cried and felt like a little girl, lost in a story. A keeper story isn’t a perfect story, but a story that made me think and feel and hope and believe.

CJC: I’ve noticed on Facebook that your fans are really devoted to you. You’re real with them and genuinely interested in what they think. What’s the sweetest/coolest thing a reader/fan has said to you/done for you?

Jane enjoys spending time with her reader friends.

JP: My readers are amazing. I think they are the coolest women on the face of this planet but maybe the thing I love hearing most is when a reader says “you made me love reading again”. That is the ultimate compliment. That one means the world to me.

CJC: You love to travel—and your book “Flirting with Forty” certainly conveys how much travel has impacted your life and your work. Tell us about a very special place you have visited and a place you want to visit.

The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (Banff, Alberta)

JP: I do love to travel and certain settings inspire stories (i.e. Flirting with Forty) and other places become the foundation for a book or a series (Montana or Argentina), and it’s always interesting to me how I can research and write about a place but then visit it, and not be quite as impressed, and then other times I can go somewhere, have no expectation at all, and then be blown out of the water.  Banff and Lake Louise are examples of places that just profoundly moved me.  The first time I went was with you, CJ and it was incredible. I will never have enough words to describe how I feel when in the Canadian Rockies but it’s wonderful and powerful. And where do I still want to go? Jasper! Dying to get there!

CJC: Okay, I see a writing retreat to Jasper in our future. Let’s pencil it in for 2017. Of course you have a few more books to write before then. Tell us about your latest release.

JP: My latest release is a romance novella called The Tycoon’s Forced Bride, and I would describe it as a classic Jane Porter romance because it’s emotional and passionate and a bit mad. I love a great intense read . . . flawed characters who are healed through the redemptive power of love.

CJC: Can’t wait to read it! I did adore your latest Christmas story, “A Christmas Miracle for Daisy.” What do you have coming down the road?

I have the sixth and final story in my Taming of the Sheenan series which is set in fictional Marietta, Montana coming out in May and so I’m working on that, even as I plot my new series for 2017 which will launch with a historical story that will also be my Christmas story for 2016. Exciting stuff!

CJC: Thanks so much for chatting with me Jane. It’s nice to look back sometimes and see how far we’ve come. Now, give us some dirt. We know you work hard and you’re very giving to your family, friends and readers. But what’s your guilty pleasure treat?

Jane, the Tule Publishing gals and CJ at Flathead Lake, MT

JP: Guilty pleasure?  If it’s not hanging out with you in Montana or in Banff, CJ, its going to be reading a book at your cottage at Flathead Lake and enjoying a truly wonderful salted caramel chocolate treat.

CJC: Ah! Flathead Lake! That’s where the ideas for the Montana Born stories were conceived…but that’s a story for another day. Thanks again for chatting with me Jane. I look forward to lots of fun visits and Jane Porter books in the years to come.

Thanks to authors C.J. Carmichael and Jane Porter for joining us today! 

For more info about Tule Publishing you can go to their website, connect with Tule Publishing on facebook. Find Tule Publishing on instagram. Follow Tule Publishing on twitter.

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When I first started at police dispatch, ER was still on. As was Third Watch, NCIS, & CSI. I am a procedural junkie.

I love everything about them. Their formats, their crisis of the week, all of it, but what I love most are the ongoing, longterm character arcs. Seeing the life beyond the craziness of their daily grind.

People are fascinating creatures to me. I like to see & understand all the parts that go into the facade we show the world. What makes an elementary school teacher become a cop, what a hard-charging cop does to unwind. I like seeing who the characters are when they’re most vulnerable. The chinks in armor are what makes them more real to me.

And I approach my work this way, too. I’m all about the action, I love a good chase or fight scene. A countdown to an apocalypse that only the protagonist  can solve. But at the same time, I want to know what they read, what they drink, what makes their world a little more sane. Then my job comes in translating this understanding of them as whole people onto paper.

The technical aspects of the job are the tricky part for me. It’s one thing to have a grand idea of a kidnapping and hostage rescue with all the bells and whistles. It’s something else when you try to write it and not sound like a goof with no idea of how any of that actually works. There are a ton of moving parts to any large operation and conveying them to the reader can be difficult if you’re not clear on it yourself. This where I’m truly lucky.

The unmitigated bonus of 13 years in law enforcement is connections. All kinds of them, and for the type of writing I do, they’re priceless. You want to plan a siege of fortified building with SWAT? One phone call, and it cost me lunch one summer afternoon. Want to learn the finer points of homicide investigation? I have folks who’ve done nothing but hunt killers for over a decade. It doesn’t matter how outlandish the idea, there’s someone available to help you build the framework to make it happen.

I wanted to plan a hostage situation/SWAT rescue for a story, so I called a friend, we’ll call him Anton. Anton is smoking hot eye candy in addition to being a great tactician & SWAT operator. We came out on the job at the same time, same district, but opposite sides of the radio. He let me pick his brain for 90 minutes at lunch, walking me through every scenario I could think of, even walking me through the finer points of shaped charges and explosive entry (he really didn’t need to be any hotter). Then after all that, he hooked me up with a hostage negotiator. I spent about two hours grilling him for info.

All that research and all it cost me was lunch. I love my jobs.

Lachesis Publishing author Alexis D. Craig writes sultry and funny romantic suspense (Give Me Shelter and Imminent Danger) featuring the brave men and women in law enforcement.  She also writes super hot erotica featuring sexy cops (Undercover Seduction). By day Alexis is a police dispatcher so she knows her cops!

You can get Alexis’s romantic suspense Give Me Shelter at Lachesis Publishing and on amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Connect with Alexis D. Craig on her website, and on facebook,  twitter and goodreads.

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