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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Another Prompt Romp From My Writers' Group!

I love the ladies in my writers groups! Each is talented and generous with her time and approach the craft of writing with her own special lens. 

Warming up our sessions with a five minute prompt is great fun. Our flash fiction pieces make us laugh and roll our eyes. The results are filled with adventure, heartache and sometimes murder, but I'm amazed how the "certain something" each author has somehow comes shining through in our tiny missives. I've shared with you before about how one of the writers' groups  It's a firm five minutes. When the timer goes off, the pens go down. No exceptions! (Well, maybe we'll let a word or two be added to finish a sentence, but that's all!)

The prompts come from either a list of about 100 different starting points or one member creates one and shares it with the group. 

As in the past posts,  I've provided an imperfect summary of what each member writes and placed the prompt in bold with the response following immediately afterward. The responses are not edited for content or grammar, but paragraph breaks and some punctuation is added.

Donna (middle grade children's book author):

At the end of the town lay an old over grown garden…

...It was a place to find peace and quiet, after the maddening crowds at my place of employment—Dillerman’s Grocery Store. It was the end of my eight hour shift and still daylight. The sun shone bright and strong as I ran from my post to the great out-of-doors. I love the Fall crisp air, the clean fresh—take-a-deep-breath air. My legs knew where to carry me—down the car filled parking lot and past the tipped over carts.  I ran onto the field into the sweet smelling grass. There it was, I could see it rising up from the weeds with piles of hay tumbled free. I jumped in glee, and embraced it, my own sanctuary.

Bette (historical fiction author):

At the end of the town lay an old over grown garden…

People went there often, but always alone, and this day, close to Halloween, or Spooks Night, as Bella was wont to call it, the girls vowed to go in together.
            “Oh, let’s go in from different directions!”
            “No! Are you crazy? There really are ghosts you know, you know! Remember what happened at Nonnie’s house?”
They had all scattered, tipping over chairs and each other and running down the stairs and out the back door because the light had gone on all by itself. Maia was so frightened that Bella’s dad had to go to the back of the deep yard to comfort her, and she was wiping her eyes when they got back to the house.
Maya refused to go in to that room again until Bella moved one of Nonnie’s Jesus pictures in there and hung a cross necklace from the lamp.
A new quiet came over the four girls. 

Maggie (children's book author):

At the end of the town lay an old over grown garden…

...filled with thorns and pricker bushes.  Once a lush and productive space, it resembled it's owner.  Marguerite had the shape and blossoms, once upon a time.  Now, even her demeanor seemed wasted away.

"What has happened to me?" she asked the unfamiliar reflection in the scum covered pond.

A light breeze ruffled her frayed skirt.  It was a warm kiss of wind, unusual for this time of year.  She came out of her revelry to see...

Cyd (young adult historical fiction):

At the end of the town lay an old over grown garden…

As kids, we were convinced it was haunted and worked hard to come up with stories to spook each other – witchy apparitions, chilling moans and screams. We longed to investigate, but feared that the owner or other frightening specter would surface and scare us out.

But one day, I drove by a corner of the garden to see a young man with a backpack push aside some thick bushes and squeeze between them and a stone pillar and disappear.
I thought I ought to call the police in case he was a drug dealer, the scourge of our small community.

Instead, I parked my car and followed, pushing aside the thick bushes…

Me (crime/suspense author):

At the end of the town lay an old over grown garden…

...The carpet of green stretched out from one end of the wrought iron fence to the other. The view of the valley below was spectacular.

"Yep. Your pa loved it here," said Jammie.

"Yep. Shor did," said Jake.

"Shame he ran off like that."

"Yep. Shor was."

"No word ever?"

"Nope. Never."



"No body ever found?"


A car rumbled up. Jake looked up in surprise. "Surveyors? Contractors?" he asked.


"Then who?"

"Vegetation expert from the Co-op."

The stooped man walked around the enclosure with a Y-shaped stick.

"Here." the man said.

Jammie dug in a rough circle. In minutes he found a skull and bones. The gap in the teeth were identical to Jake's dad's.

"How'd you know?" asked Jake.

"The grass. Never grows the same way once the earth is turned."

Saturday, October 14, 2017


When seeking writing advice, I look up to authors who have achieved great success. I think it's safe to say that Kazuo Ishiguro is a good person to listen to. The recent winner of the Nobel Laureate in literature writes novels "of great emotional force, [and] has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world."

Wow. I'm thinking I'm not producing stories of that import any time soon, but nothing will happen if I don't listen to Kazuo's counsel.

An article in The Atlantic broke down Kazuo's advice. In a nutshell?

  • Block out the world. 
  • Park your butt in the chair. 
  • Allow yourself to write crap.

My use of the words "butt" and "crap" is a hint I won't be winning laureates this year, but sitting until my butt goes numb and writing horrible sentences provides a scintilla of hope that maybe one could be in my future if I just keep at it. (Using "scintilla" is my way of redeeming myself for using base and cloddish words. I added "base" and "cloddish" for insurance.)

Blocking out the world is key to Kazuo's writing as he wants his writing dream state to become more real than his actual world. I've heard this from many of my writer pals as we compare notes on experiences and techniques. We experience this dream state differently, but we share the shock of looking at the clock and realizing the day has gone by, kids were left at school without rides, or appointments were missed because our characters had beguiled us into their worlds. 

Wouldn't you know the Germans would have a word that sums up Kazuo's advice? Enter "sitzfleisch" into our lives. Even the sound of it fits the concept of flesh going numb from sitting. 

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching. You know what you have to do, and no one is going to do it for you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A2R Marketing: This Author's Secret Weapon

I've got a secret weapon for executing the perfect author event, increasing book sales, and keeping a professional and engaging demeanor.

And I'm not gonna share.

Moderating a panel at the Bookstock
Literary festival is easier with help.
Usually, I use the "A2R" tag to share tips, experiences, and insights on Author to Reader events, marketing and outreach.

But the every-author-needs-to-have-this thing?

I'm keeping this secret to myself.

I've written before about the kinds of promotional events authors do in libraries, private events, or bookstores. Today, the events I'll focus on are of the face-to-face variety, not the many web-based events like online chats or blog tours.

I'm good at public speaking and enjoy it, therefore I look for opportunities to get in front of people either as part of a panel or as a solo speaker. Even if I'm not formally presenting, I enjoy getting out and meeting readers. At most of these events, I'm encouraged to bring books to sell. After all, what is an author without her books?

  • Problem 1: Books can be heavy.

This was back in the day when I had one book.
Now I have four to my name and counting.
I also go to festivals and outdoor shows, like art shows or horse shows. Most of these 
require me to bring my own vendor tent.

  • Problem 2: Tents are big and have poles and canvas. I'm an author, not a civil engineer.
  • Problem 3: Big white tents are boring. 
  • Problem 4: Big, exciting signs blow away.

Some table displays are better than others and Book Hubby
kept watch while I struck a deal to trade a book
for a bottle of Irish Whiskey, forever securing his position. 

Occasionally, outdoor events have a dedicated author area established, with tables and chairs at the ready. Re-read problems three and four. For anything indoors, re-read problem four and insert "fall over" for "blow away."

This setup at the Groton Horse Trails
shows what an eye-catching
and conversation-starting display should look like.
To solve one aspect of problem three (another aspect solution is below), I make sure to have photographs, plaques, awards, family memorabilia on display. Each item sparks a conversation and conversations lead to sales.

Oh, but once you have your display all set up with your precious books and family memorabilia sprinkled about, can you leave that unattended?

  • Problem 5: Authors have to pee.

When everything clicks and you have a good crowd, a very, very nice problem to have is an excited fan engaging you in conversation while other people wait patiently for their turn to talk with you and get a book signed.

Problem 6: People who are not engaged or feel ignored leave the cue unhappy.

Enter my secret weapon. Some folks may refer to theirs as a Book Sherpa, Book Buddy, or BFBBFF (Best Freaking Book Buddy Friend Forever). Whatever you want to call it, you need one. Chances are, you probably already have one. I had mine for years before I knew how useful this secret would be in my life as as author. 

What is this amazing thing? My secret weapon is my Book Hubby.

Why? Book Hubby provides multi-faceted solutions in one, easy care package.

Book Hubby on way to chat up cable TV crew
 about "great new book your viewers should know!"
  • Solution 1: Book Hubby carries a lot of books!
  • Solution 2: Book Hubby has much more patience than I have to set up tents.
  • Solution 3: Book Hubby can be very, very funny. 
  • Solution 4: Book Hubby is clever.
  • Solution 5: Book Hubby is an extra set of eyes and sells books even when I'm not present!
  • Solution 6: Book Hubby engages folks in conversation and makes sure they stay in line and happy!
The picture below looks like Book Hubby is sleeping or reading or relaxing. What you can't see in this picture is the horizontal rain and the tent that had just blown down the street behind us in the 20-plus mile per hour winds. Book Hubby's strategically placed body:
A rain squall during an Irish Festival had other vendors running,
but my trusty Book Hubby saved the day!
  1. Kept the tent from blowing away;
  2. Ensured the tent flap was not going to fly wildly and damage my books;
  3. Securing the flap kept my books dry;
  4. Made me smile.
What else did my Book Hubby do aside from sit?
  1. Lugged the stuff to and from the car (which he had loaded the night before);
  2. Set up the tent almost single-handed (hey, I'm good for more than just writing books!)
  3. In the lower left corner, you can see a round weight tethered by a cord. Book Hubby used his Boy Scout experience and deployed a trusty a Half-Hitch or Square Knot or Something-or-Other to tie a 25 pound weight to each corner. I don't know how to tie knots that have their own names. That's just beyond me.
  4. Created a clever system for hanging posters with fishing line and Velcro, which we discovered ensured the posters did not fly away in said 20-plus mile per hour winds.
  5. Bought me a Guinness at the end of the day!
And that helping me keep a professional demeanor thing? Book Hubby takes care of the little details that would frazzle my brain prior to taking a podium for a reading. I need to get my Zen on, and Book Hubby protects my preparation bubble. I gave him a raise for knowing me so well.

Book Hubby does more than this, and that's why I'm not sharing.

Go ahead. Get your own Book Sherpa or BFBBFF or Book Buddy.

This Book Hubby is mine, all mine.

Friday, October 6, 2017


Many of you know I'm a member of Sisters in Crime, a national crime and mystery author organization dedicated to supporting authors from inspiration to publication. (There are plenty of Misters in Crime, too, so don't let the name fool you.) One strong current that runs through the organization is the mutual support authors show one another.

In that tradition, I'd like to introduce you J.M. West. Joan and I "met" on one of the many platforms Sisters in Crime uses to network. I'm always happy to host a fellow sister on my blog, so I'll let Joan take it from here to tell you a little about her books.

Thanks Connie. Happy to be here!

My protagonist is Erin McCoy, a rookie detective newly promoted to the Carlisle Homicide squad—the only female on the team. She’s partnered with her mentor, Senior Detective Christopher Snow, whose regular partner, Reese Savage, is deployed overseas. Their first homicide, Dying for Vengeance, pits them against a clever foe. She may be new to CPD, but McCoy’s keen observations, her ability to process the crime scene and arrive at salient conclusions prove her capability. When Savage returns, however, conflict between them disrupts and distracts both. As the Snow and McCoy follow the clues and discover more suspects, the killer grows bolder. When Mac becomes ensnared in the killer’s web, she must depend on her ingenuity to survive. The question is can Snow find McCoy before the killer eliminates her?

Had a Dying Fall is the fourth in the series.A raging fire greets Detectives Snow and Savage where they discover a male body. The search for the missing wife, Kelly Sims, leads them to one of their own, Shannon Mahoney and to Sims’ extended family members, many of who have motives to kill. As the evidence mounts and suspects multiply, danger erupts, exposing damaging secrets that could destroy them all.

And what happened to Detective Erin McCoy, who was last seen at a Revolutionary War re-enactment rehearsal in Darkness at First Light?

Then another murder occurs on Jubilee Day in Mechanicsburg. The victim had ties to Dennis Sims, the Carlisle murder victim. Are the murders connected? Meanwhile, the killer stalks the streets. Where will he or she strike next?

My other books are: 

In the first Carlisle Crimes Case, Carlisle Homicide Detective Erin McCoy battles the jitters as the first woman in Homicide partnered with Senior Detective Christopher Snow. They’re tracking a serial killer who’s stalking family members embroiled in an inheritance dispute. The elusive perp dispatches his victims with toxic chemicals. As the detectives chase clues and connect the victims, their mutual attraction blooms while she nurses him after a shooting incident. But sparks fly when FBI Special Agent Howard offers McCoy a job if she’ll train at Quantico. McCoy resurfaces in Carlisle when a co-worker tells her that she has a rival for Snow’s affections.

In the second CCC mystery, Homicide Detectives Snow and McCoy tail a killer who stymies the police with multiple MO’s. While McCoy testifies at the trial of the sisters who kidnapped her in the first novel, Snow and Savage recover a nude body from the Letort Spring. While tracking sparse clues, another killing surfaces that rings alarms; the victims are connected to a Marcellus Shale gas well. As police tangle with hostile suspects, they are courting doubt and darkness, leaving the comforts of Carlisle to the wilds of Raccoon Mountain. When an eight-month pregnant McCoy joins the case, she discovers her Native American relatives are involved. Then she stumbles into the killer’s path!
Carlisle Homicide Detectives Christopher Snow and Erin ‘Mac’ McCoy discover an unidentified body, dressed like Molly Pitcher’s statue, lashed to the cannon in front of the folk hero’s gravesite. At the macabre scene, Mac receives a call dispatching her and K-9 Officer Shadow to a kidnapping. In the process, the CPD discovers the girl online on a pay-for-porn site, alerting the FBI. The trail leads to a Revolutionary War Reenactors’ encampment. As the detectives track ‘Molly Pitcher’s’ elusive killer and Emma’s obsessed kidnapper, the media compete to scoop the sensational trial that follows.


Author J M West is a Professor Emerita of English Studies at Harrisburg Area Community College, The Gettysburg Campus. She also taught at Messiah College and Shippensburg University as an adjunct and served as Assistant Director of the Leaning Center (SU). She has previously published poetry and Glory in the Flower, her debut novel, which plunges four coeds into the turbulent sixties.     A member of Sisters in Crime, she and her husband live near Carlisle, Pennsylvania. They have two sons and two grandsons. In her spare time, West volunteers at The Bookery, Bosler Memorial Library’s used bookstore, participates in a book discussion group, and reads voraciously. West’s fourth Snow/McCoy adventure, Had A Dying Fall, is available on Amazon.

Learn more about Joan on Facebook. Her Books are available at Sunbury Press, Amazon, History on High and The Bookery in Carlisle