Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Character Traits: Why Does Laura Grace Bake?

The characters who stick in our minds the most are the ones who have identifiable actions and traits that are unique to them in the story. Some characters run their hands through their hair when upset or worried. Others fiddle with their glasses. Finding the right trait for a character is as important as their name and more important than hair and eye color.

A writer has to ask themselves: what makes my main character stand out? I got lucky with FRIENDLY FIRE'S main character--Laura Grace Chandler. She showed up in the very first scene I saw her in with her identifiable trait--her delectable baking.


“Isn’t it great, Laura Grace?” A grin crinkled my friend Jen’s eyes as she looked around the room, then she turned to me. “I didn’t expect so many foster kids, but we have enough goodies for an army. And it wouldn’t be a party without your teacakes.” 

I piled my cookies closer to the edge of the tray so the little ones could more easily reach them better. “Glad they’re a hit. You had a good idea to give the foster parents with a bit of respite.”


I've been asked many times what exactly what type of baked good tea cakes are. ;-) So, I thought you'd enjoy the recipe for Laura Grace's Tea Cakes. Thanks to my sister, Thea, I have a copy of the oldie, but goodie tea cakes we enjoyed as children.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3-4 cups self-rising flour

Mix all ingredients except for the flour. Gradually add flour until the dough is stiff enough to roll out. Roll out and cut. Be sure to roll it out between 1/8 to 1/4 inches thick.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Don't cook until the cookies are brown. They will be too crisp and burnt on the bottom.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies depending on what shape cutter you have. Ice if you wish. Our family loved butter cream frosting.


Laura Grace has somewhere between 50 and 75 different fun cutters. Butterflies, birds, fish, leaves, Christmas trees and bells...you name it and she has it. 

Have fun baking and save me a cookie. ;-)


Thanks, Charlotte Rains Dixon, for this new mantra: Process is everything. Product happens. ;-)

Next Week: Snips and Poetry Week!


Barbara Rogan's A DANGEROUS FICTION is on sale today in paperback! Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Author Interview--Normandie Fischer

 I heard about Normandie Fischer’s debut book through the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Loop in 2013 and I love both of her books. She has a fresh voice and her characters are real people full of realistic life that springs off the page. Check out her website HERE and you’ll find a multifaceted person in her own right. Besides writing, Normandie is a talented sculptor. 

With her days chock full - designing jewelry for the shop she co-owns with her best friend, sailing her sharpie, and hanging out with girlfriends - Tadie Longworth barely notices she's morphing into the town's maiden aunt. When Will, a widower with a perky daughter named Jilly, limps into town in a sailboat badly in need of engine repairs, Tadie welcomes the chance to help. Her shop becomes Jilly's haven while Will hunts boat parts, and Tadie even takes the two of them sailing. It's the kind of thing she lives for, and it's a welcome distraction from the fact that her ex-boyfriend Alex, aka The Jerk of Jerks, is back in town. With his northern bride. Oh, and he's hitting on Tadie, too.

Those entanglements are more than enough, thank you very much, so it's almost a relief when a hurricane blows into town: at least the weather can match Tadie's mood. When Will and Jilly take shelter in her home, though, Tadie finds herself battling her attraction to Will. Even worse, the feeling is mutual, tempting them all with what-ifs that petrify Will, who has sworn never to fall in love again. Mired in misunderstanding, he takes advantage of the clear skies and hauls Jilly out of there and back to his broken boat so fast, Tadie's head spins.

With the man she might have loved gone, and the man she wishes gone showing up on her doorstep, Tadie finds herself like a sailboat with no wind; becalmed, she has to fight her way back against the currents to the shores of the life, and the man, she wants.


Love conquers all?
Maybe for some people.

When Samantha flies to Italy to gain distance from a disastrous affair with her childhood best friend, the last thing on her mind is romance. But Teo Anderson is nothing like her philandering ex-husband or her sailing buddy, Jack, who, despite his live-in girlfriend, caught her off guard with his flashing black eyes.

Teo has his own scars, both physical and emotional, that he represses by writing mysteries—until one strange and compelling vision comes to life in the person of Sam. Seeking answers, he offers friendship to this obviously hurting woman, a friendship that threatens to upend his fragile peace of mind.

But not even sailing the cobalt waters of the Mediterranean can assuage Sam’s guilt for destroying Jack’s relationship and hurting another woman. Soon the consequences of her behavior escalate, and the fallout threatens them all.

Sailing out of Darkness is the haunting story of mistakes and loss...and the grace that abounds through forgiveness.


ZM: After working in a visual medium, what led you to write? Did you ever consider other genres besides Women’s Fiction?

Normandie: Although I discovered the sensory delight of molding clay a year before I wrote my first poem (at thirteen), both media have served as creative outlets during various stages in my life. I love to sculpt, to work in three dimensions, but writing allows me to see or imagine or hear or think and then conjure worlds from words: something from nothing in two dimensions. It’s also immensely portable; I couldn’t have taken clay along on our sailboat.

Stories require enlarging. I’ve been an editor, a poet, a writer of non-fiction. Suddenly, I had to dig a little deeper, to exercise uncertain muscles and keep my brain nimble. In front of me, a few keystrokes away, were new worlds, the ability to people stories and find control in an otherwise out-of-control world.

I didn’t set out to write women’s fiction. I set out to write stories. My agent first dubbed these women’s fiction because they seemed to fit better there than anywhere else. After all, they’re usually about a woman’s journey, oh, and maybe a man’s or a child’s or a town’s.

ZM: You’re books really have deep hearts that readers can connect to. Tell us about your writing journey from draft to publication.

Normandie: What a lovely thing to say, Zan Marie. I write stories that show up on my radar, a what-if from a line or two or the imagined bits of a person’s life, from pain I’ve seen or pain I’ve experienced. People have always fascinated me, which is why I loved to sculpt them and learn their stories. And I’ve always been the listener, the one others came to with their hurts and needs.

When a what-if, a bit of dialogue, or an imagined scene shows up, I write and store it on my hard drive or in a notebook for later use. I have the beginnings (or middles) for dozens of stories that I may one day complete. (Or not.) Sailing out of Darkness is actually the third full-length manuscript I wrote, and Becalmed the fourth.

Becalmed almost wrote itself. I began with a what-if from my aunt’s life and had no idea what would happen to my protagonist, Tadie, what decisions she would ultimately make. As I wrote, all sorts of lovely folk showed up in the Beaufort of my imagination, and Tadie’s choices emerged from the possibilities that opened for her and Will. And, oh, for Jilly. I loved Jilly.

Sailing out of Darkness went through various iterations before landing in its final, published form. In Version One, the story began at the wrong moment in time, because I found myself wanting to excuse Sam’s behavior and so cluttered the writing with backstory. Version Two (or three, who can remember?) fell before my husband’s scrutiny. Do you have someone like that? Someone who doesn’t scruple to tell you the truth about your work? This time, he looked over his glasses and suggested I dump the entire first half and begin in the middle.

The middle? I had thought it ready to submit. I swallowed, squinted, and reread the thing. (Yes, it felt like a thing by then.) He was right: off with its head. The almost-final version began with us there, in media res, which turned out to be the true beginning and not actually the middle of the action at all. Oh, and then some beta readers coughed at the prologue. What? More to discard? I loved that chapter! Snip, cut, sigh…

I’m a tweaker, a slasher, a rewriter, an editor, which means that my book editors finally have to snatch the copy from me with a “Don’t you dare make another change. Proofing only allowed.” It’s the perfectionist in me.

This may not be what you asked at all. I’ve just told you about the writing journey and not the publishing journey. From inception to publication took years of reminding myself that each rejection should be seen as a blessing, that each one gave me a chance to revise and rewrite, to begin a new story, which I could then revise and rewrite, again and again as I watched the years pass. And in the efforts, in the learning, I had years of sailing, of living, of loving. It’s not over until it’s over, is it? If the joy isn’t in the doing, then what’s the purpose? Yes, I longed for a published book, but, more than that, I longed—and still long--to be the best writer I can be…the best me. I wish the journey were easier. I think it is for some people, but that may be because they have less to learn than I.

ZM: I think you answered the question perfectly, Normandie!  Many of your characters are sailors. How important has the experience of sailing been to generating your stories?

Normandie:  I’m not sure the sailing itself has been crucial, but we tend to write about what we know and love, don’t we? Places—Italy, the sea, Beaufort, New York, Mexico--sometimes cry out with a “Me, me, pick me,” and I turn my head in that direction…because I must. I love boats and being on the water, feeling the breeze rush across my skin, hearing that slap of waves on the hull, experiencing the freedom of moving at a slow pace, at one with the elements. There’s peace on the water countered by moments of terror in a storm, and all provide fodder for stories.

ZM: That sounds lovely!
Normandie: Living on a boat for those years informed much of my life, as did living in Italy, as does living in the South. These influences can’t help but touch my writing, though my second Beaufort book has nothing to do with sailing, and another I’m revising has characters who run amok in Italy and the Middle East. 

ZM: Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Normandie: Oh my, books, books, and more books. They’ve been my best friends for a lifetime. I don’t think I can pick one name—there are too many, and my favorite at this moment may not be my favorite when I pick up a new-to-me author tomorrow. I tend to read stories that consider the human condition; stories of love, be it platonic, familial, romantic, filial, or agape; stories of hope; stories that show heart and depth. I love the deep and lyrical work of Athol Dickson, the tender stories of Charles Martin, the comedy of manners of Jane Austen, an occasional suspense or mystery. Since joining WFWA, I’ve read a number of books by my fellow women’s fiction writers from which I’ve certainly discovered favorites—too many to name.

ZM: What’s next? Are you working on a new book? 

Normandie: I’m always working on a new book or revising an old one. Another of my Beaufort books is making the rounds now as I search for a new agent, and I’m rewriting my very first story, the one that garnered an award for me as the best new writer of 1994—which just shows you how long I’ve been at this. (I should never, ever have prayed for patience.) The beginning of the third Beaufort book waits on my hard drive, along with another story that’s set in Mexico. So much to do!

ZM: I need that reminder on praying for patience. ;-) Thanks for your time and wonderful stories, Normandie! 


Normandie had the best of several worlds: a Southern heritage, access to schooling in the DC area (which meant lots of cultural adventures), and several years of sculpture studies in Italy. It might have been better for her if she'd used all these opportunities more wisely, but it's possible that the imperfect and the unwise also add fodder for the artist and the writer.

Her life changed radically when she married the love of her life at an age when some would have said she was over the hill and way past her prime. (Clich├ęs often speak the truth, don't they?) A lifelong sailor, she was delighted to find that Michael also longed to cruise lovely waters, which is what they did from Northern CA to Mexico, spending too-few years in the incomparable Sea of Cortez. Sea Venture, their 50' ketch, is back home in North Carolina now because Normandie's mama needed care. Still, it's gorgeous there, too, and she can write from home as easily as she could on the boat.

Her two grown children, son-in-law, and two step-sons are handsome (or gorgeous, as the case may be), talented, and a delight. And now there's a new granddaughter in the mix--woohoo! She just wishes they lived a lot closer to home.

Look for Sea Venture's clipper bow and beautiful lines when she slips into a harbor near you.

Next week In the Shade of the Cherry Tree, is a rare fifth Tuesday of the month. I'll share an example of one of my main character's traits. See you in the Shade!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mini Book Reviews: D. Benton Frank, P. Callahan Henry, L. Penny, K. White

Writers are told that the first thing they should do to prepare to write is to read. No one can accuse me of skimping on that step. ;-)

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND Dorothea Benton Frank--Women's Fiction
I haven't read any of Benton Frank's books before and I will definitely seek out her other titles after reading Sullivan's Island. This book is a pitch-perfect rendering of the Lowcountry of South Carolina and the author's deft weaving of Susan Hamilton Hayes' live in 1963 and 1999 is a story to remember full of the history of Civil Rights and human pain.

THE STORIES WE TELL Patti Callahan Henry--Women's Fiction
This is Callahan Henry's best book to date. The deftly perfect title sets up a great stories about we tell ourselves and each other. Lovely, rich characters and true to life situations makes this a great read.

STILL LIFE Louise Penny--Mystery
The mystery and its unfolding are very good, but the constantly shifting POV was hard to read. I kept having to go back and figure out whose head I was inhabiting. I liked Inspector Gamache very much, and would read more in this series if not for the POV issue.

A LONG TIME GONE Karen White--Women's Fiction
A Long Time Gone is one of Karen White's best. The interwoven stories of three of the Walker women of Indian Mound, Mississippi is a captivating. All of the stories come together in Vivien's story of loss, redemption, and renewal.

DOOMS DAY BOOK Connie Willis--SF
This deft handling of a time travel story will keep you on the edge of your seat. Willis is a multiple Nebula and Hugo Awards winner and her craft shows through loud and clear. This isn't a new book and some of the technology is a bit dated, but that doesn't hold the story and great characters back.

Pick a book and enjoy your summer!


Next Week: Don't miss my author interview with Normandie Fischer! You'll love her books. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Setting--World Building Shouldn't be a Stumbling Block...

...but for many writers it is. I'll admit to having to learn how to physically plant my stories. I'm a dialogue first sort of writer. Setting has been one of those craft items that I've had to seek information about and make myself practice. ;-)

Instead of summarizing another blogger's post, I reblogged a great one. Here's Charlotte Rains Dixion's "Build Your Fictional World" from June 28. Charlotte is a writing teacher and coach, free-lance journalist, ghost writer and author. Her debut novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior is a delight.

Recently, I was the judge in fiction-writing contest.  My job was to review the finalists in the novel first chapter portion of the contest, and select the top four winners.  It was fascinating because every entry had a good concept for a story.


Every entry but one had viewpoint issues (a topic I'll address in a separate post soon), and the other big problem I saw in nearly every chapter was a failure to adequately develop the fictional world.

While the set-up was interesting and the characters good (though also undeveloped) what I saw over and over again was not enough care taken to fully create the world of the story.  And I don't care if you are writing a contemporary novel, an historical story, or a science-fiction novel set on another planet, every novel has a world of its own that the reader will inhabit for the length of the book.  And it's your job to write that world so that we, the reader, truly feel as if we've stepped into it.
Some thoughts (in no particular order):

1.  Don't rush.  In many of the contest chapters, I felt like I was being escorted through the scene in a whirlwind.  Don't be afraid to slow down, to share description and details (see #4), to evoke the senses (see #7).  I guarantee that your problem is not writing too much, but too little.  Lay it on thick and write more than you think you should and you'll come out about right.
2.  Root the reader in the scene.  A simple technique is to continually hark back to the physical world in a scene to keep the reader reminded of where she is.  Otherwise, your reader will feel like she's floating in the air.   Use simple references to accomplish this--She leaned against the counter, or He set his coffee mug down on the table.  Doesn't have to be anything fancy.
3.  Fast is slow and slow is fast.  I learned this from a friend who learned it from the late Gary Provost. When you're writing a scene that would pass slowly in real life (such as an afternoon lolling on the couch) do it quickly.  We don't need the details.  And when you're writing something that would happen really fast in real life (like a car accident), slow it way down and note every detail.
4.  Telling details are your friend. Details are what bring a scene alive, such as the red rose petal on the wood kitchen table, or the solitary raindrop sliding down a window pane as a storm begins. But, don't include every single detail, the trick is to choose the ones that will illuminate the scene.  And that's something for you to decide.
5.  Setting is more than just location.  Setting is, of course, your friend when you're creating your fictional world, because it is what your characters walk through.  But it is much more than just the lovely ocean they live beside, it is all the furniture and accessories that fill the house they live in.  And guess what else it is?  Time.  Big difference between San Francisco 1906 and San Francisco 2014.
6.  Characters interact with their worlds in unique ways.  A man who grew up in Manhattan is very different than a farmer from Iowa.  The unique worlds of characters influence them in specific ways, and in return, causes them to exist in their worlds in certain ways.  Take advantage of this.
7.  Use your senses.  Obvious, yes, but also easy to forget.  One of the least under-used senses is smell.  Noting the aromas or odors of your world can be very evocative.  And how about touch?  When was the last time your character described the feel of a fabric beneath his fingers?  Or taste?  (Which reminds me, food can be very specific to different worlds also.) We get accustomed to our primary senses of sight and sound.  Adding in the others will bolster your world.

Photo by an ciss


And now the nifty link of the month:
Nathan Bradford: How to Plan a Novel without Actually Outlining


Next week's blog is the ever popular Mini Book Review featuring Dorothy Benton Frank, Karen White, Connie Willis, Patti Callahan Henry, and Louise Penny. Don't miss it! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Poems and Snips Week

July comes in the Tuesday the first and I had to find a bit of my own words for you.

Here's a favorite poem to go with the season of gardening and in honor of my very own gardening guru, my hubby. ;-)

 Hidden Timber

Hidden timber,
Bones of a flowerbed,
Limiting untamed growth;
Producing Flowers and Beauty;
Roots directed, and
Guided deep.

Hidden man,
Bones of the soul within,
Limiting untamed whim;
Producing Honor and Courage;
Strength directed, and
Guided deep.

--Zan Marie Steadham
April 5, 2009


Here's a snip of what I've been writing for FRIENDLY FIRE this week:

“So, why did you discourage me when I wanted to help her?”
Her jaw tightened then she let out a sigh. “You’re not going to like this.”
I bit my lip. “Go on.”
Her eyes glistened with tears. “You’re on your own. Tom’s not here any more.” Her shoulders dropped. “I didn’t think you would be able to take care of her by yourself. She’s not an angel, no matter how many times you call her one.”
I stared at the dregs of my tea. 
So. That’s what she thought of me after decades of friendship. I thought she respected me. But no. All she saw was weakness now that I was without Tom.
Dragging my gaze from the tea, I met her eyes. Flames of anger rose and I felt my face heat. “Really? You think I’m so lost. After all this time—” My voice shook and I turned from her as hot tears began to roll down my face.
I rose and headed for her back door. It would be a long time before I came back. “Thanks for the tea, but I’ll leave your opinion of my abilities to help Samantha with you.”
My hand was on the doorknob when she touched my shoulder. “Laura Grace, stay. Listen to me.”
“Why? So you can make me feel like an inconsequential nothing?” I turned the knob. “Thank you, but I’ll pass.”
I was out of the door and halfway to my house, when she caught up with me. “Laura Grace! I said you’re doing a wonderful job.” Her voice shook. “You asked me why I discouraged you. I answered truthfully. Now, I know better.”


Have a safe and happy Fourth of July! ;-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Author Interview: Elle Druskin

I met Elle Druskin at my favorite online writing hangout—the Books and Writers Forum. She’s a great friend and a wonderful writer. Check out her website for “a little mystery, a touch of humor, and dash of romance.”

Elle writes humorous romance and I promise you’ve never met a more intriguing and fun cast of characters then those who populate her Liberty Heights (NJ) series.

Here’s the blurb from the latest Liberty Heights installment that published June 20--Wait Watchers.

Straight laced literary agent Portia Hart is hiding out in Liberty Heights from a crazed writer. She’s sprained her ankle, minus her eyeglasses and can’t see a thing. Newly widowed Truman Wilder is home after a mystery surrounding his wife’s death. The last thing he needs is Portia but this is Liberty Heights where lunacy and romance abound. Portia’s stuck at LouAnn Freedbush’s bed and breakfast. Sister BettyAnn is hysterical due to her eviction from Registered Witches of America. Uncle Rupert Freedbush is big game hunting in the backyard. Why? Because Uncle Rupert insists he’s Ernest Hemingway.

The Valentine clan snatched the property Truman needs for his optometry business. They want to be florists. The Valentines are experts thanks to attending loads of funerals only nobody knows where the bodies are buried. This is New Jersey, after all.
Portia isn’t sure how it happened but Elmo, an Alaskan Malamute, has been left in her custody. Elmo’s diet consists of her shoes. What does Wayne, the psychic beagle say about this? How did everyone end up at 1920s Parisian Lost Generation party?  Will Elmo eat the town out of footwear?
Men definitely make passes at gals who wear glasses or are nearly blind without them. Romance rules in Wait Watchers!

You can imagine the fun I had with this. Anything that involves a Freedbush is bound to be entertaining. Of all the eccentrics in Liberty Heights, any Freedbush inevitably wins the grand prize.


ZM—How did you discover that humorous romance was the genre for you?

Elle—First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to visit here. I really appreciate it.
Okay, here it goes. My first book To Catch A Cop, was my practice book. More or less, to figure out how to write a book. I wasn’t concerned with genre, but more interested if I had a viable story.  Just trying to see if I had anything remotely resembling a novel. No further ambition and I certainly wasn’t thinking about publication.

Fast forward to publication. I found it interesting that the book was reviewed as a romance and mystery. I never saw the mystery myself and I still don’t but that probably doesn’t matter. Let readers decide. They’re smart people and will figure it out. As I wrote, I found humorous material creeping in. Didn’t plan it. It just happened. Humor is subjective and I wasn’t sure if the things I thought were funny would be to other people. Since I wasn’t setting out to write humor, I didn’t think it mattered all that much.

Over the years, I think I have improved in terms of craft but also I’ve allowed my voice to truly express itself rather than suppress my natural instincts. That voice apparently translated into romantic humor. First of all, I like romance books. I like courtship stories which is essentially the romance formula although there can be lots of sub-genres such as romantic suspense, historical romance and so forth. I like the idea of people discovering each other and themselves in the process. Fine. That’s the romance side.

I come from a family with some excellent raconteurs (and a few who think they are and definitely are not <g>. Don’t tell them, they will be crushed). Undoubtedly that helps because I think of myself as a storyteller. Quite a few of those family members were not only great storytellers, but incredibly funny. Terrific timing. Snappy. Witty. The kind of people who can read the phone book and you roar with laughter.

I think I absorbed some of that by osmosis and it became part of my life view. Laugh as much as you can because it beats crying. I laugh harder at myself than anyone else and I laugh a lot.  I also come from a long line of eccentrics and that fits nicely with humor too. So yeah, I think being true to myself, creating a world within a book that has humor and quirky characters seems to be where my natural voice works best.

That doesn’t mean everything I write is funny, nor would I want it to be. There has to be something serious to balance it out, to make the humor appropriate and a relief from tension.  I do tend to have a “straight” man (or woman) as a character. The other characters provide the humor, the zany behavior, the quirks that whirl around that “straight” character. You can think of it like any comedy duo—there’s the partner who feeds the lines and the funny one.  I also don’t think you can force humor, it has to happen naturally.

ZM—Your books are delightful. Tell us about your journey from draft to publication. How do you like working with Muse It Up Publishing?

Elle—Draft to publication? Hmm. Most of the time I start with a germ of an idea. I don’t sit down and plot, write character sheets or anything like that. I allow the story to unfold in my head. This generally starts with a scene and almost always, as I am in the process of writing that scene, another one will start to form. Eventually, I have a story, a story that might need filling in to link those scenes, but a story. I do know what I am writing toward although not necessarily all the twists and turns to get there.

MuseItUpPublishing was a brand new company when I started with them. The founder and owner, Lea Schizas, was someone I had had contact with previously. She was timely, supportive and always kept her word. I thought a small publisher would be best for me and submitted Animal Crackers to Muse not realizing it would evolve into a series. I have found the “Musers” to be a terrific group of people. The company has grown tremendously with over 200 writers in a number of genres but the flip side is that it still is not too big to get personal responses from Lea and often,  very quickly. That says something about her work ethic. I also appreciate that she gets my voice and my editors are devoted to Liberty Heights. They urge me to keep writing the series because there always seems to be a loose thread of a story somewhere and they want to know what happens next in town. That’s pretty good and I’m happy with that.

I do have several beta readers although increasingly, I feel less need for them but nevertheless, they too are devoted to all things Liberty Heights. Once I am sure I have completed a manuscript, I send it to them for feedback. Without fail, they find scenes that require tightening and point out typos. They ask questions that force me to look critically at my own work. Inevitably, that leads to a much better, tighter manuscript before I submit.

ZM—I’ve read TO CATCH A COP and OUTBACK HERO, but I think you’ve found your stride in the Liberty Heights series. What’s in the water in Liberty Heights? Everywhere you turn there’s a new zany character or romance springing into bloom. What inspired your wonderful New Jersey town?

Elle—Good question. I was originally writing Animal Crackers as a stand-alone book. Basically, I liked the idea of a laid back veterinarian (I’ve met a lot of vets through my pets and they are always really nice people) and a stressed out workaholic. Opposites attract—a fairly common theme. Nothing unusual about that. I knew immediately his name was Jake Marx and Animal Crackers had to fit in somehow with that allusion to all the zany antics of the Marx Brothers.

Around the same time, I was discovered, or more correctly, found by my high school classmates. From New Jersey. I’ve spent my adult life outside the US. Couldn’t wait to travel, have adventures and experiences and I did. I still don’t know how they found me in Australia at the time but I am so glad they did. I never dreamed anyone thought about me or missed me but it seems they did and I was overwhelmed by the volume of emails begging me to come to the next reunion since I had never been to one. I gave my word that okay, wherever I was in the world I would come. Rash promise.

A few years later, that promise came back to nag my conscience. At the time I was living in Israel but I kept my word and flew over to Jersey with some trepidation which was totally misplaced. I had the time of my life, the most wonderful weekend of reunion activities. It was as if there had been no huge gap of missing years. It’s not a great leap to figure out that setting the book in New Jersey, in the fictional town of Liberty Heights had something to do with all those memories and reconnections that were happening.

Why Liberty Heights as a name? New Jersey has a fair amount of colonial history and I thought that name fit in those terms but also I  had the idea in the back of my head that relationships might entail giving up some things—previous ideas, beliefs, even one’s life view but that can also be liberating and provide a new sort of freedom. Liberty, right? Of course, it takes effort and self-examination, a bit of a climb. Heights. Yeah, corny but I still liked it.

As I was writing Animal Crackers, Jake Marx, that cutie veterinarian, kept talking to his cousin Ellie. The problem was Ellie Marx wasn’t in the book. No matter what I did, she kept getting in the way. I could see and hear her very clearly. I understood there was another story, another book that would arise from Animal Crackers and it truly pleased me because I didn’t want to leave Liberty Heights.
As the series evolved, several fortuitous things happened. In writing a series, even just the first two books, (I still didn’t know if it would go beyond two books at that point), I had created quite a few peripheral characters in Liberty Heights. I liken these characters to packages left by Arctic explorers in the event of an emergency. You can pick them up and use them later. Those characters were my packages and each one had a story to tell. The most interesting thing to me was my acceptance that Liberty Heights itself is a character too and I love that. I love the town, everyone in it, especially the more eccentric people and there are quite a few. I love that these books are not exactly traditional romance novels in the sense that characters grow and develop and reappear in the series so we find out how their lives are progressing.

I especially like the age range of characters. Because it is a series, I’ve had the chance to develop senior citizens as characters (and Liberty Heights seniors are pretty feisty, Must be something in the water. Or the air. Or it’s a Jersey thing <g>). I’ve also enjoyed having kids as characters and slowly watching them grow up. Quite a few readers have written to me telling me how much they enjoy the Liberty Heights kids and I’m so glad they do.

Is Liberty Heights a real place? Yes and no. Mostly no, although it’s real to me. It’s situated in Bergen County and all the towns mentioned in the book are real. Ft. Lee, Teaneck, Oradell. Real places. Check on any map.

My mom grew up in Englewood. I was raised in a town not far away so I know the territory even if I haven’t lived in Jersey for years. Jersey is a state of mind. Jersey people do things their own way and my experience of growing up Jersey included more than its fair share of feisty, funny and quirky people. I’m so glad Liberty Heights gives me the chance to tell those stories. The series is my love letter to a New Jersey childhood. BTW, the park and lake for skating in the winter are based on my childhood home town. We all did that every winter, watch for the flag (the one that looks like the Japanese flag—it appears in Hanky Panky—I honestly couldn’t make that up), and head to the lake with our skates.

ZM—Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Elle—Reading is absolutely required. Not even negotiable. I read pretty much anything and everything and have a long list of authors I love. This is not a full list, just a few. Diana Gabaldon tops the list. Who doesn’t love Outlander? :-D

ZM--I hear you on Outlander!

Elle--I also love Amy Tan, Louise Penny, Rhys Bowen, Lawrence Block, Sharon Penman, Shelby Foote, Thomas Friedman, Dee Brown, Larry McMurtry, R. F. Delderfield, Bill Bryson, Faye Kellerman, Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Crusie and many, many others.

I read fiction in many genres. Mystery. Romance. Historical. Thriller. Fantasy. Young adult. A great story is a great story and will suck the reader in and I love getting yanked into a compelling story.

I read quite a bit of non-fiction too and I’m particularly partial to history. American history. World history. Medieval history. Pretty much anything. I find it all fascinating. To me, hardly anything tops a great book. It’s the ultimate pleasure (okay, there might be one or two things that top a great book but not more than that!) Thanks to Kindle and other devices, I always have a book with me. Everywhere. On the beach, on a bus, lounging around the pool, in waiting rooms. Give me a great book and I’m a happy camper.

ZM--Thank you, Elle! This was a ton of fun, just like your books.


A well-known academic and nurse by profession, Elle turned to fiction thinking that To Catch A Cop was just for practice, never dreaming it would end up nominated as Best Romantic Comedy of 2010 by The Romance Reviews.  Her many travels to all parts of the world and adventures occasionally feature in her books but her students are either relieved to disappointed to learn they are NOT characters in any of them!  To Catch A Cop is the first book in the To Catch series featuring Lindy Kellerman and Detective Fraser MacKinnon.  To Catch A Crook is the second book in the series.  Both are published by Red Rose Publishing. Outback Hero is a contemporary romance in tribute to the beautiful romantic Australian Outback and its wonderful people and is from Red Rose Publishing. Going To The Dogs--can a dog hating cop and cute dog trainer have a chance for love—was published by Muse It Up Publishing.  The Liberty Heights series, a contemporary series set in New Jersey where things are just a little bit different, debuted in 2012 and has five novels and two novellas so far.  It’s New Jersey like you never imagined. Elle should know, being the original Jersey Girl!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Mini Book Reveiws!

I love letting y'all know about some great reads. Enjoy the mini book review.

BLACK AND BLUE Anna Quindlen--Women's Fiction

Quindlen shows her talent for getting deep into her characters with BLACK AND BLUE. It's a harrowing story of an abused wife who finally finds a measure of peace. This is a serious read, but its unvarnished look at a great social ill of our day deserves to be read and shared.

 THE PIRATE'S SECRET BABY Darlene Marshall--historical romance

Darlene Marshall has another smasher for you! I loved it. I figured out Robert's secret, but Lydia's caught me by surprise. All of the clues were there. Well done!

 STARGAZEY POINT Shelley Noble--women's fiction

This fabulous story brings the fight of tradition vs. progress into clarity. Noble populates Stargrazey Point with wonderful characters with important stories to tell. By the way, I want to ride the carrousel. ;-)

Stargazey Point is the WFWA book club choice for June at Goodreads.

SAVING GRACE Barbara Rogan--Literary

Rogan's book, SAVING GRACE, is a tour de force look into politics, family, and relationships. It's a great read. One you'll not soon forget.

And I saved the long-awaited latest from Diana Gabaldon for last.

historical, adventure, military, SF/fantasy, and indescribably good

Diana Gabaldon has again crafted an amazing story, a masterpiece, that ties up the threads from its predecessor, AN ECHO IN THE BONE, with a roller coaster of a ride. She writes every single one of her POV characters' hearts, minds, and souls with humanity. WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD is my second favorite of all the Gabaldon books. But be forewarned: There's more coming in this story. If you haven't read Diana Gabaldon's books before, start at the beginning with OUTLANDER. You won't be sorry. The STARZ TV production of the first book debuts on August 9 at 9 p.m. 

Happy Reading! Next week I have a new Author Interview for you. Come to the Shade and meet Elle Druskin. ;-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Back Story and Flashbacks

What's the difference? That's a good question. One all writers need to understand. My writing buddy Claire defined the difference in the following way:
  • A flashback puts you in the head of the POV character at the time of the memory they're recalling; back story exposition keeps you in the head of the POV character now, as they look back and remember. Or as I like to think of it: flashbacks are active, they show an event from the past. Back story tells about the past.
She's on to something that others agree with. Tabitha Olson defines them in her post on Flashback vs. Back story:
  • Back story: a summary of an incident that has happened in the character’s past.
    Flashback: taking the reader to the past incident and showing it to him through action and dialog.
 Lately, I've been trying to start my WIP at a different place, using my first scene as a flashback. I thought about starting in scene three and using scene one as a flashback there. Then I read Randy Ingermanson's post (linked below) and he said the following:
  • Back story is a necessary part of any story. Strong back story makes a strong story. But in writing fiction, practice the fine art of withholding information. That creates mystery. It creates suspense. It keeps your reader reading.

    Can you hold off on showing any flashbacks until at least 25% of the way into your story? If not, then maybe the real story isn’t your story. Maybe your real story is the back story and you should have started sooner.

    Can you hold off on showing any flashbacks until you’re 75% of the way into your story? If so, you might have a real killer of a story. Remember, as long as you’ve got a secret, your reader wants to know it. Once you’ve told the secret, your reader no longer wants to know it.
That settled the question for me. The first scene, the one I've always seen as the beginning of the story, needs to be mentioned long before 25% in. Whew! That's a to-do I can scratch off the list. ;-)


Here are some links you might find useful on this topic:
 If your interested in a writing exercise on Flashbacks, check out this one at the Book and Writers Forum 

Happy Writing! May your flashbacks and back story work out smoothly. ;-)  


Pssst! It's here! Guess what I'm doing? ;-)