The Writer’s Toolbox                                        by Katie Oliver                                                          

The Writer’s Toolbox

                                                                                                                               by Katie Oliver


There are a great many “how-to-write” books out there. If you’re a writer, whether aspiring, published, or self-published, you’ll find shelves of reference books offering advice on everything from plotting and characterization to how to create realistic dialogue. They’re excellent resources on the craft of writing.

The problem is that one size does not fit all. There are those who swear by notecards, storyboards, scene-by-scene details. Others wing it with nothing more than an idea to get them started. Some write the ending first; others make it up as they go.

And really, any way is fine…as long as it leads to a finished, well-written book. What constitutes a well-written story, you ask? That’s where the writer’s toolbox comes in.

A book needs an inciting incident, a couple of major turning points, a dark moment of the soul, a denouement, and (for all but literary fiction), a happy ending. It needs compelling characters. Conflict. Emotion. It needs that certain something that sets it apart from all of the other stories out there. This is particularly true of genre fiction.

While a book needs a great cover, an enticing blurb, and a savvy marketing campaign, it’s what’s inside that determines whether readers will turn those pages and buy your next book, or put it aside and never pick it up again.

Some writers chafe at restrictions. They want to give free rein to their imagination and write. Which is fine for a first draft.

But study any beloved novel – Pride and PrejudiceWar and PeaceMadame Bovary – and you’ll find theme, symbolism, emotion, plot, and subplot (often more than one). But you’re not writing a fusty old classical novel, you counter? Doesn’t matter. The same principles – plot, theme, characterization, etc. – are present in modern published novels. Films, too. You simply cannot write a good story without utilizing these tools of the writer’s trade.

That said, here are a few tools EVERY writer should use.

Start in the middle of things. Something major and life changing is about to turn the protagonist’s life upside down. Things will never be the same again, and neither will your main character. It will take him or her the length of the story to figure things out, to grow and change along the way as a result.

Avoid clichés.  Don’t begin a story with an opening we’ve seen a thousand times before. Make your situations and characters unique and fresh.

Limit backstory. This relates not only to openings, but also to information dumps throughout the story. Details of your protagonist’s childhood, previous relationships, family background, etc. may be helpful, even necessary, to you the writer. But the reader will quickly grow bored. And you don’t want to bore your reader. Only provide background information that’s absolutely critical to the story.

Limit flashbacks. Use them only where necessary and keep them brief.

Build in conflict. In fiction, there’s no story without it. Conflict can be internal (I’m terrified of heights but I have to rescue my child from that high tree limb), external/nature (the road is washed out, I can’t get to the tree), or external/antagonist (my ex-husband disabled the car and stole my phone so I can’t call for help). You get the idea. Don’t ever make it easy for your main characters.

Consider theme as you write. It can be something as simple as “Love lost, love found” (The Great GatsbyGone With the Wind) or “absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Animal Farm,Macbeth).

Build in emotion. This is one of the first lessons I learned as a professional writer. Readers need to care about your characters, and without experiencing the highs and lows of their emotions, they won’t.

Establish a writing platform. You’ll need a platform to share your book on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Social media is your best friend if you use it wisely.

And finally, promote your book. But do it the right way.

A greatmany  writers Tweet an endless stream of book links on their feeds. They rarely interact with followers. They don’t express gratitude to followers for retweets. They don’t support indie published authors. They Tweet to the same readers, the same bloggers, without ever widening their scope. Big mistakes.

Be supportive, and others will support you. Reach out. Talk to people (and not just about books!). Thank them for retweets. Be interested, and they’ll be interested in you. I set aside an hour each morning to respond to Tweets, Facebook posts, and to post to Twitter and/or my author page.

Being a writer is exciting. It’s amazing, exhilarating…and sometimes, exhausting. It can also lead to burnout.

But despite the ups and downs, despite the occasional setbacks and disappointments, there’s still nothing else I’d rather do.



Katie Oliver is the best-selling author of Prada and Prejudice and the Dating Mr Darcy/Marrying Mr Darcy series. She loves romantic comedies, characters who “meet cute,” Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in South Florida with her husband.



Facebook Author Page:

Instagram: – @katiewriter




Jane Austen Variations Author Page:




Prada & Prejudice  –

Love & Liability –

Mansfield Lark  –


And the Bride Wore Prada –

Love, Lies & Louboutins –

Manolos in Manhattan –


What Would Lizzy Bennet Do? –

The Trouble With Emma –

Who Needs Mr Willoughby? –


Writing Historical Mysteries by C.A. Asbrey

Writing historical Mysteries

By: C.A. Asbrey

History Quote

I was asked recently how to write a historical mystery, and even though I’m brand new at it I would imagine my approach is very much like everyone else’s.

Firstly, there are all the usual issues people encounter when setting a story in the past. Linguistic anachronisms can beam out of the page to those who know their period like a neon sign in a dark alley. People have to behave as they would have in the social stratifications of the time, and you absolutely must know the tiny details of how people lived and dealt with the minutiae of life. There’s no point in pricing something like bread at more than an average man would earn in a month. Nor does it help your story if you don’t know the basics on how your characters work, live, or play in whatever century you select.

I was once jolted out of a book because an eighteenth century aristocratic woman had been named ‘Holly’. That simply wouldn’t happen in England in that time period. Some of the non-conformist churches had a habit of calling their children non-traditional names, but the upper classes never did. The maid could have been called ‘Holly’ but her mistress? Never.

Civil War Actors

Anachronisms are easy to spot

History throws up many problems you won’t encounter writing any other kind of mystery. There are numerous pitfalls for the unwary. Not only do you have to build a believable universe, you have to put credible characters right in the middle of it and make them reveal the world you have carefully built by showing the readers their experiences. The reader needs to feel what they feel; the smell of the horseflesh, the clatter of the hooves, the sizzle of the cooking, and the creeping of the leeches.

Then there’s the speech patterns to think about. Local accents were stronger, with less exposure to strangers or the media to even them out. Slang and commonly used expressions can be quite impenetrable to modern ears. You can call someone a “dentiloquent bletcherous zounderkite” but you can make it clear what it means by the way people react to it.  Use slang and dialect lightly enough to create local colour, and leave the rest of the dialogue plain enough to be clearly understood. And bear in mind that what you think you hear may not be accurate at all. To this day there are thousands of Scots protesting that none us say ‘verra’ and never have; yet millions of people think it’s an accurate interpretation of the Scottish accent because it appeared in a well-known series of books. If you come from a different culture check with a local. It’s far too easy to get it wrong.  I certainly have and depend on good friends and editors to get it right.

A Boot Joke Cartoon

The answer is a simple as it is hard to achieve. Know as much as you possibly can about your subject, period, and characters. How did they do simple things like go to the toilet? Eat? Cook? WorK? What did they earn? What did the care about? Who did they defer to? How did they react to people who were different to them, or who failed to live by their social code? How did they wash and how often? Show this by having your characters do them in the story instead of writing descriptions about it. Also be careful that you don’t disappear down the rabbit hole when researching. It can be fascinating and engrossing and I’ve often looked up at the clock to find a whole day has gone by before I’ve realized.

Once you get over the problem of putting realistic characters in place and in period the mystery writer has another hill to climb. What is your mystery and how do you solve it? Of course we need to leave our path strewn with red herrings but they need to be historically possible too. What are the symptoms of poisoning and how did doctors test for them in your chosen period? How long would someone realistically take to die from a stab wound or a blow to the head? What weapons were available at that time and what evidence would they leave behind?

When you do your research make sure you know the source is absolutely credible and backed up by more than one source. The internet is full of inaccurate information and it’s vital to ensure the veracity of any facts you come across.

Just like any traditional mystery you need to assemble a cast of characters who include more than one credible perpetrator, more than one possible motive, and ensure that your detective in your chosen time period has the knowledge and the wherewithal to expose the murderer and prove the crime.

This whole post seems to throw up more questions than it answers, but there is an easy answer. Spend a lot of time getting under the skin of the people you write about and really know your subject. They say you should write what you know for good reason. When you have a good broad understanding of the period, do lots of research on each murder method, the evidence it would leave, and how that evidence would be interpreted in that era. There no point in choosing a poison which wasn’t detectable at the time and bringing in forensics which didn’t come in until later will definitely result in comments from readers.

At the end of the day you have to look at whether you are creating a historical treatise or telling a good story. To me the story is the most important thing and weaving all the historical detail through the tale until it’s no more than background to the main action. Don’t beat yourself up too much about a slight inaccuracy. Even history books contain errors, so historical fiction can hold its head up high if it evokes a sense of period and place which serves the story. The story is fiction. The people (and sometimes even the place) are inventions.

Historical Fictions Cartoon

One of the best examples of the story mattering more than detail in historical fictions comes from a famous anecdote. After his success with “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway, Tennessee Williams had occasion to return to New Orleans where he was accosted by an uptown dilettante who chided him for his description of the streetcar lines. She told him if Blanche DuBois took the streetcars as described in his play, she wouldn’t end up on Elysian Fields Avenue. “They simply don’t run that way,” she said.

Williams replied, “Well, they should.”


The Innocents Book Cover

The Innocents (The Innocents Mystery Series Book 1) by C.A. Asbrey @prairierosepubs #historicalmystery #theinnocentsmysteries

 ”The Innocents“, by C.A. Asbrey published by Prairie Rose Press is now available to buy.

Pinkerton Detective Abigail MacKay is a master of disguises—and of new crime-solving technology! But she’ll have to move fast to stay a step ahead of Nat Quinn and Jake Conroy.

Nat and Jake are the ringleaders of The Innocents, a western gang that specializes in holding up trains carrying payrolls—and Nat is pretty savvy when it comes to using the new sciences of 1868 in committing his crimes.

Charismatic Nat and handsome Jake are on the run, and they’ve always gotten away before—before Abi. But when Abi is caught by another band of outlaws during the chase, there’s no other choice for Nat and Jake but to save her life. Abi owes them, and she agrees to help them bring in the murderer of a family friend.

The web of criminal activity grows more entangled with each passing day, but Nat, Jake, and Abi are united in their efforts to find the murderer. Once that happens, all bets are off, and Abi will be turning Nat and Jake over to the law. But can she do it? She finds herself falling for Nat, but is that growing attraction real? Or is he just using her to learn more about the Pinkertons’ methods? Abi always gets her man—but she may have met her match in her “best enemies”—THE INNOCENTS.


     “So, you want to pretend you’re a Pinkerton? As a female?” His eyes darkened. “I’ve questioned one before, although he didn’t know who I was. They’re trained real well on being both sides of interrogations. You don’t want to do this. Not as a woman. He had a real hard time. You’ll have it even harder.”
     She sat staring ahead once more, her face impassive and stony.
     “You’ve nothing to say?”
     Her eyes flashed. “Beating the hell out of me won’t change anything but my view of you.”
     Nat reached out and entwined a hard fist in her hair and dragged her backward until the chair balanced on the back legs. He brought his face close to hers, his hot breath burning into her cheek.  “Think harder, lady. This isn’t a game. Who are you?”
     Abigail felt the dragging pain at the back of her head as shards of pain lanced across her scalp. He held her, balanced between his painful grip and a clattering fall to the floor but her stubborn nature wouldn’t let her acquiesce.
     “Others will come after you, no matter what you do to me.” She darted her eyes to meet his, unable to move her pinioned head. “I won’t be the last.”

Blog – C.A Asbrey – all things obscure and strange in the Victorian period

The Innocents Mystery Series group

Facebook –

Amazon –

C.A. Asbrey


Blog – C.A Asbrey – all things obscure and strange in the Victorian period

The Innocents Mystery Series Group

Facebook –

Amazon –


Twitter –


Goodreads –


Link to book Link to book

The Art of Mystery Writing  by Marni Graff

The Art of Mystery

                                                                 by Marni Graff

Creating a mystery is so much more than creating a puzzle, yet that puzzle is at the heart of the matter. This dramatic structure has been in force for thousands of years in writing yet remains enormously popular. It’s one reason Agatha Christie’s work is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

People who read traditional mysteries want to be involved in solving the puzzle, often to see if they can outwit the fictional detective or sleuth and arrive at the answer first. They also look for a sense of resolution at the end that restores order, and in most cases, for good to triumph over evil.

This leads the writer to consider three main types of mystery: the Whodunit, where the identity of the perpetrator is unknown; the Whydunit, where the criminal’s identity may be revealed early in the story but their motive is unknown; and the Howcatch’em, which focuses on the means by which hero/detective/investigator catches the culprit.

Writers must also take into account the violence meter, which ranges from low and more personal (think Miss Marple, cozies in general) to high and often to larger impersonal groups (as in action thrillers, espionage, global terrorists). By deciding how much violence you plan to include in your story, you are choosing which type of crime novel you want to write. For example, a police procedural may have a high level of violence but it is usually committed by a psycho- or sociopath and to one person at time.

At the lower end of the spectrum, you may have a killer who targets the people of his romantic obsession, as in a romantic suspense thriller.

You can see that these multiple combinations let the writer have tremendous freedom when choosing what kind of mystery he or she will write. Yet all of these subgenres will include literary devices such as red herrings, plot twists, foreshadowing and cliffhangers.

There is one distinction that can be made between mystery and suspense: when writing a true mystery, the reader will discover the events and clues along with the protagonist or other characters. In this regard, the reader expects the author to be fair and not throw in any convenient coincidences near the end. When writing suspense, the reader can and usually does know more than the protagonist. The author shows the readers things such as scenes from the perpetrators point of view and his or her mental state and plans, which the protagonist doesn’t know. This is what builds the suspense—will the hero figure it out in time to save himself or his lover or his family or his town?

I give my writing students this simple formula to help guide them as they write in any genre: Character and setting = story (Character is everything; plot is what you have them do as they move around your setting. You need engaging characters your readers will care to spend time with to keep them flipping pages).

Dialogue and behavior = character  (Use dialogue and behavior to illustrate who this person is by what they say, their body language and habits, their appearance, their philosophy, and their idiosyncrasies. All add texture to your creation).

By keeping the conventions of your chosen genre in mind, as well as the simple formula above, you’ll create a winning combination that will have readers turning pages to your resolution and asking for a sequel.


 Author’s bio

Marni Graff is the award-winning author of The Nora Tierney English Mysteries and The Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the International Association of Crime Writers, and a frequent contributor to UK’s Mystery People.



Historical Time Travel and Mystery by Carol Pouliot

Historical Time Travel and Mystery

                                                                                                       by Carol Pouliot

I love finding a series with characters that grab me, making me want to follow their story over multiple books. That’s what I’m creating in The Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mystery series.

In Doorway to Murder, Depression-era cop Steven Blackwell comes face-to-face with 21st-century journalist Olivia Watson when time folds over in the house where they live−he in 1934, she in the present day. Because of her work, Olivia recently researched time-travel and recognizes Einstein’s theory. The theoretical physicist believed there is no past, present, or future, that all time happens simultaneously, and that time can fold over, revealing another “time.” Olivia tells Steven she thinks this is what they are experiencing. The skeptical detective, however, is unfamiliar with the theory and demands physical proof−hard evidence, he says. Olivia easily provides it. Thus, they begin a magical journey together.

I wanted my characters Steven and Olivia to reflect their own time but have the potential for a strong bond and understanding of each other. They are two halves of the same whole−yin and yang.

To begin, I gave Steven a fascination with the future. He reads science fiction and has a special affinity for the works of Jules Verne. At one point in Doorway to Murder, he compares himself to Verne’s characters Michel Ardan and Professor Von Hardwigg. Steven embraces all the latest crime-solving methods and technological advances available to him in the early years of the 20th century. He’s excited about J. Edgar Hoover’s new Federal Crime Lab in Washington, D.C. and everything the scientists there can do. He tells Olivia the Feds are compiling a list of fingerprints from all over the United States and that he, Steven, shares information and results pertaining to his cases. Steven exclaims, “This is the best time to be a cop!”

I created 21st-century Olivia with a nostalgia for the 1930s which, by the way, I share. She dreams about The Golden Age of Travel, when well-heeled travelers packed hat boxes, suitcases, and trunks and embarked on lengthy sea and rail voyages to exotic places. She’s hooked on Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto, and The Thin Man movies. She even named her kitten Mr. Moto!

To make it easier for Steven to believe what is happening to him and Olivia, I wanted him to be at a vulnerable point in his life. When Doorway to Murderopens, he is reeling from the recent unexpected and devastating death of his mother. Like other unmarried people of the time, Steven lived at home with his French-artist mother. His father is an admiral in the U.S. Navy who lives and works in Washington, D.C., only coming home on occasion. Because of the long hours and demands of his job, Steven has little social life. His mother had become his companion and confidante. Now, he’s lonely and misses her lively conversations.

I wanted Olivia to be focused on the adventure of meeting Steven, rather than Steven himself. At the start of Doorway to Murder, she’s getting over the betrayal of her ex-fiancé. She’s finding herself again and enjoying her active single life. She has no interest whatsoever in a new relationship. Olivia left her job as a reporter five years ago to form The Watson Agency, a research enterprise. Its success and her free-lance travel-writing career give her the opportunity to travel overseas, which she loves, and the freedom to set her own working hours, which allows her plenty of time to interact with Steven. When Olivia meets Steven, she boldly seizes the chance for the ultimate trip−one which will take her back in time.

Unlike many characters created by writers, Steven just was. With the exceptions noted above, Detective Sergeant Steven Blackwell came to me fully formed. I didn’t have to work on him. I was stunned when I realized that I knew him the first time I “saw” him. I had a strange experience (that’s a story for another time!) nearly fifty years ago when I saw the image of a young man. He was of average height and build with dark brown hair and eyes. At the time, he was dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and dark corduroy pants. As I wrote Steven’s story, he grew organically. Detective Sergeant Blackwell is a man on a mission. Whatever the circumstances surrounding an investigation, Steven drives himself to uncover the truth and get justice for the victim. In Doorway to Murder, the difficulties of the case lie in the absence of clues. In Threshold of Deceit, the second book in the series, Steven must ignore his disdain for the victim and his admiration and respect for his two main suspects in order to solve a murder.

In some ways, Steven and Olivia are quite different, but in their differences they balance each other. Where he is circumspect and weighs all sides of an issue, she is impulsive and often acts without thinking. He feels comfort in the order of rules and a daily routine. She is a free spirit and goes where the moment takes her.

To help in their understanding of each other, I wanted to be sure they shared some traits. They are fiercely loyal and expect loyalty from those around them. They are bold, adventurous, and exceptionally curious about the world around them, although Olivia has had more opportunities to travel. While each is a product of their time, they both have a strong sense of what is right for them and have created a life unique to themselves. Thanks to Steven’s bohemian mother, he is open-minded, non-judgmental, and more tolerant than many of his contemporaries. Although Olivia is interested in getting married and eventually having children, right now she does what she wants, when and how she wants.

In the past months, Steven and Olivia have forged a strong bond of friendship. He has told no one about her. She has confided in her two best friends. When one of her friends asks about any hint of a romance, Olivia shakes her head and comments, “But, how could we? In his time, I haven’t even been born yet. And right now, he’s probably been dead for years.”

Steven Blackwell and Olivia Watson still have a long road to follow. But we can be sure it will be filled with exciting adventures most of us can only dream about.



A Francophile since she was eleven years- old, Carol Pouliot dreamed of getting her passport, packing her suitcase, and going to Paris. After persuing her MA in French at Stony Brook University, she headed to France for her first teaching job. Later, she taught French and Spanish for over 30 years in Upstate New York, where she also ran an agency that provided translations in more than 24 languages. Passionate about travel, she has visited five continents. Doorway to Murder is the first in the Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel Mystery series. The second novel, Threshold of Deceit, is forthcoming. Carol is currently working on the third book in the series, a Halloween mystery.

Doorway to Murder is available at and

Visit Carol at

Facebook at


Mystery and History—The Perfect Blend  by Michelle Cox

Mystery and History—The Perfect Blend 

                                                                            by Michelle Cox

People often ask me why I write mystery and why I set them in the past, particularly Chicago in the 1930s.  What is it about this blend of genres that appeals?  Good question.

Mystery, I have to admit, is not my go-to shelf at the bookstore.  As a kid, I read every Trixie Belden, Happy Hollisters, and Encyclopedia Brown ever written, with an occasional Nancy Drew thrown in, but not so much as I grew older.  This was especially true when I went away to college and discovered what “real” literature was supposed to be.  Guiltily, then, I quickly tossed out all of my beloved mysteries— and romances, too, for that matter—and exchanged them for solid classics, which I threw myself into for roughly the next twenty years, gobbling up Dickens and Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Tennyson at an alarming rate.  But then, years later, after my third child was born, my brain inexplicitly turned to mush, and I found myself reverting back to more “entertaining” reads.

So it was that when I finally decided to try my own hand at writing a novel, I approached it from sort of a mixed background.  What first resulted was a somewhat sappy coming-of-age story set in the 1940’s Chicago and which was the size of three contemporary novels.  Tolstoy would have at least admired its length, if nothing else.  After spending a year trying to sell this tome to an agent, I finally declared it to be dead and stuffed it away in a drawer.

Starting over, I determined that if I wanted to actually sell something, not impress a lit professor, I would need to write something much shorter . . . not to mention something more fast-paced and sexy.  Something like . . . like a mystery, I thought triumphantly!  Yes, that would sell, I naively thought.  Not knowing the slightest thing about writing a mystery, however, I dug deep into my early reading experience as well as into all of the PBS or BBC period mysteries and dramas I had become addicted to over the years and was able to eventually produce A Girl Like You, which, mid-way through the writing of, I decided to turn into a series.

So, I publically admit here that I first chose mystery because I thought it would be more sellable.  Period.  But having thus delved into it, I found it to be a great fit for me, actually.  First of all, I’m very much a character writer, so coming up with intriguing plotlines has always been a little more challenging. Writing mystery was a great fix for this.  It forced me to concentrate on plot and give my characters something to do—solve the mystery.

And then there’s pacing.  Mystery has no time for soggy middles.  Each chapter of a mystery has to have a reason to be. The story has to clip along.  I often tell new mystery writers to watch any mystery or drama show on television as a reference.  Each scene is costing the filmmakers thousands of dollars to make, so each action or character in that scene absolutely has to have a reason to be there.  Following this example has made me a more concise, focused writer.

So mystery works for me on several levels.  And I think my books have been successful because, in a genre that is sometimes criticized for being tooslanted toward plot, I think it’s fair to say that I’m able to provide both elements that make up a good story—well-developed characters wrapped in fetching plots.

But now how to explain the historical connection?  Why set a good mystery in the past?

Well, there are several reasons for that, the first being the fact that I really don’t know enough about the modern world to write about it.  I can more easily explain how an antique telephone works more than I can a cell phone.  How does a microwave work?  Or the furnace?  A car?   It’s embarrassing, actually. Writing about the past lets me hide this pitiful truth about myself.  For the life of me, I simply wouldn’t be able to come up with a modern, realistic crime, much less have the sleuths be able to solve it.  Mining foreign social media data?  Selling harvested body parts?  Identity theft?  You can see already that I’m reaching.  And as for solving it . . . fancy phone apps?  GPS systems?  Satellite link-ups?  Again, this is probably sounding very ‘90s, at best.  Give me Colonel Mustard in the study with the candlestick any day.

Another disconcerting truth about me is that I’m actually not very good at coming up with a premise for a story.  I need something to start with, some strands of yarn, and then I can pretty creatively weave something out of them.  As it turns out, all my story prompts come from people who lived in the past.  Just after college, I started working in a nursing home on Chicago’s northwest side and delighted to find myself in a perfect treasure trove of stories from people who had lived through so much, including two world wars and the Great Depression.  Is it any wonder, then, when I began writing years later, that all of my novels would be set in the past?  Those tales, many of them stranger than fiction, have provided me with a wealth of reference material!

So when I was looking for a premise for my first novel—a mystery, I had already decided, as explained above—I naturally dug into said treasure trove and, after looking about a bit, eventually chose the story of an eighty-year old woman who had had this amazing life as a young girl in the 1930s in Chicago.   I didn’t take all of her story, of course, but I used various bits and pieces in the creation of A Girl Like You.  All I needed to do then was to insert some sort of crime, something suitably old-fashioned—like a murder, say—and voila!  A perfect mystery/history blend.  But then I couldn’t help myself, and I had to add the handsome, aloof inspector for a dash of romance as well!  But that’s a story . . . and yet another genre . . . for another time.


Author Bio:

Michelle Cox holds a B.A. in English literature from Mundelein College, Chicago, and is the author of the award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series, as well as the weekly “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” a blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. Cox lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and three children and is currently hard at work on the fifth book of the series.  She also sits on the Board of the prestigious Society of Midland Authors and is a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.







Despite Adversity, There’s Always a Way to Publish by Nina Romano

Despite Adversity, There’s Always a Way to Publish

                                                              by Nina Romano


When I was writing poetry, I would send out poems to many different venues: literary magazines, journals in print and online magazines.  I kept circulating and sending out several poems a week, usually 12 to 20 and usually on a Friday, until I found myself with a good number of accepted publications.

Next, I added new poems to these already published ones to complete a theme and then turned the themed poems into a small chapbook of 24-40 pages or a complete collection of 60-80 or more pages. I would then include what I called “the book’s beginning pages.”  That is to say the title page, contents page, acknowledgments page, dedication page and an “About the Author” page to finish the book.  I love dedicating books! Then, I’d send out to poetry contests and/or small, independent publishers.

I didn’t win any contests for my poetry, but I did win Graduate Poetry one year at FIU while on the road to completing my MFA in Creative Writing, and it was for one of my best poems: “The Crucifixion of Garlic, ” which is in my first poetry collection, Cooking Lessons, and still available on Amazon!

I was fortunate to finish five complete collections and two poetry chapbooks and have all of them published with small, independent publishers.  When I knew the collection was going to be published, I’d begin asking poets and writers for blurbs. Networking at Writing Conferences and in Workshops, always pays off.  Talk to other authors.  Marketing these published collections was a completely different matter, and subject for another blog altogether.

However, poetry is not fiction. I tried for years to get an agent for my first and second novels.  I had an agent but without success of placing the first novel with a publisher.  I decided to take back the novel and write another one—the prequel.  After receiving dozens of rejection letters telling me what a great query letter I’d written, I realized I was batting my head against a stone wall trying to “hook” an agent, so I decided a different tack.

I had my collection of short stories, always difficult to place, accepted by Kitsune Books, but sadly the wonderful owner/editor Anne Petty passed away, so I published The Other Side of the Gates with Bridle Path Press, a cooperative kind of publication, since then we’ve parted ways and I own the rights to my collection. But when it came to my novels, I wanted to go the traditional route and not self-publish.  So I skipped the agonizing and grueling querying to agents and started submitting to small, independent publishers.

I looked up three in the category of where I best thought my novels would find a good fit—historical romance—and selected three publishers in a list of one hundred of the best ones for novels, and sent to them.  I hit, luckily with the first one I’d sent to, Turner Publishing, but if I hadn’t it was my intention to query every single solitary one that I had marked off on that list. Determination and persistence is the name of the game. I published the Wayfarer Trilogy with them, three novels: The Secret Language of Women, Lemon Blossoms, and In America.  All of the novels finished as Finalists in various Book Contests, and the first one won an Independent Publishers IPPY gold medal.  But that didn’t give me a free pass to have all my novels published with them—so you keep submitting and if they don’t take it, you try someplace else.

Or you decide to self-publish like these famous authors did: E.L James, Beatrix Potter, E.E.Commings, Stephen King, Mark Twain, Virginia Wolf, Rudyard Kipling, Gertrude Stein, Anais Nin, Stephen crane, Walt Whitman, Alexander Dumas, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Henry David Thoreau, to name but a few.

You can publish on blogs—yours and other people’s as a guest blogger.  There’s a blog on your author page of Goodreads, and there’s an “About the Author” page on Amazon, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find many other places to market yourself and your titles, or at least write about yourself and what you love doing: writing. The point is that if you want to see your words in print remember: “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and just keep seeking.

In the words of the James W. Hall, “Master of Suspense” and the Thorn mystery series, said the last day of an undergraduate writing workshop at FIU, “There are dozens of better writers than me, I just stuck with it.”  Thanks, Jim, your words have served me well! So here it is short and bittersweet: perseverance and tenacity are key and almost as important as the writing itself.


Author’s Bio

Nina Romano earned a BS from Ithaca College, an M.A. from Adelphi University and a BA and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. She’s a world traveler and lover of history.  She lived in Rome, Italy, for twenty years, and is fluent in Italian and Spanish. She has authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, and has published five poetry collections and two poetry chapbooks with independent publishers. She co-authored Writing in a Changing World.  Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry.

Nina Romano’s historical Wayfarer Trilogy has been published from Turner Publishing. The Secret Language of Women, Book #1, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist and Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publisher’s 2016 IPPY Book Award. Lemon Blossoms, Book # 2, was a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist, and In America, Book #3, was a finalist in Chanticleer Media’s Chatelaine Book Awards.

More about the author at:


Why Do I Write Chick Lit? by Melissa Westemeier


Why Do I Write Chick Lit?

                                                by Melissa Westemeier

Sure, the genre sounds sappy–it shares a name with a type of candy, for Pete’s sake! Yet chick lit isn’t typical romance writing, it’s a little less formulaic and it has broader appeal. I wrote my first novel, Whipped, Not Beaten, a few years after Oprah started her book club. I loved Oprah’s picks–at first. But after a while they all seemed the same: stories about abusive people, people who’d survived terrible hardships, people who faced injustices, depression, addiction, assault. After a while all of those sad stories start to wear on a reader. I wanted to read something lighter, brighter–a palate-cleanser, if you will. That type of book wasn’t easily found, but chick lit consistently provided me with a good story and characters I could root for. There weren’t many chick lit writers at the time, so I decided to write what I craved: a feel-good story with a happy ending.
The first trick with chick lit is to create a character with flaws. This makes them personable, relatable and genuine. In Whipped, Not Beaten Sadie Blair is a bit of a klutz, she has money trouble and she’s emotionally wounded from a bad break up. All of these are problems typical to young women, but they aren’t the kind of flaws you read about in a typical romance novel. In those the heroine never gets a pimple, always has a fortune and their biggest problem is somehow being misunderstood. Boo-hoo, right? In real life people screw up, fall down, go broke and spill their drinks. When writing about characters that do these things, there’s opportunity for humor and for moments when the reader nods and thinks, I feel you, Sadie.

The second trick–and biggest trick–is plot. Trouble has to heap up and rain down on the protagonist. Guess what? Creating a character with real-life problems makes it easy to advance the plot. Sadie’s broke. She recognizes the potential in home party sales. She signs on to sell Coddled Cuisine. She can’t cook. She has to build an independent business against the odds. She has to build that business while still performing at her day job at Wisconsin Public Radio. More trouble? She shows up to do a party for a bridal shower and learns the guest of honor is her ex-boyfriend’s fiancé! In his apartment, no less! In a lot of ways writing chick lit storylines comes easy because daily struggles do snowball into bigger problems. We’re all crawling our way out of some mess or other–why not mine our own disaster zones for the purpose of great plotting? (And on the outside chance that you’re blessed with a drama-free life, you can always mine your friends’ lives!)
The third trick is adding humor. Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Shopaholic series and Simply Divine gave readers reasons to laugh. Everyday problems often are funny–“Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse.” Add it in. Sadie’s come under pressure to attend a co-worker’s scrapbooking party. She doesn’t scrapbook. She can’t cut a straight line. She gets assaulted by the family dog, spills chips and dip on the hostess’s shag carpeting and ends up yelling at the hostess’s bratty kids when she snaps. At the end of the chapter she rides the bus home, stained with sour cream and onion, tears and slobber. Amping up the drama in chick lit always brings the laughs.

I write mainly for a female audience–women like me who have normal lives and problems and need to read the literary equivalent of a hot fudge sundae. But my audience is much bigger than that, a lovely discovery that came from my husband’s co-worker. She’d bought Whipped, Not Beaten for her mother, who brought it on vacation to read. When the co-worker asked her mother how she liked the book, the mother replied, “I haven’t read it yet. Your father won’t put it down!” Here’s the deal: MEN like chick lit, too. They like it for all of the same reasons: it’s relatable, plot-driven and funny. They like the happy endings, when each character gets their just desserts, ala Jane Austen. Many of my biggest fans are men, something I never would have expected, but it stands to reason because chick lit truly is good lit.
Author Bio

Melissa Westemeier teaches high school English, tends a huge garden, raises three sons and writes. Her published novels include: Whipped, Not Beaten, Kicks Like a Girl, and Across the River.  Coming out in April is the sequel, On the River. Westemeier leads workshops about writing humor, using Wisconsin as a setting.

Her next appearances will be at the Green Bay’s Book and the Author Festival UntitledTown, April 19-22


In Search of Authenticity by D.J. Niko                                                                                                                  

In Search of Authenticity

                                                                                                                                             by D.J. Niko


In writing believable fiction, research is imperative. Everyone knows that. But how far should an author go to delight her readers by making scenes plausible and characters authentic? I’ve always believed that firsthand research is best, even if it comes with a high degree of adventure (or, as is often the case, misadventure), so I try to visit the places I write about (yes, even the remote ones), get to know people of the cultures represented in my pages, and maybe put myself in some unusual situations, just to see what happens. No risk, no reward—right?

As an example, I’d like to share a story about a personal experience that informed one of the scenes in the first novel of The Sarah Weston Chronicles, my series of archaeological thrillers: The Tenth Saint.

In Chapter 7, Gabriel warns the Bedouins about an imminent sandstorm. As a Western man and a scientist, Gabriel knows with mathematical accuracy the storm is coming. The Bedouins do not listen to him, instead pressing toward the oasis so they do not miss their turn in the fertile lands. Sure enough, the storm comes, wiping out the Bedouins’ caravan and brutally claiming lives.

Describing this sandstorm in an authentic, realistic manner came naturally to me, because I had experienced it firsthand. I was with four friends in the Moroccan Sahara, near the Mali border. We had been traveling on camelback for about a week, heading toward an oasis to replenish supplies.

Just before dusk, we saw the cloud approach from the south and knew we were in for a long night. Typical Westerners, we covered our backpacks and camera gear in blankets so that sand would not get in. We had no tents, and there was no cover anywhere in sight, so we built perimeter fences from bed linens, holding the contraption down with sand bags. We were industrious. We were resourceful.

We were scared.

Meanwhile, our Berber camel drivers were calm as could be. Without breaking a sweat, they built a fire and boiled some murky water we’d collected earlier from a sand depression. They made tea and cooked some noodles. I shook my head. Who could think of food at a time like this?

The nomads were unruffled because they knew there was nothing they could do in the face of such fury. They couldn’t stop it; they couldn’t hide from it. So they went on with life. Whatever would come, would come, tea or no tea.

The sandstorm did come, and it battered our camp from sundown until four in the morning. It was the longest eight hours of my life. I still recall the constant grit of sand between my teeth and the violent stinging of my eyes as I lay there, in the fetal position in total darkness, waiting for the hissing to stop, hoping we would not be buried alive.

At dawn, as the shreds of our perimeter fence whipped in an errant breeze, we surveyed the damage. We shook pounds of sand off ourselves and searched for our belongings, which had been scattered by the wind. I recall inscribing “LIFE” with my fingernail on my sand-caked arm, in the same way you’d write “WASH ME” on a dirty car. But what I remember most vividly is Mohammed the Berber blowing into the belly of a meager fire, coaxing some flames, as if nothing had happened.

I learned something that day, and it is summed up this way in The Tenth Saint: “The way of the nomad is to accept everything as it comes: there is no anticipation of better days, no longing for the unrequited, no despair for loss.”

For my next book, the fourth Sarah Weston adventure, I have traveled to Morocco and the American Southwest, looking for the genuine soul of these places. Stay tuned for more on that release!

Daphne Nikolopoulos in an award-winning journalist, novelist, lecturer, and writing instructor. Under the pen name D.J. Niko, she has written three novels in an archaeological thriller series titled The Sarah Weston Chronicles and a historical novel titled: The Judgment (Medallion Press, 2016). Her debut novel, The Tenth Saint (Medallion Press, 2012), won the Gold Medal (popular fiction) in the prestigious, juried Florida Book Awards. The Judgment won a national Bronze Medal in historical fiction in the IPPY Awards 2017 and first place in historical fiction (pre-published) in the Royal Palm Literary Awards.

All four books have been translated and published internationally, and The Tenth Saint has been an Amazon best-seller in Germany. Daphne has just completed book 4 in the Sarah Weston series, tentatively titled Firebird.

Find D.J. Niko on FacebookTwitter, and

The Tenth Saint on Amazon


Hanging the Swags:The Art of Historical Fiction by Ruth Hull Chatlien

Hanging the Swags:The Art of Historical Fiction

                                                by Ruth Hull Chatlien

One of my favorite analogies for writing historical fiction is “hanging the swags.” My first two novels are both based on the lives of real woman. The first, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte, is about Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, the American beauty who married Napoleon’s youngest brother and became embroiled in conflict with the emperor because of it. Her life is extremely well documented. The Maryland Historical Society has something like eighteen boxes of letters, account books, and newspaper clippings related to her life.

My second novel, Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale, is based on the captivity narrative written by Sarah Wakefield, recounting her time as a prisoner during the bloody Dakota War of 1862, which took place in southern Minnesota. In her case, I had her own words on which to base my narrative.

For both women, however, there are plenty of things that historians just don’t know. No one’s life is perfectly recorded for posterity. This is where my analogy of hanging the swags comes into play. I think of the known events of my characters’ lives as metal brackets extending at irregular intervals along a wall. They are solid and dependable, but they often look rather sparse. As a novelist, my job is to fill in the gaps between those brackets with luxurious fabric, draped from known event to known event, filling in the blank spots of the story with imagined episodes and dialogues to flesh out the people I’m writing about.

As a historical novelist, I can’t just weave these episodes out of thin air. Rather, I must pull together threads of research and use them for the warp and weft of my storyteller’s fabric. Let me give you a couple of illustrations of this.

About a year after Jerome and Betsy Bonaparte’s marriage, they took a trip to Niagara Falls. Niagara was not the tourist attraction it is today. It was located in what was still wilderness. No settlements existed near the falls, so to traveling there, people had to be willing to rough it. The Bonapartes learned from Aaron Burr that his daughter Theodosia and her husband took a honeymoon journey to Niagara, the first couple known to do so. Jerome decided he had to see the falls for himself. From what I’ve been read, for the rest of her life Betsy viewed that trip as a wonderful adventure, but she left no written descriptions of it—at least none that survived. To tell that part of her story, I had to read the account of an explorer who traveled to the falls a few years before the Bonapartes. From his narrative, I was able to glean the kind of vivid details I needed to make Betsy’s journey come to life. For instance, I learned to my surprise that in the early 1800s, rattlesnakes could be found in upstate New York, so I made certain to put that detail in the story.

Sarah Wakefield’s written account of her captivity among the Sioux is a very short book that summarizes much of Sarah’s experience rather than elaborating on it. She states that she adopted Indian dress and customs to survive the war, but she doesn’t give many specific examples of what that means. One thing I did know about Sarah was that she was a seamstress who loved sewing and fashion. I decided to use this personality trait to develop her character. One reason Sarah and her children survived the war was that a Dakota acquaintance named Chaska took her into his mother’s tepee to make sure that she would be safe until the conflict was over. About halfway through her captivity, I portray Sarah as making Chaska a pair of beaded moccasins in gratitude for his protection. I don’t know that Sarah did any such thing, but because it was an action that combined her love of sewing with her survival tactic of assimilating, I thought it was an appropriate fictional episode to include.

Next time you read historical fiction, ask yourself where the author might have embellished the known facts with fictional flourishes. I’m certain that you’ll discover I’m not the only writer who practices hanging the swags.



Author Bio:

Ruth Hull Chatlien has been a writer and editor of educational materials for nearly thirty years, specializing in U.S. and world history. She is the author of MODERN AMERICAN INDIAN LEADERS for middle-grade readers. Her award-winning first novel, THE AMBITIOUS MADAME BONAPARTE, portrays the tumultuous life of Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson Bonaparte, and BLOOD MOON: A CAPTIVE’S TALE is based on the captivity narrative of Sarah Wakefield. Ruth lives in northeastern Illinois with her husband, Michael. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found gardening, knitting, drawing, painting, or studying Swedish.

Amazon author page:

Facebook page:

Twitter: @RHCHatlien


Writing a Horse-Themed Novel by Emily Williams

Guest post by Emily Williams –

Writing a horse themed novel
– a dream since childhood pony books?

Horses have been my life for a very long time, as has reading novels. My earliest memories were sitting on the Shetland pony that lived behind my childhood home on the Isle of Wight when I was around four years old. My Dad had started to make up pony stories to tell us, which my sister and I loved and I’d developed an interest in the pony. Then, trips through the New Forest (despite being kicked) to see the wild ponies ignited my passion for equines even more. Ponies and pony stories have always been a part of my life since these early years.

When we moved to Shropshire, there were again ponies behind the house, in a meadow at the bottom of the garden. I wrote to the pony’s owners but, sadly, she didn’t want any help with them. I then, around age ten, started visiting a local Victorian farm museum and became a regular. Soon, I knew the family that owned the farm well and was given tasks to help out with day to day running of the farm animals. I was also able to ride their Shetland pony, Neddy. Around this time I had a passion for reading anything horse related, from non-fiction horse manuals to billions upon billions of pony novels. Saddle Club and the Jinny series by Patricia Leitch were particular favourites.


This love for horses continued over the years, and I began to help with the farm’s shire horses and rode another pony, a piebald cob, as I’d grown too tall for Neddy. By the time I reached my teens, I was desperate for my own pony and started saving. My love for horse novels continued, however, I ran out of new books to read that were age-related. The horse whisperer became a book I read until it turned dog-eared!

When we moved down to Worthing, we again had ponies next to the house! It seemed like fate but also quite bizarre to find in the garden of an end terrace townhouse. I offered to help care for the miniature Shetland ponies before, thankfully, the owners re-homed them to somewhere more suitable.

It wasn’t until I was twenty-one that I finally bought my horse, a beautiful red bay American Quarter Horse mare Profits Red Ridge, aka Bella. She is now retired and has a Welsh Mountain pony Lucy, for company. I am unfortunately unable to ride due to an accident that caused wrist and arm problems, which later has developed into rheumatoid arthritis. Luckily, dictation software aided the completion of the novel.


Bella was the inspiration for the racehorse in the novel, also called Profits Red Ridge but what the teenagers affectionately named Minty, due to his love of mints. As an adult, I still miss reading novels about horses and I am open to any recommendations about good ones you find out there! Writing Rafferty Lincoln Loves… filled that void for me. I hope you’ll enjoy my novel too.


The blurb of Rafferty Lincoln Loves…

Rafferty Lincoln doesn’t like horses. Not one bit. But when the popular high school girl of his dreams, Liberty Ashburn, pulls him into a world of lead ropes and horse brushes, who is he to say no?

Except this isn’t any old horse. This is the missing racehorse, Profits Red Ridge. The horse Rafferty and three of his friends are hiding from the world. And Liberty Ashburn isn’t just any ordinary high school girl. How far will Rafferty go to win her over?

An intense, witty and powerful coming of age story with startling consequences.

Advanced reviews of ‘Rafferty Lincoln Loves…’

‘A heart-warming and emotional story that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page. With one of the most beautiful writing styles I’ve ever read, an emotionally charged story and brilliantly created characters – this book is sure to stay with you for a very long time.’ @MegsTyas Between the Pages

‘A story full of heart, this took me by the reins and left me breathless.’ @hayleylipsquid Lipsquid Bookblog

About the charity ‘The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre’


The proceeds from the novel ‘Rafferty Lincoln Loves…’ will be donated to The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre.

BTRC is dedicated to improving and promoting the welfare of retired racehorses through education, retraining and suitable rehoming in order to ensure that our Thoroughbreds have a rewarding and valuable life after their racing careers have ended.

Each year thousands of horses leave racing, some because they reach the natural end of their career and others through injury or lack of ability. Established in 1991, The British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre was the UK’s first charity dedicated to ex-racehorse welfare, retraining, rehoming and protection for life.

‘It is fantastic to see a contemporary novel for young adults embracing passion and love for horses, as well as advocating for their welfare. Emily’s fast-paced novel not only explores the relationship and incredible bond between horse and rider but also delves into darker aspects relevant to today’s challenging world of growing up. Rafferty Lincoln Loves… deserves to be celebrated for bringing an important cause to the forefront of today’s young adults.’ Frankie Dettori MBE

I am thrilled to have written this novel for the BTRC and to be donating the proceeds to such an important and dedicated charity for the welfare of retired racehorses.’ Emily Williams

Author Bio

Emily Williams lives by the seaside in West Sussex with her family and a menagerie of small pets. After graduating from Sussex University with a BA in Psychology, Emily trained as a primary school teacher and teaches in a local school.

Rafferty Lincoln Loves… is her first YA novel after the success of her debut adult novel, Letters to Eloise, released in 2017.


« Older posts

© 2018

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑