Wednesday, January 17, 2018

What can waitressing teach a writer?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Abby Bardi to my blog. She's touring the internet with her novel Double Take. But Abby wasn't always an author... Read on to find out more, and read to the end of the post to read an excerpt from her book. Over to you Abby, and thank you for visiting my blog!

Six Things Waitressing Taught Me about Writing

In my latest novel Double Take, recent college graduate Rachel Cochrane is a waitress at a restaurant where she runs into an old friend who forces her to confront their shared mysterious past. You may be wondering, why would someone work as a waitress after earning a college degree? Two reasons: (1) Rachel has no common sense, and (2) Rachel is a lot like I was at her age, and that’s what I did.

It seems obvious that waiting tables is not the career goal for most college grads, even those in the liberal arts, but like Rachel, I loved being a waitress. I loved working in a clean (mostly), well-lighted place, serving food to interesting people I probably wouldn’t have met in another line of work. And when I look back on it, I can see that waitressing taught me a lot about writing.

Here are some things I learned:

1: Never cross a room without carrying something. A waitress has to make multiple trips between the tables and the kitchen, and you learn to always take something with you—menus, dirty dishes, clean napkins, whatever. This practice taught me the value of making every action count, not wasting time or energy, something that’s helpful to a writer: if you only have ten minutes to spare, do a little writing, even if it’s just a copy edit.

2: It’s important to multi-task. As a waitress, you have to know who ordered what, who needs more coffee, when people want the check. Similarly, writers often work on multiple projects at once, and it’s crucial to be able to keep track of all the threads.

3: Be aware of nonverbal cues. Being a waitress teaches you to read people. How do you know when they want their check? Their eyes follow you and they make twitching motions with their hands. Having an awareness of body language and facial expressions is helpful to a writer, and can also keep you from getting mugged on the subway (this happened to me once).

4. Respect the process. Food service, like writing, occurs in stages. It’s important to observe all the rituals: handing people menus, giving them some time to think, and returning at just the right moment to see what they want. You need to present their meal in a timely fashion, check on them, and clear their plates when they finish. You can’t rush this! Obviously, writing is like this, too.

5. Always wear sensible shoes.

6. Listen to people. In Double Take, Rachel’s restaurant experiences thrust her into a world very different from her sheltered college life. Some of the people she meets are doing cameos from my own waitress days: the guy with the mournful eyes who always ordered Jell-o; the fat man with his name on his pocket who spun a shiny quarter every day and said, “Double or nothing”; the waitress named Tee who had at least two other jobs; the waitress from Tunisia who spoke no English; the guy everyone loved who was beaten to death in a road-rage incident; the plumber whose son practiced telekinesis. More than anything else, waitressing teaches you that everyone is interesting and everyone has a story. 

And that's a wise lesson to learn, for authors and for everyone else. I'm looking forward to reading your book sometime and learning more about Rachel.


Title: Double Take
Author: Abby Bardi
Publisher: Harper Collins Impulse
Pages: 186
Genre: Mystery/Women’s Fiction

Set in Chicago, 1975, Double Take is the story of artsy Rachel Cochrane, who returns from college with no job and confronts the recent death of Bando, one of her best friends. When she runs into Joey, a mutual friend, their conversations take them back into their shared past and to the revelation that Bando may have been murdered. To find out who murdered him, Rachel is forced to revisit her stormy 1960s adolescence, a journey that brings her into contact with her old friends, her old self, and danger.


Amazon | Barnes & Noble


Abby Bardi is the author of the novels The Book of FredThe Secret Letters, and Double Take. Her short fiction has appeared in Quarterly WestRosebudMonkeybicycle, and in the anthologies High Infidelity, Grace and Gravity, and Reader, I Murdered Him, and her short story “Abu the Water Carrier” was the winner of The Bellingham Review’s 2016 Tobias Wolff award for fiction. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Maryland and teaches writing and literature in the Washington, DC, area. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, the oldest railroad depot in America.



Book Excerpt:

I recognized his voice from across the room. When I handed him a menu, he looked up absent-mindedly and went on talking to some guys, then did a double take.
“Cookie?” he said.
I tried on the name like an old article of clothing to see if it still fit. It felt like a suede fringed jacket. “Yep,” I said.
“Wow. You look so different.”
“I cut my hair.”
“Everyone did.”
“I’m older,” I said.
“Everyone’s older.”
“You look exactly the same,” I said. He was wearing a beat-up leather jacket over a green T-shirt, maybe the same jacket and T-shirt he had always worn. His thick black hair was shorter now and curly, skin still tan from summer, small mouth with perfect teeth. He still looked tough and handsome, but in a creepy way, like someone you couldn’t trust.
“Cookie, what the hell are you doing here?”
“I work here. I’d rather you didn’t call me that. My name is Rachel.”
“I thought your name was Cookie.”
“Nope. Do people still call you Rat?”
He laughed. “Nowadays I go by Joey.”
“Okay, Joey,” I said, since this was nowadays.
“Miss?” a voice called from a nearby table. The voice brought me back to where I was standing, in Diana’s Grotto, a Greek diner on 57th Street, with ten tables full of customers. For a moment, I had thought I was in Casa Sanchez.
It took me a while to make it back to Joey’s table. A divinity student had found a fly in his milkshake, and it wouldn’t have taken so long if I hadn’t made the mistake of saying, “So, how much can a fly drink?” Like most academics, this guy had no sense of humor and gave me a lecture on hygiene. It was amazing that knowing as much about hygiene as he seemed to, he would continue to eat at Diana’s Grotto. By the time I got back to Joey’s table, the men he had been sitting with were gone. Off-duty police, from the looks of them, I thought, or plain-clothes. We got a lot of cops in Diana’s; they slumped on stools at the counter with their guns hanging from their belts, sucking down free coffee. Back in the sixties, the sight of their blue leather jackets had always made me nervous, like I’d committed some crime I’d forgotten about.
“So why are you working here?” Joey asked. “I thought you were a college girl. A co-ed.” He flashed his white teeth. “I don’t mean to be nosy.”
“The problem with college is they make you leave when you finish.”
“And here I thought it was a permanent gig.”
“But why aren’t you doing something a little more—”
“Collegiate? Don’t ask.” I slid into the booth next to him. From across the room, Nicky, the maître d’, shot me a poisonous glance. I ignored him. “I like it here.” I smiled a crazy little smile.
“Hey, different strokes.” His eyes swept the room, resting on a mural of a white windmill on an island in the Aegean. The windmill’s blades were crooked. I remembered this eye-sweep from Casa Sanchez, where he had always sat facing the door so he could constantly scan the whole restaurant. His eyes returned to me. “Didn’t I hear a rumor you were supposed to be getting married? Some guy in California?”
“Just a rumor. Glad to hear the grapevine still works.”
I felt someone hiss into my ear. Nicky had slunk up behind me. He looked like a garden gnome in a plaid jacket and baggy pants, reeking of aftershave that had tried and failed. “Rose!” he snapped. He never called anyone by their right name. “What’s in a name?” I always murmured.
“Be right with you.” I gave him what I hoped was a reassuring smile.
“This is a classy place,” Joey said as Nicky ambled away.
“He’s the owner’s brother-in-law.”
“There is no Diana. She’s a mythological figure.”
“Like Hendrix?”
“Kind of.”
“Hey, you want to have a drink after work?”
“Actually, I don’t drink any more.”
“You want to come watch me drink? What time do you get off?”
“Nine thirty. You could come help me fill the ketchups.”
“You know, take the empty Heinz bottles and pour cheap generic ketchup in them.”
“Sounds like fun, but why don’t you meet me at Bert’s? Back room?”
I thought for a moment. This did not seem like a good idea, but I didn’t care. “Okay, why not. So, can I get you anything?”
“Just coffee.”
“You want a side of taramasalata with it? It’s made from fish roe.”
“I’ll pass, thanks.”
When I brought him his coffee, he said, “You’re still a hell of a waitress, Cookie.”
“You’re still a hell of a waitress, Rachel.”
“Thanks,” I said.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Is it Time to Pursue your Passion?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Pamela Samuels Young to my blog. She's touring the internet with her addictive courtroom drama, Abuse of Discretion, and she's here to talk about writing, writing with passion, and how to find and use your passion... for good! Thank you so much for stopping by, and over to you Pamela

It’s Time to Pursue Your Passion

By Pamela Samuels Young

During the years that I moonlighted as a mystery writer while practicing law, people often marveled at my drive. Many of them also had a passion, but had ready excuses for not pursuing it:

I just don’t have the time.

I’m not as disciplined as you are.

I’ll do it after my kids graduate.

Whatever your excuses are, put them aside and just get started. To my surprise, trying to write a novel turned out to be far more challenging than practicing law. But I stuck with it and published my first novel a month before my 48th birthday.  It meant years of getting up at 4 a.m. to write before work, writing after work, on weekends, in airports, in hotels. Wherever and whenever I could find the time. Today, I’m a full-time writer with ten books to my credit. In 2017, I released two books, Abuse of Discretion, about a troubling teen sexting case, and Unlawful Desires, my first erotic romance written under the pen name Sassy Sinclair. It was a long journey, but well worth the trip.

Do you have a passion? Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Find Time Where You Least Expect It.
Instead of listening to music during your morning commute, listen to an audiobook related to your passion. Cut back on TV and socializing and use that time to pursue your passion. Run off to the library or a nearby Starbucks for some passion-planning time. Even if it’s only an hour a week, use it!

2. Master Your Craft.
I meet so many people who are passionate about their business idea, but haven’t put in the hard work to make sure they have a great product or service. Put your ego aside and find people you trust who can give you constructive feedback. YouTube and the Internet have great free resources and you can also take inexpensive online courses on websites like

3. Join Professional Organizations.
There are hundreds of professional organizations whose sole function is to help their members develop their talents and realize their goals. I belong to Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the Author’s Guild, and Romance Writers of America. Even if you can’t make the meetings, most organizations have excellent newsletters and online resources to help you further your goals.

4. Ignore the Naysayers.
Many caring people urged me not to give up my day job. It’s too hard to make money as a novelist, they warned me. Thank God, I ignored them. I also ignored the nine publishing houses that rejected my work. How sweet it felt years later when a couple of those same publishers came after me. Be patient. If you have a passion, stick with it. Things may not happen overnight, but they will happen. I’m a testimony!

And what a testimony. Thank you so much Pamela. I rather think I needed to read this!

Pamela Samuels Young has always abided by the philosophy that you create the change you want to see. She set giant-sized goals and used her talent, tenacity and positive outlook to accomplish them. Pamela consequently achieved success in both the corporate arena and literary world simultaneously.
An author, attorney and motivational speaker, Pamela spent fifteen years as Managing Counsel for Toyota, specializing in labor and employment law. While still practicing law, Pamela began moonlighting as a mystery writer because of the absence of women and people of color depicted in the legal thrillers she read. She is now an award-winning author of multiple legal thrillers, including Anybody’s Daughter, which won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Fiction, and her new release, Abuse of Discretion, a shocking look at the juvenile justice system in the context of a troubling teen sexting case.
Prior to her legal career, spent several years as a television news writer and associate producer. She received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from USC and earned a master’s degree in broadcasting from Northwestern University and a law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law. She is a frequent speaker on the topics of teen sexting, child sex trafficking, self-empowerment and fiction writing.



Abuse of Discretion, by Pamela Samuels Young, Mystery, Goldman House Publishing,352 pp., $3.99 (Kindle Edition)

A Kid’s Curiosity … A Parent’s Nightmare

The award-winning author of "Anybody’s Daughter" is back with an addictive courtroom drama that gives readers a shocking look inside the juvenile criminal justice system.

Graylin Alexander is a model fourteen-year-old. When his adolescent curiosity gets the best of him, Graylin finds himself embroiled in a sexting scandal that threatens to ruin his life. Jenny Ungerman, the attorney hired to defend Graylin, is smart, confident and committed. She isn’t thrilled, however, when ex-prosecutor Angela Evans joins Graylin’s defense team. The two women instantly butt heads. Can they put aside their differences long enough to ensure Graylin gets justice?

Unbeknownst to Angela, her boyfriend Dre is wrestling with his own drama. Someone from his past wants him dead. For Dre, his response is simple—kill or be killed.

“What’s the matter, Mrs. Singletary? Why do I have to go to the principal’s office?”
I’m walking side-by-side down the hallway with my second-period teacher. Students are huddled together staring and pointing at us like we’re zoo animals. When a teacher at Marcus Preparatory Academy escorts you to the principal’s office, it’s a big deal. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I’m a good student. I never get in trouble.
Mrs. Singletary won’t answer my questions or even look at me. I hope she knows she’s only making me more nervous.
“Mrs. Singletary, please tell me what’s wrong?”
“Just follow me. You’ll find out in a minute.”
I’m about to ask her another question when it hits me. Something happened to my mama!
My mama has been on and off drugs for as long as I can remember. I haven’t seen her in months and I don’t even know where she lives. No one does. I act like it doesn’t bother me, but it does. I’ve prayed to God a million times to get her off drugs. Even though my granny says God answers prayers, He hasn’t answered mine, so I stopped asking.
I jump in front of my teacher, forcing her to stop. “Was there a death in my family, Mrs. Singletary? Did something happen to my mama?”
“No, there wasn’t a death.”
She swerves around me and keeps going. I have to take giant steps to keep up with her.
Once we’re inside the main office, Mrs. Singletary points at a wooden chair outside Principal Keller’s office. “Have a seat and don’t move.”
She goes into the principal’s office and closes the door. My head begins to throb like somebody’s banging on it from the inside. I close my eyes and try to calm down. I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s probably just—Oh snap! The picture!
I slide down in the chair and pull my iPhone from my right pocket. My hands are trembling so bad I have to concentrate to keep from dropping it. I open the photos app and delete the last picture on my camera roll. If anyone saw that picture, I’d be screwed.
Loud voices seep through the closed door. I lean forward, straining to hear. It almost sounds like Mrs. Singletary and Principal Keller are arguing.

“It’s only an allegation. We don’t even know if it’s true.”
“I don’t care. We have to follow protocol.”
“Can’t you at least check his phone first?”
“I’m not putting myself in the middle of this mess. I've already made the call.”

The call? I can’t believe Principal Keller called my dad without even giving me a chance to defend myself. How’d she even find out about the picture?  
The door swings open and I almost jump out of my skin. The principal crooks her finger at me. “Come in here, son.”
Trudging into her office, I sit down on a red cloth chair that’s way more comfortable than the hard one outside. My heart is beating so fast it feels like it might jump out of my chest.
The only time I’ve ever been in Principal Keller’s office was the day my dad enrolled me in school. Mrs. Singletary is standing in front of the principal’s desk with her arms folded. I hope she’s going to stay here with me, but a second later, she walks out and closes the door.
Principal Keller sits on the edge of her desk, looking down at me. “Graylin, do you have any inappropriate pictures on your cell phone?”
“Huh?” I try to keep a straight face. “No, ma’am.”
“It’s been brought to my attention that you have an inappropriate picture—a naked picture—of Kennedy Carlyle on your phone. Is that true?”
“No…uh…No, ma’am.” Thank God I deleted it!
“This is a very serious matter, young man. So, I need you to tell me the truth.”
“No, ma’am.” I shake my head so hard my cheeks vibrate. “I don’t have anything like that on my phone.”
“I pray to God you’re telling me the truth.”
I don’t want to ask this next question, but I have to know. “Um, so you called my dad?”
“Yes, I did. He’s on his way down here now.”
I hug myself and start rocking back and forth. Even though I deleted the picture, my dad is still going to kill me for having to leave work in the middle of the day.
“I also made another call.”
At first I’m confused. Then I realize Mrs. Keller must’ve called my granny too. At least she’ll keep my dad from going ballistic.
“So you called my granny?”
“No.” The principal’s cheeks puff up like she’s about to blow something away. “I called the police.”


Thursday, January 11, 2018

From Flying Frogs to Beach Houses and Beyond - where will reading take your kids?

I've taken down the Christmas decorations, tidied away (most of) the cards, used up (most of) the leftovers, and hidden the extra chocolate on a top shelf. Now all that's left is to find my way back into real life--reading, writing and book reviews--catch up on cleaning and shopping (I've almost done that), and struggle to remember it's 2018.

I read a lot of children's books over Christmas--even got quite a few as presents--so I thought I'd start my reviewing year by posting reviews of them. Some, of course, should really have been reviewed before Christmas. But flying frogs won't mind... so perhaps I'll start with them. Find a suitable mug of coffee, wait a moment while I pour my own, then make your reading choice.

The Flying Frog and the Alzheimer Patient by David Yair is fifth in a series but stands alone well, and would be a perfect gift for a child whose grandparent is learning to forget. It's a sweet fun chapter book, simply illustrated, blending fantasy, adventure, and real life concerns. Enjoy this one with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

The Beach House Mystery by Tara Ellis is an exciting adventure involving brothers and sisters at the beach. Samantha and Ally are the main protagonists, making this a fun and encouraging story for girls. Thoroughly up-to-date with failing cellphone reception, but retaining the wholesome feel of old-fashioned mysteries, it's a relatively slow read with interesting facts, well-described locations (on the Olympic Peninsula), and a scary adventure. Enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

I came across The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer in a bookstore and was accosted by a small boy who told me "You have to read that." So I had to read it! The boy's mother assured me her daughter loved the series too, and now I know why. Not great literature. Not classic fairytale fodder. But fascinating, fun, with relatable misfit protagonists, honest emotions, and good timing with intriguing revelations. Yes, I definitely want to read more, and I'll enjoy them with some rich, complex four-star coffee.

Two story-and-poem collections for kids from the Writers' Mill are Zeus and Bo and Fred and Joe and Co, and Carl and June: Tales of Two. I have entries in both collections, so I'm not entirely sure I'm allowed to review, but I like the way the books collect together stories from different writers with different styles, ordering them to work together, and including poetry and illustrations with the stories. Enjoy these light quick reads with some light crisp one-star coffee.

Laughing Eyes by Haya Magner is a children's collection of poetry, containing just a few poems, each beautifully illustration in color-pencil style and with great expression. The poems read a little awkwardly to my ears, unfamiliar with the cadence of the accent I guess. But I really enjoyed the sense of real children's experiences, from long hair getting into your mouth (how well I remember that one) to the place where tears come and go. One to read over a mug of lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

My Bedtime – bedtime routines for toddlers by Amanda Hembrow is a picture book about a little boy who'd rather not go to bed. I wasn't sure about the author's advice that readers change the boy's name to fit their child, but then, I'm kind of geared toward wanting children to read along with me. I learned a few new excuses for not sleeping from this book, but I enjoyed the gradual working toward closing eyes, and I imagine it would be a good bedtime read with small children. Enjoy this lively tale with some lively two-star coffee.

Edward Dron's The Pillow Parade takes a different approach to bedtime. A gorgeously illustrated picture-book, full of humor and delight, this is one I can imagine small children asking to look at night after night. Frowny sheep are waiting to be counted. A big-eared rabbit wants to try. And it's just lyrical, beautiful fun. Enjoy the well-balanced words with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

And finally, after counting sheep and rabbits, there's a book about a penguin. PI Penguin and the case of the Christmas Lights by Bec J Smith is one I really should have read and reviewed before Christmas. It has a cool message at the end, as a lonely penguin meets his neighbors and ponder why their Christmas lights seem so much more enticing than his own. Enjoy with some bright lively two-star coffee, and keep it in mind for next Christmas.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Do you Pinterest?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Jane Goodman to my blog. She's touring the internet with her romantic suspense novel, Secret Baby, Second Chance. And today she's inviting us into the world of Pinterest... Pinterest? Find out more about Jane and her novel at the end of this post, but first...

Over to you Jane, and thank you for visiting my blog.

My Life. One Story at a Time.

Pinterest as Inspiration for my Writing

I have to confess my love of Pinterest. You might call it an obsession. I have boards for just about everything. Recipes, planning my new kitchen, games to play with my two-year-old grandson, artwork I like. You name it, I’ll pin it.
So, naturally, I also use Pinterest to support my writing. I’m not a natural planner, so my writing boards are definitely about inspiration rather than a blueprint for each book.
There is something special about starting a new Pinterest board for a new book. I may have an idea for what the characters will look like, but that initial search can send me off on a different track. And the area in which I find Pinterest most useful is settings. The old house, the snow-capped mountains, the eerie lake. It’s so useful to have that online scrapbook in which to keep all those ideas in one place.
Secret Baby, Second Chance is the third book in the Sons of Stillwater series (there are more to come). It’s a romantic suspense story.
Vincente is the third Delaney brother I’ve written about. He’s the bad boy of the family. Half-Italian, volatile, brooding, he’s never quite fitted into the small Wyoming town of Stillwater. The only person he ever felt understood him was his girlfriend, Beth Wade. When she disappeared, everyone believed she was another victim of the Red Rose killer.
The story starts when Vincente discovers that, not only is Beth alive, she has been keeping a very important secret from him…
The Pinterest board for this story ( helped me piece together the story. More importantly, it was about defining the relationships within the book.
Although Vincente and Beth had been separated, theirs was a tender love story and finding the images to convey that was important to me. Another key part of the story was Vincente’s growing love for his daughter. There is also a dramatic sense of danger linked to the backdrop of the Wyoming mountains and Beth’s past as a climber.
I’m a visual person. Perhaps that’s why Pinterest works for me. Whatever the reason, I find it a source of inspiration and entertainment. I also enjoy sharing the journey of my Pinterest planning with my readers.
I hope you drop by and follow me, so you can see what I’m working on next.  

Wow! I would never have thought of using Pinterest that way. I suspect it might help with my writing too, or at least with keeping clear how each of the characters should appear. I'm heading over now to view your page. Meanwhile, dear readers, don't forget to read on and learn about jane Goodman's newest novel too. And thank you so much for visiting here, Jane.

Author: Jane Godman
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 288
Genre: Romantic Suspense


She’s alive! Vincente Delaney has finally found his girlfriend, Beth Wade, who disappeared a year and a half ago, alive. But he’s shocked to discover someone with her: their child, a little girl he never knew about! Once upon a time, lone wolf Vincente never expected forever with Beth, but now he must put everything on the line to protect her and their family.
Beth was forced to leave Vincente to protect everything she held dear. But now the threat to her loved ones’ lives has reared its ugly head again. As danger approaches, she and Vincente must delve into her past to cast out the darkness jeopardizing their future.


Amazon | Barnes & Noble


JANE GODMAN worked in a variety of shops, bars, and offices before settling into a career as a teacher. She was born in Scotland and has lived in Germany, Wales, Malta, South Africa, and England. Home is now the Wirral, a beautiful English peninsula situated between Wales and Liverpool.   
Jane still gets the urge to travel, although these days she tends to head for a Spanish beach, or a European city that is steeped in history. Venice, Dubrovnik, and Vienna are among her favorites. 
When Jane isn’t reading or writing romance, she enjoys cooking and spending time with her family. She is married to a lovely man, has two grown up children and has recently discovered the joy of becoming a grandparent. 

Jane writes paranormal romance for Harlequin Nocturne and SMP Romance, thrillers for Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and self-publishes her steamy historical and gothic stories. 
Her latest book is the romantic suspense, Secret Baby, Second Chance.



Book Excerpt:

As he approached, he sized up the building. Nothing about it made him think of Beth. It had a slightly neglected air, as if the owner didn’t have the time, energy or money to spend on it. He contrasted that with the Stillwater house she had lived in. That had been as neat as wax. Being organized seemed to come effortlessly to Beth, spilling over into how she dressed, her surroundings and how she dealt with other people. Vincente wondered, not for the first time, if the reason she had struggled with their relationship was because she couldn’t neatly package up her feelings for him. When they were together there was no controlling what they felt. It had always been raw, primal…and incredible.
The thought spurred his feet up the front step. His heart was pounding so loud it almost drowned out the sound of his knock on the door. Prepared for disappointment, his nerves—already under intense pressure—were ratcheted up to crisis level when he heard a voice calling out.

“Did you forget something, Detective ?” It wasn’t just any voice. It was Beth’s voice.

He wondered how she would react if she checked who it was through the peephole in the door. Her words indicated she thought Laurie had come back again and he heard a key turn in the lock immediately after she spoke.

The door swung open and the smile on her lips faded. As she gazed at him in shock, Vincente took a moment to drink in her appearance. Her hair was shorter, just reaching her shoulders now instead of the waist-length mass in which he had loved to bury his hands. It was scraped back into an unflattering ponytail. She looked thinner. And tired, definitely tired. Almost to the point of exhaustion. But maybe the reason for that was sitting on her hip.

The baby wore pink sweatpants and a T shirt with butterflies embroidered all over. Not quite a toddler, she was a perfect little girl. Her black hair clustered in a halo of curls around her head and she studied Vincente with eyes that were huge, dark and framed by thick, spiky lashes. The hint of olive to her skin and the full ruby lips were additional confirmation of his first suspicion. It was like looking in a mirror .

Vincente almost took a step back in shock as he gazed at his daughter.

Book Trailer:


Saturday, December 23, 2017

What's your secret?

Today I get to find out the secret which inspired that fun children's book, Mamá Graciela’s Secret by Mayra Calvani. Hurray! It's a lovely picture book with mouthwatering foods, gorgeous scenery, and cats! You can find my review of Mamá Graciela’s Secret here, and learn more about Mamá Graciela’s Secret at my earlier blogpost. But now, meet the author, and learn her real secret...

The Inspiration behind ‘Mamá Graciela’s Secret’By Mayra Calvani

All my books have a special place in my heart, but my latest children’s picture book, Mamá Graciela’s Secret, has an even more special place. This is because it was inspired by my paternal grandmother, also named Graciela.

Mamá Graciela was a very sweet, generous, selfless person. And a passionate dog lover. She rescued many dogs not from shelters but right from the streets and at one point had like 30 dogs living under her roof. She just couldn’t stand the idea of an animal suffering the harsh life of the streets. When she saw a stray dog, she had to help. Her husband wasn’t as much a dog lover as she was but he never got in the way of her helping the dogs, which was nice.

My grandparents also had a small restaurant by the beach called La Bahía (just like in the book!) and my grandmother’s talent for making pollo frito (fried chicken) was kind of well-known in Ponce, the town in the southern coast of Puerto Rico where they lived. Initially my tale was about dogs and pollo frito, very close to the real story, but after I started the submission process, an agent told me the children’s market was saturated with dog books and she suggested I changed it to cats. So that’s what I did. This naturally led to bacalaítos fritos (codfish fritters) instead of pollo frito. It worked better because bacalaítos fritos are a traditional Puerto Rican snack, which added to the ethnic quality of the book.

Mamá Graciela also loved cats and, as I understand it, she fed them outside her home, but it was difficult and potentially dangerous to keep them indoors because of the dogs… So I knew I had to combine both critters at the end of the story. My grandmother died many years ago, but I could never forget her and her love for animals, so the idea simmered in my mind for over a decade before I was ready to put it down to paper. I’m very glad I did.

Oh wow! And now I know what bacalaítos fritos are! What a wonderful story, and I'm so glad you turned it into such a wonderful book. I guess I'm still wondering how there can be too many dog books, but I really love that you included cats and dogs on your final page. You cooked up something wonderful Mayra! Thank you for making my blog taste so nice.

Mamá Graciela’s Secret
Publication date: October 10, 2017
Written by Mayra Calvani
Illustrated by Sheila Fein
MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing
36 pages, 3-7 year olds
Reading guide at:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Why do they want us to write in just one genre? (And other questions)

I've read lots of Christopher McPherson's novels:

And I've enjoyed them all. So today I'm delighted to welcome him to my blog, where we can sit chatting over virtual coffee and virtual gluten-free cookies. Find a mug and a plate and sit with us.

Welcome Christopher!
Thank you for inviting me to participate in an interview for your blog!

My pleasure. When did you start writing stories?
When I was a child, I was sick with allergies and asthma. I spent a lot of time home by myself because my parents both worked. I read, and created make-believe worlds with various animal friends. Later, I started writing for my high-school newspaper. That led to a career as a journalist, writing for newspapers, magazines, radio and a little television. The natural progression from there was writing novels.

I remember when I had mumps as a child I made models of dinosaurs and built a world for them to enjoy their adventures. But that was long ago. What was your route to publication?
I started out the same way I think many novice writers do: submitting my novels to agents. I had a few bites early on, but they all suggested changes to the stories that just didn’t feel right to me. I finally decided to stick to my own words and publish myself.

I tried that same route. All the agents I spoke to wanted me to stick to one genre but then I'd have to stop writing in all the others. You write in several different genres too don't you. What influences your choices of what to write?
Yeh, I’ve often been criticized for not sticking to a single genre. I can’t help it. I love history, I love stories about people interacting with history. I’ve written a love story about World War Two, a novel about Paris in the 1920s, and a science-fiction novel about a planet whose biggest industry is making babies. I had the most fun with my five-novel series called “The James Murray Mysteries” which combined my interest in historic Los Angeles with so many of the influential events of the 1930s: prohibition, the Depression, fashionable department stores, early filmmaking, the rise of Nazi Germany, Hollywood personalities, and the start of women striving to stand alone without the need to be defined by the men in their lives.

I really love those books! I love your most recent book too, “22: The Biography of a Gun,” but it's unlike anything you’ve written before. How did that come about?
I was watching an Italian movie about a woman engaged in an illicit love affair. At the end of the film, she leaves the apartment of her lover and begins walking down the street. I thought how much more interesting the ending would have been had she been shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. At that moment, a novel was born. I decided to write a novel about a woman accidentally killed by a gun, and then follow the path that gun took as it went in and out of the lives of other people. Many of the stories are loosely based on real-life events, such as that news reporter killed on air by a disgruntled co-worker and the child who found a gun hidden behind a television set.

That gun is almost like another character in the novel. Are you a big fan of guns?
No. Absolutely no. I’m terrified of the mere thought of them. When I was doing research on this novel, I was talking to a police officer. He offered to take me to a shooting range and show me how to shoot. I declined. He offered to let me hold a gun and I refused. Writing “22: The Biography of a Gun” was some kind of catharsis for me, dealing with my terror of guns out in the wild.

When we were house-hunting we found a gun in a kitchen drawer. Like you, we neither of us wanted to touch it. So, changing the subject, your books have really great covers. How important do you think a good book cover is?
Thank you for your kind words. I must take a moment to thank my cover designer, my husband, Matt, who is a professional graphic designer. He’s been responsible for the covers to all 15 of my books, and started a side industry of eBook-cover designs for which he’s won a couple awards.

Congratulations Matt! Well-deserved awards.
The cover design is the most important element of the book, after the writing itself. As you know, a cover can make or break a book. Despite warnings to the contrary, people always judge a book by its cover. With thousands of books being published every day, there’s really no way around it. The best advice I can give an author about designing a cover is leave it to the professional. I discuss my ideas with Matt and let him go to it. He never fails to come up with something so much better than I could ever have imagined.

What about those dreaded back-cover blurbs? How hard are they to produce?
They are killer, aren’t they? I often spend hours writing and rewriting trying to distill an entire novel into a few hundred words. I’ve never been completely satisfied with the results, but you have to stop at some point and just publish, don’t you?

Indeed. Otherwise I wouldn't get to read your novels. What will you write next?
Oh, this is the fun part. I’m about a third of the way through my new novel about the very first cat in Japan in the 10th century. She has some amazing adventures to share with her readers. I’ve really enjoyed the research I’ve done on this one.

The first cat in Japan? I think I'm hooked already. Looking forward to it.
Thank you for (virtually) meeting with me. I've really enjoyed learning more about you and your books... and I really do love your books.


“22: The Biography of a Gun”

“Murder at Eastern Columbia,” the first James Murray Mystery

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Is it better to give up or to persevere?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Edward Dron, author of the lovely pillow-time picture-book, Pillow Parade. He's offered to let us know why he wrote this sweet tale of sheep and a rabbit--and a child who can't get to sleep.

Thank you for joining us Edward...

The Story behind The Pillow Parade

As a parent, you always want to pass on the things you’ve learned about life to your children. A big part of our role, as parents, is to help our kids navigate this tricky world. One thing I’ve noticed is how important it is to not give up - to persevere. There are a number of independent studies that back this up. Researchers have found that the number one predictor of success is grit. Basically, it’s the ability to get up after you’ve been knocked down.

You often hear stories of how successful authors, entrepreneurs, musicians, and actors faced an enormous amount of rejection, resistance, and frustration. They didn’t give up.  They persevered.  As Bill Bradley once said, “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in.”  It’s safe to say that at more than one point in every person's life they are going to face resistance.  It might be because of their gender. It might be because of their religion or ethnicity.  It might even be because of how they look.  This is often a very key moment in people’s lives. They can choose to give up or they can choose to persevere.

Olive, the main character in this book, has an unquestionable talent for jumping. Based on her skills, you would think that the sheep would be thrilled to have her join their Pillow Parade. Yet, she meets up with resistance. Why? She was born a bunny. This is a very key part of the book.  Olive had two options.  Luckily, to paraphrase Woody Hayes, she decided to paralyze resistance with persistence. She chose not to give up.

My hope is that this book will inspire kids to not give up during frustrating moments in their life.  For children, these moments might be about something as simple as having trouble zipping up their coat. As a parent, I love these little moments.  It’s a great opportunity to strengthen their character.  I’ve actually said a few times to my kids, “Would Olive pout or cry?” They usually smile and say no.  It acts as a nice reset.  An opportunity to regroup and rethink the challenge.

This question actually comes from one of my favorite parts of the book.  It happens right after the grumpy sheep tells Olive that she’s not allowed to join his sheep-only club.

Since this might not be the most fun topic to discuss, I tried not to be heavy-handed with the delivery.  That’s partly why I tell the story using lyrically playful rhymes. I want kids to enjoy it and laugh.  Although the key lesson is unquestionably there, it’s gentle in its delivery.  

Having read and loved the book, I can vouch for the fact that the delivery is indeed gentle, and the rhyming is lyrically playful and smooth. It's a very cool way to deliver an important message, and I love that Bill Bradley quote - maybe I should print it out and tape it to my computer. My vehicle has a habit of breaking down... but would Olive pout or cry?

Thank you for joining us Edward, and I hope lots of children sleep well after hearing this story, and wake up ready to work through the challenges placed in their way.

Find Ed at The Pillow Parade (and have fun - it's a very cool site!)