The Last Night of My Own Personal & Private Writer’s Retreat in the Wilds of PA

IMG_1183I went to the lake to say goodbye, as this is the last night of my personal and private writer’s retreat in the wilds of north-west Pennsylvania.


It’s been grand. I did a complete read through of my work-in-progress, DEADLY DESIGNS. And I wrote three new chapters. I also got a lot of pool time in. Walking is HUGE here and I did quite a bit of that too.IMG_1185



My daughter Alyssa got a shot of me in the pool.


Tomorrow we drive home. I’ll miss this time and this place.

Killer Titles

Your title either grabs the reader or it doesn’t. Readers are pretty savvy. They want the title to speak to them and intrigue them. Simply by the title, they want to know what type of novel they’re looking at. After all, we’re asking them to plunk down their hard earned cash to buy it.

So, the author has to know his/her stuff. First know the genre. Of course, I’m talking crime fiction titles. Still, that over-arching genre breaks down into: thrillers, murder mysteries, detective stories, suspense novels, romantic suspense, and cozies. If you’ve got a humorous cozy with a delightful grandma sleuth running around town catching thugs and murderers, the last thing you want is a super-serious title.

Back On Murder

If you write for a publishing company, the final word on the title will be the publisher’s. No matter how emotionally attached the author is to the working title, the publisher wants a title that’s a workhorse, a title that will sell the book. If you’re an indie author, you’ve got to choose that type of winning title.

I enjoy a clever title and think most readers do. It could have a double meaning, a play on words, or it could be a bit of a riddle. One title that grabbed me from the get-go and pulled me in is J. Mark Bertrand’s BACK ON MURDER. The story takes us into the world of a detective whose life fell apart after his daughter was killed by a drunk driver and he was bounced off the homicide squad. When the novel opens, he’s back on murder, but this is his last chance.

Without FailWhile devouring my key lime pie at an author’s luncheon not long ago, the speaker, a librarian, mentioned that if library goers like a book they took out, they will then purchase subsequent novels by that author. This is true of me. And usually it’s the title on the spine of the book that grabs my eye. If I like the book, I’ll want to read other stories by that author…and I don’t want to wait for the library to get them in. That happened to me with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. I’m a sucker for two-word titles. [All of my novels have two-word titles.] So, as I browsed the aisles at my local library branch, WITHOUT FAIL, number six in the series, seemed to leap off the shelf and into my hands. When I opened the book and read the first page, and I was hooked. I finished this thriller, returned it to the library, and starting with book number one, began ordering from Amazon.

You can google: How To Choose A Title and find articles that give you 5, 7, 10 tips to creating great fiction titles. Ultimately, you have to love your title. If you aren’t totally satisfied with it, it’s not the right title.

Why not have a fun day searching for terrific titles? The Grand Army Plaza Public Library (main branch in Brooklyn) has a gourmet snack bar. My local branch doesn’t, but they’ve let me bring in a container of tea. Barnes & Noble has Starbucks. Go to one of these, get your fav beverage and find a table. Then browse the mystery/thriller section. Look at the spines for novels of the type you write. Pick out ones that jump out at you (10 – 20 books). Bring them to your table…where you have a notebook handy. Enjoy your beverage while you study the titles. Take notes. Do these great titles have anything in common? Narrow it down to the five best. What makes them the best? Is there action and movement in the titles (verbs)? Do they promise something? Are they quirky, denoting humor? Does this fit your story?

Harmful Intent, Amazon SmWhen I chose the title: HARMFUL INTENT, for my recently released whounit, I hoped the title conveyed the promise of diabolical schemes, treachery, deceit…all good things in a murder mystery. And it passed my ultimate test. The title satisfied me, totally.



Taking Writing Courses — Yes, Do It!!!

Education, classroom

I started writing seriously for publication about six and half years ago. At that time, Harlequin had a free online writing course. I’m not sure if they still offer that course, but one of the smartest things I ever did was take that course. And I was fastidious about it. I took it very seriously and I learned a great deal. I still use a modified version of the character information sheet they offered.

Now online writing courses seem to be in every nook and cranny of the internet. They might be basic courses…a writer’s 101 type thing, or they might be on a very narrow and specific topic. In last several years I’ve taken a course on martial arts fighting techniques geared toward the crime fiction and action-adventure author. In addition I took and online course on historical forensics, as my Sanctuary Point mystery series is set in the 1940s. I took notes, asked questions, took notes, soaked up knowledge the instructor offered. Did I mention I took notes?

I did not use the course to try to slip in mention of my books slyly here and there. I did not try to impress the instructors with my vast knowledge as a multi-published author. If I knew so much, why was it necessary to take the course? Duh!

There are many good courses out there. For Christian authors American Christian Fiction Writers have some of the best. Romance Writers of America offers a wide variety of courses. Gotham Writers Workshop offers fantastic online writing courses for mystery writers. I’m sure there are many other groups offering courses. My local library offered a six-week writing course, and guess what? I took it. Had a lot of fun. Met some nice people and learned a few things.

“Pantsters” Can Keep Notes — It’s Allowed ~~ John 3:16 Blog Hop

This blog article, “Pantsters” Can Keep Notes–It’s Allowed is part of the John 3:16 Marketing Network Blog Hop from May 7 to May 14. I am giving away a “pdf” copy of both of my novels BURNING HEARTS and GOODBYE to the two best comments left below this article. Don’t forget to leave your email address if you want to win a copy of my novels. I will have an independent party chose the winners..

“Pantsters” Can Keep Notes — It’s Allowed

I’m a pantster…well mostly I’m a pantster. I do keep a running time-line. In my computer files I call it a “plotline.” This is not an outline. As a punster, I’d rather jump off the roof than write an outline. However, after I write a scene or a chapter, I add it to my time-line.

My time-line is quite detailed. It not only tells me what happened in that particular scene or chapter, I’ll also add small details I might want to refer to later. This keeps me from having to read the entire chapter if I want to recall a certain point. For example, my heroine might confide to a subordinate character that she flunked out of college. I’d add that detail to my time-line as a point of reference for when I write a later scene with those two characters.

I write romantic thrillers and I like to keep my reader from figuring out who the killer is until the very end when I reveal the identity. That means leaving plausible clues for a wide variety of red herrings. Each of these clues has to be added to my time-line so that I don’t write something in a later chapter that contracts my “planted clues.” I wish I could give you an example from the second book in my Sanctuary Point series, GOODBYE NOEL, but that would give away too much, and then I’d have to kill you.

As a pantster, I’m always asking the main characters and/or myself, what comes next? What would they logically do next? In this situation what would happen? As a pantster, an outline is certainly verboten! But I’ve found a clever way to get around that. I write a series of bulletins of possible, plausible next scenarios.

  • Have to have a funeral for the murder victim, killer attends services
  • Heroine thinks hero has lied, drives away even though a storm is approaching
  • Hero has to apply for a job if he intends to keep his apartment

I also like to ask, what would my character never in a million years ever be caught doing? I often brainstorm, sky’s-the-limit and, make a list of five things my heroine/hero would not do. Some of the items on the list get pretty wild. Then I pick the most plausible one for my story and put him/her in that situation. Of course, I might have to tweak  it to make it fit my storyline.

Can a sheltered young seamstress, disillusioned by the horrors of WWII, escape an arsonist/murderer who has killed her employer and mentor, while trying to decide if she can trust the dashing war hero who’s ridden into town on his Harley—who some say is the murderer?

The year is 1947. The bodies keep piling up. Will a young pediatric nurse determined to make it on her own be able to care for an infant whose mother was murdered and escape the killer who has struck again? Can she trust the stalwart village detective with her life and her heart as he works to catch this killer before somebody else dies. Amazon (Including Kindle).

Here’s a complete list of blog hop participants with links to their blogs. Happy blog hopping…

Blog Hop Participants:

  1. Lorilyn Roberts (John 3:16 Blog) –
  2. Lynn Dove – Word Salt (Host blog) –
  3. Laura J. Davis –
  4. Paulette Harper –
  5. Carol A. Brown –
  6. April Gardner –
  7. Sue Russell –
  8. Thomas Blubaugh –
  9. Susan F. Craft –
  10. Heather Bixler –
  11. Joy Hannabass –
  12. Deborah Bateman –
  13. Kimberley Payne –
  14. Rose McCauley –
  15. Lisa Lickel –
  16. Alice J. Wisler –
  17. Amanda Stephan –
  18. Saundra Dalton –
  19. Tracy Krauss –
  20. Ashley Wintters –
  21. Deborah McCarragher –
  22. Lorilyn Roberts –
  23. Anita Estes –
  24. Martin Roth –
  25. Kenneth Winters –
  26. Eddie Snipes –
  27. Diane Tatum –
  28. Janalyn Voigt –
  29. Alberta Sequeira –
  30. Tammy Hill –
  31. Marcia Laycock –
  32. Nike Chillemi –
  33. Elaine Marie Cooper –
  34. Sidney W. Frost –
  35. Jairus B. King –
  36. Bill Burt –
  37. Kathy Eberly –
  38. Bob Saffrin –
  39. Julie Saffrin –
  40. Theresa Franklin –
  41. Ray Lincoln –
  42. Lilly Maytree –
  43. Yvonne Pat Wright –
  44. Pauline Creeden –
  45. Katherine Harms –
  46. Brenda Wood –
  47. Deborah Malone –
  48. Melissa Main –
  49. Kevin Main –
  50. Sandy Humphrey –
  51. Felice Gerwitz –
  52. Hallee Bridgeman –
  53. Lisa Mills –

The Wascally, Weasely, and Most Dreaded Modifier Dump

I love to describe. In my two novels, BURNING HEARTS and GOODBYE NOEL in the Sanctuary Point series, I can’t wait to visually portray the landscape, the aroma coming from a kitchen, and the latest 1940s fashion statement. Sometimes I have to put the brakes on. I don’t want the opening words of my next work in progress to sound like this…

“Gertrude rushed into the gothic, Victorian mansion’s dimly lit, heavily book-lined library on shaky legs and clasped her perfectly manicured hands to her pounding heart in an attempt to calm her fraying nerves. She managed to overcome the churning in her stomach and forged ahead past the brocade upholstered Queen Anne chair behind the Chippendale desk strewn with the pages of an ancient occult manuscript. On the parquet floor on the other side of the antique oak desk she spied the body of a middle-aged, balding man in a brocade smoking jacket and a pair of brown suede slippers who had a wooden handled, military stiletto sticking out of his back.”

You see, I have this teensy-weensy affliction. I greatly desire that my reader will know exactly down to the most minute detail what my heroine and hero are feeling, what the room looks like and what aromas might be gracing the atmosphere. So, I must therefore hold myself back, and utterly restrain myself. I have even gone so far as to take an oath to banish adjectives and adverbs from the pages of my manuscript.

Oh, and those dreaded weasel words…will they constantly plague me?  Some people say it seems likely that one “many” is too many in a chapter, but it also could be argued that it could be way too few except on those very rare occasions when it is obviously needed to make the author’s point. Of course unless the author is obfuscating by using an abundance of abstract words that might tend to obscure the meaning rather than elucidate the author’s point for the reader.

And so, dear and gentle reader, I hope this clarifies everything for you.

For an example of my writing when I get it right, you might try…



Interview with Chila Woychik About Her Tome ON BEING A RAT

Tis’ a weird kind of season. All Hallows Eve apporaches or as some call it Halloween. So, it’s fitting to be interviewing Chila Woyckik about her peculiar work, ON BEING A RAT And Other Observations. Then again, we are called to be a peculiar people. Of course this is an interview swap, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing Chila’s interview of me up on her blog in the near future.

Now on to this very unique interview…

Nike: Chila, I’m not sure how we ran into each other. I think on Facebook. I felt I’d found a kindred spirit. Many things you’ve said about Christian fiction echoed what I’d said. I love Christian authors, yet in my heart, I feel a great deal of Christian fiction writing is not as good as that in the general market. For me, it’s not enough that the book is squeaky clean. I want it to be a good read. However, I’ve seen vast improvement in Christian fiction writing in the last year or so. Groups such as American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) are pushing writing courses and have put huge effort into setting up critique groups for the purpose of improving the writing and polishing the manuscripts of their members. I lead one of the ACFW small critique groups and I’m proud of the contribution I make there to improve the quality of Christian fiction writing. What are your thoughts on this?

Chila: I think that’s fantastic.  I’d love to see all writers everywhere, especially those who claim to follow God, begin to challenge one another to be the very best of the best.  We all tend to say we strive for that—to be the best—but the honest truth is that we often stop far short of reaching that goal, for whatever reason (the biggest factors seem to be ignorance of good writing form, laziness, impatience, and for Christians, isolationism and an inability to truly relate to those not of our little circles). And I echo you in that I hold nothing against Christian authors per se—I am one!  May we each write what we feel we must write, and may we focus on the writing essentials rather than our differences in style, belief, or whatever it is that tends to so often divide us.

When I started in this business 2+ years ago, I certainly had my rose-colored glasses on. I soon found that many in the Christian realm were uber-critical of just about anything being offered in what they’ve termed “the general market.” The only problem with that is what they’re offering (in the “Christian market”) simply doesn’t measure up to what’s available in the real world. And to add insult to injury, defending substandard Christian books because “they don’t have swearing and sex in them” is about as lame as we can possibly get. I’ve seen fantastic general market books that have little to no swearing and no sex, yet because they’re not specifically Christian, they’re discounted.  And that’s sad.  As I’ve often asked, what are Christians afraid of? Is their faith so fragile that to read a bang-up general market book with a strong modifier or two would be akin to sacrilege in their eyes? I certainly don’t see evidence in the Scriptures that God would get upset about us reading something that doesn’t have “praise Jesus” in every paragraph, or even something that happens to diverge from foundational Christian truth.  No, the God I read about isn’t that way at all.

Much of the white noise I’ve been hearing from dissenters from those groups is that they simply don’t feel they should scrub their manuscripts of the gut-honest humanity that gives soul to their work.  They want to write from their heart, to our current society, in a way that rings true to their target audience. So, maybe another organization needs to spring up to fill in the gap? I’m not sure.  But  I truly fear we compromise our creativity when we feel pressured or threatened to write in a certain way, by a set of someone else’s preconceived guidelines, especially the “spiritual” ones.

Nike: I support Christian fiction ebooks and those coming out from small houses with my online presence and via my pocketbook by purchasing and reading these novels. Again, I find that in many cases the quality of writing needs improvement. I’d like to see small press publishers encouraging authors to take workshops and to get into critique groups. I read a riveting small press novel that did get some attention in alternative Christian fiction circles. This novel was fresh, exciting, and bold in ways that eludes many traditionally published novels, but the writing could’ve used some basic work. What direction do you think small press authors should take?

Chila:  I think what we all have to remember is that there isn’t, and neither should there be, a sort of “imprimatur” go-to group for Christian writers.  Writing groups abound.  Writers have options like never before.  At Port Yonder Press, we’ve begun something called our TEAM PYP mentored writing groups.  Our mentors are high-quality authors including an editor from a top-notch large general market publishing house, and a Nebula Award nominee.  I’d love to see dozens of these kind of mentoring groups develop.  And I suppose we’ll always have “writing that needs improvement” on all sides of the fence: whether we’re discussing books from smaller or larger presses (readers constantly refer to Twilight as an example of a NYT bestseller that contains writing that “needs improvement”).  Small press owners should simply keep improving, as should everyone else. There’s not a single or easy answer for that situation, and it certainly isn’t limited to small presses.

Nike: What’s up these days with Port Yonder Press? And how did you arrive there as Managing Editor?

Chila: I started the press and continue to manage it, hence the titleJ.  Port Yonder Press is a fun little diversion for me that takes up a whole lot of my time. And I’m constantly reviewing and renewing our vision to produce the best, most engaging books in a variety of genres. Now that I know my way around the process a bit, know where I’m heading, and how I want to get there to some degree, I’ve come up with a few ways and means to assist me in reaching those goals.

TEAM PYP (mentioned above) – started in July of this year. The immediate goal is to develop stronger writers, while my long-term vision for this is to possibly publish the very best of the best out of these groups, if not the first year then maybe the second.  Initially, our goal is to break into the general market with compelling short stories that get noticed.

BEYONDARIES  is Port Yonder Press’ online magazine set to debut this winter & will focus on all-things-writing from a general market perspective (not religiously focused at all, but writing-focused). Interviews, books, writing tips, art/illustrating tips, and more, from a fresh perspective.

What I’m finding is a need to re-educate Christians who want to be competitive in the larger “marketplace,” in the realm outside their little church groups and small reading circles.  Christians are coming out of the woodwork, wanting to influence society-at-large with great writing, period, no soft-soap preaching, no “evangelistic message,” just award-winning writing.  And I’m all for that!

The IndieGalaxy Publishers Association – is a loose-knit organization I recently began wherein I gather a number of small presses together for shared marketing goals and small press dynamic helps. I hope to hit this harder next year, but do see potential benefit arising from this venture.

Nike: You’ve said you’re looking for “fringe fiction” to publish at Port Yonder and you’ve given authors as reference points such as China Mieville, Margaret Atwood, and even Sylvia Plath. These are all general market authors. Is there anyone in Christian fiction writing like this today?

Chila:  Not that I know of, but then, I seldom read Christian fiction anymore. I simply don’t have time to wade through yet another book that sounds and feels like so many other Christian books available.  But I think a few Christian authors are probably trying.  Unfortunately, it’s likely they feel a certain kind of external restraint knowingly or unknowingly put out by certain organizations, whether Christian organizations, publishers, or book distributors such as the CBA.  Nothing quashes creativity like guilt or restrictions, I’ve found. Mature Christians should be the freest and most creative writers of all, able to tackle profoundly intense and difficult subjects, and unbound by all but their own consciences and understanding of truth.

Nike: If a Christian women’s fiction, science fiction, or literary author wanted to take a huge risk in their writing, what practical advice would you have for them?

Chila:  Push aside everything you’ve heard (outside of basic grammar rules), and write.  Your boundaries are waaaay out there, not that little fenced in area you’ve been standing in. Run and romp in the outer court and have a ball!  Never violate your conscience (and there’s the rub), but know why your conscience is telling you this or that. Know beyond your church beliefs or what you’ve been told.  Know beyond what that group or individual tells you.  Be beyond.  And write! 

Nike: You have a new book out that’s on my to-read list and I’m excited about reading it, mostly because I think I’ll learn more about you. Tell us about ON BEING A RAT and Other Observations.

Chila:  ON BEING A RAT is a wild and sometimes random run through a lot of universal themes, mostly from my perspective, but from what I’ve heard, readers find it easy to relate to as well.  The lyric essay is one of my very favorite forms, and the heart of creative nonfiction handily lends itself to it.  So basically, ON BEING A RAT takes a flying leap through life, writing, and nature via lyric essays and poems, light prose narrative and odd observations.  I’ve addressed a variety of themes, but again, that’s the nature of the lyric essay: unpredictability and an almost stream of consciousness jaunt from one topic to the next.  I believe the book itself will be an education for those unfamiliar with the form, and I hope to some degree it will be a good example of such. But more importantly my hope is that it will inspire writers to expand their boundaries and get at least a small glimpse of the creativity they can engage when writing in their favorite genres.

One male reviewer recently said this while reading it, “My writing was boring and flat this morning. Then I read a bunch of your book (had to tear myself away because of a word count goal) and then my writing improved greatly, flowed out, and even felt eloquent. Thanks for your beautiful writing and encouragement to tell my story while I still can.” Someone else said, “This is the most purely satisfying new author that I’ve encountered in over two years.”  Very encouraging words.

ON BEING A RAT is DIFFERENT.  It really is. Don’t expect it to be like anything you’ve ever read, but I do hope you get a chance to read it! J  Official release date is early January, though it is currently available with the old cover on Amazon.

On a final note, I’ll be taking 2012 “mostly” off, to hone both my writing and publishing craft, to take in seminars and workshops, to learn.  BUT, submissions will still be open at Port Yonder, and we’re looking for the very best soft and hard science fiction, fringe fiction, fantasy, and creative nonfiction we can find.  I think I have 2 or 3 books slated for publication, but that’s all.  It’s time to truly kick our desire for excellence in gear!

Purchase Links:

Are Christian Crime Fiction Heroes Too Wimpy?

Are we creating a bunch of Dudley Do-Rights? Are these guys so good they’re boring? Are they too saccharine? I’ve read Amazon reviews and heard a few whispers about here and there complaining the hero is so perfect, he’s one dimensional. It’s a Christian novel, so there can be angels in it, but the angel should not be the hero.

They say nice guys finish last, and I think that’s true in crime fiction. The hero has to be as much fun or more fun to watch in action than the villain or antagonist. The hero has to have a backbone. When the hero is set upon by the villain, it can’t be that he overcomes the obstacles and wins the day as a clueless wonder who accidently stumbles through. He’s got to have the fortitude and skills to overcome the villain, or he’s not very compelling.

If the hero is a Christian character, the author has some limits in that the reader will expect the hero to live by certain principles. Of course, that is as it should be. No quarrel there. Yet in life, we know real Christians have faults, some of them major. We know real statistics show a little over fifty percent of all Christian marriages end in divorce, a good number of them due to infidelity. In real life, we know most of those couples do not reconcile. Although it’s changing, we still don’t see too many divorced heroes in Christian fiction. We do have tons of nearly perfect widowers.

One flawed hero in Christian crime fiction who sent the needle on my read-o-meter off the scale is J. Mark Bertrand’s homicide detective Roland March. What a nearly over-the-hill grumble crunch, as he trudges through the case trying not to ogle his new, young,  female partner. I wanted to pinch his cheeks and squeeze. Loved him. Of course this hero’s not a believer so Bertrand did have some leeway. Another fascinating Christian hero is Ellen C. Maze’s Michael Stone, (the series straddles horror and crime fiction categories). I mean this guy drinks blood through most of the first novel, until there is redemption. How can you beat that for interesting?

The only way it works in crime fiction if the author creates a wimpy hero is when the plotline shows him morphing into a forceful protagonist who can meet and defeat the villain. In this way, all of his goody-two-shoes traits can grow into some type of competent strategy to stop the evil deeds of his enemy. This is the type of storyline I can sink my teeth into.
There should be some fireworks. This is especially true if the story is a romantic suspense. If there isn’t any chemistry between the hero and heroine, it leaves me flat. Those romantic fireworks don’t have to be physical. There can be an intense lingering gaze…even a hostile one, or witty repartee. Although physical magnetism on some level is a plus as far as I’m concerned. Christians do have bodies and those bodies do respond when there’s attraction. There might be some type of mystery to the guy. The hero has something lurking in his past, which functions as the catalyst for his actions in the story.

For me, it’s a given the hero has to have passion. He has to be driven by something, could go nearly over the top about it. My hero, Detective Ian Daltry, in my soon to be released novel GOODBYE NOEL cares about justice for the murder victim. He feels the murdered nearly cry out to him from their graves to avenge them. In COMES A HORSEMAN, Robert Liparulo’s hero FBI agent Brady Moore is passionate about saving his son from the clutches of evil forces he can’t quite comprehend until nearly the end of the novel. His passion is his human relationships, depicted in a riveting way as he pits himself against a near army of evil doers in an attempt to rescue his female partner.

A hero doesn’t have to be good as much as he has to be operational. By that I mean capable of carrying out the hero role in the story to it’s logical conclusion when he defeats the villain. To do that he’s got to have some smarts. Readers today have no tolerance for a dumb hero. In addition, a great hero isn’t predictable. Yes, he’s true to his core values, but the author is able to reach within him and pull some response out that creates unexpected plot twists.
Graphics Courtesy of Photobucket.