Monday, August 30, 2021

A Cozy Delight

As someone who fell in love with reading and writing stories at a young age, today's guest in My Writing Corner grabbed my attention immediately. 

Born in the Big Apple, Susie Black now calls sunny Southern California home. Like the protagonist in her Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, Susie is a successful apparel sales executive. Susie says she began telling stories as soon as she learned to talk. Now she’s telling all the stories from her garment industry experiences in humorous mysteries. 

She reads, writes, and speaks Spanish, albeit with an accent that sounds like Mildred from Michigan went on a Mexican vacation and is trying to fit in with the locals. Since life without pizza and ice cream as her core food groups wouldn’t be worth living, she says she’s a dedicated walker to keep her girlish figure. A voracious reader, she’s also an avid stamp collector. Susie lives with a highly intelligent man and has one incredibly brainy but smart-aleck adult son who inexplicably blames his sarcasm on an inherited genetic defect. 

Welcome, Susie! Please tell us about your road to publication.

No matter what stage an author’s writing career is at, one thing that is constantly drilled into their head is to only write what you know. If you don’t know it, either do the research and learn it or don’t you dare write it. If you don’t have the creds for what you write, you are toast because readers can spot a phony by the second paragraph and never finish reading your book. This concept is one I never lose sight of and is the reason I write about the subjects I do.  

Like the protagonist in my Holly Swimsuit Mystery Series, I am a ladies’ swimwear sales exec in the greater Los Angeles area. From the beginning of my career, I have kept a daily journal chronicling the interesting, quirky, and sometimes quite challenging people I have encountered as well as the crazy situations I’ve gotten myself into and out of. My daily journal entries are the foundation of everything I write. I came to write in the cozy mystery genre because I love solving puzzles. My parents would certainly confirm I have always asked a lot of questions, and I am naturally curious (some narrow-minded people say I am nosy…go figure…LOL). So, writing mysteries was the natural next step for me to take. it is also the genre I read, am comfortable in, and enjoy the most. The bonus is that it was an excellent way to knock off some people on paper who I would have loved to eliminate in real life and still not end up in prison. Extremely therapeutic. I highly recommend it. 

As a female who has succeeded in a historically male-dominated industry, it was important to me to write about the apparel business from a woman’s point of view. All of my characters are based on real people, and the central characters are all strong, successful women who have beaten the odds and broken the glass ceiling.

My Nana was perhaps the biggest influence in my life and while I didn’t realize it at the time, it was she who taught me how to navigate on my road to publication:

Nana the letter writer:  When they were first invented, telephones were difficult to use, often unreliable, and expensive to own. Not every family, including mine, could afford the luxury of having one. Like many families, once my Nana’s siblings grew up and left home, they scattered across the country. Nana knew the importance of keeping her family together no matter how many miles separated them. Since a phone was not an option, as the oldest child, Nana was chosen to write letters to family members living far from home. With the same level of dedication as the postman; come rain, sleet, or snow, war or peace, prosperous times or the depths of a national depression, my blind-as-a bat without her coke bottle-thick glasses Nana sat every Monday night at her dining room table and wrote a letter to each of her siblings. Her letters sewed the thread that kept our close-knit tribe connected. 

When I was in my sophomore year of college my family moved from Los Angeles to Miami. Despite their valiant attempts to persuade me to join them, I wasn’t interested in relocating to “God’s waiting room,” and remained out west. The good news was that Nana added me to her list of weekly letter-writing recipients. Lonesome for my family, Nana’s weekly letter was an eagerly-anticipated lifeline to my family’s heart and soul. For all of us, that letter was the glue that kept our family bound together no matter how far from home one of us wandered. 

The designated town crier, Nana’s letters were more like a newsletter. A date with her friends at the movies? After reading her letter, I was in the seat next to her. She reported who went, what they wore, if they were late or early; where they sat, if they had a snack, what the snack was, editorials on how much the snacks and the movie tickets cost, and every detail of the movie that was so complete, the recipient of her letter could write a decent review based on Nana’s commentary. If she described what an attendee was wearing, I could close my eyes and picture the outfit perfectly. Her descriptions were so detailed and rich, that if she was describing a meal, I could smell the wafting aroma and taste the food. 

Out of sentimentality or maybe a sixth sense that someday I’d need them, I kept every one of those letters. Like Nana, they were strong-willed and hearty; surviving dogs, a child, countless moves,  several major earthquakes and a devastating house fire. I had no formal creative writing training when I decided to write my first manuscript. I had a journal to draw experiences from, and a story to tell, but no clue how to tell it. I instinctively pulled the carefully wrapped packets of letters out of the storage box and re-read every one of them. I could picture Nana at the dining room table writing the letters. I  heard her voice inside my head speaking to me. My long-gone, full-service Nana had given me all the tools I needed. I re-packed the letters, started to write, and thanks to Nana, I never stopped. 

In a detached society that values cheaper and faster, we are insulated from direct contact with one another more each day. E-mail and texting replaced a phone call, and Zoom is the new version of a face to face meeting. We don’t need brick and mortar to build walls anymore. Modern technology has certainly had an impact on society mores and improved many aspects of our lives. Regrettably, technology was also a death knell for several means of personalized communication. Nana would have been horrified that a quaint, old fashioned skill like letter-writing disappeared. Thanks to Nana, my story has been told in a distinctive voice that comes through loud and clear. 

Nana the Story-teller: If there is an inheritable gene for story-telling,  mine  came from my mother’s mother. My nana should have been a writer. No one could tell a story like her. She was the eldest of six children of a modest immigrant family from Eastern Europe that settled in Boston at the turn of the century. My great-grandfather was a tailor who managed to clothe, feed, and shelter his children,  but there was precious little left over for extravagances like a day at the cinema for one child, let alone for six. Nana had a cousin Jenny who played piano at the local silent-movie house and she was able to get a pass for relatives. Nana and her next oldest sibling traded off weeks going to the serialized show every Saturday afternoon and then came home to tell the story to all the other kids. 

The other kids hated it when it was my great-aunt’s turn, because she gave a short synopsis and called it a day. They were thrilled when it was Nana’s turn. She set up two rows of chairs in the parlor like in the movie house, served popcorn, dimmed the lights and played background music as she recounted the episode of the serial. Nana would take her time, slowly build up to the cliffhanger and stop talking right before the finale. Nana would wait until my  great uncle Murray would yell, “Go on Rae, go on!” before she’d finish telling the story. Talk about pacing and how to build tension to the finale? Nana had it down pat. I kept Nana’s story-telling skills in mind while writing Death by Sample Size. Somewhere in the great beyond, Nana is smiling her approval. 

What is your latest book and how did you come up with the idea to write it?

My latest, actually my debut book, Death by Sample Size takes place in downtown Los Angeles in the heart of the garment center. I came up with the idea based on a situation I experienced with an unscrupulous buyer and then took the incident fictionally to the next level.  The premise behind the story in Death by Sample Size is what if a buying office big shot in the apparel industry so universally disliked that when she was murdered, there were so many potential suspects that it wasn’t a question of who wanted her dead, it was a question of who didn’t. 

Ah, the garment center! As someone who spent many hours there when I once lived in Los Angeles, this book makes me long to re-visit! Let's get a blurb:

“The last thing swimwear sales exec Holly Schlivnik expected was to discover ruthless buying office big wig Bunny Frank’s corpse trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey with a bikini stuffed down her throat. When Holly’s colleague is arrested for Bunny’s murder, the wise-cracking, irreverent amateur sleuth jumps into action to find the real killer.  Nothing turns out the way Holly thinks it will as she matches wits with a wily killer hellbent on revenge. Get ready to laugh out loud as Susie Black’s Death by Sample Size takes you on a rollicking adventure ride through the Los Angeles apparel industry.”

Everyone wanted her dead…but who actually killed her?

What’s your next project?  What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on completing the hard editing of Death by Pins & Needles, the second book in the Holly Swimsuit Mystery series. My next project is to complete the manuscript for Death by Surfboard, the third book in the series. The manuscript is almost complete, but I am adding a new character, a love interest for the protagonist, and am considering adding a dog. 

What do you enjoy about being an author?

I enjoy letting my imagination go where it will and seeing where it takes me. 

When that game plan goes right, then a reader says I was up way past my bedtime because I couldn’t put your book down. It just does not get better than that. 

What do you find is the most challenging part of being an author?

I have two: Writing the middle of the story is sometimes a challenge. I have remedied this by allowing the characters to drive the plot from the middle to the end of the story. 

The most challenging part of being an author is marketing. This is without any doubt the most daunting and least enjoyable part of being an author. 

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I will pass along the sage advice that was given to me by best-selling author Harlan Coben: Keep writing, no matter what, keep writing. Trust your gut, believe in yourself, never let anyone crush your dream, and never stop asking what if? 

Ah, yes, one of my favorites! I've heard him say that too, and it always keeps me moving forward. Thank you, Susie, for being my guest today, sharing your story and introducing your new book. Here are Susie's social contacts to learn more about her and her book buy links:

Any questions or comments for Susie?

Monday, August 23, 2021

A Story to Tell

In these final hot days of summer, this is a good time to get in those books we've been wanting to read, but haven't found the time. August was always one of my favorite months to spend time at the library with those books I read for enjoyment before having to again hit the school books.

Today's guest in My Writing Corner presents us with what sounds like one of those pleasurable types of books. Author Colleen Donnelly has been my guest previously, but I always enjoy finding new or different books from authors I enjoy. 

To re-introduce Colleen, she was born and raised in the Midwest and pursued a career in the science field. Her work allowed her to explore the US, but she was also a big fan of literature. As a reader and writer, she enjoys tales that involve a moral dilemma or a choice. Like so many writers she is always on the lookout for the next great story to tell. 

Today she brings us her book Mine to Tell, her first book that has become favorite among her readers. Mine to Tell is categorized as Historical Romance though it might be better described as a love story buried within a mystery.

What heroine Annabelle Crouse doesn’t know when she sets out to prove false the accusations that her great-grandmother was an immoral woman, is if what she finds will in the end condemn both of them, or set them free.  Let's get a blurb:

Annabelle Crouse is determined to reopen her great-grandmother’s boarded up house—and her shunned life. Many years earlier, after an unexplained absence, Julianne was relegated to a separate home by a rigidly unforgiving husband, and the Crouse women have suffered the disgrace of her assumed guilt ever since. Despite her family’s strong disapproval, Annabelle is driven to pursue her mission through cobwebs and dust, finding the clues and the coded story left behind by her great-grandmother—Why did she go? And why did she return? Annabelle has to know.

Only one person, a man she grew up with but never noticed, stands with Annabelle as she discovers the parallels between her story and her great-grandmother’s—two women, generations apart, experiencing what love truly is.

Want to find out more? Let's read an excerpt:

“Mine to tell,” Kyle said suddenly. It was a jolt. I was yanked from my mental tumble into a pit of unredemption. Alex looked up too, a quizzical expression on his face. “Julianne left a story behind,” Kyle continued. “Some of it speculation and rumors by people who don’t know, and the rest of it by her own hand. It was a love story. One that was countered with suffering.”

We were all quiet. I looked at him, my heart melting as I heard his masculine voice speak of love and suffering. I wanted to lean across the table and hug him, but I was too afraid.

Alex leaned back in his chair. “What my father went through didn’t feel like love when we were little.”

“But maybe it was,” Kyle persisted, his tone smooth and even. “Does love always turn out the way we want it to?” Then he looked at me. “Julianne Crouse was a fine woman. We haven’t finished her story, but she suffered, and she was fine indeed.”

Tears came to my eyes. “Thank you,” I squeaked. Kyle stood and walked around the table to me. He helped me stand as he thanked them for their time. He retrieved Julianne’s picture, took my hand, and together we went to the door, Alex and his wife following us.

“I hope you’re right,” Alex said, running his hand through his thin, brittle hair as we stepped outside. “My father had some things to come to terms with, but he was a good man. A better man later in life, when he told us he was sorry. I never knew for what.”

Here are the links to buy Mine to Tell or to learn more about Colleen's other books.


Thank you Colleen for being my guest again and sharing another great book with us.  Any questions or comments for Colleen?

Monday, August 16, 2021

A Visit to a World of Wizards and Dragons

 Sometimes it is fun to just get away and visit another world. That's what we are doing today in My Writing Corner as author Darcy Carson takes us to the world she has created in one of her wonderful fantasy books, Woman in the Woods.

Darcy comes from the Pacific Northwest  and has won numerous awards for her books. Chosen to be a Romance Fate book as  a game, this story is out of this world in a number of ways. It's the second book in The Dragons Return trilogy.  Let's start with a blurb:

Becca d’Firn is a warrior woman from The Wilds on a quest to save her village from a terrible plague. When she finds the Wizard Cress, he refuses to help her unless she agrees to return with him to free his sister from a spell which has trapped her for over a thousand years. Now, together with the Guardians of Secrets—tiny, insect-sized dragons—they find a treasure that will change their world.

Now let's go on a visit to that fantasy world and talk to some of these unique character and find out who they really are and what they're up against. 

We'll start with Becca:

Why did you become a warrior woman?

It is the way of my village and a very good way as far as the women are concerned. Women believe in the Goddess Luna and they rule the village. Women are the hunters. They are superior to the males of the village.

Tell us about the plague threatening your village. Where did it come from? 

The cause is unknown. It appeared about two years ago and seems to return in the fall and the spring. Mostly the elderly women and young children are affected. That is why I volunteered to seek out the great Wizard Cress. It is said he is over a thousand years old and very wise.

How can the wizard help to save your village? 

I set out on my journey to find the wizard, but had doubts that a male would be able to discover a cure when the women of my village couldn’t. It wasn’t magic that found the cure, but observation.

Now let's check in with Cress, the Wizard, and learn more about him.

 What happened to your sister, Trell?

She was betrayed by a friend, a fellow wizard. He cast a spell on her, then died and the spell couldn’t be broken until the riddle was solved.

How can Becca help you save your sister?

Becca seems to hear Trell’s voice. I have lived in the ancient dragon circle for eons and have never been able to speak with her.


Who are the Guardians of Secrets?  

They are the only dragons to survive the Great Dying, when humans hunted and killed all normal sized dragons. Guardians are the size of fireflies or dragonflies. Their small size has kept them safe for eons. 

This sounds like a fantasy that can totally pull the reader into another world. Thank you, Darcy, for bringing us this great offering. 

If you would like more information on Darcy and her books, here is her contact information:



Here are the buy links:

Buy Links:


Any comments or questions for Darcy or her characters? Thank you, Darcy, for being my guest today.

Monday, August 9, 2021

That Down Home Feeling

One of the great things about doing a blog on writing has been getting to meet so many great authors as I interview them and learn more about their books and their writing careers. Everyone has such a unique story, whether they come from the big city, medium sized cities or small towns. Today's guest is Wendy Rich Stetson whose latest book takes us to a small town to introduce us to some fascinating characters.

What do you find are some of the challenges of being an author?

My day job is professional acting. I’ve been living in New York City for over 20 years, working as an actor, teaching artist, and audiobook narrator. To me, the publishing industry is down right civilized and welcoming in comparison to the entertainment biz! Though my road to publication was long, I felt supported and encouraged the entire way. I suppose saying "compared to being an actor in New York, being a writer is a dream” downplays the very real challenges of writing and all the hard work that goes into preparing a manuscript for release. But right now, on the verge of publishing my first book, that’s rather how I feel. I have nothing but respect and thanks for all the members of the writing community.

Tell us about your road to publication.
An episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show that aired in the early 2000’s first encouraged me to put pen to paper. I was living in a tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side, lounging on the sofa that sat a mere six inches from my bed and a foot or so from the dining table and watching Oprah interview successful romance writers who found purpose and joy through weaving heartwarming tales of love. “I could do that,” I thought, every bit as na├»ve as I was to think a starring role on Broadway would come to me all wrapped up in shiny paper and tied with a satin bow. Still, I cracked open a brand-new notebook, and gave writing a try.

Hometown sat on my hard drive for decades as my acting career took off. I did indeed make my Broadway debut. I performed at theaters around the country and in New York City. I dipped a toe in commercial acting, film, and television. I narrated over twenty audiobooks and taught Shakespeare workshops to high school students all around the New York area. Then one day I thought…hey, what about that book I wrote about the girl and the Amish guy? I revised my story, cutting out VCRs and accounting for cell phones, and submitted it to lots of small romance publishers, hoping the story of a red-haired girl trying to find her place in the world, would, in fact, find its place in the world. Much to my delight, it did. Hometown is coming August 11, 2021, from The Wild Rose Press.

When Tessa's big-city plans take the A Train to disaster, she lands in her sleepy hometown, smack in the middle of the most unlikely love triangle ever to hit Pennsylvania's Amish Country.

Hot-shot Dr. Richard Bruce is bound to Green Ridge by loyalty that runs deep. Deeper still is Jonas Rishel's tie to the land and his family's Amish community. Behind the wheel of a 1979 camper van, Tessa idles at a fork in the road. Will she cruise the superhighway to the future? Or take a slow trot to the past and a mysterious society she never dreamed she'd glimpse from the inside?

How do you come up with your characters?

Perhaps stemming from my work as an actor, I derive most of my characters from situations. Actors often use the phrase “what if” to connect to our roles and approach our acting work in a truthful, emotionally centered way. What if I was a young, headstrong woman in the time of the American Revolution, looking to find a husband among the hotheaded revolutionaries in New York City? What if my uncle killed my father and married my mother…how would I feel and behave? When I begin a book, I don’t think, “I know—I’ll write about a tall girl with curly red hair and impossibly high standards in men.” I think, “What if I moved back to my  hometown in central Pennsylvania and fell in love with an Amish guy?” I let the details spring from there.

What’s your next project? 

I’m so excited to be working on the second book in the Hearts of the Ridge Series, Heartsong Hills. Jonas Rishel, the Amish carpenter who is the hero of Hometown, has a sister who in book one is angry and bitter after suffering great loss in her life. Book two places her in the spotlight, giving her a story full of music, whimsy, and unlikely love.

Good luck with your series, Wendy. I'll be looking for it. Thank you for being my guest today. Any questions of your own for Wendy?

Here is more information on how you can keep in touch with Wendy's work. 

Amazon link:

Barnes and Noble link:

Monday, August 2, 2021

Different Styles Can Work Together

Writing has been my way of life since I turned twenty and began studying  journalism – I started writing for my college newspaper and never stopped. Out of college, I began working in television newsrooms where I not only had to write every day, but often under a deadline that might be seconds away.  

 On weekends and after retiring, I still kept writing – those were the hours I wrote took off my journalism identity and let my imation take over writing fiction. Over the years I wrote seven fiction books that have been published  -- three romances, three romantic suspense and one mystery novel as well as a number of  short stories that have appeared in three anthologies. I have also written a number of writing books, including three  that  were co-authored with my frequent co-author, writing teacher Sue Viders.  Several years ago we began writing a series called, Let’s Write a Story. Sue and I began our writing partnership as critique partners, but we both also loved teaching and soon began writing together.

 Over the years we discovered that while we both worked hard  and put in hour after hour of work, our styles were totally different. Sue has always been totally focused on structure and enjoys the plotting process and building the characters before she begins working. She is the epitome of the planning writer.

 I was the opposite—the sort of writer who has always preferred to sit down at  the typewriter, and now my computer, and simply started writing a story, placing the characters in a scene and letting them develop on the written page. In other words, Sue was a plotter or planner and I was the sort of writer who preferred to write by the seat of my pants.

 While I’ve written about our different styles and approach in the past and how it can be successful,  today I want to focus on our editing process. We also edit differently and how you can adopt our method to make certain your own work is polished and ready to go out the door.

 Sue and I have taught together and written non-fiction books together, but currently we are working on

our first work of fiction together. It is a cozy mystery that features two older women on a crusade for justice after one of them has her artwork copied and forged. We have basically finished writing our story and now we are currently in the editing process..

 One of the first things we discovered as we edited is that while she is very structured in her planning and writing, I am the person who is more focused on the editing elements of our story. We both enjoy working on characters and developing the plot and showing our characters as well as challenging them. We worked hard to make that happen in the story.

But the editing process has taught us more about the overall writing process. No book is going to

succeed if it is not carefully checked and edited. Readers will not spend day after day enjoying the best characters or a fast moving plot if there are errors or poorly written grammar in the book (unless it’s done in dialogue to define the characters).  Editing can make a real difference.

 We also have been able to play off each other’s ideas to bring them to life on the written page through our characters. Both of us identify with different characters in our book and we’ve used that to make the story more real.

 Over time, we have decided there are basically three different types of writers that we have encountered.  They are:       

 Plotters or those people who carefully make outlines, or write out a synopsis in advance or plot through chapter in advance, like Sue.

 Intuitive  - sometimes called pantsers or those type of writers who work by the seat of their pants. They write off the top of their heads and just let the story flow.  That’s what I do

 The third type is Hybrid – those people who might make a vague outline and then when they start writing they may change things or go off in a different direction. Over the years we have determined that there are certain things a writer – no matter what they are – must put into practice or they will not succeed:

 Study your genre

 No matter what type of writer you are, you need to know the genre you want to write. The best way to learn about the genre is to read in that particular genre. Whether you want to write a mystery, romance or fantasy or a combination, learn the nuances of the various genres and determine where your book falls. Genres are constantly shifting and these days they are often morphed into one story. If you want your book to sell, you should know that while you can mix them, one genre should hold the main thrust of the story.  Think in terms of romance in fantasy or in romantic suspense. Both elements are there, and both play into the story, but you need to be true to the guidelines of each genre to make your story succeed.

 For Sue that means learning and understanding the guidelines. For me, that means reading in the genre you want to write. Learn the different elements of it and then follow those guidelines. You can always bend the rules – after all this is creative writing, but you also want to know how far you can bend them before they are considered broken and editors turn down your stories.

 While you can mix or match your genres you might want to begin by writing in the genre that you like reading and writing best. You’re more apt to write a better story. However, don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s okay to break rules but know what you’re doing. Study the other genres before trying to write them.

 I started out writing romance stories. I liked reading that genre and I liked writing it.  But then I also liked reading mystery and suspense too – I mostly read mystery series, so I decided to try writing romantic suspense and I’ve never gone back to straight romance. I like the element of danger in romantic suspense novels and I also like writing a series. I have three going currently – My Dead Man series and My Blues Series and I just might do a sequel set at Redfern Manor, the scene of my novella Shadows from the Past, a spooky old house with lots of secrets and probably lots of stories.e

We also have differences in developing our characters, though we both agree on developing  ways to make our characters come alive.  No one loves a perfect character. Readers do not want to read stories where the hero or heroine is always right, always wins every battle and never shows any sort of frailty. Even Superman has his weakness—Kryptonite.  Characters should have faults and weaknesses of some sort, even if the weaknesses are small. No one is perfect all the time and your characters shouldn't be either. Determine which flaws you can use for your hero and heroine to make the plots more realistic or more engaging. Overcoming those flaws and weaknesses can be the road to a happy ending. 

Sue likes to know those character flaws before starting to write the story and she plans ahead of time on what they will be and how to use them in the story. I like to get characters into a situation because of a flaw and then let them work their ways out.

 However,  once a flaw is determined and you use it, look for other ways to bring it into the story. I let it emerge as I write the story. Just make certain you don’t suddenly change it halfway through so that your hero is afraid of heights in the beginning and fearlessly walking a tight rope later. He can walk the tight rope—just make him scared or use it as a challenge that he overcomes.

 The bottom line is to give your main characters some type of a flaw—major or  minor. They can be useful in character growth and making characters develop.

 These are only the beginning of the differences we have discovered in writing our stories.  In coming weeks, I’ll look at others.

A Writing Quest

With the cold days of winter in the rearview mirror and spring taking a firm hold, it's time to look forward to all the reading we want ...