Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Mixing Art and Literature

Having co-authored a number of fiction and non-fiction books with an artist (my frequent co-author Sue Viders), I am very excited to present today's blog guest, Sheila Hansberger. She is both an artist and a writer. During the past forty years, she has created original watercolors for galleries and private clients and her artwork has earned numerous awards, and they have been exhibited across the United States. They are also part of many prestigious public and private art collections. She has earned the title of Signature Member at the National Watercolor Society and at Watercolor West. Both are international organizations. Prior to her art career, she worked for a local printing firm as their darkroom photographer and graphic artist, often designing logos for clients.

Other than occasional magazine articles or press releases, her writing took a back seat to her artwork. In 2004, she began a five-year stint as Newsletter Editor for NWS. The job reminded her how much she loved writing. She decided to try her hand at fiction and joined two writer’s groups: RWA (Romance Writers of America) and SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). All in for an educational journey, she took classes, attended conferences, listened to podcasts, and read everything she could find about writing and publishing. 

Her book club consented to be beta readers for her first attempt at a novel, a romance set in Cuba. Although they praised the manuscript, Sheila knew this initial draft needed work. After several rewrites, it won second place in a writing contest. 

In Autumn of 2021, Hansberger again entered a competition. She earned first place for her manuscript, The Gardener’s Secret. The Wild Rose Press expressed an interest in publishing it, and on January 29, 2024, under the authorship of S. Hansberger, they will release the novel as an e-book and a paperback.

In addition to The Gardener’s Secret, Sheila’s work ialso ncludes The Better Than Average Apple Cookbook. Long ago, the Hansberger family owned an orchard and a century-old packing barn in Oak Glen, California. Her cookbook had its beginning there as a handful of typed recipes she put together to complement the apple sales. In 2014, she updated those recipes and self-published The Better Than Average Apple Cookbook, which features full-color illustrations of her original apple-themed paintings and drawings. Visit her website at www.s-hansberger.com

Let's find out more about Sheila and her writing.  What do you enjoy about being an author?

Being able to set my own schedule! I can hover over the keyboard for hours or squeeze in bits of writing between appointments or family time. I also enjoy seeing my ideas come to life as the manuscript progresses.

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

Deadlines! Whether it’s getting the next rewrites to my editor, or prepping for a Zoom meeting with critique partners, I’m not as creative nor efficient as when allowed to write during stress-free moments.

Tell us about your road to publication.

I had written magazine and newspaper articles for years, but my subject matter always revolved around art. I was a commercial artist and also painted fine art for gallery exhibits. I served for five years as the Newsletter Editor for the National Watercolor Society, an organization with thousands of members worldwide. I often had to finish someone’s last-minute article so we could go to press, which reinforced my appreciation for the written word. Then, after my husband died, when I couldn’t face the drawing table, I escaped into fiction, not just reading it, but writing it, too. 

A music CD called Cuba sparked an idea for a romance novel. Ninety days later, the first draft of a 64K-word manuscript anchored a spot on my computer. Anxious to officially call myself an author, I immediately joined RWA (Romance Writers of America), and SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). My excitement faded when I realized I still had a lot to learn before my novel could greet the public. I sought how-to classes, attended conferences, and devoured stacks of reading material about the art of writing. My education from these sources helped me through several re-writes of the manuscript. A more updated version even won second place in a writing competition. Yet, it still wasn’t the version I wanted to present to readers. I guess you might call it my learning pancake. Will I rewrite it someday? You can count on it!

How do you develop characters?

I like patterning characters after people I know, or people I witness displaying traits that seem interesting. When it comes to assigning names, I watch movie credits scroll by and select names, often matching a first name with a different person’s last name. 

How do you come up with your plots?

I’m a visual person, so an image can spark an idea. I might see a magazine photo that leads me on a journey the photographer had never imagined. A scene out my car window can intrigue me. Another fun way to develop a story…sit in a restaurant and look around. What secret life lies within each patron?

What is your book that you will feature today, and how did you come up with the idea to write it?

Setting aside that first manuscript allowed me to combine my new-found knowledge with a fresh start. When composing a still life painting, I never sketch a traditional fruit bowl. Too boring. Instead, I look for an interesting item…jelly beans, a piece of ribbon, or an antique key, for example. Then, I challenge myself to invent a theme around one item, gathering others with it until the total items form a cohesive story. (To further understand what I mean, check out the paintings on my website at: www.s-hansberger.com.)

What I did to prep for paintings easily translated into my writings. In the case of The Gardener’s Secret, I had a vision of a young woman home from college. Then I gathered other items: a sunny day, her beloved dog, a country lane. But where was the tension that would grab a reader? Maybe the dog has been in the house all morning and he was full of pent-up energy. Could she contain him? Probably. She was holding his leash. Again, kinda bland. Then, his leash tangles around her legs. Could she really hold him back if he was determined to chase a cat? And if he began a chase, what would happen to her that would help move the story forward?

My original idea involved her being rescued by a beekeeper who was tending his hives, looking mysterious behind the mask of his beekeeping garb. Then I checked the internet to see if a beekeeper title had been used. Yep. But, heck, what did I really know about beekeeping anyway? Nothing. So, a change had to be made. Experts say, “Write what you know,” so I kept the plot but changed the beekeeper to a gardener. I’m well-versed in gardening. Not only did I co-own and work an apple orchard, I’m a relentless gardener who will even push snow out of the way to work the soil.

Under the pen name of S. Hansberger, I wrote in the first-person voice of main character Callie Lou James and gave birth to The Gardener’s Secret, a contemporary novel destined to be published by Wild Rose Press in their suspense category. William Smith is a secretive gardener who’s hiding out in the deep south, thinking he’s safe…until he isn’t. Callie is a budding journalist and considers the gardener her friend after he rescues her from a fall. Learning his horrifying secret doesn’t deter her, even though loyalty will draw her into danger.

Let's get a blurb and excerpt:

Believing she’ll get to report gritty news, Callie accepts a job at her hometown newspaper. Instead, she’s assigned the gardening column—a subject she knows nothing about. She begs advice from a tight-lipped neighbor when he admits he’s a retired gardener, even though his mannerisms and speech suggest he’s anything but. Not knowing the full truth doesn’t matter—she needs his help. The townsfolk think him strange and warn Callie to keep her distance, but she regards him and his family as friends. Learning their horrifying secret doesn’t deter her, even though loyalty will draw her into danger.


“My goal is to work as a reporter for a big news agency like the New York Times. Who knows, you may be sitting here with the next Woodward or Bernstein.”

“A reporter?” He stared at me for a moment and then looked down, dusted off his hands, and rose to his feet.

I stiffened. “Is something wrong?” 

He didn’t answer. Instead, his gaze searched the house’s dark interior. “I have to go. Will you be okay waiting by yourself?”

“Well, uh…yes sir, of course.” I scrambled to my feet and handed him the wet dish towel. “I appreciate you tending to my injury. Mama will want to thank you personally. We’ll stop by sometime and—”

He had taken a step toward the door but spun and thrust out his palm like a stop sign. “That isn’t necessary. Good luck with the healing.” He vanished into the house, closing the screen door, and the oak door behind it, and bolted the lock.

Seriously? Dazed by his icy send-off, I slumped to the steps and mentally repeated my words, wondering if I’d said something offensive.

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

I’m still following the expert’s advice by writing about what I know. Art. The title is Runaway Artist and involves an aspiring artist, Brooke Arnelletta, who has secured an internship in a posh Beverly Hills art gallery. When she witnesses a murder, she must flee or face a killer’s efforts to silence her. But Brooke has led a sheltered life within a well-to-do family and has no clue how to navigate life without hired help. Can she remain hidden in a mountain community while learning to depend upon herself, or will she be exposed and become the killer’s next victim? The first draft has made it through many changes, but I’m close to having it polished and excited to send it off to my editor. 

Another manuscript also in the works is Lost Pieces of August, which is half finished. The setting is glorious summertime in Cape Cod. Vacation is short-lived for Hannah Mertinson when she becomes the victim of a hit-and-run accident. She wakes in the hospital and finds she’s lost seven-days to a coma. The police want to tract down the guilty driver, but Hannah can’t remember the incident. Meanwhile the beach at her front door beckons as her health returns. When new people enter her life, she must decide which ones are keepers, and which ones are determined to keep her from regaining her memory.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read. Read. Read. Not only to further your writing career, but to see what other authors write and how they handle a scene. Also, quiz yourself. Do you like Hallmark movies, or are you a thrill seeker? That should dictate the genre for your next book. Oh, and keep a pen and paper handy…everywhere! Bedside, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in your car. You might not compose an entire scene, but just getting down a word or two might prevent writer’s block later. 

Here are the Buy links for The Gardner's Secret and Sheila's contact information.

Buy Links:

E-book link: https://a.co/d/3rXC7Vr

Paperback link: https://a.co/d/g6M9zcJ

Social Contacts:

Website: https://www.s-hansberger.com

Facebook: Sheila Hansberger, Artist and Author (1) Facebook

Instagram: Sheila Hansberger (@sheilahansberger) • Instagram photos and videos

LinkedIn: (24) Sheila Hansberger | LinkedIn

Thank you, Sheila, for being my guest today. Any questions or comments for Sheila? 

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Turning Knowledge into Strength

As somone who has long been hooked on detective novels and mystery novels, today's guest in My Writing Corner caught my attention immediately. My guest today is author Christopher G. Jones, PhD/CPA who goes under the pseudonym Topper Jones for his detective novels featuring surfing crime-fighter Thaddeus Hanlon and his sassy partner Bri de la Guerra. 

Before devoting himself full-time to writing, Jones worked in public accounting and higher education, where he taught accounting, computer information systems, and business writing. To be close to his family, he makes his home in the southwestern desert rather than his native California, but he says, every chance he gets, he treks the 450 miles to the Pacific Coast to get in a little “water therapy” and catch a few waves.

Let's find out more about Topper and his novel, All That Glisters. What do you find is the most challenging part of being an author?

Plotting, by far. As I explained nearby, in the question on the“road to publication,” when I submitted my original manuscript for review to a New York literary agency, I learned my masterpiece  was “unmarketable.” According to the reviewer, faulty plotting was the reason. Here’s what the agent wrote in his rejection letter:

“The problems that have rendered your novel less than marketable go to the very heart of the book’s conceptualizations. Plot structure is the first point because the structure of this novel contributes to its lack of success.”

I took the agent’s advice, shelved the manuscript, and decided I needed to learn a whole lot more about how to tell stories.  Eventually, I came across Blake Snyder’s trilogy on screenwriting—Save the Cat!®, Save the Cat!® Goes to the Movies, and Save the Cat!® Strikes Back. I just couldn’t put these books down. I even enrolled in one of the Save the Cat!®  workshops. There, under the tutelage of a Hollywood “script doctor,”  I was taught story structure and learned about the major plot points found in every tale. During the two days together, I had the opportunity to workshop my “novel in the drawer” until I had an outline for a “marketable” manuscript. 

The re-plotted original novel has been well received. The critics at Kirkus Reviews call All that Glisters a: “A tension-fueled mystery with plenty of twists and two appealing sleuths.” Their verdict: GET IT.  

I like to believe that by doing my homework,  my plotting weakness became plotting strength. Today when I write, I tend to “beat out” the major plot points in my novels, complete with scene cards. Each card has a short scene description identifying the Hero/Heroine, Goal, Obstacles, and Stakes along with notes on the emotional change from scene opening to scene close. 

As I write the scene, sometimes magic happens, and the “players” don’t behave as I expect. I find I end up channeling the characters, leading to surprises I never would have imagined during the outline phase of the project.

Listening to the Muse means trusting the “pantsing” side of my brain. When that happens, I’m more than happy to rewire the plot. So, for my writing process, it’s both plotting and pantsing. But, always plotting first.

Tell us about your road to publication.

In 1983, after completing what I thought would be a bestseller, I sent my manuscript off to a major New York literary agency for review and evaluation, hoping they would represent me as a client. I soon learned my book was DOA.

The feedback was scathing: “Returning your manuscript with my very deepest regrets since it just doesn’t add up to a marketable piece of work.” I put the stillborn novel in a drawer.

Fast forward forty years. Now with a year of graduate study in creative writing under my belt, attendance at workshops in writing commercial fiction, and the help of a developmental editor specializing in mysteries, I rewrote the abandoned proverbial “novel in the drawer.” When the second draft was done, I workshopped it with a local writing group. The only thing surviving the original draft was the preposterous premise on which the novel was based. What exactly was that preposterous premise? The answer is no mystery, but you’ll have to read All that Glisters to find out.

How did you come up with the idea to write your book?

How did I come up with the inspiration for All that Glisters? The year was 1977. I was working for a small publisher in North Carolina. Summer was slipping away, so I took my little family to Myrtle Beach, SC, for a little “water therapy” and a chance to catch up on my reading. Top on Publishers Weekly suggested beach reads: Robin Cook’s medical thriller Coma. I stayed up all night. Couldn’t put it down. I thought: If a physician can write a bestseller, why can’t a certified public accountant? We were both professionals. We both had the writing bug. All I needed was a preposterous premise. That’s when I came up with the idea for All That Glisters.

All That Glisters is an edgy contemporary whodunit involving financial skullduggery, high-level political intrigue, and a behind-the-scenes view of cyber sleuthing. 

Here’s the blurb:

When the facts don’t add up in his surf buddy’s bizarre death, forensic consultant (and daddy-to-be) Thaddeus Hanlon investigates, volunteering to go undercover to pick up where best friend Rafi Silva left off in a secret probe of the U.S. gold stockpile—every last bullion bar.

Rafi’s spunky fiancĂ©e, Bri de la Guerra, has suspicions of her own and soon joins Thad on the hunt for answers. Together, the two amateur sleuths delve deep, stumbling onto a financial a-stock-alypse in the making, triggering a brutal manhunt along the Eastern seaboard meant to silence anyone looking to set the ledger straight.

Let's get an excerpt:

Rafi, Bri, and I had been good friends throughout college. Marissa entered the picture a few years later but was no less committed to our bond as besties. There was nothing fake about our relationship. It was solid. Genuine.

“Okay, Bri,” I said. “You made your point. You feel Rafi had too much to live for, that suicide is implausible.”

“Impossible. And I can prove it, Thad.” Bri sounded certain like she possessed facts in evidence, that we didn’t have.

Marissa picked up on Bri’s assuredness, following up with questions of her own. “So, Rafi was murdered? You can prove that?”

“Not directly.” Bri leaned forward and got as close as she could to Marissa and me. “What I said was that I can prove Rafi did not kill himself.”

“We’re listening.” Marissa pointed to herself and then at me.

I made the left-hand turn from the Pacific Coast Highway onto the California Incline, a slanted road that connects PCH with Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.

Bri started fidgeting with her engagement ring again. “Remember the Dodge Whitney staffer who conference-called us Thursday night with the news?”

I nodded. Marissa nodded. In my mind, I replayed Jenny Yu’s livestream of the crime scene. Her failed CPR attempt. And then my crazy request for her to rummage through Rafi’s pockets to look for a suicide note or some kind of clue.


“That night Jenny said something that didn’t quite make sense,” Bri said.

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

Just this month, I submitted the manuscript for Book Two in the Thad Hanlon & Bri de la Guerra Mystery Series to my publisher. Here’s the blurb: 

Hanlon & de la Guerra have gone full-service. In this second book in the surfing crime-fighter mystery series, Thad Hanlon and his martial-arts-obsessed partner, Bri de la Guerra, hang out their shingle as newly licensed private investigators.

Now in addition to detecting white-collar crime, the two forensics experts do it all. Just about anything that requires sleuthing.  Even finding lost souls. 


All they need is a client. 

That’s when a former exotic dancer from Bakersfield CA shows up looking for her surf prodigy son who’s gone missing in the wake of a spree of cult violence terrorizing the California Central Coast. 

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Workshop your work!

Whatever it takes, get feedback from people who are interested in your success. And be open to what fellow writers have to say. They can tell when something isn’t working, when characters behave out of character, and when your language isn’t capturing your intention. Listen and revise accordingly. 

You can often find writing critique groups at your local library or through state and local writing organizations. I found my “writing safe space” through Heritage Writers Guild, a local chapter of the League of Utah Writers. Each week the Writers Improvement Group (WIG for short) meets to review what we wrote since the last session. Knowing I need to have “something for WIG” motivates me to get words on the page. My critique group functions as both an accountability group and a sounding board. Everyone needs a little encouragement. Especially writers!  

Want to know more about crime fighting Thad and his partner Bri? You'll have to buy the book!  Here are the buy links and Topper's contact information: 

Thank you Topper for being my guest today on My Writing Corner.  Any questions or comments for Topper?

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

A Delicate Balance

Becoming an author can be extremely challenging ,and yet it can also be very personally rewarding. One of the reasons I enjoy doing a weekly blog is that it gives me the chance to learn the individual stories of so many authors. Every author's story is different, and today's guest in My Writing Corner has a very unique background. Joining us is author Valeriya Goffe. She is with us to today to allow us the opportunity of learn more about her and to tell us about her new book that has just been released, Secrets We Keep.

Valeriya was born and raised in Ukraine but she has spent most of her adult life in the USA. She is currently working for a large international organization leading developmental projects in various countries. She  says that during her career, she has traveled extensively in Africa, Middle East, Europe, and Asia. She holds a PhD degree in finance from the Kyiv National University of Economics in Ukraine and an MBA degree from Kogod School of Business, American University in Washington DC. She is also a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Charterholder. Valeriya is trilingual in English, Russian, Ukrainian and also speaks French and Spanish.

Valerie, what do you enjoy about being an author?

I’ve always wanted to become an author. It’s a wonderful profession. You get a chance to speak about things which matter to you, share your views with the world, and take your readers on a tour of your favorite places. What can be better?  

In the writing process, I especially adore polishing my books and adding small things here and there to make a particular sentence sound better, or to enhance some scene. Even a few words can make a big difference. Writing is a lot like paining: you work on your painting for many days, look at it from different directions, and then you put final touches to make it absolutely perfect. I love that feeling. 

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

The most challenging part is balancing my time and making sure that I can still do some writing each day, despite having a demanding regular job and also being a Mom to my wonderful 8-year old daughter. If I could, I would spend the whole day just writing fiction! Putting the pen down is very hard for me, especially when I have a lot of ideas and the plot is literally unfolding in front of my eyes.   

Tell us about your road to publication.

My road to publication hasn’t been easy. It’s incredible that my book is finally published! 

Being entirely new to the publishing world (my regular job is in finance), I found the process quite complicated. I kept knocking on various doors until Secrets We Keep found a good home. 

My book is not conventional because it’s written in English, but it portrays the life of a Ukrainian heroine and her family. This is quite new for the American market. I knew from the start that not every publisher would be interested. 

I queried quite a few publishers, and finally, some good news came--The Wild Rose Press (TWRP) accepted my book. I immediately knew that they were the right publisher for me. 

First, they contacted me on my wedding anniversary. Pretty good sign, right? Second, in their reply they expressed sympathy about the tragic events happening in Ukraine. No other publisher said anything about Ukraine at all (an eye-opener for me). 

Right then and there I knew that people working at this publishing house were wonderful. So I had no doubt that I should accept their offer. And once I became part of TWRP, I discovered that not only did we had a brilliant publishing team, but also hundreds of fantastic authors who are always ready to help. Everyone is so supportive of each other and happy whenever another author publishes a new book or wins an award. I’m honored to be a part of this great team.

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

My debut novel, Secrets We Keep, tells the story of a young Ukrainian woman, Anna Levenko, who moves from Kyiv to Washington, D.C., in search of a successful career.

This novel takes the readers on a tour of several countries—Ukraine, the United States, and Tanzania. All the places which I describe in the book are very dear to my heart. I work in international development, and the African storyline of the novel has been inspired by my work in Africa. 

Over a decade ago I travelled to Africa for the very first time. I started working in Tanzania, Uganda and Botswana. Coming from Ukraine, this was a new experience for me. I held meetings with various counterparts in different African countries. One thing which struck me right away was that quite a few high government officials in Africa had apparently studied in the Soviet Union of all places. That gave me an idea for a book. 

What if one of the members of African elite, Solomon, came to the Soviet Union back in the 70’s, obtained a degree, a job, got happily married there, but did not tell his new Ukrainian family anything about his life in Africa? He gets killed in a car accident, and the connection to Africa is seemingly lost forever… But one day, Solomon’s granddaughter gets a job which sends her to Africa, and she finally has a chance to find Solomon’s family. 

My friends and family members in Ukraine have inspired some of the Ukrainian characters in my novel. These are happy, fun-loving and patriotic people who love their country and diligently follow its many customs and traditions.

Let's get a blurb:

 A rising star that fell...

Anna Levenko was set to become the next "it girl" in tennis. The first Ukrainian prophesied to win a Grand Slam… And then everything changed. Years later, with a business degree behind her, an unpaid job keeping her busy, and a family that means well, Anna can't help but dream of something bigger. What's one little white lie in the grand scheme of things?

But Anna’s dream job isn't just sunshine and roses. Her first project takes her to Tanzania, and everything that could go wrong, does. Not to mention her woeful love life. Will she ever reach the life she's worked so hard for? Or is success just not in the cards for Anna?

How about an excerpt?

The Indian Ocean was gorgeous, with its bright and clear turquoise waters, and they were  passing a lot of different, interesting vessels. Some of them were ordinary boats and yachts which Anna was used to seeing in the States, but others had triangular lateen sails and sharp bows. These boats were both big and small, and some were tiny with just one fisherman sitting in them.

“These are called dhow boats,” Jean said, pointing at a few of the traditional vessels sailing by. “It is a typical East African boat. In the past, merchants were traveling in such boats all the way to and from India carrying all kinds of heavy items—fruit, water, different merchandise—”

“I love these,” she interrupted with excitement. “They are so beautiful and romantic. They look like the vessels from fairy tales.”

By now, Anna was no longer scared; she even got up and walked around the boat, enjoying the scenery around her. The boat was moving at a good speed and would be reaching the destination in no time.

Anna tried not to look at Jean but eventually she could not help taking a peek at him sitting on the bench, totally in his element, relaxed with his blond hair flowing in the wind. He took his T-shirt off, and Anna was able to see he had a deep tan and was muscular—maybe a couple of inches shorter than David and also thinner.

How would David carry himself in Tanzania? Anna laughed at the mere thought of having David on this boat. Of course, he would never set his foot on it and never in a million years allow Anna to take it. David would also never be saying “jambo” and embracing the captain. It was hilarious even to imagine that.

In fact, Anna could not even tell David she went on this day trip. David belonged in his glass house in D.C. and at holiday destinations like Jekyll Island, Miami, Nice, Venice, and the like. Well, David does not need to know anything about today. No point in worrying him unnecessarily. It is just one trip.

What’s your next project?

My plan has always been to write a trilogy about the Levenko family. I am now pretty close to finishing a sequel (book #2), it just needs some polishing. 

To clarify, the 1st book, Secrets We Keep, takes place during the peacetime in Ukraine. I started writing this book some years ago, way before the full-blown Russian invasion of Ukraine, so everything which happens in this book is cheerful and calm. People focus on love, sports, careers, friendships. The way things used to be for all the Ukrainians. 

Given the progression of events, the second book is set during the war time. It is a very emotional book and it has not been easy to write. I try to protect my characters as much as I can, but there is only so much I can do. Also, as I am writing this book, I am re-living all the tragic events all over again, which is heartbreaking. 

I greatly hope that by the time I start writing the third and the final book, Ukraine would win the war, so I could finish the trilogy on a high note.

To read Secrets We Keep following are its buy links and Valeriya's contact information to learn more about her.

Purchase Links:


Social Media Tags:

Website: www.valeriyagoffe.com 

Twitter: @GoffeValeria

Instagram: valgoffe_author


Thank you, Valeriya, for being my guest today. Any questions or comments for Valeriya?

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 ...