Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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 to do come vacation time. Author Karen Hulene Bartell has a new book that sounds like a perfect fit for spring and summer reading.

Karen is the author of the Trans-Pecos, Sacred Emblem, Sacred Journey, and Sacred Messenger series, as well as Kissing Kin, Fox Tale, Wild Rose Pass  The Keys: Voice of the Turtle and more.

She is  a best-selling author, motivational keynote speaker, IT technical editor, wife, and describes herself as "an all-around pilgrim of life." She writes multicultural, offbeat love stories steeped in the supernatural. 

Born to rolling-stone parents who moved annually, she found her earliest playmates as fictional friends in books. She says paperbacks became her portable pals. Ghost stories kept her up at night—reading feverishly. The paranormal was her passion as novels became an imaginative escape. An only child, she began writing her first novel at the age of nine, learning the joy of creating her own happy endings. 

Karen is professor emeritus of the University of Texas at Austin. She resides in the Texas Piney Woods with her husband Peter and three rescued cats and a rescued *Cat*ahoula Leopard dog.

Karen, tell us about your road to publication.

If getting published were one journey, maybe I would have done things differently, but it wasn’t direct. Getting published was closer to an interwoven, four-strand braid of trails rather than one isolated path. One goal was to be published. Another dream was to rescue horses. A third was to finish my Doctorate, and the fourth objective was simply to pay the bills. 

How I juggled those four objectives is still a mystery to me 😉 But my story of getting published started with cookbooks. I had a Polish boyfriend at the time and wanted to impress him with my cooking – in particular, my Polish cooking. I didn’t have a clue about Polish cuisine, so I put an ad in the local (Belleville, NJ) newspaper, asking for authentic Polish recipes. Keep in mind, this wayyy predated the Internet.

If the people would show me how to cook the dishes, I’d pay them the hefty fee of $5.00. (Okay, laugh, but in 1969, five bucks was a lot of money, at least to me.) Surprisingly, I had quite a few takers – enough to write a cookbook – and they were wonderful! They’d invite me into their kitchens; show me how to make the dishes; share their family recipes; and then eat dinner with me. I loved it! (And I made a few friends.)

From writing cookbooks, I progressed to technical writing for several years (as, what else? a Technical Writer/Editor). Then I wrote college textbooks. (By this time, I was teaching ESL at Soochow University in Taipei, Taiwan.) And from there, I “graduated” to writing novels.

Obviously, a direct path…

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

Fox Tale is my latest release. My husband works for a Japanese company. When he was instructed to meet with his Tokyo team, I leapt at the chance to accompany him. The next thing I did was research Japan’s cryptids. What appeared were Inari’s kitsunes or fox spirits—and voilà, the idea for Fox Tale was born.

What are Inari’s kitsunes? Japan’s history of foxes is complex.

According to Fox Tale’s leading man, Rafe, “Originally, Inari was the concept of a successful rice harvest. Over time, devotees fleshed out that belief, and Inari became the androgynous god of wealth.” 

“And the kitsunes?” asked the protagonist, Ava.

“The relationship has always been cooperative…Initially, foxes kept rice fields free from rodents, ensuring good crop yields. Eventually, people humanized the foxes into guardians and agents.”

While my husband attended meetings, I explored Tokyo, sometimes alone on foot and sometimes with a group tour. I took copious notes, and each site I visited became part of my developing story. With the supernatural element, as well as the locale established, my imagination began taking flight.

I spoke to locals as often as possible, asking if they believed in kitsune--or if their neighbor or grandmother believed in them. (Luckily, many Japanese speak English!) Not one admitted to believing in the old superstitions, but almost all knew of someone who did.


Said Fox Tale’s antagonist, Ichiro, “Most Japanese live in concrete canyons, and rational university educations replace superstition. Still, fox stories persist through theater, festivals, language, and literature…or kiterature as I call it.” 

“Despite a waning belief?” I leaned closer. 

“Even today, some believe in fox possession…although believing in kitsunetsuki might not be fashionable in this age of supercomputers and artificial intelligence, stories still circulate in the tabloids and mass media.”

“For example?” 

“In 2019, a doomsday cult member rammed his car into pedestrians on Takeshita Street, then pled not guilty on the grounds that the cult was fox possessed. And as recently as 2022, the Sessho-seki split in two.” 

Skeptical, I squinted. “The what did what?” 

“The killing stone…according to legend, it imprisoned an evil nogitsune vixen. Her spirit escaped when it split in half and began spewing sulfur fumes, killing anyone that approached…For over a thousand years, Japanese medical practitioners considered kitsunetsuki a disease. Even into the twentieth century, psychologists believed fox possession caused mental illness.” 

“But not anymore…” Crossing my arms, I hugged myself, seeking reassurance. “Right?” 

“Today, therapists consider kitsunetsuki a psychosis or a culture-bound syndrome. Although”—he shrugged—“its symptoms can extend to people familiar with the Japanese culture.”

Gathering all the information I could from locals, as well as researching online, the plot for Fox Tale began to take shape. Once I had the realistic component that tied the supernatural to the natural, I had the storyline. Then the characters emerged as the story unfolded in my mind.

When my husband finished his meetings in Tokyo, we visited Kyoto, where we toured Fushimi Inari. The mountain is sacred in the Shinto religion, a place where “deities coexist with nature” and where, some believe, Inari resides.

Fushimi Inari has an ethereal presence. Its otherworldly aura and scenery are difficult to describe, but if anything supernatural could occur, it would happen on that mountain. 

While at that shrine, the various parts merged into the basis of Fox Tale: the supernatural element, general locale, plot, characters, and finally the specific location for the eerie activity. 

Lo and behold, Fox Tale was born.

Fascinating! Let's get a Blurb:

Heights terrify Ava. When a stranger saves her from plunging down a mountain, he diverts her fears with tales of Japanese kitsune—shapeshifting foxes—and she begins a journey into the supernatural.

She’s attracted to Chase, both physically and metaphysically, yet primal instincts urge caution when shadows suggest more than meets the eye.

She’s torn between Chase and Rafe, her ex, when a chance reunion reignites their passion, but she struggles to overcome two years of bitter resentment. Did Rafe jilt her, or were they pawns of a larger conspiracy? Are the ancient legends true of kitsunes twisting time and events?

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

My current WIP is a suspense intrigue thriller--a departure from my more usual genre--paranormal romance. I believe Sino-American diplomatic relations will decline as tensions between Taiwan, China, and the US intensify. In my next novel--working title, Silkworm--I’ll put those predictions into print.

Silkworm portrays a US Senator’s daughter caught between two men, two cultures, two political ideologies, and the two Chinas. A love triangle is the metaphor for Taiwan and China (the two dragons) competing for geopolitical and technological accords with the US. 

As mainland China seeks to recover the third of its lost provinces–Taiwan–Rachel Moore struggles to escape the triple nightmare of impending war, a marriage of convenience, and an assassination plot against the man she loves. Silkworm weaves their stories with the trilateral events currently erupting in Southeast Asia.

How do you come up with your plots?

I’m a pantser, no question about it. I do make short outlines of what happens next, but I’m too spontaneous to follow any extended framework. Besides, when I “play dolls” with friends, that is, brainstorm my plot, I often prefer their ideas to mine, which makes for far more interesting plot twists than I’d devise.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

I’ve received little writing advice. However, I started life as an actor and received an immense amount of advice for that career.

The best advice I received was to keep at it--in that case, acting, but the same words apply to writing. Keep at it. Don’t quit. Keep honing your craft and, eventually, you’ll succeed.

The worst advice I’ve received was from an editor--translation: a frustrated author—who demanded I indiscriminately follow her redrafting of my manuscript in an attempt to overwrite my style with hers.

However, my advice for writers is to R E A D! Read everything that interests you. Read when you’re bored. Read when you can’t sleep. Read at the beach…in front of the fire…in bed…waiting for doctor appointments…

Then begin reading genres that are similar to the style in which you’d like to write. Analyze what works and what doesn’t. Find common denominators or rules of thumb between the characters or plots. What makes memorable characters? How does the author maintain the story’s fast pace or add to its suspense? Decide specifically what you like about each author’s style.

Next, start writing about what interests you. Express yourself as honestly as possible. Write about what you know, what you’re familiar with—even your childhood. Keep a notebook. Jot down ideas as they come to you!

Finally, start drafting a story that “grabs you.” Push through that first draft to the end, no matter how painful. (There’s a magic wand called rewrite that allows you to complete any half-baked thoughts later.) The point is to finish the first draft. See it through. Only then should you go back and develop your story. 

Occasionally, you’ll find that the story--and even the characters—will seize the pen (AKA your imagination) and draft the story for you!

Sometimes, it’s good to take a vacation from your manuscript. When you return to it, you’ll find your thoughts will have gelled and expressing them comes more easily. 

Then rewrite. If necessary, rewrite again and again until your story accurately expresses your message.

Finally, polish your prose. Go back and read each line out loud. The ear catches what the eye misses. Refine your words and phrases until they sparkle.

Before you know it, you’ll have found a genre, even--dare I say it?--your style! 

Following are Karen's buy links and social media information:

Buy Links – 

Social Media Links – 

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

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Finding Joy Through Writing

I have said it previously, but I'll say it again. One of the joys of doing a weekly blog on authors is getting to meet so many wonderful writers--even if it is only online. My guest today is author Pamela Spradlin Mahajan.

Her latest book is Skye, Revised, a women’s fiction novel with what she says is a "delicious dash of magical realism and romance." Pamela has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and creative writing from Missouri State University and a Masters from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Her recent short stories have appeared in the online literary journal "They Call Us" and she has also been honored in the WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. A native of Springfield, Mo., Pamela lives with her family in Kansas City, where in addition to writing women's fiction, she also works as a copywriter, journalist, and reseller. Let's find out more about Pamela.

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

One challenge I have experienced as a writer thus far has been the rejection. I have written many short stories and received many rejections in turn, which I believe is part of the process. 

One notable thing is that, as I have developed my storytelling abilities, I have received higher tier rejections where editors compliment my work and ask me to resubmit. It is definitely something only someone who has been in the querying trenches would understand: that a rejection can be exhilarating!

Tell us about your road to publication.

Hmmm, where do I start? I have been writing stories since I was very young, around kindergarten. After graduating from Missouri State University with a bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in creative writing, I worked full time at the local newspaper and then as a copywriter for a national retailer. I also wrote fiction in my free time.

In 2020, I decided to get serious and edit and query a women’s fiction manuscript I had written about a naive twentysomething who is exposed to a world of fame and money when she follows her NBA player boyfriend to Miami. I had written the story on and off for years with very little knowledge of story structure, at least beyond the intuitive. After about a year of querying that story and very little interest, I set it aside. I learned a lot though, both in the editing and querying stages.

Around that same time, I was coached by women’s fiction author Camille Pagan. She encouraged me to write what I wanted to write—what brought me joy—as opposed to what I thought I should write. Pondering that idea and going over a lot of story ideas in my head led me to abandon the current manuscript I was working on and start Skye, Revised.

It took about two years from starting Skye, Revised to being offered a contract by The Wild Rose Press. Mostly that was because I did a lot of stopping and starting, including once to write an entire separate beach romance novella. One of the times I put Skye, Revised aside, I came up with the idea to write the antagonist’s point of view as well, which reinvigorated the story a bit for me.


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

Skye, Revised is about a public relations assistant, Skye Peters, living in Los Angeles who once had big dreams of becoming a singer. After being humiliated on a reality singing show, she put her dreams aside. She has since become a bit dissatisfied with everything, including her affable boyfriend, Teddy, who is a children’s singer with a show on public television. 

When an unforeseen turn of events causes her to take a bullet, Skye blacks out and finds she is a famous pop star, adored by millions and married to a sexy Scottish producer. It is a seemingly perfect existence. But she soon discovers what is beneath the surface is far from perfect—plus, her boyfriend Teddy no longer recognizes her in this new life. If Skye doesn’t know how or why she is in this alternate reality, can she ever get back?

Pondering what would bring me the most joy to write as well as figuring out the basic plot points led me to the idea for this novel. After going through a variety of ideas in my head and on paper, Skye, Revised is what seemed to me the most fun and interesting to write. 

Let's get a blurb:

After being humiliated on a reality singing show, PR assistant Skye Peters is merely existing. She's beyond bored with her life, including her well-meaning but clueless boyfriend, Teddy. 

While hiding in a closet to avoid Teddy's attempted marriage proposal, Skye is inexplicably shot by a masked intruder. When she awakens, she finds herself in a strange reality where she is a famous pop star with millions of fans and a sexy Scottish husband. Life seems idyllic at first, but the cracks rapidly begin to appear. Skye seeks solace in Teddy, but he doesn't know her in this new world. Will she get a second chance at her old life or is she destined to be stuck in a reality she doesn't want?

Now, how about an excerpt:

        “Really? You’re going to wear that?” I said.

        Teddy gave his outfit a once-over. “Yes…” The corner of his mouth inched up into a smile. “Is there something wrong with it?”

        I wrinkled my nose as if a reeking can of fly-ridden garbage sat rotting nearby. “Khakis, Teddy? Pleated khakis?” I hadn’t even mentioned the cheap tucked-in polo shirt. “It looks like the uniform you wear on the show.”

        Teddy swiped his jacket from the coat rack by the door and slipped into it. When it was sixty-one degrees in Los Angeles, you wore a jacket. “And, again, I ask: what’s wrong with that? Come on, Skye. We’re gonna be late.”

        I exhaled an exasperated gush of air.

        “You look great, by the way. The black really makes your blonde hair stand out.” Teddy lifted my knee-length coat from the rack and slid it over my form-fitting dress. I glanced down at the sheer cutout stretching across my collarbone.

        “Well, it’s a nice place. I want to make a good impression—to look like we belong there.”

        Teddy’s outfit did not demonstrate that we belonged anywhere worth being—especially not somewhere like The Hibiscus. It attracted A-list, red carpet fixtures the way spandex boy-cut underwear attracted wedgies. I was quite certain pleated khakis would be nowhere in sight, unless they were being worn ironically.

        I side-eyed his chain-store-salesman look once more. It never failed—no matter how many slim, trendy trousers or jeans I picked out for him from Banana Republic or Asos, he still reached for the very same familiar item in the bowels of his closet. The very one I was trying to direct him away from. Honestly, what was the point?

        My body ached with the exhaustion of defeat as I slid into the passenger seat of Teddy’s hatchback.

        “Are you excited? You’ve been wanting to go here for years,” he said as he maneuvered out of the parking lot.

        I’d be more excited if your outfit didn’t embarrass me.

        I mumbled a nondescript response and we sat in silence for several minutes. As we pulled onto the 101, Teddy grasped the leather-wrapped steering wheel with one hand and rested the other on my bare knee. I glanced at his hand, watching the tendons move beneath his tan skin.

        Then I gazed out the window as decrepit buildings morphed into sleek, glossy high-rise apartment complexes. Los Angeles was forever an unsettling contrast between seedy and superior, sad and spoiled. The only consistent thing was its palm trees. As I studied a tree outlined against the sky, my stomach knotted into a mixture of excitement and dread. We had never been to The Hibiscus before—we’d never been anywhere close. Teddy considered Red Lobster a classy establishment, for God’s sake. In my opinion, anywhere you have to wear a bib while eating is definite no no.

        I took a measured inhale. The thought of Teddy’s stale outfit being scrutinized by L.A.’s hippest wasn’t the only reason for my frazzled nerves. I was replaying a conversation between us from several days earlier, searching it for hidden meaning. For clues. 

What’s your next project?


I wrote a Christmas novella that will be my second book, also being published by  The Wild Rose Press. It is a romance with a magical realism/time travel element. I expect it to be released near the end of 2024. 


What advice do you have for beginning writers?

Read Stephen King’s On Writing. It is amazing. I believe his advice to write and read daily is spot on. Even if you can’t reach his four hours each day of reading and writing, striving toward that is helpful. I also recommend making writing goals each week and tracking how long or how many words you write as it is easy to feel you worked more than you actually did. Other than that, keep going!

Here are the buy links for Skye Revisited and Pamela's contact information:

Amazon - Skye Revisited

Apple iBooks - https://books.apple.com/us/book/skye-revised/id6476150175

Barnes & Noble - https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/skye-revised-pamela-spradlin-mahajan/1144560416?ean=9781509254002

Social Contacts:

Author Website: https://pamelamahajan.com

Pamela’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pamelajsm/

Pamela’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/pjsmahajan

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

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 ...