Seven characteristics of successful #writers that cannot be taught

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By Toby Neal

This post originally appeared on Toby Neal’s blog on September 21, 2016.

Seven characteristics of successful writers cannot be taught—but they can be learned and developed until they become the habits that are the bedrock of a successful artist practice in any field.

  • The successful writer is a keen observer of everything around him. Writers notice things: the way a closet smells of cedar, mothballs, and the unique stench of crumbling old photographs. They see the gilt hairs on a centipede, the gleam of a lost marble in the grass. They feel the chill of dried sweat on the inside of a parka—and everything, simply everything, is something that might be useful for story.
  • The successful writer is dangerously curious. Curiosity is a quality that cannot be faked or taught—but it can be cultivated. Curiosity drives the questioning mind to relentlessly ask: what if? Why? How does this work? Seeking answers is the stuff of story, legend, art and invention—and while not every question may be of interest, an inquiring mind can be nurtured (particularly in children. But that’s a topic for another day.)
  • The successful writer has talent plus passion. Talent cannot be faked. Some people just have an innate adeptness with words, with paint, with a musical instrument—they perform in their area of passion easily, gracefully, naturally. But those who succeed don’t just have talent—they can’t NOT do their art. Oh, the stories I could tell on this one. My early ambition to be a writer was actually crushed by the careless comment of an adult I respected at a party before I left for college. “What? You want to be a writer? You’ll never make a living doing that.” I was forty before I began to really put that all-to-common sound bite behind me, and for a while I grieved for all the time lost. Eventually, though, I could see all the ways that I was writing all of my life, and none of it was wasted. Even when a creative’s sublimating, their passion oozes out in that church newsletter, that nursery mural, that ditty on the trash can at the bus stop. They must, and they will, come what may—and eventually the universe shapes itself to support that unyielding passion.
  • The successful writer learns from criticism (but never gives up.) Rejection is inherent to any creative enterprise. As my editor Kristin Weber said, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” Creative fields are also filled with what Julia Cameron, in her groundbreaking The Artist’s Way, calls “shadow artists.” These are blocked creatives, who, instead of doing their own art, have instead become the tastemakers, the critics, the professors and teachers, the reviewers. That’s not to say everyone in these roles is a shadow artist—no, far from it! But you’ll know the shadow artist by the brutality and cruelty of their attack, the mean-spirited belittlement of their judginess. They cannot hide their bitter jealousy, and its toxic venom burns the tender young artist. Put on your armor, take your hits—and be humble. Learn from the criticism, do that next edit, go the extra mile to perfect the work with grace and thanks—but never let anyone’s bad review make you give up.
  • The successful writer is not afraid to be alone. Art is, and writing particularly, a solitary pursuit. Even co-writing, which I’m doing now, is still me on my side of the world writing my words alone, and my co-author on hers writing her words, both of us dumping them into a shared story (alone) and then trying to make it all hang together (which can definitely be harder than working alone!) A taste for one’s own company is very much a characteristic of the successful writer. You can learn to do this by taking small retreats and learning to sit with the silence, learning to build an inner self sufficiency—and the writing or other art will deepen as a result.

    My work area, surrounded by special objects.

  • The successful writer focuses and finishes. It’s not enough to flit through life, beginning novels, getting forty pages in, and abandoning them out of boredom (as I did.) It takes commitment to focus, persist, follow the rabbit-trail of an idea, capture and nurture it, weed, water and feed it, trim, groom, and harvest the fruit of it—even if that particular novel ends up in a drawer, becoming fertilizer for the next one. Focusing and finishing are important habits that separate the wannabes from the doing-its. Learn to focus and finish, even if it doesn’t come naturally—there are apps, books, techniques available. (Look up Pomodoro Method, and the book Steal Like an Artistby Austin Kleon, for ideas.)
  • The successful writer is persistent. The single greatest characteristic needed for success in any creative field is persistence. It can make up for a multitude of sins, including lack of talent, having no ideas, being a sellout, an idiot, a messed-up neurotic with a mental health disorder, a drunk or a dilettante. If you refuse to give up, and just keep coming to the page day after day after day, you will improve. You will succeed in becoming the best writer you can be.

As I write this, I am on vacation in the wilds of British Columbia, a location I chose because of its optimal writing opportunities and with which my family cooperated because they love nature too, and fishing, and trees and eagles and the sound of the tide turning. But today I am happily alone, delighted with the idea of a long stretch of uninterrupted writing before me, and amazed that its my writing paying for it all. I wish I’d known thirty years ago what I know now, and share with you freely. But only you can believe in yourself and your passion enough to make room for it to flourish. I hope you will.

Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. Toby enjoys outdoor activities including bodyboarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking as well as writing. A mental health therapist, Toby credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the LeiCrime Series.

Get to know Toby on her:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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Thursday teaser: Under the Nazi Heel

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Book 2 in the Eastern Front trilogy

By Scott Bury

Chapter 10: The heel grinds

Nastaciv, July 1942

Maurice woke at noon the day after the night raid. Hot air came in through the open window and he felt sticky with sweat. After washing, he found his mother in the sweltering barn, tending her still.

“Bad news from the villages around,” she said when he came in, without looking up at him. She put more fuel into the little furnace, her brow furrowed. A soft gurgle came from somewhere in the still, and she tapped the copper pipe that led to the first collecting barrel.

The heat from the furnace under the still made Maurice dizzy. “Come outside and tell me.” He stepped out and waited for Tekla to finish fussing over her vodka and follow him. Outside, a slight breeze relieved some of the heat of the summer sun.

“What did you hear?” he asked finally, lighting a cigarette.

“Young Yulia Evanyshyn from Yospivka went missing last night. And a man named Yurchik was killed. People buried him here in Nastaciv secretly at night.” As she looked up at him, Maurice felt like her eyes were drilling into his head. “You’re smoking too much lately.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Where were you all night?”

“It’s best if you don’t know that.” Maurice took one more drag, then threw the half-smoked cigarette to the ground and stomped it with his heel.

“They say the Germans in Seredynky are hopping mad,” Tekla said, closing the barn door.

Maurice helped her push it closed. “Who says?

“People.” She latched the door and walked toward her beet field.

“We better go to the village and find out what people are saying.”

“You go. I have work to do here.”

Vasyl was sitting at Komorski’s café as usual, but outside on the step. “Hey, Maurice,” he said as Maurice sat beside him. “Did you hear about Seredynky?”

“Not much. What did you hear?”

“The Germans have burned down five houses and executed three men. They sent their families away, to camps, they say.”

Despite the sun beating on the back of his neck, Maurice felt cold. “Why?” came out like a rasp.

“Partisans attacked last night, they say. They killed five German soldiers at the garrison there, so the commander ordered one house burned for each man killed. He shot the fathers of each house himself. One of them had a pretty, young wife and they say he has her in his quarters now, where he’s using her for his own sick pleasure.” Vasyl spat into the dirt. “Bastards.”

Maurice stood, feeling himself tremble from head to foot. He went into Komorski’s little house and found the café owner sitting at his own table, his head in his hands. A plain bottle of clear liquid sat on the table, beside a shot glass. “Is it true what they’re saying about Seredynky?” Maurice asked.

Komorski looked pale. He smoothed his hair and spoke to the table. “The Germans set the first house on fire at dawn. They didn’t even bother giving the people inside a warning to get out. They shot the father in front of his three children.”

“How do you know this?”

“The brother of one of the men shot came down here a few hours ago. His name was Loboda, and he was my cousin.” With shaking hands, Komorski poured a shot from the bottle, slopping some of the homemade whiskey onto the table. He threw the drink into his mouth and swallowed. He tried to pour another shot, but his hands could not keep the bottle’s mouth over the glass. Maurice took the bottle and poured for him.

“Yurchik was killed and buried secretly last night, too,” Komorski continued. “He lived here, in this village. He was my friend. It won’t take the Germans long to work out the connection.” He looked up, finally, at Maurice. “Are they going to come here, Maurice? How many houses will they burn in Nastaciv? How many men will they shoot? How many girls are they going to rape?”

About Under the Nazi Heel

For Ukrainians in 1942, the occupying Germans were not the only enemy.

Maurice Bury was drafted into the Red Army just in time to be thrown against the invading Germans in 1941. Captured and starved in a POW camp, he escaped and made his way home to western Ukraine, where the Nazi occupiers pursued a policy of starving the locals to make more “living space” for Germans.

To protect his family, Maurice joins the secret resistance. He soon finds the country faces multiple threats. Maurice and his men are up against Soviet spies, the Polish Home Army and enemies even closer to home.

Experience this seldom seen phase of World War 2 through the eyes of a man who fought and survived Under the Nazi Heel.

Get it on Amazon.

About the author

Scott Bury can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has written in the Lei Crime (Torn Roots, Palm Trees & Snowflakes, Dead Man Lying, Echoes), Jet (Jet: Stealth) and Sydney Rye (The Wife Line, The Three-Way) Kindle Worlds.

His latest work is the Eastern Front trilogy: Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War.

Get to know Scott from his:

And follow him on Twitter @ScottTheWriter.

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Monday Musings: Readers and writers together

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Yesterday, I took part in an event called Art in the Park, a sort of market in the town next to the one I live in. I set up a table to display and sell some of my books, alongside painters, jewelry-makers, knitters, potters and a couple of other writers. In the middle was a covered area, where children were playing music. Across the aisle from me, the Ottawa Art Gallery set up a tent where small children could make crafts.

I did not have great expectations for the event, but am I ever glad I was wrong. For the first two hours, I barely had a break between people who asked me questions about my books. It was ego-boosting, fun and informative, as well. My favourite part was people saying “Wait—are you the author? Wow.”

As it turned out, I should have brought more books.

I sold several sets of the Eastern Front trilogy, and completely sold out of volume 1, Army of Worn Soles.

Scott Bury at his display at Art in the Park, Stittsville, ON, June 4, 2017

But more important than that was the opportunity to talk with readers. Many people stopped at my table, curious about the poster I put up: “A Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army in the Second World War.” That led to questions and conversations about history, their personal interests and preferences, and their stories.

A preponderance of people who bought the war-based trilogy had some kind of connection to a military, or experiences in conflict. More than one was a veteran of the Canadian or British armed forces.

And all but two were older than me. One lady told me she was an avid reader but never read war stories, because she had lived through the London Blitz and had had enough of war, directly. She also never read romances.

Another man was interested in the eastern-European angle of the story, because his mother was born in Germany, and his grandfather had disappeared after being captured by the Soviets.

Younger people were more interested in my first novel, the historical fantasy, The Bones of the Earth. But being young, they did not buy any copies. Still, it was fun to talk with them about fantasy, reading, writing and what subjects or ideas caught their interest.

Reader engagement

All the writing coaches and advisors tell us writers how important it is to “engage” with your audience, to exchange ideas and to learn why they read, or don’t. While it’s relatively easy for musicians and other performing artists to do, for writers, engaging directly with an audience is more of a challenge.

Social media is supposed to be a way to engage with readers, but there’s nothing like meeting face-to-face.

What about you, readers? What would you like to ask writers? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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What your favorite authors are working on

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The authors of BestSelling Reads have more than 200 titles for you to enjoy, but we’re not just waiting for you to read them. We’re all hard at work on our next books.

Here are what some of your favorite writers are working on.

Alan McDermott, author of the Tom Gray series

My latest work is set in the US. It has a female lead who teams up with an ex-soldier who has been targeted by the government. They race against time to find out why the most powerful men in the world want them dead. It is packed with intrigue and action.

It’s not technically part of the Tom Gray series. Having done that and the MI5 spinoff, Trojan, I decided to try something new, though a few familiar characters are involved in this one, too. I’m excited about it, as it means I can go off in one of three directions with my next book, be it a Tom Gray, Andrew Harvey or another one with Nolene.

I woke up with the idea of someone having a bullet fly past his head and running for his life.  I watered that seed, and now it is turning into what could be my best book yet.

D.G. Torrens, author of the Amelia series and other titles

I am currently working on a standalone romance/drama. My working title is ‘Finding You”: however, this will probably change before I publish it.

This is a romantic/drama that is filled with every emotion you can imagine … to be released in the autumn.

My inspiration for this story came to me around 2 one morning, when I woke up from an amazing dream. It was one of those dreams you don’t want to wake up from! A dream all consumed by love.

 

Claude Bouchard, author of the Vigilante series

Claude Bouchard

I’m currently working on Make it Happen, the thirteenth installment of my Vigilante Series. Related to Discreet Activities, the sixth of my series, Make it Happen also deals with terrorism, namely with attacks conducted by the revived Army for Islam which are being financed by the larger State of Islam.

As with all my thrillers, it was inspired by the sad world we live in.

Raine Thomas, author of the Estilorean and Ascendant series

I’m currently writing Driving Tempo (a New Adult Rock Star Romance). It’s Book 3 in the House of Archer series. I just released Book 2, Unsteady Rhythm on May 22.

This series was inspired by my love of music, which I find incredibly inspirational. I always listen to music when I write, so combining the two into a romance series was only natural!

Seb Kirby, author of the James Blake series and Sugar for Sugar

I’m closing in on completing a new psychological thriller with the provisional title “The Anatomy of Truth.” I hope it will be available by September.

It’s a stand-alone story, but it shares some features with my earlier psychological thrillers, Each Day I Wake and Sugar for Sugar. The location is similar: the South Bank and the East End of London. My unlikeable detective, Stephen Ives, also plays a significant role.

I became interested in cases where criminal defence lawyers work to undo a miscarriage of justice that has put a client away for a life sentence on flimsy identification evidence and how they might be able to launch an appeal. But the story quickly developed a life of its own. It’s developed a complexity that has surprised me. I’m working hard to render that in a straightforward form.

DelSheree Gladden, author of the Date Shark, Aerling, Destroyer, Handbook and other series

I was working on Memory’s Edge Part 2, but couldn’t get Eliza and Baxter out of my head after finishing “Firebrand” so I switched over to the next Eliza Carlisle Mystery, which is so far unnamed.

This will be the third full-length book in the Eliza Carlisle Mystery series. Book 2, “Firebrand,” is being edited right now and I couldn’t resist starting book three when I got an idea for a new murder mystery plot.

Inspiration: I’ve been reading the Lacey Luzzi series by Gina LaManna, so of course food was on my mind! With Eliza Carlisle (from my series) being culinary school, how could I not end up creating a murder investigation around a cupcake?

Gae-Lynn Woods, author of the Cass Elliot crime series

I’m working on the next Cass Elliot Crime Novel. Cass and Maxine track down a serial rapist and believe they’ve caught the man who attacked them both. But have they?

This is the third book in the Cass Elliot Crime Series. Maxine Leverman turned up in the second novel, Avengers of Blood, and wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote a book just for her. That became the first Cass Elliot companion novel, A Case of Sour Grapes. I’m back on track after that little diversion, and Maxine is playing nicely with the rest of my characters. For the moment!

Inspiration: When I started writing The Devil of Light, I knew that Cass had been raped and that she became a cop to find the man who attacked her. Then Maxine turned up and told us that she’d been attacked by the same man. Now both women are pushing to find this guy and settle things with him. I’m not sure where the story will take us, but you can bet a few bodies will pile up along the way.

 

 

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Thursday teaser: Gray Retribution

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Book 4 in the Tom Gray series

By Alan McDermott

“Heads up.  We’ve got movement to the north.”

Simon ‘Sonny’ Baines lay on the roof of the farm building and listened to the approaching band of guerrillas make a beeline for the building.  Below,
Len Smart, Carl Levine and Jeff Campbell took up defensive positions against the low wall that ran around the perimeter of the house.  Their movement was silent in comparison to that of the attacking force, which announced its presence by crashing through the undergrowth like a herd of elephants headed for a waterhole.

The three men on the ground trained their sights on the tree line that bordered the eastern edge of the smallholding, remaining silent as they
waited for the bandits to make an appearance.  The noise grew louder as the attackers approached, then suddenly stopped dead.

Silence covered the area as the nocturnal orchestra took a time out.  It seemed as if even the animals and insects wanted to watch the action unfold.

Len Smart slowly wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, careful not to make too quick a movement in case it was seen by the enemy.  Mosquitoes danced around his head, kept at bay by the insect repellent, but their incessant buzzing told him that he wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

As if the oppressive humidity weren’t reminder enough.

Without warning, muzzle flashes lit up the edge of the forest.  None of the defensive team returned fire, preferring to lull the enemy into advancing
out of the trees and into the kill zone.  The small-arms fire continued for a few seconds before petering out, allowing silence to return.

All remained still for over a minute, then Sonny’s voice came over the comms.  “Got people in the grass at your ten and two.  Looks like they’re
trying to flank us.”

Len Smart was on the right of the trio and he saw his target a hundred yards away.  Rather, he saw the top of the three-foot tall grass sway gently as
the unseen assailant crawled slowly through it.  Night-vision goggles would have come in handy, but he would have to make do with the sliver of
moonlight that cast a dull shine over the African plantation.  Besides, there were four of them and an estimated enemy strength of around fifty, so
in Smart’s mind they easily had the locals outnumbered.

“Got him,” he said, and Levine on the other end of the line confirmed that he also had a bead on his man.

The AK-47s opened up once more, but the three men continued to save their ammunition and keep their locations hidden.  They spotted a couple of armed men advancing slowly from the trees but held their fire, preferring them to get a little closer before engaging. From the rooftop, Sonny watched the scene unfolding below him, oblivious to the wraith-like figure scaling the rear wall.

Sergeant Nwankwo Okeke was clad in an ancient British Army smock and trousers, the disruptive-pattern material a throwback to the late seventies.
His features, like those of the four Englishmen, were obscured by the black and tan camouflage face-paint.  The exception was that underneath the
disguise, his skin was the colour of night, the war paint applied more for effect than concealment.

The chatter of gunfire from the trees intensified, and the occasional grenade came arcing towards the defences.  They landed pitifully short, but
the noise they generated helped to mask Okeke’s approach.  He reached the lip of the roof and peered over.  Sonny lay five yards away with his back
towards him. Okeke eased himself up on powerful forearms and quietly swung a leg over the edge.  He waited, hand over his holster, but Sonny continued to focus on the battle beneath him.

Okeke eased forward, one hushed step at a time, silently drawing his nine-inch knife from its leather sheath.

Two yards.

One.

He fell on Sonny’s back and yanked his head backwards, drawing the blade across his victim’s throat.  With Sonny down, Okeke made an animal call that signalled his friends below.  They broke from the cover of the building and raked the trio’s positions with AK-47 fire.

Smart, Levine and Campbell, all facing the other way, realised too late that they’d fallen for a feint.

They never stood a chance.

About Gray Retribution

Tom Gray is enjoying time with his family after the birth of his daughter, now three months old, and just wants an easy home life. However, trouble has a way of finding him. While he is visiting his uncle’s new grocery store, thugs arrive demanding protection money, and in the ensuing fight, Gray is hurt. As he recuperates, Gray learns that a team of friends is facing grave danger on a mission in a tiny war-torn African nation, where an evil warlord is kidnapping boy soldiers to do his work in his bid for supremacy. Gray sets off on a rescue mission, but with his attention now divided between two continents, events are spiraling out of control, and Gray must fight to save all that is dear to him.

In Gray Retribution, the fourth book of the popular, action-packed Tom Gray series, suspense builds to an unforgettable ending.

Find it on Amazon.

About the author

Alan McDermott lives in the south of England,  and is married with beautiful twin daughters. He recently gave up his job of creating critical applications for the NHS to write action thrillers full time.

His debut novel, Gray Justice, was very well received and earned him bestseller status. The next two books in the series — Gray Resurrection and Gray Redemption — were enough to attract the attention of a major publisher, and he has since added Gray RetributionGray Vengeance and Gray Salvation to the list.  Alan’s seventh title, Trojan,
is a spinoff featuring MI5 agent Andrew Harvey. It will be released in early 2017.

You can find more information on Alan’s:

BestSelling Reads author page  |  Amazon Author page  |   Website and blog  |  Facebook page

And follow him on Twitter @jambalian.

 

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Monday musing: Inspiration from nature

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Many artists found inspiration in the natural world: Beethoven, Tom Thomson, Bedrich Smetana, Jean Sibelius, the list goes on. And writers do, to.

I am one, and I thought I’d share some pictures with you from a whitewater canoe trip down the Dumoine River I took a couple of years ago, along with my younger son, Super Nicolas.

The Dumoine runs more or less directly south from western Quebec into the Ottawa River, and was part of the fur-trading route that opened up North America for Europeans. It has a number of rapids, which required portaging — until the invention of memory-polymer canoes that could flex and spring back into shape, which made it possible, and fun, to run the rapids.

It’s an inspiring landscape, evoking thoughts not only of the early days of European exploration of North America and the founding of Canada, but also of far older civilizations (Algonquin, Ojibwa, etc.), and of the deep power of the Earth itself. 

This trip gave me an idea for a short story called Teri and the River, which I plan—one day, probably far in the future—to incorporate into novel called Dark Clouds.

Running the rapids, then eddying out into a calm spot, helped me solidify the concept of each river having a personality, which also nicely fits into the cosmology of my first novel, The Bones of the Earth.

A typical “Canadian sunset” picture.
I find these pictures spark ideas for stories and essays. What about you? Can you attach a story, or at least the beginning of a story to any of these pictures? Share in the Comments section if you can.
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Thursday teaser: Flame Road

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Scorch series book 5

By Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman

CHAPTER ONE

Woman

Panic fluttered at the edges of the woman’s mind. How did she get here?

Nothing would come.

She simply was, and it all hurt.

Throbbing pain radiated from her forehead as she drew her knees up to lie on her side. She blinked as bright light filtering through pine boughs stung her eyes. She raised a heavy white arm. Whose arm was it? She had no idea.

She touched the sore spot on her head. A shock of pain thundered through her skull, down her neck, vibrating through her entire body, clenching her stomach.

She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, letting the pain pass.

Where was she?

The woman rolled onto her knees and wet brown leaves squished beneath her. Her gaze fell to hands riddled with scratches and scrapes and traveled up her arms to her chest. She wore a long-sleeved, ripped white top, mottled with dirt and dried blood, probably from the wound on her head. A jagged, sharp rock marked with an oily dark stain of blood lay directly in front of her.

She must have fallen and hit her head.

The insight was a clue to what was going on. She could solve this mystery. Hope gave her the energy to push herself up, clinging to a nearby sapling. She rose to stand, her pulse pounding as her head swam.

Alone with amnesia in the middle of a forest.

Another insight, but this one brought fresh terror. She looked down and around her, searching for more clues.

The shirt was actually a dress. The garment’s ankle-length skirt was pockmarked with small tears, as if she’d run through the woods, the loose material catching and ripping on underbrush. Towering trees surrounding her were almost bare: late fall.

The woman looked down at her body again, but no spark of recognition ignited as she examined the full breasts and wide hips straining her ill-fitting dress. She turned her head, feeling stinging at the crown of it.

Raising her hand, the woman gently probed shorn hair to find a large scab, tender but healing. She traced the lines of it on the back of her head. Some kind of symbol.

Her head had recently been shaved and something carved into her scalp.

Why?

The woman looked around the forest, scanning the trees, hearing birds and the scuffling of small creatures in the leaves. The sound of bubbling water filtered through the air.

She was thirsty. Very thirsty.

The woman’s legs quivered, and placing weight on her left ankle made her wince. She pulled up the skirt and looked down at the milky skin of her legs, slashed with scratches that must’ve happened as she ran through the woods.

Sturdy hiking boots covered her feet. They didn’t make sense with the dress.

None of it made sense.

Thirst drove her forward. She headed toward the sound of the water, leaning on trees to support her wobbly steps.

Glimmers of light twinkled on a river glimpsed through the trees. She hurried forward and broke from the forest onto a pebbly shore. Water rushed over colored pebbles under a blue sky. She stumbled to the stream’s edge, dropping to her knees and scooping the crystal clear liquid up in her hands.

It might not be safe to drink. She should boil it first.

How did she know that? No clue.

But she didn’t have the luxury of worrying about parasites.

She drank deeply, bringing the cold water to her parched mouth until it filled her stomach. She was hungry, but hunger was nothing compared to the thirst and pain in her head.

The woman pushed the sleeves of the dress up and splashed to her elbows, rinsing away the dirt and blood. She washed her face and unknown scratches stung. Dipping the hem of her skirt into the water, she gently dabbed at the wound on her forehead, hissing between her teeth at the sharp pain.

She must’ve been running from something or someone. Five dark spots marked where someone had grabbed her forearm.

She unbuttoned the dress. Large breasts were cradled in a matronly bra. She pulled the garment aside and examined the full, creamy white round with its pink nipple. Why didn’t she recognize her own body?

She lifted her skirt, exposing pale, fleshy thighs. Clearly, she had not spent much time in the sun but it felt good now, warming her as the chill water refreshed her.

The woman couldn’t see through the fog of lost memory to the clear peaks of who she was and how she got to this place, but the information existed somewhere in her mind, as solid and real as a mountain range hidden in cloud.

She scooped up another handful of sweet water, but a low growl jerked her attention up.

On the other side of the shallow river, less than twenty yards away, stood a gray wolf. Lean, long-legged, shaggy and rough, standing as tall as the woman’s waist, the predator’s black lip lifted above razor teeth. Menace emanated from its chest.

Fear and adrenaline surged through her and froze the woman as cold as the crystal-clear water rushing over the bright stones.

The wolf’s head lowered and its ruff raised. The animal stalked toward her, entering the water.

She had fled from something terrible, and now she was about to die.

About Flame Road

From award-winning, bestselling authors whose writing Kirkus Reviews calls “persistently riveting,” comes the Scorch Series, romantic action adventure for fans of romance thrillers, apocalyptic and family romance sagas.

The Scorch Flu pandemic sweeps through Colorado, forcing commitment-phobic firefighter and sports adrenaline junkie Cosimo “Cash” Luciano to begin hiking his way through the wilderness toward his family’s survival compound in Idaho, the Haven.

A traumatized woman awakens in the woods with no idea who she is or how she got there, and no way to survive. Lost and vulnerable, she is easy prey until Cash and his giant bear dog, Tiny, offer her protection . . . and a nickname, Sunshine.

Together, they must forge a way through the wilderness and unravel the mystery of who she is, and why a band of deadly skinheads are relentlessly hunting her.

Can Cash and Sunshine make it through the peril that pursues them and find a way to each other’s hearts?

About the authors

Emily Kimelman is the author of the best selling Sydney Rye Series, which feature a strong female protagonist and her canine best friend, Blue. It is recommended for the 18+ who enjoy some violence, don’t mind dirty language, and are up for a dash of sex. Not to mention an awesome, rollicking good mystery!

Emily can be found:

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Toby Neal is the author of the bestselling Lei Crime series featuring Maui police detective Lei Texeira, the Paradise Crime series featuring security specialist Sophie Ang, the Michaels Family Romance series, and the new Scorch Series romantic thrillers with Emily Kimelman.

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Thursday teaser: Honor Among Thieves

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The newest Dewey Webb Historical Mystery is now out!

By Renée Pawlish

As I sat at my table at a restaurant on Grant Street, I wasn’t thinking about murder. My mind had been on how I was going to pay the stack of bills piled on my office desk. I hadn’t had a lot of work in the last couple of months, and money was tight. It had been wearing on me, and Clara and I had even had an argument about it this morning.

I crushed out my cigarette in an ashtray and started toward the cashier near the restaurant entrance. That’s when I saw a tall man rise from a table near the door. He was vaguely familiar. Then he lit a match by flicking the tip of it off his thumbnail, and I remembered him. Roy Jefferson.

We’d been in the same outfit in the war, in Germany, but once we’d come back stateside, I hadn’t seen him again. I recalled that he was arrogant and a hardhead, quick to anger, and always pushing his superiors. But in the end, he got the job done. He lit his cigarette, blew out the match, and tossed it into an ashtray. As I neared the register, he glanced up and saw me.

“Dewey Webb?” he asked, his brow furrowed.

I nodded. “Roy Jefferson.”

“That’s right.”

He offered his hand. His grip was firm, and he looked dapper in a well-tailored blue pinstripe suit, but his brown eyes were guarded.

“I didn’t know you lived in Denver,” I said.

“I moved here a while back. What’re you doing?”

I pulled some ones from my wallet and handed them to the cashier. “I’m a private detective.”

“No kidding?” He nodded appreciatively. “You were a good guy in the war, and you could handle situations and people. I can see how you’d be a good investigator.”

“It’s a living.”

He waited, and after I’d paid my bill, he paid his, and we walked outside. It was a chilly November Monday, and I was between jobs and didn’t have anywhere to be. He pulled his fedora down over his brown hair.

“It’s been a while since the war,” he said as he smoked.

That was a topic I didn’t want to discuss. I motioned toward Twelfth Avenue. “I’m parked over there.”

“I’ll walk with you, if that’s okay.” He hesitated, then glanced around nervously. “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about. You being a private eye.”

I gave him the slightest of once-overs, suddenly wondering if our chance encounter wasn’t by chance at all. “All right, why don’t you come to my office and we can talk.”

He stared across the street, bit his lip, then shook his head. “I’ve got to get back to work. How about you come over to my place tonight, say five o’clock?”

I gave him a hard look. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing. It’s just … something I need from you, okay?” He pulled an envelope from his pocket. “What’s your retainer?”

I named my daily fee.

“Good.” He held out the envelope. “That should more than cover it. Come over and hear what I have to say. If you don’t want to help, the money’s yours just for your trouble.”

His eyes darted around nervously. I contemplated him for a moment, then took the envelope and opened it. The money was enough to pay me for a week. I looked at him.

“Are you up to something illegal?” I finally asked.

He held up a hand. “Not at all. Hey, you were a solid guy during the war, and I think you’ll want to hear this deal.” He glanced at his watch. “I’ve got to go. Tonight. Five o’clock. The address is on the envelope.” With that, he spun around and hurried down the street. He turned the corner and was gone.

About Honor Among Thieves

It’s 1949, and Denver private investigator Dewey Webb isn’t thinking about murder, he’s pondering the stack of bills he can’t pay. Then he runs into an old army acquaintance, Roy Jefferson, who is well-dressed, flashing cash, and wanting Dewey’s help. Dewey has his suspicions, however, Roy pays him substantially just to meet him later and hear his problem. Dewey agrees, but before they can talk, Roy dies, an apparent suicide. But is that the case?

Since Dewey has taken Roy’s money, he feels honor-bound to look into Roy’s death. What Dewey discovers leads him to believe someone from Roy’s sordid past may have murdered him. And that same someone may now be after Dewey as well. As Dewey works to find a possible killer, he’s forced to question many things, including his own sense of honor.

Honor Among Thieves is a hard-boiled, historical mystery that’s great for fans who love a traditional detective crime story with a noir flavor, but without a lot of sex or swearing.

Dewey Webb first appeared in the Reed Ferguson mystery, Back Story. Pick up a copy of to find out more about this classic hard-boiled detective.

About the author

Renée Pawlish is the award-winning author of the bestselling Reed Ferguson mystery series, horror bestseller Nephilim Genesis of Evil, The Noah Winters YA Adventure series, middle-grade historical novel This War We’re In, Take Five, a short story collection, and The Sallie House: Exposing the Beast Within, a nonfiction account of a haunted house investigation.

Renée has been called “a promising new voice to the comic murder mystery genre” and “a powerful storyteller.” Nephilim Genesis of Evil has been compared to Stephen King and Frank Peretti.

Renée was born in California, but has lived most of her life in Colorado.

Find more about Renée and her books on

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Monday musing: Writing fiction is different from writing non-fiction. It’s harder.

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Writers of non-fiction often set out to answer a need: “How to hammer nails straight,” or “How to deceive yourself into believing that this diet will actually work next week.”

In fiction, however, it’s completely up to the writer to make the reader need to read the content. And as I read fiction lately, I find myself trying to deconstruct the appeal some writers hold for me.

First, I want a story that pulls me along. I have to want to find out what happens next. While this strikes me as obvious, some writers apparently need to be told: don’t bore me.

I also appreciate originality. Many writers, particularly of cop or spy stories, seem to be trying to write an episode of their favourite TV show, rather than making up their own stories. Another tip: don’t make everyone beautiful. I’ve said it before: if you look around you, you won’t see a lot of beautiful people. A few, sure. But most humans are tolerable-looking, maybe attractive.

There’s also the depth of characterization, the writer’s ability to make a character or a situation real. Dialogue has a lot to do with this, but writing believable dialogue is very tricky. If you were to write down exactly what people actually say, it would make for very boring and incomprehensible prose — people make up what they say as they go along, and there are a lot of false starts and changes in tense and tone in ordinary speech. And then there’s all the information conveyed by tone of voice and body language. It takes an extraordinarily skilled writer to capture all of that.

How a writer writes

Writing style has a lot of impact on my enjoyment. There’s word choice, and sentence structure, but I don’t have patience for writers who are trying to impress me with their vocabulary. TELL THE STORY.

Many have said: “Show me, don’t tell me.” The writers I like best are those who, simply and clearly, bring me right into the situation.

Here’s a great example from the independent novelist, BestSelling Reads member Gae-Lynn Woods in her novel, The Devil of Light.

Cass Elliot drew a deep breath and slowly released it. Her irritation wasn’t directed at Mitch. She’d been lost in a black funk during the hours they’d spent on the road today. Wondering again why Sheriff Hoffner had bothered to hire and promote her, the first woman detective in Forney County, only to look right through her even when she was standing in front of him. As Mitch settled against the passenger door and began to snore, her thoughts had whirled farther back in time, searching the events of that night long ago, seeking clues to the identity of the man who had changed the course of her life. She was sucked again into an ugly pit of anger and helplessness. The dreams had been worse lately; they jolted her awake with the phantom sensation of fire streaking across her breast and a scream frozen in her throat.

She glanced in the rearview mirror and caught the fury in the flat line of her mouth and the contraction of her brow. Again she breathed deeply, forced the tension from her body and felt exhaustion ooze in to fill the void. When she checked her reflection again, her violet eyes were still weary and her creamy skin too pale, but the imprint of anger and fear on her features was gone. Cass looked at her sleeping partner and snorted in reluctant amusement, resisting the urge to lower his window. Instead, she raised Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” into audible range on the radio.

One blue eye stuttered open. “Are we home yet?”

“Almost.” Her stomach gurgled. “Is Darla there?”

Mitch straightened his long form, gently rocking his head from side to side and swiping at his chin. Stifling a yawn, he checked his watch. “She should be by now. Probably have Zeus with her. Which one of your brothers is cooking?”

“Bruce. Harry’ll be there and want to cook, but Bruce will have control. He always does in the Elliot kitchen. Harry has the girls this weekend so he’ll be wrapped up with them anyway. If Daddy’s home, he’ll stay out of their way.” She grinned, a movement that brought mischievousness to her delicate features. “We’re pretty dysfunctional, aren’t we?”

This example gives the reader a lot of information, but not too much. It tells you about a character and makes you want to read more, without overwhelming you with the dreaded “information dump.”

What not to do:

Here’s an example of an information dump (details altered to protect the guilty):

Michael Chapman stood wearily in line at the ferry’s bar. It had been a long trip, but he was nearing its end. Four years ago Michael was a twenty-eight-year-old investment counselor with a corner office in one of the gleaming glass towers of Atlanta. He thought he had it all — until his marriage disintegrated in a messy divorce in which his wife got the house, the kids, and everything else important to him. After eight more months of pointless activity, he walked away from his job, cashed in what remained of his investments, and bought a ticket to England.

Not only does that use a lot of clichés (“gleaming glass towers,” “marriage disintegrated,” “messy divorce,” “walked away from his job”), there’s no reason to dump all this here. Get on with the story: he’s in line at the bar — does he get his drink? Or does something get in the way? Where is the ferry going? How long has the journey been?

As a reader, I want to read the back-story as it’s needed. Show me the pain of the divorce when Michael meets another potential romantic partner, or some other situation that calls for it. Writing all this in an early chapter forces me to try to remember it all later, which gets harder with a longer book, especially one I might be reading in instalments, day after day, on a commute.

The good example puts the reader right into the situation. It’s personal. Readers can identify with the character. If it were a movie, the director would be starting with a very close focus. Context comes later, naturally as the story rolls out.

What do you think, as a reader?

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Thursday teaser: Back Side of a Blue Moon

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By Caleb Pirtle III

This week’s Thursday teaser is from a brand-new title now available on Amazon.

THE CROWDED GROUNDS of Eudora’s farm was a circus. A freak show. A dance at the gates of hell. Heaven on earth. And Doc had already stolen the pearly gates. Wind whipped up dust devils, and she could not take a step between the house and the rig platform without bumping shoulders against somebody, and, more often than not, the wayfarers had faces she had never seen before.

What were they doing milling around in her yard? Betting on oil? Trying to get rich? Looking for a meal, a job, a home, a place to spend the night, or had they just come down the road to see the free show?  For a town that had dwindled down to a few hundred lost and wretched souls, Ashland was certainly turning out a lot of people on the day Doc had promised to strike oil.

Well, Doc hadn’t really promised to find anything today or any other day. He was nothing but a vaudeville magician trying to pull a rabbit out of his hat, and the straw boater might be packed with raccoons, squirrels, and possums, but there was nary a rabbit in sight. Eudora chuckled at the thought.

But Charlie Ferguson’s wife Mildred, she knew, had told Ira Sylvester that her husband had smelled oil on the drill bit. Couldn’t mistake it. He was afraid to strike a match, afraid the whole thing might blast him to kingdom come.

Ira told the Reverend Shanks Warren that the drill bit was dripping with black crude. Filled up at least one bucket, maybe two. One rumor was for certain. Doc was running out of buckets. Or so the gossip said, and gossip was running amuck like a horse that had shed his shoes and all of his morals.

Shanks Warren preached it from the pulpit: God has put oil in the ground below us, and he has sent his prophet Doc Bannister to draw it up in buckets from the well. Glory, hallelujah, and amen on us all.

After the last amen had reached the ceiling and fallen flat, his congregation scattered like lost geese flying wild in a blue norther. Too high for the rain. Too slow for the lightning.

Tell another soul.

Tell the world.

It didn’t matter.

About Back Side of a Blue Moon

Times are hard along the Sabine River, and the little East Texas town of Ashland is crumbling under the weight of the Great Depression. Families are broke and hungry. For many, their last meal may well have been their last meal. Families are giving up and leaving town. Everyone knows the fate that awaits the scattered farms. No one can save Ashland. It is as isolated as the back side of a blue moon.

Into town comes Doc Bannister wearing a straw boater and a white suit. He is the miracle man. He has a homemade doodlebug machine that, he says, can find oil and make them all rich. Oil, he swears, lies beneath the blistered farmstead of Eudora Durant. She thinks Doc is a flim flam man. The Sheriff believes he is a con artist. Both are convinced that Doc has come to town to swindle every dime he can get before hitting the road again. Ashland knows Doc may be crooked, but he has brought hope to a town that had no hope.

Eudora has everything Doc wants. She is a beautiful woman who owns cheap land. In Ashland, she is known as the scarlet woman. Whispers say she murdered her husband. No one has seen him since the night they heard a shotgun blast on her farm. The town wants oil. Doc wants Eudora. But Eudora is too independent and stubborn to fall for the charms of a silver-tongued charlatan.

She holds the fate of Ashland in her hands. Will she let Doc drill? Is there really oil lying deep beneath her sunbaked land? Can Doc find it? Or is he more interested in finding love than oil? What happens when a man with a checkered past comes face to face with a woman whose past is as mysterious as his?

About the author

Caleb Pirtle III is the author of more than seventy books, including three noir thrillers in the Ambrose Lincoln series: Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark.

A graduate of The University of Texas in Austin, Caleb became the first student at the university to win the National William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. Several of his books and his magazine writing have received national and regional awards.

 

He was a newspaper reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and served ten years as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine. He was editorial director for a Dallas custom publisher for more than twenty-five years.

You can find more about Caleb on his BestSelling Reads author page or his Amazon Author page. Also visit his new site, Caleb and Linda Pirtle.

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