Love, Grief, and Cookies

A character in one of my stories says, “Love and death sculpt our souls into shapes we couldn’t have imagined.” (Olivia, “Rain,” in Before Our House Fell into the Ocean: Stories of Love and Death.) It was true when I wrote it, and it seems especially true as holiday season rolls around again. We grieve our losses and celebrate our loves. We all know that grief never disappears. We never “get over” the death of a loved one. Grief morphs into an irreducible part of our personality. I weep for my parents. I weep for my son. But I am ever so grateful for the love of my family and friends. I’ve probably said it before, but I’m sure when the Grim Reaper comes calling, nobody thinks about how they or their friends voted, who sits in the White House or the Kremlin, what outlandish salary an NFL player is getting. We remember the love we gave and the love we received.

In that spirit, I’m remembering my mother Janice, and I’d like to share with you a cookie recipe she invented herself. Although these were holiday cookies and usually made their appearance on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, she could be persuaded to make them any time. They are a chocolate spice cookie she dubbed “Arabian Bites.” They’re for the Cookie Monster in you!

Ingredients:

¼ cup cold coffee

½ cup raisins

1 tbsp. shortening

½ tsp. baking soda

2 squares Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate

1 and 1/8 cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. cloves

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup chopped walnuts

The Process:

Add coffee, raisins, and shortening to a saucepan and heat until the raisins plump. Remove from heat, add baking soda, and allow to cool. In another pan, melt the chocolate. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and sugar. Add the coffee/raisin mixture, the melted chocolate, the vanilla, and the chopped nuts. Drop by tsp. onto a greased cookie sheet (or Silpat). Bake 8-10 minutes at 375. Remove from cookie sheet and roll in confectioner’s sugar. (Over the years, we have substituted chopped dates for the raisins, and sometimes pecans for walnuts. It’s all good!)

Love you, Mom!

Here’s a picture of Mom and Dad

And here’s a picture of the front side of Mom’s recipe card. The coffee stains made it increasingly harder to read the recipe, and unfortunately we wrote over her lovely script many years ago, before we realized what a treasure it would be had we left it alone!

The Book Commentary: Review of Gallery of Gangsters

I couldn’t resist! I just received a terrific review from The Book Commentary, and I had to share it with you!

Gallery of Gangsters: A Driftwood Mystery

Author: William J. Cook

  • ISBN-13: 9798841126331
  • ASIN: B0B83Y1NHS

The concluding entry in The Driftwood Mysteries, Gallery of Gangsters by William J. Cook presents a final confrontation between two rock-solid, driven characters, each determined to outwit and put out the other. Michelle’s life is in tatters. A mysterious blackmailer is unwavering in an effort to destroy her life and she must get as far as she can to give herself a new start. Meanwhile, in Portland, the rivalry between a Russian gangster known as Volkov and Whitehorse, a detective, is fueled when Volkov gets involved in incessant money laundering to fund dangerous conspiracies, murder, and counterfeiting. Volkov is unstoppable in his pursuit of crime and Whitehorse is out to bring him down in a cat-and-mouse game that becomes more deadly with each passing moment. Can Whitehorse stop Volkov and his assassins while protecting those he loves?

Fans of thrillers from James Patterson will love William J. Cook’s work. The author builds suspense by creating two parallel plots that eventually meld toward the end, bringing Michelle and Whitehorse together. The opening immediately captivates readers as they are introduced to Michelle at an art auction in New York, bidding for someone anonymous who sounds desperate and determined. The reader’s curiosity is piqued. The narrative then moves on speedily, introducing plot twists and surprises that readers can’t see coming. There are strong plot points in this narrative and readers will enjoy the intrigue and suspense built around the mysterious 1848, a character whose identity Michelle spends a lot of time trying to uncover. Striker is another character that will pique the reader’s curiosity — the subtle messages, the blackmail, and the letters. “I know who you are. I know what you’ve done. I won’t bore you with the details in this voicemail, but I’ve posted a letter to you today, spelling it all out.” Gallery of Gangsters is a delightful read with characters readers will want to follow. The ingenious plotting, the dazzling prose, and the exciting dialogue are among the qualities that make this thriller an immersive read. Cook knows what it takes to keep the pages turning and has the extraordinary ability to make it happen. 

Reviewed By: Christian Fernandez

Reviewed Date: October 31, 2022

An Interview with Indie Author David Rose

In September, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Rose, an indie author who hails from South Africa. On his Amazon page, he tells us that he has had a “relationship” with books for as long as he can remember. He used a manual typewriter for years, his favorite being an Olivetti Lettera 32 portable which he inherited from his mother. He has traveled very widely, beginning at the age of ten. David describes himself as an “unabashed romantic.”
Will: David, can you tell us a bit about your writer’s journey? When did you discover your “voice?” What convinced you that you were a writer?

David: I have a “voice”? Wow. I had no idea. No, seriously, I don’t think I’ve yet discovered my “voice”. I’m a very eclectic writer, and my style alters to match the mood of my genre or topic. Genres I have written in include SF, Fantasy, Romance, Christian nonfiction, Horror, Historical (I guess fantasy?), some paranormal stuff, and children’s literature. I also write poetry, of which my favourite form is probably haiku. I enjoy humour and comedic moments, but I’m probably impossible to pigeonhole as a writer of a given type. (Perhaps I should simply confess to being undisciplined!) I tend towards shorter fiction, and I’ve written several short stories, some of them published as ebooks. For the last decade I have wrestled with the longer form, and currently have one fantasy novel at about 60,000 words, what should eventually be the first of a trilogy. I’ve had an affinity for writing for as long as I can remember. Certainly, I began reading at a very early age—I remember devouring my mother’s James Hadley Chase novels from when I was around six years old. I wrote a bad and unpublished novel when I was eighteen or nineteen. I’ve written on and off ever since, depending on what was happening in my life, and how much time I could give to creative writing. I love words, and the use of language in English to achieve the desired effect. One short (a single page) story started life as an exercise to see if I could tell a story with no characters; I wound up with a story in which a house, the wind, and a seagull became the characters! (That’s “Storm’s End”—see favourites below.)

Will: What’s your creative process? Where do you get your ideas and how do you begin to flesh them out? Do you write every day?

David: I have flashes of inspiration, and try to record them, and work on them later. “Dragonfire,” though—I woke in the middle of the night with the idea of the story burning in my mind, got up, and had the body of the story written within a couple of hours, between something like 01:30 and 04:00. Inspiration can come from news articles, a book or a movie. I don’t copy, but something in another story can spark a tangential idea. I find that daily life, lived reflectively, and people-watching, are also good sources of ideas. I usually capture the original idea and then play with it in my mind—where might it go from this initial situation? So I run through several scenarios, some very different from the final version, before I settle on a direction for the story. While I might plan and prepare a lot of background, especially in Fantasy or SF (world-building), once I have a core direction for the story I allow details to vary as I write. It depends on how much the characters come to life and take over! Do I write every day? I wish! That is what I need to be doing, and I hope that when I retire at the end of next year, I will be able to do just that.

Will: Your Goodreads page would suggest that you’re particularly fond of writing short stories. What are the elements of a good short story, and how do you go about writing one?

David: Plot, Characters, and Point (or message, or theme) are the most important to me. Before I start a short story, I know how the main issue is going to be resolved. Characters have to be human and relatable, and the point of the story needs to be something that will satisfy most readers. (You can never satisfy everyone.) I like the classical approach to short story writing that has a sting in the tail that, ideally, the reader never sees coming. O. Henry’s and Roald Dahl’s stories are good examples. Finally, I believe the setting should enhance the story, not usurp it or conflict with it. Look, bottom line is, does this short story leave you feeling satisfied and/or surprised and/or interested in the topic? Your answer needs to be, “Yes,” to at least one of those and ideally all of them. Your own short stories, Will, are excellent examples! What d’you mean I’m not supposed to praise my interviewer? You’re one of the finest short story writers I’ve read! I dare you to leave in my comments on your short stories!

Will: Yikes! You’ve caught me completely off guard! Thanks so much, David. That’s very kind of you. But let’s get back to your writing. If it’s not too personal, what life experiences have shaped your artistic vision?

David: I don’t mind, but to try to share all my significant life experiences would not only take too long, it would make me look like a vain attention-seeker!· My parents being medical missionaries in Thailand, which resulted in my growing up essentially independently in South Africa from the age of ten, certainly had an impact. I saw a lot of the world, and was exposed to a variety of cultures and experiences as a merchant seaman, including sailing through the eye of a cyclone in 1982 on a vessel of about 13,500 tonnes.· I’ve seen the effects of poverty close up, and worked with emerging farmers in South Africa.· So I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what culture you’ve inherited, or what your ethnicity, or whether or not you have money. We are all human beings, individual persons, and we all matter.

Will: You’re not afraid to tackle serious emotions in your stories—human brokenness, grief, loss, heartache. How do you manage that?

David: I suppose the fact that I’ve been exposed to all of this in real life, in counseling among other areas, has allowed me to put these things into some perspective. I’ve encountered some truly horrifying and heartbreaking personal stories, too grim, and too confidential, ever to use in my writing. But it’s meant that I believe in sharing the courage to deal with hard issues, by fictional example if nothing else.

Will: Do you have favorites among your stories? Tell us about them.

David: Oh, come on! They’re all my favourites! …Really? I have to? …All right, all right then.· “Moonlight,” because it came first, and because it’s a beautiful story.· “Dragonfire,” because it burns so ferociously.· “Storm’s End,” unpublished, but you can find it on my sadly neglected website.· “Frost,” because I (believe I) succeeded at what I set out to do.

Will: What have you discovered about indie publishing? Do you have any advice for aspiring independent authors?

David: I’m not the greatest person to take advice from, since I’m far from any kind of commercial success, but there are a few things I’ve learned.· It takes a village of writers and friends to raise a child book: you’ll need support in different levels of editing and proofing, encouragement to keep going in the face of trollish reviews, and hard, truthful advice on how to become a better writer. (That’s how you know who your true friends are! Thanks Mike! And the others.)· Seriously, find a community of like-minded writers, whether locally to you or online.· You’re very unlikely ever to make any significant money doing this. Don’t do it to get rich. Do it because it’s what you love.· If you do want to become an established author (still not rich, though!), you will need to spend some money on marketing your books.· The great thing about indie publishing? No one will force you to write what you don’t enjoy. No one will demand a plot change that destroys your message (or your character!) and no one will demand a delivery date. Although… that last one is also a disadvantage!
Will: David, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. To my readers, here are links to two of David’s stories. Check out his Amazon page for more.

An Interview with Indie Author Diana McDonough

It’s my pleasure to introduce to you indie author Diana McDonough. Her Amazon page tells us that she retired from her career as a distributor sales development manager with Ecolab after 26 years to pursue her passion for writing. She is the mother of three and the “Grandy” of twelve.

Will: Diana, when did you first realize you were a writer and had something you  wanted to say? What has your “writer’s journey” been like?

Diana: I was in second grade when my teacher said I had writing potential. I think it was just because I wrote a story about a pony and named it after her. I’ve always loved playing with words and many years ago when I lived far from everyone I loved, I wrote letters. Long letters. It soothed my soul. Then I began to write Christmas letters to family and friends every year that were a big hit. While raising three kids, my mother passed. I felt the tug to write a book about her raising a family in the D.C. area during the 60s. It took ten years, but Stuck in the Onesies was born.

Will: Can you give us a glimpse into your writing process—how, when, and where you do what you do?

Diana: I start with an idea for a story and it grows from there. Currently, I’m working on Ginger Star which was an idea I had before I’d written my first book. I shelved it while writing my first two books and am now finishing the project, tying it into My Mother’s Apprentice as part of the Stuck in the Onesies Series. It’s funny though, who I thought was going to be the main protagonist, no longer is. You never know where your characters or your story are going to take you.

Will: Your debut novel, Stuck in the Onesies, is a literary joy. Tell us about it.

Diana: Stuck in the Onesies was inspired by my mother and her girlfriend, both raising kids and husbands back in the 1960s. While that’s not all that unusual, the setting was the suburbs of Washington, D.C. when riots and marches were breaking out all over. I watched these two women try to be independent while living the Donna Reed lifestyle. It was like living with Lucy and sometimes Ethel. You never knew what money-making scheme was coming next. In the end, they both succeeded in becoming independent women, no longer “Stuck in the Onesies.” So, to explain the saying “Stuck in the Onesies,” if you’ve ever played the game of jacks, you know that if you don’t get past the onesies on your first turn, you’re forever playing catch-up. Getting “stuck in the onesies” just wastes valuable time.

Will: Your follow-up novel, My Mother’s Apprentice, took us into some different territory. Please share with us your inspiration for that story.

Diana: After I wrote Stuck in the Onesies, the readers asked for a sequel. Well, I never anticipated a sequel, and if I had, would have left an open ending in Stuck in the Onesies. Back to the drawing board. My Mother’s Apprentice is the story of the daughters. I wouldn’t call it a “true story,” but more creative non-fiction. In other words, it’s based on truth, but I filled in some blanks and took creative liberties. You’ll have to read the book to find out how.

Will: Is it accurate to say you’ve had a long-standing love affair with the island of Jamaica? What’s that all about?

Diana: YES! It was love at first sight with Jamaica the first time I landed there in 1994. My husband and I were on a planning trip for mission work our church was sponsoring. It was in the mountains near Bob Marley’s birthplace. If you’ve ever heard of the “middle of nowhere,” that’s where it is. I fell in love with the sea, the waterfalls (always the waterfalls), and the people. They are so real, so helpful to one another, we could all learn from their love for each other. We don’t know what “living by faith” is here in this country, for the most part. These folks have no social programs to help them out. They rely on one another and their faith, something I think we all need to do.

Will: Jamaica figures prominently in your current project, Ginger Star, which will be published later this year. Can you give us a behind-the-scenes peek at it?

Diana: I came up with the idea for Ginger Star while lying in a hammock in Jamaica. The story was about the daughter of a plantation owner and her secret (no spoiler alert here). Enter the pirates during this time period of 1720, The Golden Age of Piracy. I was almost finished with the book, but planned a research trip to Jamaica in May of 2020 to make sure I had everything right (and all I needed was a reason to go again!). We all know that never happened in 2020, so the trip never materialized, but the George Floyd tragedy did. I was stunned to realize that even though I had evolved in my attitude toward racism, many had not. I knew I needed to go back to the drawing board to make plantation life more realistic. So I did. It meant I had to give some of my characters ugly traits, but it made the story better, I think. Ginger Star will be published in the Fall of 2022.

Will: I understand that visiting book clubs has been a significant part of your marketing strategy. How have you utilized them, and do you have any other marketing tips for aspiring indie authors?

Diana: I have found book clubs to be a true inspiration. They energize and inspire me with their questions and interest. I treasure their honesty. It isn’t an easy task getting invited to book clubs. Typically, you have to know someone in the club and ask them to see about featuring one of your books, but once you do, word starts spreading and more invitations arrive.

Will: What advice do you have for authors who choose to publish independently?

Diana: Make sure your work is what you want it to be and what it should be. I am guilty of allowing others to push me to get it published. My advice is to “get it polished” first. Have your website tuned up and set up a launch team. Folks that are willing to push your posts out through social media are priceless. Be willing to put on your marketing hat. I was in sales for 26 years and thought this would be a piece of cake. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Selling books is totally different from chemicals. While I thought I was a social media magician, I discovered I was wrong. I’ve enlisted the help of a marketing firm this time around. Stay tuned… Here’s a link to an article with better suggestions than mine: https://blog.papertrue.com/8-pre-publishing-steps-self-publishing-book/

Will: Diana, thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights with us. We wish you every success with the launch of Ginger Star. Readers, if you’d like to learn more about Diana and her books, please visit her at her website.

Wow! What a Review!

Book Review of Gallery of Gangsters: A Driftwood Mystery

Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review and Editor of Donovan’s Literary Services.

Gallery of Gangsters is the final Driftwood Mystery in the series, expanding its five predecessor titles with a new and final battle between Native American detective Charley Whitehorse and Russian crime czar Vasily Volkov. It’s a confrontation that will rock prior readers, and is introduced by an Author’s Note about currency security and counterfeiting that features some key facts to lend better understanding to this mystery’s subject and progression.

This information in hand, readers embark on a vivid romp that opens in the art auction world of 2019. Here, a meteoric bidding war is taking place, with prices hitting the millions for a work of art that two contenders have no intention of losing.

As the bloodless combat between the contenders evolves a chess-like game of strategy and countermoves, readers will be thoroughly engrossed in the story’s mystery and outcome by the time the purchase of Hurricane is complete.

This is just the first chapter of a complex story that moves into the mysterious death of an art gallery owner in Driftwood, who specialized in high-end paintings. It reveals not just the game being played by Whitehorse and Volkov, but a strong woman caught in the middle (Michelle Garrison), whose auction house work has placed her in the crosshairs of a powerful female assassin.

As Michelle asks hard questions about who killed McKinley Striker and Dashiel Owen and becomes immersed in the identity and subterfuge of Odesa (nee Kseniya, whose job is murder), all characters dance into an arena of threat that reaches out to embrace the innocent and guilty alike.

Mystery readers who enjoy stories centered on the art world will find Gallery of Gangsters satisfying for its insights into that community’s activities and the works of art that drive passions and pocketbooks alike. These motivate characters to move outside their comfort zones and into the unfamiliar territory of murder, investigations, and nefarious connections.

Powered by strong personalities whose special interests create different perspectives and representations of moral and ethical behavior, William J. Cook’s story assumes a provocative tone of surprises that embrace unexpected romance and adversity alike.

As events unfold, this final Driftwood mystery comes to life in ways even seasoned genre readers won’t see coming.

As a stand-alone mystery, it will also nicely attract newcomers who have and need no prior experience with the exploits of Charley Whitehorse and Vasily Volkov to prove understandable and engrossing; especially since Michelle’s character powers many of the scenes and insights.

In the end, love wins. But, via a circuitous route that keeps readers guessing right up to the mystery’s satisfying conclusion.

Libraries and readers who look for outstanding characters, an art world backdrop, and intrigue and subterfuge that moves from a small town into international waters will find Gallery of Gangsters the perfect crescendo of a conclusion that explores what is unique and fragile not just in the art world, but in matters of love, power, and the pursuit of profit.

The US Review of Books Gives it a Thumbs-Up!

Gallery of Gangsters: A Driftwood Mystery
by William J. Cook

book review by Joe Kilgore

“She slammed the phone down again. It felt like her life was spiraling out of control. Why had she bothered to call? Was she still atoning for her adolescent crime?”

This tale is another in the author’s series about the small town of Driftwood, Oregon. The story, however, begins a continent away at an art auction in New York. There, readers are introduced to a young woman named Michelle, who will journey from one side of the country to another in an attempt to restart her life, currently plagued by an unseen blackmailer. As Michelle’s story unfolds, so too does the interplay between Volkov, a Russian gangster in Portland, and Whitehorse, a Native American police detective in nearby Driftwood. Previously adversaries, they currently share an odd sort of truce until money laundering, counterfeiting, political influencing, and murder begin to create a toxic mix that simply can’t be ignored.

Author Cook effectively weaves his two narratives together. Eventually, Michelle and Whitehorse are engaged in efforts to not only keep themselves safe from Volkov’s assassins but, in the detective’s case, his wife as well. Continuing characters from previous books in the series are on hand to give a feeling of family to this novel. One of the more appealing players is Chiara, the Driftwood Police dispatcher who is bright, perceptive, and perhaps well on her way to one day becoming a detective herself. On the villain’s team, Kseniya is a stone-cold killer who is as lethal as she is beautiful. Her ability to dispatch individuals with extreme prejudice is matched only by her inability to exhibit any form of emotional involvement with them—until she encounters Michelle.

Author Cook does a first-rate job of mining interpersonal relationships as he’s peeling back the layers of his plot. His depictions of interactions between husbands, wives, and lovers feel honest and real. The people who populate Driftwood are folks readers can enjoy spending time with, particularly as they keep the bad guys at bay.

The New Book is Almost Here!

The Kindle edition of Gallery of Gangsters: A Driftwood Mystery will be published on August 24. You can pre-order it by clicking on the image above.

If you click on the image below, you can read the first chapter. It introduces the new character, Michelle Garrison, and begins to weave the tangled web that will engulf all of Driftwood. Be prepared for the final confrontation between Detective Charley Whitehorse and the sinister Vasily Volkov!

An Interview with Indie Author Adam Copeland

From his Amazon Author Page, we learn that Adam was born and raised in Silverton, Oregon, and that he studied abroad for a year in France. Ever since that time, he has been passionate about international travel. He is an avid outdoorsman, enjoying hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking, and scuba diving. He is the co-founder of the Northwest Independent Writers Association. Currently, he resides in Vancouver, Washington, where he is an active member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Will: Adam, how did you come to realize that you’re a writer?

Adam: Even as a child I was told that I was a story teller. I’d come up with the most imaginative stories. As an adolescent, I wanted to see my stories go “big time” as a book or movie, but of course I felt I didn’t have what it took to make that happen. It wasn’t until after college that I seriously gave it a go and wrote the first chapter to my first book. Then the next, then the next. After the book was finished, I felt “accomplished,” but not quite like a writer yet. I knew that no one was ever going to give me permission to be a “writer,” so I just went and made it happen through self-publishing. When I held that first proof in my hand when it arrived in the mail, that is when I realized I had accomplished being not just a writer, but an author.

Will: Can you give us a glimpse of your process? How do you get your ideas? Do you develop an outline first or are you what they sometimes call a “pantser?” How structured are you about your writing—do you have a dedicated space for writing, a dedicated time?

Adam: I’m most definitely a “panster.” My ideas mostly come from the ether. From the muse. Nudged into existence by the inspiration of music, other books, and movies. My last book touches on that where the narrator, a writer, literally sits at a table with his muses and discusses the story being told—and how they quite often push back or admonish him. I have a general idea where the story is going, then it just happens to come together as if it were meant to be. I do, however, really need to reign that in and learn more the art of story and outlining. I’m a binge writer. Usually in 4-hour blocks on a weekend. Usually at a favorite café with comfy couches where the ambient sounds of the café act as white noise.

Will: You have two books in your Tales of Avalon series: Echoes of Avalon and Ripples in the Chalice. Can you tell us about them?

Adam: Echoes of Avalon is my first book and serves as a repository for all the knowledge I accumulated through my life regarding my love for fantasy, mythology, legend, and history. Before school would start, I’d hang out in the library in the mornings just reading encyclopedia articles about anything that had to do with swords, knights, castles, and ancient battles. My father had a similar passion, so our house was full of books, too. The Hobbit was my first adult book that I read. Echoes of Avalon is a love letter to my love of all that. Ripples in the Chalice is its sequel. I often pitched Echoes as “If you could go back in time to witness the actual event that inspired a fairy tale, it would look like this.” Such is the story of a knight in shining armor, charging up a mountain of glass, to rescue a princess in an ivory tower. But since we’re talking about real life here, does the princess want to be rescued? And by him? Ripples in the Chalice is the follow-up revolving around the consequences of one’s choices, made all the more profound by the involvement of the Holy Grail.

Will: What about your book The Tower?

Adam: When writing Echoes of Avalon, my editor told me my antagonist needed to be more fleshed out; a real person with real motives. So I wrote this novella as a back story to my villain to explain why he is the way he is. The story goes waaaay back to when the progeny of exiled angels passed themselves off as gods with a little “g,” incurring the wrath of God with a big “G” and getting a front row seat to the Great Flood for their troubles.

Will: I confess that I was blown away by your novel Midnight in Silverton: American Gothic. What a strange and wonderful book! And the new audiobook version is extraordinary! What can you tell us about it?

Adam: If Echoes of Avalon and Ripples in the Chalice were love letters to my fascination with fantasy, then Midnight in Silverton was a love letter to my home town and the people there. Echoes is a repository for my life knowledge, Midnight is a repository for my life experience. It was a lifetime in the making, born of a thousand inspirations. From Bradbury, to King, to Hemingway, to…well, just about everyone whose words touched me. It’s very meta, where the reader is along for the ride with a wink. I’d call it a “faux-ography” that draws from my personal life to provide a stage for a murder mystery with supernatural elements. As I mentioned above, the Narrator’s muses guide him while he tries to solve the murder, even though he *might* not want to find out who it is. Though it has elements of Fight ClubDandelion WineArrival and other great stories, this one’s uniquely all mine.

Will: You are a co-founder of NIWA—the Northwest Independent Writers Association. How did that come about? What should our readers know about NIWA?

Adam: While promoting my first book, I nabbed one of the last spots in the vendor room for Orycon, a sci-fi and fantasy convention in Portland, Oregon. The event organizers asked if I’d mind sharing my spot with another author who had signed up late. I was totally fine with that and that’s how I met Mike Chinakos, author of the wonderfully fun Hollywood Cowboy series (An 80’s metal band that also moonlights as vampire hunters). He noticed that we weren’t the only ones selling self-published books that day and suggested we should all band together and pool our resources. I said, “Ah, heck no, that sounds like a lot of work!” Sigh. It was. But I wouldn’t change it for anything. The friendships and connections I’ve made have been priceless. If I want readers to know one thing about NIWA it’s that there are so many great authors right here in your own backyard who deserve a look (C’mon! A hair band that fights vampires! How can you not want to read that?).

Will: Are you working on a new project? Can you give us a peek at it?

Adam: I have an un-published manuscript that has come very close on a couple of occasions to being published with traditional publishers. It’s a WWI vampire/zombie action adventure. I’d like to take a stab at making it into a graphic novel. All my writing is very visual. I basically have a movie projector in my head, and this story isn’t any different and so would lend itself very well to the graphic arts media. In a nutshell: What if, at the height of trench warfare in the First World War, the Germans got so desperate to break the stalemate that they tried lobbing a vampire at the Allies? With a tagline like “A weapon of mass destruction is only as good as your ability to control it” goes a long way to telling you how that plan goes.

Will: Do you have any advice for aspiring independent authors?

Adam: Keep at it. Don’t quit. Write something. Then read something. Then write something else. Repeat. Mostly, just keep at it. I subscribe to Duotrope, which is a website and information-center for places to submit writing to. It keeps track of your submissions. It tells me I submitted a variety of stories over 200 times over several years before I finally got my first “real” acceptance. It didn’t pay much, but the fact the publisher turned my Film Noir Bigfoot creature feature (Incident at Ape Canyon) into a multi-voice cast audio story was well worth it.

Will: Adam, thank you so much for sharing some of your writer’s journey with us. I wish you wonderful success with all your projects.

Art and Crime

I live with an artist wife, and Sharon never ceases to amaze me. She enters her studio (formerly, our dining room!) in “paint clothes” (of course, she’d be beautiful even dressed in rags!), starts blending different colors, and confidently approaches her easel armed only with a palette knife. Hours later, she emerges, the cutest smudges of paint on her nose and cheeks, and asks me to take a look at the initial phases of the piece she is birthing. (It seems appropriate that what she is painting on is called a “cradled birch panel.”) Her work staggers me. Here’s her website.

The Oxford Dictionary defines abstract expressionism as a development of abstract art that originated in New York in the 1940s and 1950s and aimed at subjective emotional expression with particular emphasis on the creative spontaneous act. Wikipedia says it put New York City on the map, eclipsing Paris as the new hub of art in the West. I don’t know about all that, I only know my wife’s work knocks my socks off. Here she is:

So why have I’ve called my blog “Art and Crime?” I don’t mean to imply that Sharon is in any way a criminal—far from it! But I write murder mysteries. As I’ve accompanied her to showings at the galleries that feature her work, I’ve learned that art galleries are far and away one of the best places to launder money! Oh, I thought, I can use that! And indeed I have.

Gallery of Gangsters is the final book in the Driftwood series (and one of Sharon’s paintings is on the cover!) If you click on the image below, you can read the first chapter. Let me know what you think.

The book will be released on August 24. Pre-order it now for only $0.99—a $5.00 savings. Here’s the link.

An Interview with Indie Author Suzanne Lawrence

Her Amazon page tells us that as a child, Suzanne was prone to prevaricate to save herself from embarrassment. This story-telling talent led her to writing her first book, The Story of Grace. Her parents divorced when she was barely out of nursery school. Three stepfathers later, she came of age in a small country town while working in the hay fields and driving a tractor. She still loves the smell of freshly cut alfalfa and doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She lives with her husband in Salem, Oregon.

Will: Suzanne, when did you first realize you were a writer, and what drew you into the field?

Suzanne: I still don’t consider myself a writer. I see myself more as a storyteller. When I think of writers, I imagine someone that readers are drawn to. Someone who creates excitement for each upcoming book. I think of readers who quote their favorite writers. I’m not there—not by a long shot. But I love to weave a story of overcoming pain or tragedy. I like to bring to life events in my characters’ lives that inspire readers.

I had never written anything until I retired, six years ago. I decided I had a story of my own to tell. I started there and found that I enjoyed bringing to life memories. I enjoyed embellishing my story with color. Then, I decided I could live multiple lives through the characters I created in my fiction.

Will: Can you tell us a bit about your process? Do you have a dedicated place and time for writing? Do you work from an outline?

Suzanne: I am constantly thinking about my story and future stories I might tell. I walk with my characters throughout the week and attempt to capture their feelings and mentally outline what they are doing in the book. I take notes on my thoughts and fine-tune at a later time. Occasionally, another potential book will pop into my consciousness and that’s very distracting.

However, when it’s time to write, I have a dedicated place and time. I review what I’ve written up to the current point in the book. I look at my notes. Then I have a conversation with my characters and allow them to drive the plot forward. Along the way, they may be angry, hurt, confused, or sometimes lost and need my help to resolve their issues.

I do the necessary research as I am writing. I search for accurate settings and props. Generally, it’s like watching a play while sitting at my keyboard. I type what I’m seeing.

Will: In your debut literary novel, The Story of Grace, you’ve created a female protagonist we can love and hate at the same time. What was your inspiration for her?

Suzanne: Grace was a very complicated character and I borrowed from strong women in my past. Originally, I had sympathy for Grace because she was alone in her final years. She had been so lovely, strong, and independent. Now she felt sorry for herself, and that was not an attractive quality. I took parts of myself, my mother, and other women I’ve known who made many bad choices in their lives and paid the price for it. They hurt people along the way. But, as I wrote the book, I realized I cared for Grace and, in the end, it was necessary for someone else to love her and respect her, no matter what mistakes she had made.

Will: Is it accurate to describe the arc of that story as “a tragedy with a promise of redemption?”

Suzanne: Yes, that would be accurate. Grace could never correct the damage she had done not only to herself but to others. She may have felt bad for what she’d done, but given the opportunity, she would no doubt have made the same decisions. When her grandniece became her companion and friend, she found someone who didn’t judge her for her mistakes. Grace despised being judged by others. She criticized herself, she didn’t need criticism from others. She needed unconditional love. Because in the end, love does conquer all.

Will: Your second novel, Legacy, is an epic western about several generations of a family tending the Lazy M Ranch in southern Oregon. On its Amazon page you say, “If you like YellowstoneBonanza, or The Big Valley, you’ll love Legacy.” Tell us about it.

Suzanne: I chose these three television sagas because they have a central theme of family ranches and overcoming difficulties.

The Big Valley had a strong matriarch (Barbara Stanwyck) and was loosely based on an actual ranch in California. The ranch was built around the shared family goals. The family was fighting to keep their ranch. They fought to keep the railroad from crossing their land.

Bonanza did not have a strong female character, but again, the ranch was a family ranch, and in each episode, they faced moral dilemmas. They stuck together and fought for what was right for their ranch.

Finally, I added Yellowstone because it’s a current television hit. Again, it involves a family ranch and the obstacles that face the family as they strive to keep their land. It has a strong female character in Beth Dutton. She’s far more obnoxious and crass than my characters in Legacy, but her desire to protect the family ranch at all costs is admirable.

I think that people tend to romanticize the lives of ranchers. In Legacy, I wanted my readers to see that it’s more than just riding horses and wrangling steers. It’s hard work that takes the cooperation and dedication of everyone in the family. Hardship happens, and often no one understands but family.

Will: Can you share with us some of what you’ve learned as an indie writer? What works and what doesn’t work? Do you have any advice for new authors aspiring to publish independently?

Suzanne: I’ve published only two books, and I don’t think that I’m in a position to be giving any advice. However, I feel very strongly that you need to surround yourself with other good writers—writers who will offer support and criticism. I participate in two writing groups and without their support, I would flounder and certainly lose focus.

The best thing that I could say is to keep writing. Keep your inspiration fresh. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Work hard and stay focused on the goal. Do your research. Your readers will know if you screw up and put a cell phone in the hand of a character before cell phones were invented. Make it authentic. That means, giving your characters true emotions. Your readers like conflict, anger, love, and loss. They are reading your book because they want to feel something. I think readers want something out of your book that they are curious about or that is missing in their life.

There are several options for self-publishing. I chose KDP because it has good support to market your book, and the customer service is very responsive.

Will: Would you be willing to give us a peek at your current project? Do you have another novel in the works?

Suzanne: Of course. I’m working on a follow-up to The Story of Grace. It’s called The Forgotten Daughter. In this story, we get to peek inside the life of the daughter Grace gave away (in my first book). Although Grace found redemption in the end, she didn’t find it from her daughter. The damage was too great for Agness to get over. Now Agness has a daughter of her own and a granddaughter. She blames herself for her daughter’s troubles and wallows in her own regret of things she should have done differently. Her granddaughter, Beth, is coming to live with her. Agness is discovering that she is more like her mother, Grace, than she wants to admit.

Will: Suzanne, thank you so much for sharing some of your writer’s journey with us. I wish you every success with your new project.