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How to Make a Living Writing Book Club Fiction – SPF #265
Sam returns home from a business trip a day before his son’s thirteenth birthday and is looking forward to being with his family, when his world is cruelly shattered in one fell swoop. Initially he thinks he can cope with the loss, but finally seeks the help of Cynthia, an experienced therapist, to regain his equipoise. What he does not know is that Cynthia herself is trying to cope with a debilitating divorce and the sinister shadow of her ex-husband over her daughter…
What happens when doctor and patient find themselves in the same sinking boat? Moreover, when they are rowing in opposite directions–one clinging to the past, and the other unable to get rid of it! In the midst of it all is Lily, Cynthia’s daughter, who harbours a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
Dark Blossom. I love the title of this book. Was this your first fiction book? What’s the story behind it? (No pun intended)
Thanks! To be honest, the title appeared to me in a dream. And since I’m being honest, I must also admit that I fell into writing rather serendipitously as well. Dark Blossom is indeed my first work of fiction and both the story and the characters were more or less cleaved by an imagination that had run amok at a time when I was struggling with empathy in my life.
While the characters are all very different from me and the ordeals faced by them are exaggerations of what I was going through, my innate spirit wanted to describe their experiences and interactions in a way that was entertaining for readers. This duality of finding entertainment and perhaps even levity in daily strife exists in everyone including my characters and the title from my dream captured that essence. Here’s a snippet from my book launch on that topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iodpyiw4Z7Y&t=3s
What do you enjoy most about storytelling?
Given how and when I fell into storytelling, I soon found writing to be an unbridled expression of empathy. First, I needed it for my characters to allow them a full and vibrant range of expression and then, for my readers to help them partake of such expression in a riveting way. So writing afforded me a double dose of empathy if you will – and it helped fill that personal void in my life too.
In retrospect though, there is one other thing about writing and storytelling that I enjoyed as much. Call me a masochist, but I fell in love with playing around with language – its syntax, semantics, and subtleties, all of it! How a word here instead of there, a moved punctuation, or a replaced synonym can affect the way people understand intellectually and perceive viscerally is all very fascinating. As a life-long learner too, I think I have fallen in love with this process of reflection followed by articulation.
Which came first idea, theme, or character?
If I were to think about just the idea and the characters, I would have to say it’s a judicious mix. In order for a story to take place, not only must the idea be important to the characters but also they must have something important to say about it. Once this scaffolding is in place, then the idea might change less and the theme is driven by its interplay with the characters, but it’s the characters that really have to evolve the most. They have to – to fight increasing stakes, win small battles, and eventually come out on top at the end of the war!
What’s your method for character creation?
Good stories take place at the intersection of personal authenticity and people’s perceptions. Ergo, good characters must be borne from a place of sincerity. If that’s not the case, then it will be difficult to convince readers. Once I am able to make this genuine empathic connection with my characters, I follow a five-step process to give them substance – Read, Research, Reflect, Rest, and Repeat. First, I read and research a lot and this includes conversations with people who might provide inspiration. Then I let it percolate by backing off completely after a period of reflection, of course. Lastly, I find myself having to go back to the start of the loop at times when I get stuck.
What can you tell us about Sam?
Phew! Now that’s a toughie. Let me explain. Part of the inspiration behind the novel is my belief that the solution to a rapidly fracturing world lies in peeling enough layers to discover the similarities, rather than judging on mere superficialities. And Sam’s character is supposed to catalyze readers to reflect on how we judge the motives of those around us. In fact, I have even incentivized such reflection with a contest at www.WinTrip2NY.com.
So while Sam’s loss and his tribulations are real, his characterization has been somewhat abstract. Let it suffice to say that he is an immigrant who has assimilated well and is unsure about how to cope with a very deep loss.
Who is Cynthia and what role does she play in the story?
Cynthia is a psychologist and she finds herself alone with her patient and her daughter in a sinking boat. Moreover, they all seem to be rowing away from one another. While trying to heal from a debilitating divorce, Cynthia is helping her patient, Sam, who is struggling with the worst kind of loss there is. She is also trying to mend her relationship with her daughter, Lily, who is not only fighting her own demons but also holding on to a secret that has the power to explode the lives around her.
What was your experience writing the point of view?
From the very beginning, I wanted to narrate the story from Cynthia’s perspective. This was daunting since I am neither a woman psychologist nor do I share a cultural background with her. So I knew I was trying to fill shoes much larger than my own and I had to both step out of my comfort zone and dig deep. And I’d like to believe that I have grown much as a person because of it. So not only was the process personally gratifying but also her perspective turned out to be most relevant for the plot.
Was it easy writing about flawed characters?
Aren’t we all?! But yes, confronting these flaws, let alone embracing or articulating them, is never easy. Fortunately, I strongly believe that such duality exists in all of us and I’m quite comfortable with both my flaws and my struggles with them. Even though writing about these flaws in characters that are different from me wasn’t easy, the fact that I enjoyed this process helped me immensely. Now, as to whether or not I was able to do justice to such expression – I think I’ll let readers be the judge of that.
What’s next for you?
I have only recently started researching and outlining my next novel. It’s also going to be narrated from the perspective of a young woman, Abigail, who has just started her first job as a nanny at a prominent bureaucrat’s home. The story starts with her charge, six-year-old Stewart, fighting for his life in the pool. And Abigail soon discovers that June, the boy’s older sister, may have been the one who pushed him in.
Neel Mullick is the author of Dark Blossom. The Head of Product and Information Security at a Belgian family-office technology company, Mullick is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and INSEAD. He mentors female entrepreneurs through the Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women, is involved in raising a generation of digital and socially aware leaders with Nigeria’s Steering for Greatness Foundation, supports improvement in the quality of life of domestic workers through Peru’s Emprendedoras del Hogar, and works with IIMPACT in India to help break the cycle of illiteracy plaguing young girls from socially and economically impoverished communities. Dark Blossom is his first novel.
I’m reading this book right now and it’s very intriguing! It’s that kind of book that draws you back into its pages.
After discovering rare gargoyles mysteriously positioned inside an ancient church being restored in the small English town of Atwelle, the architect Don Whitby and a young research historian Margeaux Wood realize that the gargoyles are predicting the bizarre murders that are occurring in the town. Five hundred years earlier when the church is being built, two powerful families in Atwelle are contesting control of the region in the delicate backdrop of King Henry VIII’s dispute with the Pope over the King’s divorce. In the middle of these conflicts, the same bizarre murders are being committed in the town. Two stories of identical macabre murders five hundred years apart ─ One surprising solution in the mystery of the gargoyles and the Atwelle Confession
Where you a reader growing up?
Not so much. The main reason was because of the types of books that I was allowed to read. They weren’t very interesting, well-known, and almost all were religious. I dreaded reading because of this. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered that not all books were dull and boring.
I remember that when I got my license, I regularly drove to Barnes & Noble to buy books (most in secret). Classics, poetry, non-fiction—I devoured all of them with enthusiasm.
Although I would have loved to read Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia growing up, I think being deprived of good books has made me that much more appreciative of them today. I can’t imagine my life without reading now.
Same here. I’m glad you had a wonderful discovery later in life. Too many great books!
Was there anything in your background that influenced you to write later in life?
Reading the book Chocolat in college. It was the first time I had ever read a book that was filled with magic and whimsy. This launched my obsession with magical realism books, which led to my obsession with books about witches, which led to my obsession with fantasy books.
Nice. Once you read something you like, you’re hooked.
Why did you choose fantasy for a debut novel?
Fantasy is my favorite genre to read because of the limitless possibilities. I love visiting other worlds. I love magic and supernatural entities. I love exploring things that I am afraid of. It seemed only fitting to write in the genre I love most.
Great! Limitless possibilities is fascinating!
What made you move from California to Pennsylvania?
My husband teaches philosophy and got a position at a local university. Prior to PA, we lived in Florida and Colorado.
PA is my favorite place I’ve lived so far though. I absolutely love the seasons, especially fall. I also prefer living in a small country town versus a big bustling city.
Nice. There’s a certain kind of peace out in the countryside.
Describe the decision to write a book after other job opportunities.
Creative writing was my favorite subject in grade school, but once I went to college and began to explore various job opportunities, writing fell by the wayside.
I eventually went on to work in corporate America and was miserable, so I started writing stories again as a way for me to relax from the grind.
It didn’t take me long to spark the passion I had lost for writing. I looked forward to my hobby at every opportunity. After I published my first book, Strange Luck, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to writing. Just as Chocolat inspired me, I can only hope that my books will do the same for my readers.
Ohhh. I can totally relate to this.
Who is Daisy Darling and how do you relate to her?
Daisy Darling is a stubborn, quirky girl who wants to be a writer, but things keep getting in the way. She inherits her family’s antique shop, ends up in a mysterious world where her memories are stolen, and then accidentally becomes ringleader for an ancient and evil theater.
Many of Daisy’s quirks are similar to mine, and some of her experiences are based on things that have happened to me.
You can learn more here:
Does she have a mentor that she confides in?
In each book, Daisy has a mentor that helps guide her. In Strange Luck, it was a time-traveling wizard. In The Nightmare Birds, it was a beautiful and immortal performer, but in A Darling Secret, Daisy finally learns how to harness her own strengths and therefore relies only on herself.
I like the progression here.
Tell us about the upcoming release of A Darling Secret.
A Darling Secret is the conclusion to the series, where you’ll learn the fate of your favorite heroes and love-to- hate foes. It’s a little darker than The Nightmare Birds, with lots of occult themes, magic, and psychological games. My favorite! ��
I wanted this book to answer remaining questions and leave the reader with a satisfying sense of completion. I spent a lot of time talking to my readers to find out what they wanted to see happen, which characters they wanted to see more of, and what they liked most about the previous books. I hope my readers will enjoy the result.
Awesome. I love that you seek out feedback from your readers.
What have you learned after writing your third book?
The more you write, the better you become at writing.
Amen to that. It’s simple yet profound.
Do you outline or construct character arcs?
When I write, I don’t plot everything out in advance. I have a very general idea of what I’m going to do and the rest I come up with as I go. For example, I wanted to write a book about a world built using stolen memories. That was the general idea I had for Strange Luck. The rest took form as I wrote. A lot of the time I don’t even know what is going to happen in the story or to my characters, but that’s part of the fun. All the themes I discuss in my books are important to me and are largely based on my own experiences/thoughts, like how we are our memories.
Exploring the plot as you go does sound interesting.
What’s next after the Strange Luck series?
I plan to write a standalone psychological horror novel. Details to come.
Oh, do share when available.
Amie Irene Winters was born and raised in California but now lives and writes in western Pennsylvania. She is the author of the award-winning Strange Luck series.
When not writing, she can be found hiking with her dog, baking desserts, or breaking a sweat in kickboxing class.
To learn more about Amie and her books, visit amieirenewinters.com.
Gertrude spent the better part of her adult life scouring Europe for Helmut Klingenfelter, the father who vanished not only from her life and that of her mother but had forsaken everyone in his past.
With midlife looming on the horizon, Gertie made the decision to stop chasing the ghosts of the past and return to her childhood home of Pitch Pine, where she purchased a century-old house at 1211 Castle Lane sight unseen.
Elderhaus, as it came to be known, had a mysterious past of its own, one that would threaten more than Gertrude’s desire for finding happiness.
There is something about this book that draws you into it’s story. Who is Gertie Klingenfelter? And what happened to her father Helmut? It takes you down a path discovering her roots and mysterious family history. Finally she decides to return to her home town, Pitch Pine.
I found the setting of Pitch Pine with it’s characters to be very endearing ! There’s something about them that sticks out begging you to find out more. Gertie’s family history is heart wrenching but makes the story that much more resonant.
Quality writing with good characters. What else can you ask for? Recommended!
Today’s post from Mystery Thriller Week
I was at a book signing the other day, and a person asked me a question that caused me to have to think a little before blurting out an answer. The question was, “What should every new write…
Arriving at work early one morning, Emma discovers the body of the school custodian, a man who reminds her of her late father. When the police struggle to find the killer, the ladies decide to help solve the murder. Their efforts lead them to a myriad of suspects: the schizophrenic librarian, the crude football coach, the mysterious social studies teacher, and even Emma’s new love interest.
As Emma Lovett discovers the perils of teaching high school, she and Leslie learn more than they ever wanted to know about the reasons people kill.
A Winter of Wolves is also the 4th volume in the series. Check out the first three volumes on Goodreads.
What led you to become a writer?
After 30 years of service as a federal prosecutor, I had collected hundreds of professional “war stories” from cases. Told correctly, these are also known as “plot lines.” My wife kept saying, “You should write a book,” so I did.
There’s no better fuel than life experience. Excellent!
Which authors inspire your writing the most?
If any served as inspiration, it would be the W.E.B. Griffin father-son team and series, since it showed me how characters could be developed over the course of a series of novels. I also love the way Michael Connelly writes.
Haven’t heard of W. E. B. Griffin, but I also love Michael Connelly. Great source of inspiration!
What’s your goal in becoming a writer?
I honestly just wanted to see what I could do. Nothing beyond that. The modest success (about 40,000 sales as a self-published author) has been a pleasant surprise.
Wonderul. I believe it’ll only get better. The reviews are great!
What three things have hindered your writing?
I don’t have three. The only obstacle before I retired was the day job; in other words, having enough time. Since then, the retail bias against self-published authors may have hindered sales, but not the writing itself.
Having enough time is always a struggle.
What keeps you motivated?
I just like to write.
That’s good enough motivation for anyone.
What is my antagonist?
I don’t allow those, don’t have one.
Oh, I love that attitude. Excellent.
Compared to my previous work, what’s it like being a writer?
First, I like my boss a lot more. Second, since I was a career prosecutor, I miss the cops and agents – real-life heroes – with whom I had the pleasure of working for years. Third, my schedule is my own now, and being comfortably retired, there’s no pressure. I’m very fortunate in that way.
This sounds like a very sweet experience. I wish I had it!
What would I say to a writer who has given up?
Find something you believe in enough to NOT give up on. Examine yourself. Why did you give up on writing? Lack of financial success? Self doubt? One can be overcome with perseverance. The other is a sign of some deeper issues. Identify them and start to deal with them.
Perseverance is the name of the game. I needed to hear this myself.
What are the key elements to a legal thriller?
I try very hard to avoid formulas. In real-life legal work – especially in solving criminal cases – formulaic approaches can lead to “tunnel vision.” By that, I mean that if you approach a case the same way every time, trying to solve a case using the same method that happened to work the last time, you can miss a lot of clues, make a lot of serious mistakes. Each case involves different people with different motivations. Some criminals act without rational motivation at all; they are creatures of impulse. A crime-based legal thriller by definition has to involve a crime, or series of crimes. After that, I climb on board with my characters for the investigative “ride,” to see where that leads. The solution can occur in or out of the courtroom.
I agree wholeheartedly. Formulas can be quite boring.
Introduce us to the Jeff Trask series.
Trask is my fictional alter-ego. A lot of my plot lines are based upon actual cases, and I use trial transcripts from actual cases in the books, with the usual name changes “to protect the innocent” (and guilty). While Trask and I share a lot of experiences, he probably learns faster on the job than I did. I strive for realism. There aren’t any Hollywood gun fights where the good guys snapshoot someone off the roof of a building a hundred yards away with a handgun, then outrun a string of machine gun bullets. I also try not to use the hackneyed lone, tortured soul, alcoholic detective approach. Complex crimes are not solved by rogue superheroes acting alone. They are solved by teams of good people – cops, medical examiners, forensic specialists, and then prosecutors and their staffs – all working together. I’ve been fortunate enough to earn praise from professionals in these fields who say, “Finally, somebody got it right.” Some critics have said that Trask is “too perfect,” in that he is NOT the typical tortured hero. We all have some demons, but I don’t seek readers who have to look down on a character in order to feel better about themselves. I don’t write literary fiction, and don’t have to apologize for that. The series is about how real teams solve real cases, facing criminals or criminal organizations posing real threats. It also has a lot of dark humor in it, which is also real, in that the guys and gals who do this work for a living have to have that sense of humor to do their jobs without going nuts.
I love the whole team idea to solving crimes. Not conforming to the typical hero complex is a great way to step outside the box.
What are the chief characteristics of Jeff Trask?
Smart. Occasionally a smart-ass, in fact. He does not, however, talk down to anyone or use his brain for anything other than finding solutions. He loves classic rock, and always has a jukebox playing in his head, usually providing a theme-based tune to any situation in which he finds himself. For example, in one book, he encounters a crime scene with about a dozen victims – gang members – shot to hell by a rival criminal element. Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” starts playing in his mind. Trask works well with others as long as they are interested in being part of the solution and not the problem.
The characteristics of the protagonist help readers fall in love with them.
Any planned releases for 2017?
The next book in the series has already started to take shape in my head. It will find its way to a keyboard some time next year.
Looking forward to it! it’ll give me some time to catch up in the series.
It started on the darkest night of fall’s unyielding autumn breezes. Where the far countryside of Adam’s county was seized by blindness of nightfall. Even the moon took refuge amidst the clouds that night, turned its back, and refused to lift up her countenance. The night flexed the might of its grip denying every shred of light. No one really knew what happened to the power that night, but the people wandering in the streets took the black into their eyes, let it trickle up their spine, and whisper fear in their hearts.
They say the shadows keep their own, and what they don’t possess return to the light. Some never realized the essence of human nature is bound within the perpetual cycle of day and night. And some who never put off the works of darkness would never see the light of day.
That night the slow howl of wind was grinding, sifting all through Hartsville under its own hungry volition. Where it came from, or where it went nobody knows, and certainly no one really knew what it brought with it. Because in that solemn night; there wasn’t an inch of light, except in the house of Old man Bill.
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Author page of JR Handley, a veteran who writes military science fiction to excise the demons of his time spent fighting in the Late Unpleasantness in Mesopotamia.