Searching Her Ancestors Led to Historical Novels

Our guest today is Cindy Thomson, a writer and an avid genealogythomson-author photo enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland.

Connecting to Your Past

Novelists like to ask who, what, where, and why questions. When I began my search for my ancestors I was just a teenager and I would not become a professional writer for a few more decades, but the beginnings of those novelist questions were forming. Where did I come from and who are my people? Doing genealogy research planted the seeds that fed my imagination. Genealogists are usually after the who, what, and wherenames, dates, places of origin, birth, marriage, deaths. But for me the why became an obsession. I knew my ancestors emigrated from Belfast, Ireland, to America in 1771, but I wanted to know why, and not just why they left Ireland. Some answers can be found in a study of social history: crop failures, high rents, and religious persecution. But once the family is in America, then what? They moved around for various reasons, but what exactly motivated these people to do the things they did, to earn their livings the way they did? Did they keep their faith in God through all the trials they must have faced? How did their choices ultimately influence the person I am today?

 You cannot know all of these things unless you are fortunate enough to have a hand-written diary from your ancestor revealing all the personal motivations driving him or her. With fiction, however, you can make them up! And that’s what I did. My first novel about my ancestors is still unpublished, but I moved on to asking these questions of fictional characters that represent many people’s grandparents and great grandparents.

 It’s been estimated that approximately half of the American population can trace at least one ancestor through Ellis Island. The massive immigration station served 22 million people from 1892 until 1924 when immigration laws severely restricted the numbers entering the country. Writing about immigrants from this time period has the potential to resonate with many readers so that is why I chose it. (Learn more about Ellis Island at

Truly Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are iconic symbols of what it means to be an American for many of us. Hearing or reading a story is the best way I know to appreciate the world these people lived in. The turn of the twentieth century in New York City was a time of contrasts between the very poor and the very rich, between the swindlers and the charities, between hard labor and labor-saving inventions. I chose to use what was popular at that time (for example the Brownie camera and the new book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) to illustrate the creative flow of ideas fighting against a desire to restrict progress and personal freedom.

 I believe everyone should research his or her ancestral roots, or at least the stories of those who helped build today’s society. With so much online, it’s easier today than ever before, and what you will gainappreciation, understanding, clues to the traits that may have been passed down to youwill enrich your life whether or not you choose to write a novel about it.

Cindy’s newest book, Annie’s Stories, just released and she would like to giveaway a signed copy to someone who leaves a comment on this blog in the next seven days.

About Annithomson-Annie's Stories Coversmallere’s Stories:

The year is 1901, the literary sensation The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is taking New York City by storm, and everyone wonders where the next great book will come from. But to Annie Gallagher, stories are more than entertainment—they’re a sweet reminder of her storyteller father. After his death, Annie fled Ireland for the land of dreams, finding work at Hawkins House.

But when a fellow boarder with something to hide is accused of misconduct and authorities threaten to shut down the boardinghouse, Annie fears she may lose her new friends, her housekeeping job . . . and her means of funding her dream: a memorial library to honor her father. Furthermore, the friendly postman shows a little too much interest in Annie—and in her father’s unpublished stories. In fact, he suspects these tales may hold a grand secret.

Though the postman’s intentions seem pure, Annie wants to share her father’s stories on her own terms. Determined to prove herself, Annie must forge her own path to aid her friend and create the future she’s always envisioned . . . where dreams really do come true.

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book.




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hobbs - 2Today’s guest blogger is Lynn Hobbs, an award-winning author.  She writes about the importance of setting priorities if you are to achieve anything.  She is the author of the powerful faith and family saga the Running Forward  Series.  The first two books have already gathered in several awards.  The third book in the series is being considered for an award in 2015. Stay tuned.

 Priority of Time

     Plan on writing daily? Certain time selected? Too often best intentions fall by the wayside. Daily interruptions are unavoidable, but can be managed stress free. It is your choice. Jump in and deal with the problem. Learn from it and continue.

     Thirty-five years ago, my sons were six and nine years old. During that year, I completed three queen size quilts by hand. How? I sewed during my quiet time at the end of the day… after they were in bed. Yes, I worked full-time. Yes, I worked all night …and yes, I looked forward to this special time.  I considered patterns, material, and what would be appropriate for whom. A relaxing and rewarding project, the quilts are still in my family today. I am a positive person. Make time for what you want to complete.

     As a writer, I experience the same principles and find myself reversing interruptions. Now, I interrupt planned tasks with my writing. Ideas flowing, keys clicking away as I type…yes, that prescription refill I called in can wait until tomorrow. I’m not going to stop and drive twenty miles one way to purchase it. One of the best time savers is to avoid as much time-consuming travel as possible. Once again, priority matters.

     For nearly two years I drove over an hour and a half, one way, to writer’s meetings twice a month. Another was over two hours away. Two others twice a month were local. Add time on the road spent driving to critique meetings, workshops, conferences, etc. and your priority’s change. Sometimes it is necessary to say no. Residing in a rural area, I still cultivate my writing craft, but it’s accomplished more often online. What about the people? With social media, established friendships made at the meetings aren’t lost, they grow. Of course, nothing can replace the personal time spent during one on one with readers. Speaking engagements, book signings, marketing and writing time are increasing as my hours become more flexible.  

     One of the best online sites I use is at Writers Digest: click on the link and discover what a wide variety of information is available.

     A helpful site for critique is:

     Another critique site is Karlyn Thayer, an experienced editor, and writing instructor offers a free critique of your novel or short story up to 1,000 words maximum.

     Your time is valuable. I have found the old cliché to be true, ‘you cannot please everyone.’ Hobbs-Hidden Creek Front Cove-a I have learned that one size fits all… does not apply to writing. Progress is measured differently by many. Stay true to yourself and your goals. As a published Christian fiction author, my goal to give readers a clear understanding of a Christian viewpoint by the actions of my main character was realized in The Running Forward Series; a powerful faith and family saga. Book one: Sin, Secrets, and Salvation, won 1st place in Religious Fiction for 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors. Book two: River Town, won 1st place for Religious Fiction with the same organization for 2014. Hidden Creek, concludes the series, and yes, it is being considered for their 2015 contest.

     Writing methods and the industry change daily. Set priorities will not only be beneficial to your writing, but will establish a more rewarding experience.

     JIM:  Thanks, Lynn, for reminding us to set priorities.  Visitors, if you have a moment, leave Lynn a comment on how you set your priorities to find time for what is important to you.  Thanks.





Progress in a Lifetime

We Move On

 My father felt like he lived in the greatest time.  When he was a little tyke living in southwest Texas, his family had a horse and buggy.  Of course, most of the time, since they lived in town, he just walked wherever he wanted to go.  But on special occasions, there was a comfortable, smooth, lazy buggy ride. Just sit and let the horse do the work.

 Later, his Dad bought a car. This was an incredible invention. The seats were much softer than the buggy’s bench. It zipped along at a nice pace. And you didn’t have to clean up after it when it stood in the yard for a day. You didn’t have to fork hay into its stall.  And it had a great horn that sounded like au-ooga.  And the next car the family had came with windows that kept most of the dust out. And should it rain, which it did every year, you didn’t get wet riding in the car.

 And from there, things just kept advancing and he lived to see a man walk on the moon. Surely such progress would never again be matched in a person’s lifetime.  From riding on horses to walking on the moon was an incredible leap for mankind. 

 Would such advancement in one person’s life ever be equaled?

 When I was much, much younger, I visited the State Fair of Texas and saw an amazing sight.  A machine they called a computer, the size of a small house, could do many calculations in just a minute’s time. It could read the holes punched into cards or a tape faster than a magician’s hands. It could print out answers as quick as a fairway barker could talk. And it could store hundred’s of pieces of information and find them at a later time.  Amazing.

 From there, we moved to machines that were smaller and faster.  Storage increased. When I bought my first computer, it had a memory of 32,000 bytes and each byte could store one letter or symbol.  It had a disk that could store over a million bytes of information for rapid recovery. And, it would fit into a ten by ten foot room.  Our next machine had 256,000 bytes of memory and could do thousands of operations in one second. Its disk could store 80 million bytes of information, cost $20,000, was the size of a large washing machine, and weighted 1,000 pounds.

 Of course, today, your smart phone probably has 4,000 times as much memory.  Most hard disks on a laptop have a hundred times as much capacity as my second computer and rather than a thousand pounds, weigh mere ounces.  Rather than the $20,000, today’s 8 billion byte disk might cost $200.  For a better comparison, in 1980 I paid an average of $250 for one megabyte of disk storage. Today, I would pay about 2.5 cents for a megabyte of disk storage.

 The progress in technology in my lifetime is even more dramatic than the progress in transportation my father saw in his lifetime.  What will be the next great advancement?  We are probably seeing the beginnings of it now. How many of us recognize it?

If you have an idea about what it might be, or on the great advancements of the past, please give us your thoughts on it.  I’d love to hear from you.

James R. Callan

My latest suspense novel, A Ton of Gold, looks at how an old Texas folktale can affect people today.  Crystal Moore gets caught in the middle of murder, kidnapping and arson, all because of a 178 year old folk tale. Leave a comment and ask for a sample of this contemporary novel and I’ll e-mail you two chapters.


Maya Angelou

 Several blogs back, I wrote on the passing of Spanish literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  The passing of anyone is a time of loss for those the person has touched. When that person has touched the lives of millions, that feeling of loss reaches across the boundaries of family and geography.

Recently, another force in literature andmaya entertainment departed. Maya Angelou excelled in many fields. From an extremely humble beginning, she pulled herself up to be chosen to recite one of her own poems, On the Pulse of Morning, at the 1993 inauguration of  President Bill Clinton, the first poet to have that honor since Robert Frost read a poem at the John F. Kennedy inauguration in 1961. A recording of the poem was awarded a Grammy Award.

 Maya’s talents were not limited to poetry. She was a singer, a dancer, an actress (nominated for a Tony Award), a playwright, an editor.  She directed movies, composed music for movies and TV, and wrote songs for popular singer Roberta Flack. And Oprah Winfrey called Maya her mentor.

 Angelou wrote seven autobiographies, and in those she caged birdchallenged the traditional structure of autobiographies. Her best known book, and the first of the biographies, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was published in 1969, and rocketed her to international fame.  It was nominated for a National Book Award and remained on The New York Times bestseller list for over two years.  Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, a book of her poetry, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1971.  She published three books of essays.

 Maya was also well-known for statements that cut to the heart of the matter.  “Nothing will work unless you do.”  “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” And one of my favorites, “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

 For over twenty years, Maya held the title of Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, teaching writing, ethics, theatre, and philosophy.

 Is it any wonder that a memorial for Maya drew former president Clinton,  Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and countless stars from the literary and entertainment communities. And while Maya was outstanding in many fields, it is significant that her greatest achievements were in the field of literature. Her words have and will continue to have an impact on people across the world.

 The written word still has incredible power to influence people.


James R. Callan



Marni Graff Has Done It All

graffToday, I’m interviewing Marni Graff. She has been a nurse, a TV and movie consultant, a mystery writer and a writing instructor. She’s studied at the Iowa Writing Program and at Oxford University.  Here is an interesting woman.

 Jim:  You had a career in nursing, and wrote for a nursing journal.  Did that inspire you to write fiction, or was that always in your mind?

 Marni:  I wrote nonfiction to hone my writing skills and obtain publishing credits after I’d studied journalism. I always knew I wanted to write fiction, and studied different forms “on the side” during my nursing career in preparation for my second career in writing. I even went back to school as an adult for a degree in English.

 Jim:  Tell us a little about your consulting work for TV and movies.

 Marni:  I’d taken screenwriting at NYU and saw an ad in the paper for a nurse consultant. The job became two-fold: working on scripts from home, and working on set for things filmed in Manhattan. One time I edited a skit for The Carol Burnett Show where Harvey Korman played a surgeon carving the Thanksgiving turkey. And I did a scene for Steve Martin in the movie Grand Canyon. At that time, Law and Order was filming in NY and I did that show often, working with Paul Sorvino, Jerry Orbach and Chris Noth, but most of my on set work was on soap opera sets, particularly One Life to Live. One actress, Marilyn Cris (who played Wanda Wolek), remains my friend to this day.

 Jim:  You had a series of books where a nurse was solving crimes.  But now, you seem to be concentrating on the young writer in England.  Is that the end of the line for the nurse capers?

 Marni:  No, Trudy Genova is just in hiatus while I concentrate on Nora Tierney, a Connecticut gal living in England. I may bring out Trudy’s Death Unscripted next year. Trudy does the exact job I did as a medical consultant and lives in the Big Apple.

 Jim:  Your 2014 The Scarlet Wench will be the third set in England (following The Blue Virgin and The Green Remains).  Does that end the series, or is there an Orange or Purple or Yellow to follow Scarlet?

 Marni:  I have six planned as of now and am already working on The Golden Hour, which starts with Nora visiting her CT home, but the main action takes place in Bath, UK. 

 Jim:  Tell us a little about The Scarlet Wench.

 graff-scarletwench_coverMarni:  Nora is living temporarily at Ramsey Lodge in the Lake District in the village of Bowness-on-Windermere, right on the shore of England’s largest lake. Her infant son is six months old and she’s juggling single parenting, writing her children’s books, taking on freelance journalism assignments, and helping her illustrator friend run the lodge. A theatre troupe arrives to put on Noel Coward’s farce Blithe Spirit; the only non-actor is DI Declan Barnes, ostensibly there for a hiking vacation but hoping to further his relationship with Nora. A series of pranks and accidents will escalate to murder. All the chapter epigrams are actual lines from the play. When I received permission from Coward’s estate to use them, they asked for a copy of the book for their archives, which is a great honor.

 Jim:  You’ve studied at the Iowa Writing Program and at Oxford University.  How would compare the two?

 Marni:  Apples and oranges. Iowa is a typical workshop where you submit 20 pages of a work before meeting, everyone reads each other’s work before the class meets, and there is critiquing after a class lesson. There are individual visits with each teacher for one hour to go over your work and hear suggestions.

 Oxford goes back in time to the tutor method. Classes are much more academically based, and time to do research in the famed Bodleian Library. I was able to read the original broadsheets of Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White there. It’s much more about the conventions of the genre and the classics that form the background. As a mystery writer, my class concentrated on Wilkie Collins and Daphne Du Maurier.

 I should point out here that St Hilda’s College in Oxford is home to a yearly Crime and Mystery Conference that just had its 20th outing and I was happy to attend. Famed crime writers give papers based on a theme and readers and writers attend the sessions, have tea together, and eat in the college dining room as a group. One of this year’s participants was the Baroness herself, P. D. James.

 Jim:  Lastly, any advice for writers less experienced than you?

 Marni:  Read, read, read. Read in the genre you want to write in; read the cereal box; read the classics. You cannot be a good writer if you are not a reader, I’m convinced of that.

 Carry a small notebook. Record the sights and sounds and scents of an area. Note the feelings a certain type of weather provokes in you. Neil Simon talks about being the kid at bar mitzvahs who stood against the wall and just observed people.

 Allow yourself the freedom to experiment in different forms. If poetry speaks to you, try your hand at that.

 Learn from the masters. Read people like Robert McKee’s Story; Lewis Turco’s Book of Forms for Poetry and Dialogue to get a handle on that, too. Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird  is a standard, but give Elizabeth George’s Write Away a try to see how a successful writer still has anxiety, and learn the method she uses.

 Finally, remember to write first drafts without your editor’s hat on. As P. D. James told me once: “The real writing gets done in the revision.”

 Thanks for this wonderful opportunity to connect with your readers, Jim!

 Jim:  It was my pleasure – and my readers’ pleasure – to have you today, Marni.  And readers, check out some of Marni’s books at:

and leave a comment and ask Marni a question about Oxford, Iowa Writing Program, or working with TV.

And don’t forget to LIKE The Author’s Blog.  Thanks.



Best Seller Cynthia Hickey

Thickey - author photooday’s guest is best selling Cynthia Hickey.  She has five books published through Barbour Publishing.  She has several historical romances from Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents.  She has sold over 160,000 copies of her books.

JIM:  Where all did you live during those growing up years?

Cynthia:   I was born in Redondo Beach, CA but moved from there when very long. We alternated our time between Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Germany, finally settling in Arkansas at the age of ten when my father retired from the Army and returned to his home state.

 JIM:  Did any of those places have a particular influence on your writing?

Cynthia:  Arkansas has. Most of my stories take place in the Ozark mountains. It’s the home of my heart.

 JIM:  ve never before known anyone who worked in a pickle factory.

Cynthia:  It was the perfect high school job. Football was so popular with the town residents, that we had Friday nights off work to attend the games during football season. I did a little bit of everything during the two years I worked there: tossed out hamburger pickle slices that had holes in them, worked the relish and spice line, flipped jars, and worked the conveyor belt when the cucumbers arrived from Texas, sometimes with a snake or two mixed in.

 JIM:  You have quite a few inspirational novels and a bunch of general novels.  When you finish a book, how do you decide what kind of a book to write next?

Cynthia:  A literary agent once told me that I have more story ideas than anyone they’ve ever met. I keep a file on my computer of these ideas and when I finish a book, I browse this list. Sometimes I choose something from the list, other times, I’ve got a brand new idea.

 JIM:  You said your first novel was Fudge-Laced Felonies.   How long did it take you to write it and then how long to get it published?

Cynthia:  I wrote this cozy mystery in three months on a dare. When a publisher started a new cozy mystery line, a friend told me I should write for it. I had no idea what a cozy mystery was. This friend dared me to write it, and voila … my first book was born. I rarely turn down a dare.

 JIM: What is your secret?

Cynthia:  Strong discipline, a daily writing goal, a wonderful imagination, and God’s help. My novels include everything from novellas to full length works of 90,000 words.

 JIM:  Wait, now.  You have seven children.  Where do you get the time?

Cynthia:  Luckily for me, all but one of my children are grown and moved out. The sixteen-year-old is busy with school and work. I didn’t start writing seriously until my children were independent.


JIM:  Tell us a little about your latest inspirational novel.

CyHickey- Unconventional Lady covernthia:  An Unconventional Lady is book two in a series based on the historical Harvey Girls. Annie Rollins is adventurous and wants nothing more than to lead tours into the Grand Canyon. Her widowed mother has other ideas and signs Annie up as a Harvey Girl to teach her refinement and a woman’s proper role in the world. What happens next, is a sweet, fun, little romance between Annie and the man her mother hired as the guide.

 JIM:  Tell us a little about your latest general novel.

Cynthia:  My latest general novel is actually a zombie novella. I started writing these because my son and grandchildren wanted to be main characters in my books. I had no idea they would be as popular as they are.

 JIM:  And what comes next?

Cynthia:  My next release, coming out July 1, is the third book in the Harvey Girl series, and I’m starting a new series for Harlequin’s Heartsong line that deals with finding love among natural disasters.

 JIM:  Lastly, where can we buy your books?

Cynthia:  My website at lists all of my published works. Come sit a spell an browse.




The Women Took Over

srock-aToday, I am pleased to have Sharon Srock visiting.  She started with science fiction and now concentrated on Christian fiction, with three books in her Women of Valley View series. Here’s how her life has changed since she started the series.

Sharon:  Mine is the story of an ever-evolving community. When I first started to write the Valley View series, I had no idea that the characters would become so real. I guess that happens to all writers. How can you eat, sleep, and work with people, twenty-four hours a day, for years, and have it any other way? They’ve each whispered their own story line to me and demanded equal time on paper. I was good with that, they weren’t. These greedy women, once granted the small freedom of the written page, demanded not only stories of their own, but a town to live in, families to raise, jobs to go to, and a church to attend. I live in small town Oklahoma, so I gave them the mythical Garfield, OK to live in and a beautiful little church, Valley View, as a place of worship.

I started with a single character who looked a lot like me. Callie is in her mid fifties, married with kids and grandkids, she teaches a Sunday school class at the church she’s attended nearly forever, and works at an OB/GYN clinic. I could identify with this person, I knew who she was (me), I could hear her voice in my head, and I was comfortable in her skin. It was easy to write from her point of view. Callie and I were one in the same, and we coexisted quite nicely together. Then a strange thing happened. Callie developed her own personality. She outgrew me. Callie is bold where I’m shy, she’s wise where I struggle. It wasn’t long before Callie wasn’t just a character on a piece of paper, she was the person I wanted to be when I grew up.

perf5.500x8.500.inddFrom that one person, a community was born. Callie needed a husband. Enter Benton who resembles my own hubby in appearance if not in deed. Callie needed a best friend so Karla received breath along with her husband Mitch. I wanted to appeal to more than the over fifty crowd, so forty something Pam and almost thirty Terri stepped onto my page. Who knew things could get so out of hand? Pam needed a husband and kids. The church needed pastors. No one wants to read about a group of church women sitting around, talking and eating cheese cake. Where’s the conflict? Enter Samantha, Iris, and their estranged father, Steve. Who knew Steve and Terri would fall in love and generate a second story? Who knew that Pam’s vicious ex-husband would get saved, move back to Garfield, and spawn a story worth telling in a third book? Who knew that Samantha…Well, you get the picture. Pushy, pushy women!

Sigh…With Callie and Terri both a reality, Pam releasing in April , Samantha’s story under consideration, and Kate’s tale in progress, I have no idea how far these very determined ladies will take me, but I’m looking forward to the journey.

 JIM:  Thanks, Sharon for a very interesting look at how our characters become real.  Here’s  a short blurb on Sharon’s new novel, Pam.

Pam’s divorce broke her heart. The cruelty of her ex-husband broke her spirit. A bottle of sleeping pills almost took her life. Four years later the scars of Alan Archer’s emotional abuse are beginning to fade under the love of her new husband. When Alan returns to Garfield, Pam must learn that buried secrets and carefully cultivated indifference do not equal forgiveness.

Alan Archer has returned to Garfield with a new wife and a terminal heart condition. His mission? To leave a Christian legacy for his children and to gain Pam’s forgiveness for the sins of his past.

Please visit her AMAZON page to find current info on her books:

Connect with her at



What to Write, After We Write

SwinneyProfile (1)This week, we’re visiting with C. L. Swinney, a man who burst onto the writing scene with such great enthusiasm he overwhelmed some of us. He reads, he writes, he blogs, he writes poetry, he writes mysteries.  And having worked at this, he has something to say – about the real work of being an author today.

There’s so much to being an author- most of it happening AFTER we’ve put words down, and that alone can be a monumental struggle. In today’s market, where everyone believes they too are the best authors on the planet, you must search for your own voice, niche really, that isn’t already being used by a thousand other writers. I tend to try to relate this madness to what happens on American Idol. Thousands of people line up truly feeling they can sing, but within seconds, they become the laughing stock of television and only one in a million make it. For writers, it’s the same; about one in a million will make it. Roughly 85% of authors who get published or publish their own work will sell less than a hundred copies, and this includes friends and family (our biggest fans). It’s a sad reality, but one many of us choose to subject ourselves to it. Nevertheless, we thrive on the dance we play with our writing and readers. It keeps us writing, reading, and trying to be better at our craft. We’re glutton for punishment and tend to stay caved up in our homes. It’s the introvert lifestyle that stymies real potential to reach hundreds and even thousands of new readers.

 So, in as few words as possible, I’m going to break down what I think is necessary to break out of your slump and embrace 2014. I believe you will sell more books, but more importantly, make new friends if you consider these points. **Disclaimer-BE FOREWARNED, I DO NOT HOLD BACK PUNCHES.


 Been there, done that. Type the word into Google and see how many thousands of definitions materialize. What does that mean? It means it was a buzz word that continues to be abused by small publishers trying to squeeze everything they possibly can out of the authors they already take to the cleaners. The Big Five call this promotion-they pay for it and do it for their authors.


 Today there are literally hundreds of blog sites and millions of blogs. If you don’t have superior content or pictures (best would be including both), know about SEO, back-links, targeted websites, or have several thousand real email accounts YOU ARE WASTING YOUR EFFORTS. You would be better served having a website. Don’t use free templates. Pay someone to make yours at least as good as the next author.


 This, to me, isSwinneyGray Ghost copy (2) a MUST. I’ll tell you why. As my good friend John Brantingham explained to me, people don’t buy your book from the actual reading, but they will POSSIBLY buy your book based on your message. Can they relate to you? Do they find you interesting? Ask yourself, do I even have a message? If you don’t, you should. As far as the nerves that accompany standing in front of people and reading your work go, suck it up. Deal with it. Stumble and get a dry mouth, freak the hell out. It’s GOOD FOR YOU. And, it shows you’re human. Humans relate better to humans, not robots.


Again, you MUST do this. I’ve been talking about this for years and I’m really tired of hearing people saying it’s too difficult to do. Guess what, use Hootsuite. It’s free and does the work for you. You can pre-arrange messages written one time that will automatically push out to all of your social media sites at once. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be doing this. If you don’t think some of the sites are useful, don’t use them. However, I challenge you to find a single bestselling author not using social media.

 I’ve got plenty of more tid-bits that I’ll be sharing on guess blogs over the next few months. Please feel free to email with questions. I answer them all.

JIM:  Okay. There you have Swinney’s take on the work after the writing.  Leave a comment or a question.  Swinney won’t shy away from answering.

Bury that manuscript in a drawer or rewrite it?

diehl - photo-2Our guest post today comes from Lesley Diehl, a retired professor of psychology. She splits her time between upstate New York where she and her husband are renovating an 1872, ghost-inhabited cottage, and old Florida where spurs still jingle in the post office and gators make golf a contact sport.  Today, she asks the question, Bury that manuscript in a drawer or rewrite it? 

The Self-publishing Jitters

Here’s the dilemma.  Open up the file on that old manuscript you never got published, read it, and send it to the trash bin, or at least, file it under “yuk!” and forget it.  Or you could read it through, realize how bad it really was, heave a sigh of relief that it never was published, saving you the embarrassment of all those one star reviews, and then…  Read it again.  Maybe the characters were interesting, but need more depth.  Their motivation for trying to solve the crime may be weak.  Perhaps the plot is thinly drawn, too simplistic or too convoluted for a reader to follow.  The pacing may be too slow and more tension is required to keep the reader’s interest.  You could rework it.  Naw!  But before you press the delete button, reconsider.  I did.

 Here’s my confession.  I took the very first manuscript I wrote, and began revising it several years ago, using the time between writing others to work on the old one.  I had several readers take a look at it, I revised again, and just this month I published it.  And, yes, I wake up in the middle of the night wondering if I should locate the “unpublish” button and press it.  Of course I’m nervous about this work.  It was my first attempt at a mystery.  I have a blog tour for it coming up in May.  Until then I probably won’t know how readers will receive it.  I’m taking a chance, and I know it, and I’m terrified.

 Write what you know is always sage advice, so I did just that.  This book is taken from my life before writing, when I was a faculty member and administrator at several colleges and universities. I spent over 25 years in academie, so it’s familiar to me.  I loved being in the classroom, and I loved doing collaborative research with my students.  But like any other place trying to survive in a world where resources are becoming scarce, institutions of higher learning are competitive environments where faulty vie for promotions and they don’t trust administrators any more than administrators trust them.  Having been on both sides of the fence, I know how difficult life on campus can be. 

 Given the atmosphere of the college campus, is it any wonder that, in my first attempt at fiction I killed off a college president and then took down one of the faculty?  To my credit, when I reworked the manuscript I reduced it from over 100,000 words to around 70,000.  Most of those words were located in long convoluted sentences that described in too much detail the inner life of faculty and staff.  I left students alone.  They suffer enough trying to pass their courses and pay their tuition.  Not that students are angels, but later, I said to myself, and that’s just what I did.  The sequel to the book has my protagonist take on bad frat boys.

 Here’s a short description of Murder Is Academic:

diehl - Academic_final_533x800 Laura Murphy, psychology professor, thinks there’s nothing she likes better than coffee and donuts on a summer morning until she says yes to dinner with a Canadian biker and finds herself and her date suspects in the murder of her college’s president. Laura’s friend, the detective assigned the case, asks her to help him find out who on the small upstate New York college campus may be a killer. The murder appears to be wrapped up in some unsavory happenings on the lake where Laura lives. A fish kill and raw sewage seeping into the water along with the apparent drowning suicide of a faculty member complicate the hunt for the killer. And then things become personal. The killer makes a threatening phone call to Laura. With a tornado bearing down on the area and the killer intent upon silencing her, Laura’s sleuthing work may come too late to save her and her biker from a watery grave.

So, as I bite my nails and lose sleep over how this work will fare, I’d sure like to hear if others have revamped old work and then published it.  Were you as anxious about doing it as I was?  And how did it turn out for you?

Jim: Thanks, Lesley, for sharing your feelings on this.  I hope you get some good comments on what to do with those old manuscripts.

Lesley has three mystery series in print: her microbrewing series, the rural Florida series, and the Eve Appel series.  I can vouch for her books.  You can buy them at: