Sweet and Salty Writing

Today, we feature Kristin Neva, an author and blogger. She neva-2co-authored Heavy, Finding Meaning After a Terminal Diagnosis. Her first novel, Snow Country, A Copper Island Novel, will be published this winter. She offers writers some god advice on mixing the flavors in your book.  Her analogy to food casts the idea in such a way that we can all understand and use her advice.  So,  Kristin, the floor is yours.

 

Food comes to life when there are competing tastes. Sweet-and-sour stir fry. A spicy fish taco with mango salsa. And one of my favorite treats—a caramel granny smith apple with salty pecans.

I like caramel. I like apples. I like pecans. But all together, the flavors explode. The salt magnifies the sweet. The sweet accentuates the sour. Each flavor is more intense because of the contrast.

I use the term “come to life” because that’s just how life is, at times sweet and at other times bitter. And there are times in life when we have both the sweet and the bitter, all jumbled together, like a caramel granny smith apple with nuts.

It’s much like my personal experience walking through life with my husband’s terminal illness. Some of life’s simple pleasures—spending time together, seeing our children grow and mature—are made all the sweeter because of the bitterness of Todd’s ALS.

A good story is like that too.

A teenager gets his driver’s license, but crashes the car on his first night out.

A man dying of cancer walks his daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

A woman holds her baby for the first time with tears of joy, yet saddened at the thought of the difficulties he will face due to disability.

neva - Heavy-coverIn Heavy, a memoir I wrote with Todd, we were dealing with an inherently sad topic—the first year after his diagnosis. A writing coach told us, “We like to say you need conflict on every page, but you need to balance that with hope. Let the reader come up for air from time to time.” So we added some of the lighter moments of the year, like our quest for an aluminum-free deodorant and a woman who feeds her dogs filtered water.

Those hopeful scenes made the book more true to life. After all, Todd wrote in Heavy, “There is pain and suffering in this world, but there is also joy, and not just suffering here and joy there, but suffering and joy in the very same place.”

In writing my first novel, Snow Country, a contemporary romance, I was sure to include a mixture of angst, sweetness, and conflict. However, I received feedback from early manuscript submissions like, “The pacing is off, as in it’s way too slow.”

As tough as it is to get a no, I cherished that rejection with an explanation.

I re-evaluated every chapter and realized my book was not balanced. Neva-snow country-cI had conflict, but not on every page. In some places there was too much conflict, or too much angst, which didn’t allow the reader to come up for air. So I rewrote scenes, adding competing flavors.

A sweet date scene came to life when I ratcheted up the tension with a salty server. The waitress is surprised to see her friend Danny out on a date with Beth. She keeps Danny’s glass of Coke full, but ignores Beth’s request for water.

In scenes with too much grief, I added sweetness. In scenes with too much conflict, I added humor. It wasn’t enough to have conflict in some chapters and sweetness in others, because real life is often a mix of those elements present in the very same place.

Sweet, salty, sour flavors in food, life, and writing. Competing tastes brings them all to life.

You can find out more about Kristin and her blogs by visiting:

JIM:  Add your comments on how to make your fiction  comet o life. And thanks for visiting.

 

Are You in the Wrong Place, or Time?

Today’s guest blogger is Jeanne Ann Macejko, a mysterymacejko writer as well as an illustrator of children’s books. She’s been a marketing/public relations professional, an English teacher, a university instructor of illustration and graphic design, and a medical illustrator/photographer. She also trained with the Peace Corps in the Caribbean and taught English in rural Ireland. With that background, of course she has something to tell us.

Another Time. Another Place

I was born in the wrong place and time. Like a stranger in town, I’m an ex-patriot in my own soul and live with an abiding sense of non-belonging. I am not, however, alone.

I often meet people who also believe that they were meant to inhabit a different city, or country, or planet, but were somehow delivered to the wrong address and century. They are not ALL writers either.

Maybe such notions are proof of genetic memory. It explains the mania for discovering our ancestry. Such fantasies could also be outgrowths of art and literature—fairy tales, or the Outlander series, perhaps the paintings of Van Gogh or Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. Or is it as simple as yearning to be somewhere else, anywhere except this here and this now? In our imaginations, not only is the view beautiful, but so are we. Imaginary careers are important and meaningful; daydream partners wealthy and glamorous and friends so much more interesting.

Writers transport readers to distant locales and exciting situations. This is the engine that drives genre fiction. Authors spend weeks researching places they never actually lived. In the old days, you would find us in dusty libraries, digging through crumbling paper or squinting at disintegrating microfiche. Now writers do most of our research at home on our personal computers. Through the magic of the internet, we can even stroll along distant streets to scope out potential settings. Which is a good thing, because trans-oceanic voyages rarely figure into the budget.

If you’ve read this far, you may think you are one of us—one of those displaced souls from a different venue and time warp. I hope you find or have found your locus on the compass. Because once you connect with your essence, it will energize you creatively.

Although mine was a Welsh/Irish family, we were 100% American. We ate no traditional foods, sang no ethnic songs, belonged to no fraternal organizations and celebrated neither St. Patrick’s Day nor St. David’s Day. When I discovered the term Celtic, I realized immediately that for me, this word meant home. I couldn’t wait to get there.

PrintOn my first trip abroad, 92 years after my great-grandparents left, I re-connected with my Welsh relations. Many journeys have followed. My encounters in Wales and Ireland fuel my creativity. Through photography, drawings and writing, I have explored landscapes and people who are more real and immediate to me than my Texas neighborhood.

Of course, Wales was where I found her—Fair Rosamund Clifford. Born 800 years ago in a Norman castle overlooking the River Wye, Fair Rosamund became the mistress of Henry Plantagenet and was murdered by his jealous Queen. Poets, playwrights and novelists have been telling her story ever since.

In Keystone Corpse, a contemporary detective investigates a grisly macejkoKeystoneCover-Branded-RGBmurder. To solve the crime, he must uncover the suspect’s Medieval motives. The castles, homes, hillsides and pubs of the book are authentic places; the historical figures are as close to truth as the centuries will allow. And to underscore how vital finding my personal past was, one of my Welsh cousins is a retired homicide detective—the perfect technical consultant.

JIM:  Jeanne is putting the Kindle version of Keystone Corpse on sale for just .99 for this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (August 5, 6, and 7). Normally it is 2.99.  Click here to see the Kindle site for this book.

And surely you have a comment related to this topic.  Are you where you were meant to be?  Have you always been there?

 

Are You an Introvert?

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Today’s guest is Jo Huddleston, an Amazon Bestselling author of books, articles, and short stories. Novels in her West Virginia Mountains series and her Caney Creek series are sweet Southern historical romances. Jo is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and … Continue reading

Slaves in the U.S. – Today

The story behind the story – A Silver Medallion 

Cover - A Silver Medallion

(See the Special Offer below.)

Several years ago, I read a short article in the L.A. Times about a woman who was held a virtual slave by threats to harm family members left behind in Viet Nam. I was amazed that such could happen here in the United States, so I did a little research.

What I found astounded me. One government report stated there were more slaves in the U.S. today than in 1860. Today’s slaves are held not by chains, but by threats to harm family members, usually left behind in a foreign country.

This information rattled around in my head for months. I knew I would write about it. But what? How? One writer friend said it needed to be a non-fiction book. Another suggested a story based on an actual instance, interviewing someone at ICE and perhaps even a victim.

Finally, I decided it would be a fictional account. The actual truth was too heavy. Either of the approaches above would haunt me and I suspected such a book would never be finished. So I created a completely fictional story, but one I believe, based on my research, was close to the truth.

Crystal Moore discovers a young Mexican woman , Rosa, who has been held a virtual slave because her husband in Mexico would be killed if she escaped. But many months later, Rosa learns from another woman smuggled into Texas, her husband has died. With that threat gone, Rosa manages to escape from her captor, Hunter Blackwood.

Crystal’s grandmother takes Rosa in and gives her a job.

When Crystal and her Nana are visiting with Rosa, they find out about Lucita who is also a virtual slave to Blackwood. Lucita had a husband and two small girls in Mexico. But when her husband died, she could not provide the bare necessities for her children. Jose Rodriquez offered her the opportunity to make “big Yankee Dollars.” Jose would arrange for a job in Texas and pay for her transportation. In addition, he would take care of the children until Lucita could save the $1,500 to pay for the girls travel to Texas. Surely, that could be done in a few months.

ETWG Contest Award -ASMBut once in Texas, Lucita is given a different story. She will work for Blackwood and should she leave or even tell anybody of her predicament, her children will be killed. She must stay at his massive house and is paid only a few dollars per month. She will never be able to accumulate the money to bring her girls to Texas. And other Mexican women tell her that Jose Rodriquez is indeed capable of carrying out the threat.

This revelation stuns Crystal. She is haunted by the plight of this young mother and her children. Crystal’s parents were killed in an auto accident when she was seven. Nothing could be done; they were dead. But Lucita is not dead.

Crystal manages to see Lucita and it becomes clear Lucita will do nothing that might cause harm to her young girls.

Crystal tries to put it out of her mind, to forget about it. But her conscience will not let her. Nightmares plague her. She often wakes, thinking she can hear Lucita’s two young girls crying. After considering various approaches, she comes to the realization that Lucita will never be free unless her girls are rescued from Jose first. Naive and driven, Crystal travels to Mexico in an attempt to rescue the two children.

If she succeeds, Lucita and her two girls will be free and reunited.

And Crystal will have two powerful and ruthless men, one in Texas and one in Mexico, who want her dead.

See the offer below.

Click on the cover of the book above to see it’s listing and reviews on Amazon.  Thanks.

“A Silver Medallion is a gripping, action-packed adventure from talented author James Callan.  Crystal Moore is a tough and savvy heroine …”

 New York Times Bestselling Author Bobbi Smith

If you’d like to read the first six chapters of A Silver Medallion, send an e-mail to:   asm6@callansite.com  and just put  “6 chapters” in the subject line and your name in the body of the e-mail. OR you can request the chapters in a comment. Just make sure you have registered with a good e-mail address so you will receive the chapters. Either way,  I’ll send you the chapters right away.

A Silver Medallion is the second in the Crystal Moore Suspense series, following A Ton of Gold.

Thanks for stopping by The Author’s Blog.

Plots, Character, & Other People’s Ideas

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Today’s Guest is Lynne Wells Walding.  Following in her father’s footsteps as a horologist, Lynne’s first writing endeavor was a self-published, instructional book on clock repair. She went on to write articles for several major slicks on antique clocks. But her … Continue reading

Should She Risk All?

An Interview with Crystal Moore, the heroine in A Silver Medallion

JIM: Well, let’s just jump right into it. Why on earth did you decide to go to Mexico when you knew how ruthless Jose Rodriquez de Allende was? First, are you an adventurer, a thrill seeker?

CRYSTAL: You didn’t waste any time getting to that. To answer your question, no I am not a thrill seeker, or an adventurer. The most dangerous thing I’ve ever done was say “No” to a man who had never heard that word. As to why I went, that’s a question I’ve heard a lot- sometimes even from myself. Do you want the long answer or the short answer?

JIM: Let’s start with the short.Cover - A Silver Medallion

CRYSTAL: Because of the threat to kill her two little girls if she tried to escape, or even told anybody of her situation, Lucita would never escape. She would spend her entire life a slave. But, if I could rescue her two children from Jose, she would be happy to try to escape.

JIM: But Jose was a powerful and vengeful man.

CRYSTAL: Now we’re into the long answer. First, I was naive. I wasn’t prepared for just how evil the man was. And living in a society where one can depend on the police to help, I naturally thought I’d have some good local or state police help. That turned out to be foolish on my part.

JIM: Okay. I understand part of it. But this was such a risky business, I know you had other reasons. Come on, tell us.

CRYSTAL: I guess the biggest one came from my own life. My parents were killed in a car accident when I was seven. It was such a difficult time for me, for a long time. But, nothing could be done about that. They were gone, dead. No one could help me. Of course, I had loving grandparents who took me in and gave me a secure, loving home. Still, it was very difficult. Twenty years later, I could still feel the pain. Now, I’m not saying anything against my grandparents. They were the best. Grand Dad has passed, but Nana and I are still really close. She’s my best friend. I love her a lot, and she thinks I’m pretty special.

But these two little girls didn’t have grandparents. They were virtual slaves themselves, living under a brutal man. They had no one to look after them, to try to give them a happy childhood. Yet, there was something that could be done to help them. Rescue them from Jose.

Of course, there was another powerful reason. Once I talked with the mother, had pictures of the girls, I couldn’t sleep. I would have nightmares about their treatment. I became a prisoner of their large brown eyes. I swear, I would wake up thinking I heard them crying. If I wanted to have a normal life again, I had to, at least, try to rescue them.

JIM: I’m beginning to understand why you went. But did you really think you would succeed? I mean, this was a powerful man, with many henchmen, in a foreign country.

iguana 5SCRYSTAL: You understand the dangers. Well, actually, I didn’t until I met Juan Grande. He made the dangers quite clear to me. But, you fix your mind on what you want to achieve. You don’t think about failure. You say, whatever the worse case is, I will figure out a way to make it through.

JIM: Okay. You’ve convinced me. You should have gone. But one last question. Did anyone else think you should go? Maybe Lucita.

CRYSTAL: No. No one. Nana, who can face down the devil, said I shouldn’t go. Brandi, as brash as they come, said it was a dumb idea. And Mark, a former bull rider, didn’t want me to go. Even Lucita had her doubts. She feared if I tried and failed, her children might suffer the consequences. Her fears almost stopped me.

JIM: That’s all we have time for today, I’m afraid. Another time, I want to know how your boyfriend took the news you were off to fight the devil himself. But we’ll need more time for that. Thanks for being so open and honest in your answers. I look forward to reading the full account in A Silver Medallion.

Readers, what do you think?  Should she have gone into Mexico?  Leave a comment and tell us whether you think she should have gone.  Thanks.  You can get all the details in A Silver Medallion, on Amazon at:

Kindle: http://amzn.to/1WxoEaF

Paperback:     http://amzn.to/28LIdWs

A Silver Medallion is a gripping, action-packed adventure from talented author James Callan.  Crystal Moore is a tough and savvy heroine …

 New York Times Bestselling Author Bobbi Smith

 

James Callan’s A Silver Medallion is a fine blend of colorful characters, action, suspense, and serious.  Crystal Moore and her grandmother, Eula, are a great team as they take on modern-day slavery and academic fraud in this nonstop novel.  Check it out!

 Bill Crider, best-selling author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series

 This book by Mr. Callan kept me hooked from the very beginning. Drawing a plot that seemed to leap from the headlines, he writes with a page turning intensity that will leave the reader satisfied. Crystal Moore is a heroine you can fall in love with. A woman willing to stand by her convictions of right and wrong, even if it means putting herself in danger, to accomplish her goal of righting the wrongs in the world.

Amazon Customer – Abookanight

Once I began reading it, putting it down became the challenge.

Amazon Review – Mary Turner

A Lesson from the Classics

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Today’s guest is Donn Taylor, a poet, a writer of mysteries, suspense, and historical novels as well as essays on writing, ethical issues, and U.S. foreign policy.  Wow.  He taught English literature for eighteen years following service in the Korean and Vietnam … Continue reading

It’s a Party !

The Book Launch Party for A Silver Medallion was a smashing success.

But First —

Next Sunday afternoon, June 26, from 1 – 3,  I am participating in an “Oldie Authors Book Selling & Autographing Event,” or some such name, in Dallas, at the huge Half-Priced Book Store near the corner of Northwest Highway (Loop 12) and Greenville Avenue.  If you are in – or even near – Dallas next Sunday, please stop by and say hello.  No need to buy anything, just have a visit.  Of course, I will have books to sell – just in case.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming – last Saturday’s book launch party. It was my first such event, even though it is my eleventh book to be published.  We, my wife Earlene and I, had no idea what to expect. But with the help of the Pittsburg Texas Pizza Inn owner Bob Sehon, we got it set up before the first person arrived.  Perhaps the biggest help came from Galand Nuchols, an author of middle grade and YA books.  She helped in many ways, not the least of which was to handle all the sales, while all I had to do was visit with people and autograph  books.

ASMlaunch-2

Two people arrived about five minutes before the advertised start time, and then people came in steadily after that.  Some stayed a short time, got books and left. Others stayed for most of the party.

Midway through, I read the first chapter of A Silver Medallion.  Then, Bob Hibbard, a professional actor and expert on all things Tarzan, read a short scene from the period when Crystal is in Mexico. Fortunately, I read first, or they would have thrown rocks at me.  Bob’s read was amazing.

We had a large glass jar filled with pieces of candy. People could write their name and a guess as to how many pieces were in the jar.  Shortly before the end of the party, we opened the jar, revealing the actual number of pieces, and then checked all the entries for the one closest.  Writer Linda Hobbs made an amazing guess of 108.  The actual number was 107.  Lori McAdoo was second with a guess of 110.  Linda won a pair of books.

All in all, it was a rewarding experience, with an excellent crowd, plenty of book sales (including some of my other fiction and non-fiction), and good refreshments  Best of all, everybody seemed to enjoy themselves with a lot of visiting between writers and readers.

“A Silver Medallion is a gripping, action-packed adventure from talented author James Callan.  Crystal Moore is a tough and savvy heroine…”
New York Times Bestselling Author Bobbi Smith

“James Callan’s A Silver Medallion is a fine blend of colorful characters, action, suspense, and serious.  Crystal Moore and her grandmother, Eula, are a great team as they take on modern-day slavery and academic fraud in this nonstop novel.  Check it out!”
 Bill Crider, bestselling author of the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series

A Silver Medallion is a Crystal Moore Suspense. It follows Cover - A Silver Medallion A Ton of Gold, the first Crystal Moore Suspense. In A Silver Medallion, Crystal meets a woman, Lucita, held slave in today’s Dallas, Texas. The woman is held, not by chains, but by threats to harm her two young daughters she has left behind in Mexico.

Lucita’s husband died and she found it impossible to support her family in her small town in Mexico. A man offers to get her a job in Texas where she will make a lot of money. He will pay her transportation and he will take care of Lucita’s two small girls until she can save the money to pay for their transportation to Dallas. She is told she will make very good money and can save enough to bring her daughters up in a few months.

But once in Dallas and at the home of Hunter Blackwood, it’s a different story. She is paid nothing and told that if she leaves, or even tells anybody of her situation, her girls will be killed. She quickly learns Blackwood is a ruthless man and will carry out his threat. Out of fear for her children, she says nothing and will not consider escaping.

Crystal would like to forget she ever found out about Lucita. But her conscience won’t let her. She finds she cannot sleep without nightmares about Lucita and her two young girls. Crystal’s only hope to return to a normal life is to free Lucita and her daughters. That means rescuing the girls first, for only then will Lucita consider escape.

And that means going into the Mexican jungle and challenging a merciless drug lord.

A Silver Medallion is in print and Kindle editions. Click on the cover to visit the book’s site on Amazon.   Or, better yet, stop by the big Half-Priced Book Store in Dallas Sunday, June 26 between 1 and 3 and visit. I hope I see you there.

THE BEST ADVICE EVER RECEIVED

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Today’s guest is Renee-Ann, the author of Stella’s Plea (November 2012), which shortlisted in the Word Alive Press publishing contest (2011), and recently released her second novel, Emma’s Prayer. She’s now working on her third, Charlie’s Plight. She and her … Continue reading