Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Surprise: Dead Men Don't . . .

Today's post celebrates the release of a new book in Pepper O’Neal's Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don't, a pretty exciting romantic thriller.

Dead Men Don't opens as Andi Merritt, sheltered daughter of a mob underboss, is kidnapped only to discover that her father has sold her to a Middle Eastern oil baron’s harem to pay off his gambling debts. Fighting her sense of helplessness, Andi struggles to escape. 

That’s how she meets Levi Komakov, ex-CIA black ops expert, who kicks down a door to save her. Nicknamed the ‘Ghost,’ Levi works on special missions; his team pulled from unlikely places within the organized crime community, the CIA, and the police.  

This thriller/romance/adventure story sizzles with action in diverse settings --  a secluded, well-guarded estate, a remote mountain cabin, headquarters of a crime family, and a harem in a desert palace, all believably created. Pepper’s characters ring true, and we learn a good bit of information about self-defense for women as well as how to prepare for a black-ops mission, planning, weapons, fight strategies and explosives.

Levi exemplifies a curious set of ethics; he’s committed to protecting those he serves and loves; yet, he’s not afraid to take action outside the law or to commit murder, when the crime is heinous.  All in keeping with the title: Dead Men Don't. In a very interesting way, O’Neal has written a story about strong women as much as the strong men who love them and protect them. 

Fans are ready for the next book in the series, neatly introduced in Dead Men Don't at the very end as an old friend calls Levi for help. Can Jack, a footloose and free-spirited former Navy SEAL, help Jordan, the grandniece of Levi’s employer, solve the mystery of race-horses dying from no known cause?

A personal note from Pepper O'Neal

I met Pepper the first time I attended a Willamette Writers conference in Portland, Oregon. Her fiery red hair and outgoing personality mirror her heroines! Pepper answered a few questions for today's release:

1.  How would you describe your genre? Why do you write this genre?  I’d call it romantic thrillers, and I write it because I’m too much of an adrenalin junkie to write standard romance.

2.  Which is your favorite book you've written so far -- and why? In this series, it would have to be this one, Dead Men Don’t. In my paranormal series it would Blood Fest: Cursing Fate.

3.  How do you fight off writer's block -- if you've experienced it? Yeah, I experience it all the time, and I fight it by writing whatever pops into my mind. I tell myself, it’s just the first draft, so type something and move on. I might have to delete a lot of it later, but it gets me past the block.

4. What advice would you give to a writer starting out? Finish the novel! I know so many ‘wanna be’ authors who have half a novel they polish over and over. You’ll never publish half a novel, so finish it before you start polishing.

5. Do you think writers should self-publish? Why or why not? I am hesitant to self-publish because so many authors did so without proper editing and it gave self-publishing a bad name. But lots of authors do it and do well at it. I am not really qualified to format and all that other stuff self-publishers have to do. So I don’t think it’s for me. But as I say, I know a lot of authors who do well at it.

6. What has been your best "aha" moment in writing? I think it was when I realized that I had to finish a novel before I could publish one. Now I do my entire first draft before I start polishing.

7. Your covers are amazing. How were they created? The first three I had an artist friend, Dawne Dominique, do, but this time I decide to try my hand at it, and I did this one myself. It was fun.

Thank you, Pepper, for visiting the blog today -- and congratulations on your new release! 

Connect with Pepper O'Neal on her website at or check out her books on Smashwords or GoodReads or Amazon

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cover reveal -- and a selfie?

After roughly two and a half years of dreaming, researching, drafting, revising, editing, and jumping into the world of self-publishing, I'm thrilled to report that Book 2 of the McDonnell Clan is nearly ready.

Cover reveal . . . 

Here is the fabulous cover for Years of Stone, designed by Angie Zambrano of pro_ebookcovers on

And the Blurb for Years of Stone:

In 1842, Deidre follows her sweetheart, Mac McDonnell, from Scotland to Van Diemen's Land. But can she build a new life with him in this rough and tumble penal colony?

Reviewers say Years of Stone "grips from the beginning" and is "not to be missed." Years of Stone was a 2014 Quarter Finalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel competition.

The official release date? July 1, 2014.

Over the next five days, I'll be checking the final proof, ordering physical copies, and making those changes that will create the Kindle version.

To celebrate, I made a 25-second 'selfie' to introduce the cover. So join me in doing a little happy dance. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Writers: Raise your eyebrows?

Met with my writing group last night, and we got into an interesting discussion about dialogue tags. Three examples: 

"How could you possibly trust him?" Joanne winked.
Note: The wink counters the statement entirely. Winks are linked to jokes. They may suggest flirting, affection, a hint, or something that is sly or hidden (for example, Joanne's committee winked at her expense report). 

"I'm sorry to hear that." Joanne smiled and leaned forward. "Which hospital?"
Note: Smiling (a positive act) directly contradicts Joanne's expression of sorrow and leads the reader to doubt Joanne! Leaning forward suggests intimacy, that Joanne has nothing to hide, that she is comfortable with the person she's talking to -- and that she perhaps likes to gossip or did not like the person who is at the hospital. Here, the conflict between her actions and what she says adds interest to the story.

"You have a new boyfriend? He's Croatian? How interesting." Joanne raised her eyebrows.
Note: raised eyebrows can communicate surprise or mild disapproval. Substitute just about any nationality or race, and the above statement (and the character) could be misunderstood.

Our conclusion? We writers need to notice the connections between what a character says and what that character does. Is the combined effect intentional? 

As Joe Navarro points out in his article, our physical responses have been honed over millions of years. Trust what you see the body doing and watch for contradictions between speech and action. If we are more precise in describing what our characters are doing, we move closer to "showing" rather than "telling," bringing us closer to the magic of storytelling.

So, do you use body language in your stories?

Joel Robison, "Catch the Spirit"

You may want to take a look at: 
"Body Language" from
"Eye Expressions" from Psychologia
Joe Navarro's "The Key to Understanding Body Language" from Psychology Today

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Final formatting . . . and Russell Crowe

Someone who read Standing Stones recently commented: "You mean you typed the whole thing?" Oh, if she only knew.

For self-published writers who work with minimal budgets, once the story is complete, the next step is to prepare the book for publication. My books are published through Amazon's CreateSpace and Kindle, both at no cost, although both offer editorial services for a fee.

This morning I uploaded the interior of Years of Stone, a whopping 380 pages. What a big thrill. The layout and page numbers are perfect, the graphics uploaded (including a beautiful map), and I'm just waiting on the final cover before I press that 'publish' button.

What I learned this time around:
  1. Plan to proofread several times. Translated that may mean 4-8 full read-throughs. You may be looking for different issues in content and formatting. Don't worry about how much time it takes. Allow a few days between proofreading the whole mss each time. 
  2. Anticipate tearing your hair out by the roots before you get those page numbers just right. Page numbering is suppressed for that first page of the story before the numbers then run sequentially. Oh, the horror of headers and footers! Fixing these in Word requires many trips to the 'how to' pages, understanding sections and those great commands SAVE and NEXT.  
  3. Once page numbers are correct, yes, go back and revise your Table of Contents!
  4. Doublecheck any graphics inserted into your mss meet the minimum of 200 kb. You don't want to go forth all blurry.
  5. Doublecheck those inside margins (called 'gutters'). The longer your book is, the larger your gutters need to be. If your gutters aren't large enough, the text will look like it 'bleeds' into that inner margin, making the book hard to read (I used 0.75" for a 380 page book). 
  6. Plan to proofread online after final formatting is complete AND once again when the physical proof copy arrives. Don't be dismayed if you need to order a second physical proof. 
  7. Proofread your physical proof copy all the way through and not just spot check. Sometimes font sizes or page breaks are affected when your publisher converts your files to "print ready." Double check! Double check!
If all this technical formatting dismays you, consider hiring a professional. If you like a challenge, though, do it yourself!

Russell Crowe (Wikipedia)
What does Russsell Crowe have to do with self-publishing? 

Nothing! But a friend suggested he would be absolutely perfect as Mac McDonnell in Years of Stone, the story of a man transported to Van Diemen's Land in 1842, and Deidre, the woman who followed him to that rough and tumble penal colony. 

Should I write him? What do you think?

Two resources I found helpful for final formatting:  Kelly's "Step-By-Step Guide to Formatting Your Book's Interior" and Susan Harkins, "10 Steps to Setting Up Page Numbering in Word Sections."

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Into the Blog Hopper . . .

I think the My Writing Process blog hop has gone viral.

This very informal blog hop asks writers to talk about their writing process. It has no rules and no coordinator. Writers answer 4 questions and tag two more writers, giving each a deadline of 1-2 weeks. The questions are:

  1. What am I working on currently or just finishing?
  2. How does my work differ from others in this genre?
  3. Why do I write what I do?
  4. How does my writing process work?

Poet Morgan Dragonwillow got me started. Her invitation was quickly followed by another invite from Deb McKnight. I happily went off to the east coast for a family reunion and a wedding and forgot who invited me first. Red face! Morgan graciously forgave me.

Morgan Dragonwillow writes poetry about that unique journey creative people pursue. In Wild Woman Waking, an inspirational read, she celebrates her commitment to writing.  Her book pairs poetry with some phenomenal photographs from Tui Snyder. Morgan's combination of visual image and writing from the heart pulls me right in.

Then, one of my tags bowed out! So I invited Sandy Brown Jensen to participate, a creative writing teacher colleague I've known for many years. 

Sandy talking about her sister's painting, Cheryl Renee Long
Now the fun begins, for Sandy writes poetry, paints, teaches writing, and has embarked on something called digital storytelling, that neat combination of voice and image presented in a video. 

Her latest video brought me to tears, in the way something true and exceptional evokes that emotional response.

Here is Sandy's video, "The Current is Everything" -- her response to the first question: What am I currently working on?

The Current is Everything from Sandy Brown Jensen on Vimeo.

This morning S. J. Maylee invited me to participate in another My Writing Process blog hop via Twitter, a new wrinkle I almost missed. I'm going to hop next week, but with slightly different questions . . . and, inspired by Sandy, just maybe a different medium. 

Sandy balances her writing process posts with the end of the school term; her posts will go live over several days on her blog, Sandy Brown Jensen: Mind on Fire

Morgan has already posted her responses on her blog, Morgan Dragonwillow, Dancing Where Others Fear to Tread 

Why not hop on over to visit Morgan and Sandy?  

How do you celebrate creativity in your life?

Monday, June 02, 2014

Let's Play Blog Tag! My Writing Process.

Here's a novel idea, brought to me by Deb McKnight:  A game of Blog Tag that features an author interview with each hop!

How it works: Each writer answers four questions (mine are below) and then "tags" two other writers. I do hope this goes viral as some fine writers have profiled themselves on this "Writing Process Blog Hop." You just might spot some interesting reading. 

Thank you, Deb, for inviting me to participate. 

Check out Deb's post on her blog, Novel Notions and please take a look at her book, a fast-paced paranormal read, Of Dreams and Shadow.

I'm excited to be a part of this blog hop. Here are my responses.

What are you currently working on? 

I published Standing Stones this January, my first novel and award-winning historical fiction set in Scotland at the time of the Clearances (1840s). I’m now working on the final edits for a second book about Mac McDonnell and Deidre Scott. The history of the Industrial Revolution drew me right into the story; I am fascinated by how people survive seemingly impossible conditions.  

In Book 2: Years of Stone, a quarter finalist in this year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel competition and slated for publication later this summer, Mac has been transported for seven years to Van Diemen’s Land (present day Tasmania). Deidre, without his knowledge, has followed Mac, intent on building a new life with him somehow in this rough and tumble penal colony. 

How does your writing process work? 

Between 5 and 6 am each day, I write, taking about three years to craft each book. I begin with research and drafting; my poor characters get into trouble almost immediately. When possible, I travel to far away locales to understand setting and historical context (I've never been a believer in 'write what you know' -- and I love traveling). 

Once the first draft is relatively complete, I begin innumerable rounds of revising and editing, inspired by The Internet Writing Workshop, writers participating in A Round of Words in 80 Days, and a small face-to-face writing group. Draft, write, revise. Revise again. That's my process.

How does your work differ from others of its genre? 

Most historical fiction brings readers insight into great sweeps of economic, political, and social change. My characters are men and women you might know, though they have lived hundreds of years ago. Caught up by events beyond their control, they struggle to survive. Sometimes their lives intersect with famous people with surprising results. Their courage and sacrifices inspire me to tell as accurately as I can what it meant to live within a certain time.

Why do you write what you do? 

My earliest memories are of reading, prowling the library, and dreaming of writing one day. I'm drawn to stories about people who face down seemingly insurmountable obstacles, night terrors, evictions, and loss. Perhaps Natalie Goldberg says it best: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open." And that's good advice for any writer.

Who's up next on the Writing Process Blog Hop? 

Prudence MacLeod writes romance, science fiction, and fantasy/adventure. The author of 40 books, Prudence blogs at Valkyrie Rising

Annette Drake is currently working on a contemporary romance. She is the author of Bone Girl, a middle grade story about a young girl, a trombone, and a horse, and Celebration House, a sweet paranormal romance. Check out her blog to follow "the joys and perils of the writing life." 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Blog hopping and author interviews . . .

I'm gearing up for a blog hop scheduled for tomorrow . . . one that has writers responding to four questions.

This made me wonder about such blog hops, yes, another way to connect with readers and perhaps other writers. 

For example, Guilie Castillo-Oriard, an expat writer living in Curaçao, was just featured on Awkward Paper Cut in a post called The Magical and the Real: Living and Writing Under the Hot Sun. Guilie writes of how she came to Curaçao and what drew her to simply stay. Her bedrock essay peels back the mystique of what makes us write and how our environment shapes us, well worth a read.

I was intrigued by a another blog post header that featured vampires and the heading -- Interview Your Characters! Of course, I can't find that post now, but I did find a list of possible questions to consider for a character interview. 

No vampires -- but maybe just a good, old-fashioned, stubborn Scottish woman of the 1840s, Deidre, from Standing Stones and soon-to-be-published Years of Stone, making her way in the world, alone, with wit and heart. 

The questions for tomorrow:

  1. What am I currently working on?
  2. How does your writing process work?
  3. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
  4. Why do you write what you do?
And what questions might you have?