Ten Fantastic Things to do in California by Alexandra Sokoloff

I consider myself fabulously lucky because my Huntress Moon series is a manhunt, which means it’s basically a constant road trip – my all-time favorite thing to do. So my characters live out these fantastic things in California, my characters’ home base. In no particular order!!

Pioneertown and Pappy and Harriet’s in Yucca Valley; Joshua Tree National Park

You have to take the above as a package! I love the ocean. I love cosmopolitan cities. But there’s something about the desert that is profoundly peaceful and inspirational to me.

Pioneertown is an actual film set, built out in Yucca Valley by movie cowboys Roy Rogers, Dick Curtis, and used to shoot numerous westerns. The motel they built still operates and is completely charming, and you can walk a hundred yards across the sand to one of the greatest bars and music venues I know in California: Pappy and Harriet’s, where countless LA bands have played, to funky and enthusiastic crowds.

Combine a night in Pioneertown with a camping trip out in the alien landscape of Joshua Tree National Park – I’m in heaven.

Sequoia National Park

You haven’t really experienced a forest until you’ve hiked through these massive beauties – the redwoods and Sequoias. Primeval is the word.

Salton Sea 

The second largest body of water in California, 350 square miles of salt water in the Sonoran Desert. From a distance, idyllic. Flocks of birds gliding along the rippling blue surface past vast shorelines of deserted white beaches. Up close – it’s a wasteland of apocalyptic proportions. But if you’re into trippy desert settings, ghost towns, found art, and the best spooky photo ops on the planet, this is a must-see tourist stop. Just don’t go mid-summer. You were warned.

San Francisco

“The City” needs no introduction, but even with the massive gentrification and Silicon Valley invasion, it’s still the most breathtaking city I know. I love the Haight, still crazy and psychedelic; Golden Gate Park; the Mission; the museums; just staring out at the Bay… Hey, I’m no fool. I made San Francisco my FBI headquarters in the Huntress series so I could spend time there all the time – with no actual traffic!

Berkeley 

Just across the Bay, a 30-minute BART ride from the city, Berkeley is still its magical, synchronistic self. One of my power spots, my college town, and first school teems with art, film, music, politics, culture, and eccentricity. And it’s GORGEOUS. Try the Rose Garden at Sunset, walk through the eucalyptus groves on campus, go to a film or a protest… it is the most vibrantly alive place I know. Continue reading

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Sara Zalesky’s Top 10 Movies

This was a very hard list to come up with, I have to say. It’s more what movies will I pay to re-watch if they’re On-Demand:

Iron Man (The first one)

Captain America: Winter Soldier

The Last Unicorn – although I have this one on DVD

The Lord of the Rings (counts as one, ‘cause you can’t just watch ONE, they must be binged)

The Hobbit (also counts as one, same reason)

Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (the best in my opinion)

Star Trek (2009 and Into Darkness)

Star Trek (The Motion Picture)

Wonder Woman

Bourne Trilogy

Notice a theme here? I prefer action/adventure and sci-fi over chick-flicks. The Last Unicorn is a holdover from my youth and while the singing is atrocious, I love it. I will read the book one of these days. Continue reading

Pros/Cons Living in Italy with Stacey Keith

Photo Stacey KeithWhy I Moved to Italy (And Never Looked Back)

When people find out I sold my car, quit my job, packed all my earthly possessions into two suitcases and moved to Italy, they tend to have questions. So I thought it might be nice to give a brief overview of the pros and cons of living here. FAIR WARNING: I’m crazy about this country, so expect absurd amounts of gushing.

Let’s start with the cons:

Things don’t always work in Italy the way they should. The ATM at the bank, for instance. It’s down a lot, especially when I’m really strapped for cash and in need of an emergency cappuccino. They say the wifi connection is slow, but I have my suspicions. In Italy, the afternoon pausa pranzo, or break, is observed with near-religious reverence, and if that means a bank employee can’t be bothered to reset a modem because he has to walk back to the house for a coffee, a cigarette, a home-cooked meal and a nap, you’re out of luck.

Every other day here is a national holiday, which means all the stores are closed. Stores are also closed daily for that pesky pausa pranzo, 1pm to 4pm, and on Thursdays for no reason other than they want to. You never know for sure when a store might be open, but for Italians, it’s fun to keep the foreigners guessing.

Italian pop music is ghastly. And Italian pop is all that’s played on Radio Subasio—and Radio Subasio is all that’s played in every coffee bar in or around Rome. Italians LOVE a power ballad, which is always wildly over-emoted, features the same three-chord progressions, and is usually sung by some shockingly old pop singer from the early part of the last century.

Noise. Italians celebrate it. Marching bands, squalling babies, blasting car horns, blaring televisions (especially soccer matches)—but in Italian, even normal conversations sound like yelling. This serves to remind me of what a sadly repressed person I am, which is why I’ve learned to yell along with the rest of them and to swear volubly in Italian. It’s pretty impressive, to tell you the truth. I can teach you.

Italians don’t do good junk food. Most potato chips taste as though some clueless but well-intentioned individual took wood pulp, salted it, and then stuffed it in a bag covered in bad English. Crik Crok, for instance. Famous Italian potato chip company. Their national slogan? “Snack is fun”. It’s on everything, including their display cases. No one could be bothered to see if the English was right or not. Because #Italy.

Pros

Photo by Stacey Keith

It’s so beautiful here, you are tempted to remove your eyeballs, polish them on your T-shirt, and then pop them back inside your skull just to make sure you’re seeing things correctly. Twenty or thirty lesser countries were sacrificed in order to make just one Italy. Whether it’s the ancient artifacts, the old churches, the priceless paintings, the ramshackle farms, the clear-water beaches or the quaint seaside villages, you are never the same after you set foot on Italian soil.

The Italians are so patient with my attempts to speak the language. I can understand Italian, but I’m not a fluent speaker yet. Unlike the French ***COUGH*** your average Italian is kind and helpful even when you’re blithely mangling the tongue of Dante. Writing in English all day definitely hampers my efforts. But to be fair, Italian is a bitch to learn. Think: Times Square meets the Spanish Inquisition. It’s both a beautiful and expressive language, one that requires many florid-sounding syllables strung together in a way that promotes the use of hand gestures, which are needed to speed things along. Continue reading

Creating The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series with Becki Willis

Photo Becki WillisBecki Willis, best known for her popular The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series and Forgotten Boxes, always dreamed of being an author. In November of ’13, that dream became a reality. Since that time, she has published eleven books, won first place honors for Best Mystery Series, Best Suspense Fiction and Best Audio Book, and has introduced her imaginary friends to readers around the world.

An avid history buff, Becki likes to poke around in old places and learn about the past. Other addictions include reading, writing, junking, unraveling a good mystery, and coffee. She loves to travel but believes coming home to her family and her Texas ranch is the best part of any trip. Becki is a member of the Association of Texas Authors, the National Association of Professional Women, and the Brazos Writers organization. She attended Texas A&M University and majored in Journalism.

Creating The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series

Five years ago, my son was married along the Brazos River, at a rustic ranch venue that was once part of a cotton plantation. The simple blacktop road out front squiggles through the river bottom, weaving past old cotton gins, through white fields ripe with cotton, tracing the graceful bends of the Brazos, and crossing over the iron tracks of a railroad.

On one side of the railroad is a hundred-plus-year-old ranch, registered with the State of Texas as a historical landmark. Several interesting-looking old buildings are clustered near the railroad, reminiscent of sharecroppers’ shacks.

On the other side of the tracks is an old train depot, even though the nearest town is miles away. There is also an active feed mill, with its industrial silos and bins, and an entire railroad at its disposal. The cars stop on site to load/unload their burdens.

Something about the railroad sparked an idea for a story, and I could only imagine how things might have been back in the day when cotton was king and the rails offered the ultimate source of transportation.

I imagined a cotton plantation along the river, so big and so important that the railroad came to them. Before long, I had the back-story for my series.

Bertram Randolph was the undisputed cotton king of the Brazos Valley, but he was saddled with two spoilt, selfish, impossible-to-deal-with daughters who constantly feuded with one another.

The only way to keep  [the] peace was to ultimately give each of them their own namesake town; Juliet’s town lay to the south of the tracks, Naomi’s town to the north. Any chance of the sisters reconciling was forever lost when they both fell in love with the same man.

To Juliet, Darwin Blakely gave his name; to Naomi, he gave his child. And with Darwin’s untimely death, the rivalry between the two sisters – and their respective towns – exploded.

The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series is set in the modern-day communities of Naomi and Juliet and revolves around the citizens (all two thousand of them!) determined to keep that rivalry alive and well. Continue reading

Why We Fall In Love with Things That Need Fixing by Laekan Zea Kemp

Photo Laeken Zia KempSimple. Because we’re broken too.

That’s all life is really. One chaotic mess, all of us scrambling to fit in, to fill our holes, to find someone who gets us. The goal in life isn’t to find happiness, it’s to find ourselves—the pieces of which have been flung all over this world. Glinting there in someone’s smile, steaming in that first bite, scattered along a road you’ve never traveled before.

We find these pieces of ourselves in people, in places, in tastes and smells and the things that abandon sensory explanation. They are in the invisible. They are in the every day. Life is about gathering these pieces and keeping them safe. Life is about connections. Because without them we’re all just floating, waiting to be tethered to something.

And when you read a great book, one with characters as tactile as the face in your bathroom mirror, one whose words are so true they leave a familiar taste on the tip of your tongue, that’s what it feels like. It feels like you’ve been tethered to something and it’s been tethered to you. It feels like you belong.

People write for all kinds of different reasons. To make the world a better place. To provide people with an escape. But, for some reason, I don’t think about those things. Not because it wouldn’t be nice to make the world a better place or to entertain someone long enough to forget about whatever they’ve been going through. But because that’s not what keeps me up at night when I’m lying in bed, desperately trying to answer the why. Even though the answer is usually always the same. Why am I writing thisWhy do I write at all? Because when I do I don’t feel so alone and when people read my books I hope that’s how they feel too.

Understood.

Recognized.

We cling to characters who are broken because they remind us that we are not alone.  And when those characters—who we’ve come to recognize as one of those pieces of us flung out into the world; scattered in the pages of a book written by someone we’ve never met—find what they’ve been looking for, part of us feels found too. Continue reading

A Rut-Busting Interview with Nancy Christie

Photo of Nancy ChristieNancy Christie is a professional writer, whose credits include both fiction and non-fiction. In addition to her fiction collection, Traveling Left Of Center, and two short story e-books, Annabelle and Alice In Wonderland (all published by Pixel Hall Press), her short stories and essays can be found in print publications and online.

She is also the author of Rut-Busting Book For Writers (Mill City Press) and the inspirational book, The Gifts Of Change (Atria/Beyond Words), which has been translated into several foreign languages.

A full-time writer and editorial consultant, Christie’s work include corporate writing projects and magazine articles. She also hosts the monthly Monday Night Writers group in Canfield, OH and teaches writing workshops at conferences and for small groups. (For more information about her workshops, go to http://www.nancychristie.com/workshops/writing-workshops-and-courses/.)

Christie is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), Florida Writers Association (FWA) and Short Fiction Writers Guild (SFWG), and is the founder of “Celebrate Short Fiction” Day.

What inspired Rut-Busting Book For Writers?

The book is an outgrowth of my popular “Rut-Busting” Workshop for Writers that I’ve been offering for several years. Every time I did one, people would ask if I had a book that went along with the workshop but all I offered were handouts.

So in spring 2017, I decided to pull all my notes together, reached out to more than 50 writers, authors and other industry professionals for their input, and voila! Rut-Busting Book For Writers was born!

What will readers find in the book? Continue reading

A Quick Chat with May Freighter

May FreighterMay Freighter is an internationally bestselling author from Dublin, Ireland. She writes Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, and Sci-Fi mysteries that will keep you entertained, mystified, and hopefully craving more. Her only pets are cacti. They’re the only things that survived. It may be too dangerous to entrust her with an animal while she’s engrossed in writing.

On sunny, rainy, and overcast days, she spends her time with her fictional friends, putting them through dangerous adventures while wishing them the best of luck. Her hobbies are photography, drawing, and plotting different ways of a characters’ demise.

What is something unique/quirky about you?

I love watching horror movies. Most of the time, they make me laugh. In a way, they can be funnier than comedies. My friends, for some reason, don’t seem to share the same ideas when it comes to horror flicks. But, at least, they say that they can watch them with me because I make the films funny for them.

Who is your hero and why?

My hero is my mother. She is a doctor with fifteen years of experience in A&E and as a family doctor.  When she moved to another country where she had to learn a new language, she had worked as a cleaner, a veterinary nurse, a homeopathy practitioner, basically almost everything to support her family.

My brother has been sickly when he was little and up until he was ten. She had spent many nights by his side, looking after him and never complaining once. She made our meals, helped me study for my finals in school, and told me to follow my dreams when I was at a crossroad in my life, which is why I was able to pursue writing as a career path.

What book do you think everyone should read?

Probably the dictionary.

What kind of world ruler would you be?

This question made me laugh. I learned that when I play games like Democracy or Civilisation, I am a good, kind ruler or president until someone starts marching their armies my way. Then, I build my military to the point where I can eliminate my enemy. So, I guess I would be a normal one? *evil laugh*

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?

Only the main and secondary characters come to me before I start writing a series or a book. The rest, they tend to pop up and say, “I’m such and such. I do this because of this.” Continue reading

Submitting your book to agents

Submitting your book to agents, advice from Sonya Barbee

Tonya Barbee authorDo your homework first.  I recommend checking out the most current Guide to Literary Agents that is published yearly.  Don’t move forward without getting a hold of this book.

Review it first and foremost to see what agents you are interested in writing. It’s difficult when it’s unsolicited because you have to search for someone who will be willing to review your material.

Check out the instructions for submissions and be sure to follow those instructions completely. Otherwise, that’s a sure way of getting your manuscript trashed. And be sure to have your agent’s name spelled correctly and include a subject. I read that many authors do not spell the agent’s name correctly. Include a subject line such as the title and the genre.

Include a subject line such as the title and the genre. Many times agents allow for so many types of manuscripts, and if you’re sending just one more of [that] has surpassed their quota of submissions, that would not be a good thing.

When agents give specific instructions to only send the first six chapters, do not send the entire manuscript when they didn’t ask for it.  That would be another mistake and could possibly get it in the slush pile.

It’s unfortunate, but think of it this way, they probably get hundreds [of submissions] a day depending on the publishing company/agent.  It’s a massive business and I’m sure [that there are] more manuscripts than there are agents to review them.

Another factor is to watch how you communicate on social media. I read an article that spoke about kindness.  Not only are employers reviewing social media sites of their future employees, agents are doing the same thing. Who wants to work with someone who is unkind? No one.  If you’re not being kind to people on your own personal Facebook site, who on earth would want to take a chance of being in a working relationship with you.

If you want to get your material read, follow these steps and be sure to proofread.  Being close to your own material, you may not find any errors so I would advise paying either an English teacher or another professional editor. Continue reading

Get to know Lydia Michaels, award-winning author

Lydia Michaels authorLydia Michaels is an award-winning author of over 30 contemporary romance novels. She lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderfully supportive husband, beautiful daughter, and many crazy fur babies.

If [When] she is not off spending time with her family you can usually find Lydia at her computer working on her next story or hiding somewhere quiet with a great book. She loves taking a romantic plot with steamy chemistry and pressing the bounds of love. Her books are intellectual, erotic, haunting, always centered on love.

Lydia Michaels’ darkly compelling Surrender Trilogy was an Apple iBooks bestseller and she has been featured in USA Today. In 2015 she was the winner of The Best of Bucks Award and she has been nominated as Best Author in the Bucks Happening Magazine three years running [2015, 2016, and 2017]. She is a four-time nominee for the prestigious RONE Award.
Who are your top 10 favorite books/authors?

Blue Eyed Devil, Lisa Kleypas

Peter Pan, JM Barrie

Sugar Daddy, Lisa Kleypas

Tangles Lies series, Pam Godwin (3 books)

Letting Go, Michele Zurlo

Black Dagger Brotherhood series, JR Ward (10+ books)

What inspired you to write this book?

An event from my past that I’d compartmentalized and forgotten. Journaling helped me remember, and writing down the recollections helped be discover my calling in life. Writing is a part of who I am. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

What are you working on?

Untied the sequel to Blind (Mastermind series)

Calamity Rayne: Back Again, the sequel to Calamity Rayne: Gets a Life

More Surrender Games! (Toni’s story is coming and it’s going to be insane!)

The release of 2 original series (The Order of Vampires and New Castle) that have been in the vault for years while getting re-written. Sorry to keep so many of you waiting!

And I have six other novels in the works! (My muse will let me know which one gets finished first).

What book do you think everyone should read? Continue reading

Hanging with Author Jessica L Myers

Hanging with Author Jessica L Myers

What book do you think everyone should read?

Hands down, Game of Thrones. It is simply an epic masterpiece.

What kind of world ruler would you be?

Absolutely Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. She is strong willed and powerful, honest, a fighter who has survived more than any person should, and above all she rules with a strong moral compass…though I must admit, now that I am watching the new season of Thrones, I am not so sure my support for her is as iron strong as it used to be. I guess only time will tell!

What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision? 

I have always loved reading and books. In school, I started writing dark short stories and poems to pass the time in classes, though my real need to write flourished when I first became a parent. Suffering postnatal depression, I rediscovered my love for reading and books, but I felt like I needed more than to read someone else’s words and live in their created landscapes. I needed a purpose and something that defined me. And many of you

I needed a purpose and something that defined me. And many of you may not understand this, especially with a beautiful new baby that I truly loved from the moment he arrived), but I needed an escape, a way to get out of my head and the emotions that seemed to have a hold of me.

Writing was my way to finding myself, to working through my own demons, past, and present, and to becoming a better person and parent. Many women feel that they lose themselves when they become mothers, and for me, writing was my way to rediscovering who I was and who I wanted to be. All that said, yes, becoming an author was the right decision for me, and I hope you will all agree when you get to know me and my characters!

What is your writing process? 

My writing process starts with my ideas for the plot and characters. Then I do an outline, detailing a single sentence for what happens in each scene from start to finish. This is not a definitive setup, and more often than not new ideas and twist and turns take shape as I write. I will even have whole new scenes come to light that are crucial to the telling of my story. I try not to get too perfectionistic (but hard as I’m a perfectionist!) with my first draft, as after that I have a step-by-step process for revision of the full book.

My revision usually takes me as long as the first draft did, and sometimes even twice as long or more. First draft is for me to have fun and get my ideas out, the revision process is for all of you, so that I am making sure that what I have written and what I later publish is worthy of your reading eyes and delivers a compelling and interesting story that, at the least, entertains you, but that hopefully leaves you with something so much more.

Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Nerve Damage?

Nerve Damage, despite my intentions to write a simpler book after my 4-book Blood Bound series, was quite complex. It is a psychological thriller that delves into the dark recesses of the mind in that of human action and intention.

Cassidy, the main character from which much of the story is told, is a newly created young adult orphan. After losing her parents in a terrible car wreck, her mind is not her friend. Her memories of the day of the accident paint an entirely different picture that day, leaving her believing that the ‘accident’ was not quite so accidental. After surviving and after what she thinks she saw, Cassidy isn’t sure what is real or not, but she can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched…and hunted.

The rest of the characters have their own pasts and their own problems, and with the events that have them trapped together, they will soon come to learn that they are somehow connected and that them being brought together is no accident at all.

Throughout the story, you get to meet and get to know another character—the killer. A number of scenes are shown from their perspective, and, fair warning, they are vivid in detail and actions. Plus you will also meet a character from a past, a child that is intricately weaved into this story in ways that will ripple throughout the story from start to end in irrevocable and haunting ways. Continue reading