Monday, December 27, 2010

Great Reads Monday - Garden of Heaven: An Odyssey by Malcolm R. Campbell

Malcolm R. Campbell worked many years as a college journalism instructor, corporate communications director, technical writer and grant writer for many years.  His articles have appeared in Nostalgia Magazine, Nonprofit World, The Rosicrucian Digest, Quill & Scroll, Training and Development Journal and the former Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday magazine.   I know you'll love his third novel, Garden of Heaven: An Odyssey - this week's Great Read!

When nineteen-year-old David Ward climbs the sacred mountain Nináistuko seeking a vision, the golden eagle of earth flings him back onto the prairie and the black horse of dreams shows him the future. Though his eyes are opened, fate hides exactly what he needs to know. The spiritual journey that follows leads him through the mountains of Pakistan, the swamps of North Florida, the beaches of Hawaii, the waters of the South China Sea and the ivy-covered halls of an Illinois college as he attempts to sort out the shattered puzzle of his life.

What do reviewers say?

"Garden of Heaven is a thought provoking novel, recommended, FIVE STARS." - Midwest Book Review

Check out Malcolm's website to read more!

Or visit Malcolm's blog!

Buy Garden of Heaven today on Omni-Lit!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Great Reads Monday: Now What? by Charmaine Gordon

Years of experience as an actor prepared Charmaine Gordon for the wonders of a writing career.  Although she didn't know it at the time, while she was immersed in the written words of others she was like a sponge, soaking up how to construct a scene, write dialogue and paint a setting.  The author of three novels, Charmaine writes about women who survive and thrive.  I know you'll find this week's Great Read both moving and inspiring - Now What? by Charmaine Gordon.

It was 2:30 a.m. when the phone rang. I fumbled for it, my heart starting a race toward bad news. Our doctor’s voice urged me to hurry. I crammed into clothes as if I expected this call.

It is only a fever that won’t go down, isn't it?

Our doctor shook his head. "...We did everything possible to save him. I held him in my arms when he took his last breath. Carly, I’m so sorry.”

Settling in beside my Bob, I held his cooling hand and asked the two words spoken many times during our years together. “Now what?” This time there was no response. I was on my own for the first time. When my fingers touched his wedding ring, I slipped it off and held it in my fist. The gold band was warm. I clung to him. “Come back to me, dearest.”

Sometimes what you wish for is more than you can live with.

What do readers say?

"Charmaine Gordon's books are a 'must read' for those who have experienced a loss in their lives, whether through death, abandonment or divorce. The reader will so identify with the women in her books, who struggle through their shock and trauma to find the courage and an inner strength they never knew they had, to face the future and to create a meaningful life, as the much stronger person they had never known they were. Her books are written with so much color, so much spiritual and emotional intensity, that you'll never look at life in the same way again. I am eagerly awaiting the publication of her next book." - Kate S.

Check out Charmaine's blog to read more!

Or buy today from (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Exciting Announcement: My Third Novel is Coming on Kindle!

Tomorrow, December 18 - my third novel will be available on Kindle.  And here's the super-sweet part: it's only 99 cents!  But for now, I hope you'll enjoy this sneak peek - including the first chapter! 

When a Special Forces veteran is hired to protect a Malibu playgirl, sparks fly faster than bullets. But will they live long enough to realize they're falling in love?

In an exciting twist on her timeless tales of heart and home, author Misha Crews sets her latest story in Los Angeles, playground of former model Blake Sera. Although she's not yet thirty, jaded Blake is sure she's seen it all. Until she discovers that the man she's been been living with is up to his neck in the murky underworld of crime. When Special Forces veteran Caleb McKenna is secretly hired to protect the glamour gal, he's sure that Blake is just another pretty face whose only interests are sunning, funning and shopping til she drops. But soon he realizes that there's more to her than big blue eyes and a killer smile. Can they survive their passion? Can they survive at all?

Her Secret Bodyguard - Chapter One

Blake awoke to the sound of screaming.

She catapulted out of her sound sleep and sat straight up in bed. The cry seemed to be coming from all around her, splitting the air, rising to a breaking pitch before ending as abruptly as it had begun.

Outside the open door to the balcony, the ocean was beating relentlessly against the sand. Blake’s head felt thick and full of cobwebs. It had taken her a long time to get to sleep – it always did, these days – but eventually she had fallen into a deep, heavy slumber.

Now she struggled to push sleep aside. She held her breath and closed her eyes against the moonlight that fell across the wide expanse of her bedroom floor, straining to hear past the roar of the waves.

Nothing. Silence.

Blake pushed the blond hair out of her blue eyes and blew out her breath in a frustrated oath. This wasn't the first time she had heard strange yelling in this house. And she knew she wasn't imagining it, no matter what Rube tried to tell her.

Suddenly there was a thump that she felt more than heard, followed by a muffled cry. Both had come from downstairs. Heart pumping, Blake threw back the duvet and put her bare feet against the cool wood floor. Sinister visions of various kinds of criminal activity were dancing through her head like sugar plums, filling her with dread. Rube was a nice guy, but she couldn't say the same about all his friends. God only knew what was going on downstairs.

She stayed where she was, poised at the edge of the bed, as if trying to sense through the soles of her feet what was happening beneath her. But silence reigned again, and she knew that she had to get up to see what was going on. This might be Rube's house, but she lived here too, damn it. There was something strange going on, and she had a right to know what it was.

She took a deep breath and stood up resolutely. Her dressing gown was hanging silkily over the arm of a nearby chaise lounge. She slipped it on and belted it firmly. It provided more a sense of security than a feeling of warmth, but that was fine with her.

Part of Blake – the part where common sense lived – cautioned her to tiptoe to the door, so that whoever was downstairs wouldn't realize that she was awake. But a larger part shunned the idea of sneaking around her own bedroom in the middle of the night. She had a right to be here, so why should she be the one to creep around?

With her head held high and her shoulders back, she strode upright across the bedroom floor and put her hand boldly on the doorknob. But there her nerve failed, and she turned the knob slowly and quietly. Before pulling the door open, she put her ear to the crack to see if she could hear anything. Again, there was nothing.

There's a whole lot of nothing going on around here, she thought, with a bravado that she absolutely did not feel. She opened the door.

The hall stretched dimly in front of her, towards the second-floor sitting area which overlooked the living room below. She took a deep breath and stepped forward, moving silently down the short hallway, Adrenaline had made her feel almost supernaturally alert, but the fear that was streaming its way through her veins had the opposite effect, making her clumsy and shaky. Suddenly worried that she would trip over her own feet, she stopped, pressed herself against the wall and closed her eyes.

Fear was not a natural emotion for her. Her mother used to joke that, given the choice between fight or flight, Blake would pick fight every time. But this was different. She didn't know what she would find downstairs, but it couldn't be good. The temptation to run was seductively strong. At this moment she wanted nothing more than to turn herself right around, lock herself in the bedroom and pull the covers over her head until the bad men went away. Her legs trembled with the need to carry her away to safety.

But that was when she heard the voices.

They were coming from downstairs, and there were at least three of them. She opened her eyes and realized that she could see light flickering at the end of the hallway. She crept forward again until she reached the end of the corridor.

The beach house was built with typical Malibu-modern architecture. Downstairs was one big open space – living room, dining room, kitchen and a sort of game-room that housed the TV and Rube's beloved antique billiard table. Stairs led to the second floor where there was a lounge area filled with deep furniture and large potted plants. On each side of the lounge was a short hall which led to a bedroom suite. One suite was Blake's, the other was Rube's.

Blake hovered at the end of her hallway, not sure what to do next. Skylights in the lounge filled the upstairs with a cold, dim glow of cloud-covered moonlight, adding to the flickering light which must have been coming from the stone fireplace downstairs. There was practically zero chance that she could get across the lounge to the stairs without being seen, and a minus-zero chance that she could actually make it to the first floor. What was she going to do?

She crouched down and peered around the wall. Her eyes swept the lounge, Rube's hallway across from her, and the narrow slice of living room that she could see. When she was relatively certain that there were no eyes looking back at her, she moved forward, scooting ungracefully along the floor until she reached one of the large, square wooden planters that sat along the edge of the upstairs sitting room.

She raised up slightly, peering over the edge of the planter, through the banister and down to the living room below. She had to stifle a gasp at what she saw.

It could have been a scene straight out of a low-budget gangster movie. A man that she had never seen before was sitting in front of the fireplace in the far corner. He was tied to one of her imported cane-back chairs. Even in this low light Blake could see that his face was bruised and bleeding. In front of him, with their backs to her, stood Rube and his executive assistant, Greg Betch. She could recognize Greg by his hair and Rube by his lack of it.

Blake had known Rube for almost ten years, and until lately she had thought that there were very few secrets between them. Sure, she'd known that some of his business dealings were somewhat shady, but that had never bothered her. For Pete's sake, they lived in Hollywood. With all the backroom deals that went on in this town, you might as well name the place Shady Acres. But recently Blake come to realize that she'd been hopelessly naïve to trust him so completely.

This whole nauseating scenario – waking up in the middle of the night to cries of pain and fear – had played itself out before. Afterwards, Rube would disappear for a week or more. She wouldn't know if he were alive or dead. And when he finally did come back he'd refuse to tell her what had happened.

"Don't ask me about my business," he'd say, doing his best Pacino impression and giving her a weak smile. It was times like those that she was afraid she might be close to hating him.

What exactly was going on in this house? Did she even want to know?

Downstairs, Rube had leaned over and was talking to the man in the chair. Although Blake couldn't see him very well, she heard his words, recognized his posture and she easily guessed what he was doing. He was lecturing. His hands were undoubtedly templed in front of him, and he was waving them up and down in an almost beseeching gesture. She had been on the receiving end of his lectures too often not to recognize it.

"Jake, why are you lying to me?" Rube was asking. Blake shifted so she could hear a bit better. "Greg says he saw you with his own eyes."

The man in the chair – obviously Jake – shook his head wearily. "It wasn't me, Rube, I swear to you. On my mother's life I swear to you…."

"You were talking to the Feds," Greg shouted. He gave Jake a vicious backhand across the mouth to punctuate the last word. Jake's head flew to one side and stayed there as he wept quietly.

Blake flinched as if she had felt the slap stinging her own skin. She'd known Greg almost as long as she had known Rube, and she'd never even heard him raise his voice before tonight.

A chill of fear crept over her as she looked down at the men she thought she knew so well.

"Hey, Greg, keep it down, will you?" Rube said. "My lady's upstairs asleep."

"Sorry, Rube," Greg replied, straightening his coat. "I thought you said she never wakes up."

"Hardly ever." Rube was using his don't-challenge-me voice. "And I don't want her involved in this mess, so you do what I tell you and keep it down."

"Sorry," Greg said again. "This guy just ticks me off." He took a deep breath and ran his hands over his hair, as if to calm himself.

In an unconscious answering gesture, Rube touched the bald spot on the back of his head. "Yeah, well, me too, but let's keep it quiet, okay? Jakey here – " Rube kicked Jake's foot lightly. "Jakey here is going to tell us what he told the Feebs, and that's going to be the end of it."

"And it's going to be the end of him, too," Greg said hotly.

"Not necessarily." Rube's voice was almost soothing. "The important thing is to find out where we are. Then we can figure out where we're going. Jake is going to tell us everything. And you know why? Because he's a good boy." Rube turned to Jake and kicked his foot again. "Isn't that right, Jakey? You're a good boy, right? You're going to tell us everything."

Jake began nodding his head fiercely. "I'll tell you, Rube. I'll tell you everything you want to know."

And he started talking.


Read the rest tomorrow!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Reads Monday: Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton has published over twenty articles and short stories in various print and online magazines, and is currently in the dissertation phase of an Ed.D. in special education administration.  In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, reading, and being the loudest mom at the soccer field.  Melinda was thrilled to have her short story, Immortal Love, chosen for the Vanilla Heart Publishing's Passionate Hearts Anthology. I know you'll love her first novel, Appalachian Justice - this week's Great Read!

Billy May Platte is a half Irish, half Cherokee Appalachian woman who learned the hard way that 1940s West Virginia was no place to be different. As Billy May explains, "We was sheltered in them hills. We didn't know much of nothin' about life outside of them mountains. I did not know the word lesbian; to us, gay meant havin' fun and queer meant somethin' strange." In 1945, when Billy May was fourteen years old and orphaned, three local boys witnessed an incident in which Billy May's sexuality was called into question. Determined to teach her a lesson she would never forget, they orchestrated a brutal attack that changed the dynamics of the tiny coal mining village of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia forever. Everyone, from Gerald Smith, the elderly owner of Smith's General Store, to Sue Ann Leary, the spoiled daughter of the town's only doctor, to Corinne Pruitt, Billy May's childhood friend, was affected by the event in ways they could never have anticipated.

Thirty years after the brutal attack, living in solitude on top of Crutcher Mountain, Billy May discovers the hideout of a young girl - a girl who just happens to be the daughter of one of the boys who attacked Billy May so long ago. No one knows better than Billy May the telltale signs of abuse, and she must quickly make a decision. Will she withdraw into the solitude in which she has lived since the horrific attack, or will she risk everything to save the girl from a similar fate? Billy May's choices will once again change not only her own future, but the future of Cedar Hollow as well, and certainly the future of the young girl.

Billy May tells us her story in her own words, as she lays dying in a hospice in Huntington, West Virginia in the spring of 2010. "From the top of my mountain, I seen that girl runnin'," she remembers, "and I understood even then that my decisions might very well be the death of me."

What do readers have to say?

“A tale of the rural South, alternately horrifying and poignant, and ultimately redemptive. Dead on for the times, given recent events involving bullying of young gays and lesbians; the LGBT community should take notice, as should anyone struggling with child abuse, hate crimes, or sexual orientation issues.” - D.K.B.

“I just finished reading Appalachian Justice. What a powerful, well-written novel this is with characters, motivations and place settings that were absolutely perfect.” - M.C.

Or buy today from (available in paperback and on Kindle)!

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Help Your Child Discover His or Her "Inner Writer"

We’ve all heard young people say, "I want to be a writer!" And we’ve all cringed a little when they’ve said it. After all, we know how hard it is to make a living as an artist. So how can we support their ambitions, knowing that disappointment might lurk around every corner? And how can we help nurture their creative instinct without crushing their artistic spirit?

It was probably about fifteen years ago that I first started coaching young writers. I still remember their earnest efforts at storytelling, their frustration when they couldn’t quite paint pictures with their words the way they’d wanted to, their elation when it came out right. I remember it well, because it so perfectly mirrored the ups and downs of my own writing. I drew on my memories of being a young writer and helped the children in my care to cultivate their natural talents. And in helping the children to tell their stories, I learned a lot about how to tell my own.

So when parents come to me and ask me how they can help their children develop their writing gifts, there are a few things that I usually suggest:

Encourage your children to read – a lot! Reading has a multitude of benefits for young writers. It builds vocabulary, first and foremost. It also gives one an eye for plot, story structure, dialogue, all the elements of good fiction. And don’t worry if what your child is reading seems simplistic or “below their reading level.” Help to pinpoint what he or she can read easily and with enjoyment, then stand back and watch the pages fly!

Encourage your children to write – a lot! Did your son just make up a funny joke (or even not so funny)? Suggest he write it down. Did your daughter tell you a story about a unicorn who jumped through her bedroom window and started dancing around the room? By all means, hand her some paper and a pen! Whether they’re writing letters to grandma, creating fan fiction for their favorite movie, or chipping away at their twelve-volume masterwork, writers of all ages do one thing: they write. And here’s some inside info: they don’t have to finish everything they start! Every writer has a sock drawer full of half-finished projects. It’s just part of the process. So encourage your children to write, and don’t stress over whether or not they finish everything.

Which brings me to my next point….

Never criticize. When I write that, I’m not simply saying, “don’t say anything mean,” because of course you wouldn’t intentionally insult your child. What I’m saying is, “Don’t say anything negative. Ever.” This can be a tough one for parents, which is understandable. The nurturing instinct makes you want to hover, bite your nails, and offer helpful corrections and suggestions. And if you’re looking at a school project, of course you must help monitor the quality of your child’s work. But when it comes to creative writing, my advice is this: never ever criticize.

Why? Well for one thing, there are few things on earth more fragile than the creative spirit. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to crush a burgeoning artistic impulse. A well-intentioned but careless comment from you could easily put your children off writing for quite some time. For another thing, if your children decide to pursue a career in writing, there will unfortunately be many people who will take their work and tear it down, deconstruct it and pick it apart. It’s a less-than-lovely aspect of the business that we all have to deal with at one time or another. So from Mom, Dad, teacher, etc., they should get only praise and encouragement.

If you’re worried that giving nonstop praise will make them conceited, or set them up for disappointment down the road, my advice is not to be too concerned about that. Yes, disappointment is inevitable. But the best way to overcome that is just to encourage them to keep writing. The more they write, the better at it they’ll become, and the fewer disappointments they’ll encounter. As for being conceited, well, every great venture requires a certain measure of conceit on the part of the “venturer.” Help them to build pride and even a touch of vanity in their work; chances are, no matter how big their heads get, they’ll still be able to fit through the door!

Well, this is a subject about which I would happily write volumes, and in fact I talk at length about these suggestions and more in my workshop, Helping Your Child Find the “Inner Writer.” There are few things in life more gratifying than helping a child to achieve satisfaction and gain a sense of accomplishment and of his or her own self-worth. Do you have a story you’d like to share or a question you’d like to ask about working with young writers?

This blog was originally published on the Vanilla Heart Publishing Authors' Blog.  For helpful and down-to-earth advice on writing, please check out their blog today! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Great Reads Monday: Russian Roulette by Austin S. Camacho

Austin S. Camacho was born in New York City but grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York. He began writing while he was in the Army: stories of adventure and mystery, set in some of the exotic places he visited during his years of service.  Today Austin does public affairs work for the DoD agency charged with guarding the health of service members when they are deployed. He has settled in northern Virginia with his wife Denise.  When he's not writing Austin likes to run along the shores of the Potomac, watch action films, and shoot - at paper targets, not live ones. He is a voracious reader of just about any kind of nonfiction, plus mysteries, adventures and thrillers.  I know you'll love his novel Russian Roulette - this week's Great Read!

A Russian assassin forces Washington DC private detective Hannibal Jones to investigate Gana, the wealthy Algerian who has stolen Viktoriya, the woman his new client loves. Evidence connects Gana to Russian mob money and the apparent suicide of Viktoriya’s father. Then more deaths follow, closing in on Viktoriya. To save her, Hannibal must unravel a complex tangle of clues and survive a dramatic shootout side-by-side with his murderous client.

Early reviews say Russian Roulette hits the bull’s-eye!

"... Russian Roulette delivers a whipsaw of a plot with more layers than a Vidalia onion.... Solid storytelling and compelling characters Don't miss it!” - Libby Fischer Hellmann, Author of the Ellie Foreman mystery/suspense series

“Hannibal Jones is no John Shaft wannabe. He stands on his own as a welcome addition to the ranks of the fictional private eye.” - Robert J. Randisi, Founder, the Private Eye Writers of America

“Russian Roulette has everything: a terrific story with great characters in vivid settings. Clear time on your calendar for this one." - John Gilstrap, author of Hostage Zero and the Jonathan Grave series

“An atmospheric, entertaining read. Troubleshooter Hannibal Jones is the most engaging character to come upon the mystery scene since Patterson's Alex Cross.” - JoAnn Ross, NY Times Bestselling Author of the High Risk Series

“Russian Roulette starts with a revving engine and picks up speed till racing across the finish line. If I was in trouble I’d want Hannibal Jones on my speed dial.” - Jon Jordan, Editor, Crimespree Magazine

Visit Austin's website to read more!

Or buy Russian Roulette today on!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Setting, Part 1: What Is It, Why Should It Matter, and How Can You Start Using It?

When I first undertook the subject of Setting, I thought I'd blow through it in one blog.  Six hundred words, subject covered.  No sweat, right?  Um, wrong. 

As I began to write about Setting, as I started to think about it and distill my thoughts into semi-intelligible sentences, I started coming to more deep and complete understanding of the subject.  The more I wrote, the more I understood.  And the more I understood, the more I wanted to write!  So then I thought I'd split the subject into two parts: the mechanics of setting, and the subtler side of setting.  Twelve hundred words, subject covered, right?  Um, again - wrong!

So I now have three parts, and it's still growing!  I've stopped counting words and I have no idea when (or if) the subject of setting will ever be exhausted.  And if nothing else, I'm learning a lot by writing these blogs!  I hope that someone else finds some good in them, too.

Step 1: Where and When

Setting is vital element of writing. But what exactly is setting, and how can you use it to enhance the story you're trying to tell?

In breaking down the subject of setting, we can see that the absolute bottom-line, nitty-gritty of it is WHERE and WHEN. Where and when does your story take place?

Of course it's easy to see how this matters if you're writing a World War 2 epic, or a science fiction novel: the 1940s in London is a heck of a lot different than 3010 on the moons of Jupiter. But it also matters when you're writing any modern day novel, whether it's romance, mystery, thriller, etc., because the where and when will effect many aspects of your story and your characters.

Some examples:
  • F. Paul Wilson sets his Repairman Jack novels in modern-day New York.
  • Holly Jacobs sets many of her romance novels in the fictional town of Whedon, Pennsylvania.
  • James Ellroy set his LA Crime novels in mid-20th Century Los Angeles.
In each of these cases the where and when affects the who and what – the setting affects the characters and the plotline. It doesn’t necessarily dictate plot or create the characters for you, but it definitely does have an effect on both (we'll go in-depth on this subject in a later blog!).

For a quick example, imagine a single woman raising a child on her own. Whether she lives in 1629, 1993 or 3010 will make a difference in her parenting style and the set of obstacles she has to face, not to mention the entire concept of her own identity as a human being, and her concept of the identity of her child.

So, WHERE and WHEN does your story take place?

Step 2: Make it Realistic

Research, research, research. If you are writing about a place and time that is unfamiliar to you, make sure you do your homework! My second novel, Still Waters, is set in the mid-1950s in Arlington, Virginia. I was very familiar with the place, but – aside from many years of watching Hitchcock films - not too familiar with the time period.

To research the period, I spent hours in the library, reading newspapers from the months during which my novel was set. I also found a 1950s map of the area and was able to identify what some of the streets were called at that time. I didn’t use all of this information in the book, of course, but it made it easier for me to set my mind to that place in that time.

And here's a hint: you can often find newspapers going back to the 19th Century. One of my local papers has been around since the early 1800s, and has back issues on microfiche that go way back to the beginning!

Confirm, confirm, confirm. There are always tiny details of life in various eras that can't be found in books. And the danger of writing about any place or time outside of our experience is that our conceptions are shaped very much by movies and books, which may or may not be accurate. Hopefully your rolodex (or Facebook friend list) includes one or more people who have education about or experience with your chosen time and place. Ask them questions while you're writing, and/or have them read your manuscript when it's finished. Tell them to cast their expert eye on the details and confirm that you haven't written anything too embarrassingly wrong!

Relax, relax, relax. There is only so much you can do to make a time period accurate, and the primary jobs of a fiction writer are to create an emotional connection with the reader, and tell a good story. You can kill yourself – and your story, for that matter – by becoming obsessed over the details. Make it as accurate as possible, and then just relax, knowing that you've done the best you can.

Setting should serve your story, not the other way around. (Unless you're James Michener, of course, but that's a whole other blog!)
What settings do you enjoy when you're reading a book or watching a movie?