How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by Kathleen Marple Kalb (Nikki Knight)

Saved by the Work

When my husband and I walked our son into his first day of kindergarten, I knew our lives were changing. But not quite the way I thought they would.

I came home that morning and started writing fiction for the first time in more than twenty years. As a teenager, I’d written for fun, and even tried, unsuccessfully, to sell an historical novel. Now, with several free hours a day, I wanted to try again with everything I’d learned as a journalist and a person.

I didn’t know then how much I still had to learn.

That first book, a mystery set at a Vermont radio station, featuring a young, single woman – think Stephanie Plum with moose, only not as good – didn’t sell. Neither did the next book. The third one did, but that was only half of the story.

While I was querying that third book (you may know it as the Ella Shane mystery, A FATAL FINALE) my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He was in remission by the time my agent sold it, and there was a brief period where it looked like everything was coming together.

Then came Covid.

And suddenly, my fun little escape project became a lifeline.

During the run-up to publication, I had enough time to work on other things, including a new version of that Vermont mystery. This time, the main character was a grownup and a mother, but the place was the same. A warm, wonderful, safe little town with a diverse cast of people who borrowed from my colleagues.

The first Vermont book was done when the lockdown hit, but I was working on the sequel. And as that short lockdown wore into months and more than a year of virtual school, that little town became my happy place.

I’d sit on the couch in the basement office we’d fitted out as a schoolroom, keeping an eye on my son’s virtual fifth grade, first finishing the second book, and then writing short stories.

The work saved me.

Even as the real world fell apart around us, I was able to return to my happy place whenever I opened my laptop.

Not just that, I learned a new form, short stories. Initially, I wrote one for my Sisters in Crime chapter anthology. I wrote it only to be supportive and assumed it would be rejected. Turned out I loved writing it, and it was accepted.

Soon, I was writing short stories set in the world of the Vermont book and enjoying both the pleasure of hanging out in my happy place, and the satisfaction of producing a finished piece of work in a short time.

Relishing the challenge of creating a good story in a small space.

Exploring the world of my characters for story ideas.

Escape, sure.

But growth as a writer, too.

These days, as we settle back into whatever life looks like after the pandemic, we’re starting to forget how hard it was to stay focused and sane during the height of it. Writing, and particularly writing Vermont stories, pulled me out of the anxiety and kept me moving forward – even if I didn’t know what was out there.

The first Vermont book, and many of the stories are out in the world now. And so am I – a better writer, and a more focused professional. I hope, too, a much more aware and understanding person.

And grateful.


Kathleen Marple Kalb describes herself as an Author/Anchor/Mom…not in that order. An award-winning weekend anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York, she writes short stories and novels, including the Ella Shane Historical Mysteries for Kensington and, as Nikki Knight, LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, a Vermont Radio Mystery from Crooked Lane. Her stories are in several anthologies, and she was a 2022 Derringer Award finalist. She, her husband, and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by J. Dalton

I’m pretty new to writing as I didn’t start until I turned 64.  That was back in 2016 when I was diagnosed with CML Leukemia.

Getting Leukemia was a slap in the face that turned my life upside down.  I lost a job I absolutely loved because of that, and thought I was going to die.  Now that I am on the other side of it, I can honestly say that it turned out to be a good thing. It forced me to face my own mortality and look back on my life and the legacy I would leave.  Now, I don’t fear death anymore, and I am no longer totally focused on work.  I have found that family is the most important thing in my life.

With all of the high dose Chemo pills I was taking and the side effects they caused, (constant Pleural effusions where fluid would build up in the sack around my lungs making it difficult to breathe), there wasn’t much I could do physically any more, so I had this crazy idea that I would write a book for my grand-kids, after all, how hard could it be?  (What the heck was I thinking?) That was the beginning of The Gates to the Galaxies Sci-Fi series.

Now, I’m seven books into the series and working on number eight, and I’m pretty sure not many people write the way I do.

I’m not the kind of author that can sit down at the computer and pound out a chapter or two.  All of my Sci-Fi stories are based on my dreams.  They come to me in full color like I’m watching a high def movie where each character speaks in their own unique voice.  I dream a chapter or two each night when I’m “in the groove”, as I call it, and the next morning, I just write down what happened in the dream.  I can go days without anything going on, then every day for weeks I dream about my story and sit down and write.

In my books, the villains, called the ‘Ones’ speak in musical notes and telepathic emotions that have different meanings when spoken in a different key. 

I think this concept came from when I was a child.  Music was a big part of my life back then from piano lessons, band, chorus and being exposed to a wide variety of musical styles at home like country, big band and of course, the classical music in the cartoons of my childhood.  I would often just close my eyes and hear the music speaking to me as I made up words in my head to go along with the tune, so that became an integral part of my stories.

I don’t think of myself as an author or writer, but rather a story teller.  Money, (or sales) never was a driving factor in doing this.  All I ever wanted originally was to have my grand-kids and then eventually, other people read my stories and react to them. 

There are a lot of different concepts in my books that most Sci-Fi stories don’t use and I think, based on the reviews I’ve gotten so far, that once people read my books, they enjoy them.  That’s the most rewarding feeling to me.

As I said, for me the writing part is the easiest as I simply tell the stories of my dreams.  Marketing, on the other hand, is something I struggle with but I keep working at it. 


J.Dalton’s books can be found on Amazon.

Connect with him on Twitter using @JDaltonAuthor


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

The Silver Crystal, by Ryan Lanz


The Silver Crystal
is the first of The Red Kingdom trilogy, introducing the three major characters of the series: Rhael, a bounty hunter; Phessipi, the leader of a hated and persecuted minority, and Levas, a high-ranking officer of The Order. In a medieval world, the ‘Corrupted’ – men and women with abilities that go beyond those common to all people—are hunted down and mutilated in a way that destroys their extra powers. Hunting ‘Corrupted’ for The Order is Rhael’s job, when we meet him at the beginning of the story.

The Silver Crystal is more character-focused than action-focused, although it has its share of action too. In this first book, the usual hero’s journey of fantasy is given a twist, and the other main characters grapple with the decisions and consequences of leadership and rebellion – costs both personal and professional. Heavy on dialogue, including some passages of banter that are meant to lighten the mood but to this reader stood out as devices designed to do exactly that, not integral to the story – the story still moves along at a good pace, the point of view alternating between Rhael and Phessipi, until fairly far into the book, when Levas is introduced.

This late introduction of the third main character felt a little off-balance, but as this is the first book of a trilogy, in the context of the full story it makes sense. The world-building is sketched lightly but sufficiently, and characters fit their roles. Rhael’s sidekick, Gobo, might provide light relief for some readers, but I found him annoying, like an Ewok in Star Wars. (But then, other people love Ewoks.) Overall, an intriguing fantasy suitable in my judgement for readers twelve and above, with themes of discovery, acceptance, and understanding of differences running through the story.

WHAT THREE THINGS?

By Helen Hollick

Hello Marian, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. You asked me to tell you and your readers about the books I write. Where to start!

I used to write straight historical fiction: my first Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy was about King Arthur with a setting in Roman Britain in the 5th to 6th centuries. These were originally published back in the early 1990s – so I’ve been writing for a lo-o-ong while now! My intention for the trilogy was to strip away all the myth and magic of then Medieval Christian-based tales and write the books as ‘what might have happened’. Not for me the familiar ‘love triangle’, there is no Lancelot in my story, no Holy Grail, no Merlin either. I saw Arthur as an ambitious but capable war lord, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) as an equally capable woman. They love each other but are two people with intelligent minds – and firm ideas which often clash. I used the earlier Welsh legends, which are far more interesting and very different from the later Medieval tales.

Following these, I moved to the 11th century and the events that led to the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. I am a firm supporter of King Harold II, so this story is written from the English point of view – stripped of all the Norman propaganda. The other book is the story of Emma of Normandy – Queen Emma of Anglo-Saxon England. She was married to Æthelred the Unready and then to King Cnut. One of her sons was Edward the Confessor, so a prequel story to the people involved in the subsequent Norman Conquest of England.

I turned to crime during the months of lockdown – fictionally, that is. I branched out into writing cozy mysteries. My Jan Christopher Series are quick read novellas set in the 1970s against the background of my years of working as a library assistant – with the twist of a murder mystery included. There are two in the series published so far, I plan more!

My favourites, however, are the Sea Witch Voyages. I wrote the first, Sea Witch back in 2005/6 when I wanted to read something as good as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – but for adults (with some adult content, some adult scenes and language, and some violence.) I couldn’t find what I wanted to read so I wrote it myself. I have just published the sixth in the series, Gallows Wake, with a short read novella prequel, When The Mermaid Sings as a bonus read.

So, three things that I care passionately about in my writing?

1) My Characters. I fell hopelessly in love with ‘my’ Arthur, mind you, I was in that man’s mind for more than ten years (it took me that long to write what eventually became The Kingmaking and half of Pendragon’s Banner!) I am even more in love with my pirate (well, ex-pirate now,) Captain Jesamiah Acorne.  Funnily enough, I did notice, a while ago, when looking through bits of The Kingmaking, just how alike Arthur and Jesamiah are! They are both rough, tough guys. Both formidable when angry, but quick to laugh, both determined, both loyal in their own way – both would willingly die for the woman they love, even though tempers often flare between them. Honour is important for both of them – although both are also ruthless when needs must. They both have a solid, reliable friend and I wanted to portray them both as men who cared, who hurt when their hearts were broken and who drowned their sorrows …

2) I care about creating a feeling of believability. ‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’ both had a lot of historical fact to base the outline of the stories on: history tells us that this, this and this happened, and when and where it happened. The novelist has to decide (OK, make up) the whys and hows. For ‘Arthur’ there is nothing to go on – let’s face the truth, King Arthur did not exist (although he might have been an amalgamation of several notable post-Roman war lords.) So for the ‘facts’ I researched post-Roman Britain and used what little we do know as the basis for my trilogy. I also extensively used my knowledge of horses.

For ‘Jesamiah’ some of the elements in the Voyages are supernatural or fantasy – the love of Jesamiah’s life is Tiola, a White Witch, a Wise Woman of Craft. To balance the ‘made-up’ bits I was as careful as I could be to get the ‘real’ bits right, in particular the sailing scenes aboard Sea Witch. I also used quite a bit of factual history from the early 1700s – although some I did ‘bend’ a little to suit my timeline (but I mention what I changed in my author’s notes.) I have absolutely no knowledge of sailing Tall Ships, though. Fortunately there are a lot of good books to use for research and I have a wonderful friend in the author James L. Nelson who checks my sailing scenes for me – and doesn’t laugh too loudly at my bloopers!

3) I suppose my third passion is for writing the book I want to read. ‘Arthur’ I wrote because I have never liked the later Medieval tales. I could never see Arthur as the sort of king who would go off and leave his country for years (although Richard I, did). Nor could I see Gwenhwyfar as being so stupid as to have an affair with Lancelot (who, actually, I didn’t like anyway.) The familiar tales, I believe, were written as propaganda to get men to go off on Crusade, and to justify Richard I, the Lionheart’s obsessions.

‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’, were the same, I wanted to write their stories as they ought to have been written. As for Jesamiah, well, he’s entirely made up, but as I said earlier, I wanted to immerse myself in a swashbuckling, enjoyable and engrossing adult nautical adventure … I didn’t expect that first Voyage, however, to turn out to be such a successful series!

Choose an excerpt or two to illustrates one of your three topics.

1a. From The Kingmaking

With a short, exasperated sigh, Cei strode over to the drunkard. As he was about to shake the man’s shoulder, he broke into a chuckle. Ah no, the poor tavern keeper could not give this one to the street.

Roused by Cei’s persistent nudging, Arthur staggered unsteadily to his feet.

It was only a short journey to the palace but, hampered as he was by the almost dead weight of his companion, it took Cei a while to reach their assigned rooms, where, laughing, he waved Arthur’s sleepy servant aside. “Go back to your bed, I shall tend your master.” He seated Arthur on the bed and pulled off his boots. “An enjoyable evening, I assume. Trust you to spoil it by getting yourself over full of wine.”

1b. Excerpt from Sea Witch, the first Voyage

Waking several hours into the fore noon to a thundering headache, Jesamiah staggered to his feet. He tottered to the  door, peered out, squinting at the brightness of the morning sun.

Rue stepped forward offering a pewter tankard. “Drink this.”

Hesitant, Jesamiah took it wrinkled his nose at the foul looking liquid. “What is it?”

“Old French recipe. Brandy, ground garlic with ’alf a pint of ale. Deux œufs – fresh-laid is that cackle fruit – a pinch of gunpowder and melted pork lard.”

Jesamiah sniffed again at the concoction. He poked a finger into it and picked out a piece of floating egg shell. “I don’t care for raw eggs.”

“Just drink it.”

Doubtful, Jesamiah raised it to his mouth. Changing his mind, offered it back.  “Later perhaps.”

“Écoute mon gars,”  Rue said finally losing patience. “Look, my friend, you lead us like the brilliant captain you are or we leave you ’ere in this God-forgotten emptiness, with as many bottles of rum as you please.”

Jesamiah looked from Rue to the tankard. Hesitant, he raised it to his lips. “It smells foul.”

The fouler the medicine, the quicker the cure, or so ma mere used to say.”

“What was she? The village poisoner?”

Both these scenes get across to the reader that the men have good, reliable friends, and that broken hearts can be dulled by drink, but not mended. The mending, of course, comes later in the stories!

THE VOYAGES

SEA WITCH   Voyage one

PIRATE CODE  Voyage two

BRING IT CLOSE  Voyage three

RIPPLES IN THE SAND  Voyage four

ON THE ACCOUNT  Voyage five

WHEN THE MERMAID SINGS  A prequel to the series

(short-read novella)

And just published…

GALLOWS WAKE

The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

By Helen Hollick

Where the Past haunts the future…

Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

Then there is the spy, Richie Tearle, and manipulative Ascham Doone who has dubious plans of his own. Plans that involve Jesamiah, who, beyond unravelling the puzzle of a dead person who may not be dead, has a priority concern regarding the wellbeing of his pregnant wife, the white witch, Tiola.

Forced to sail to England without Jesamiah, Tiola must keep herself and others close to her safe, but memories of the past, and the shadow of the gallows haunt her. Dreams disturb her, like a discordant lament at a wake.

But is this the past calling, or the future?

From the first review of Gallows Wake:

“Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.”

Author Marian L. Thorpe.

BUY LINKS:

Amazon Author Page (Universal link)https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick

Where you will find the entire series waiting at anchor in your nearest Amazon harbour – do come aboard and share Jesamiah’s derring-do nautical adventures!

(available Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback)

Or order a paperback copy from your local bookstore!

ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…

Website: www.helenhollick.net

Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick

Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollick Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by Raina Nightingale

I hardly remembered when I first started to write. I was eight years old, having just learned to read. And what I wrote first was something that was at least half fanfiction: sometimes simply out of love and enjoyment, I would write stories very much like those I read, but other times, when it seemed to me there was something lacking in a book, or something that was wrong and not the way I wanted it to be, I would try to write a story that was like it, but different.

I think in stories. Both reading them and writing them is a big part of my thinking. In some ways, the exploration that comes from both is similar, but in some ways it is different, and different books are very different to read and very different journeys, though I do love some good escapism now and then (especially if it has nice world-building that speaks to me, more on that later)! In reading, I explore other people’s thoughts and am sometimes prompted to consider things about myself and what I like from angles I might not have considered on my own, and it does not take the same energy that writing does.

But writing, making up stories and exploring them as I will, is how I really think, how I discover, challenge my thinking, and consider new thoughts that I find in other places or other people suggest. Or sometimes thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere. Character, plot, and world-building can all be a part of thinking to me. A lot of my world-building, even – especially – the more magical parts of it, is inseparable from my appreciation for and understanding of this world, and helps me to articulate things I see better.

My characters are more wild. Sometimes I don’t understand them very well, and sometimes what I think I ought to have learned from them, whether their relationships with each other or their responses to their environments, I’m not at all sure that I do.

Probably most of my characters share some likeness with me, even if it’s as trivial as an aesthetic appreciation or a taste in cuisine. Some of them are very unlike me, while others can be largely deep explorations of aspects of my personality, dreams, or desires, or questions about these might be, but in general I don’t think too much about whether a character is like or unlike me, or how. Yet I always find it fascinating when I’m writing a character like none that I have ever written before, and I keep having moments of, “Oh, this is how someone who is like this thinks!” It’s really quite surprising. Yet, in real life, I sometimes feel like my empathy, my ability to understand and feel for people, is far behind my characters. Yet what would it be if I didn’t try? Or what would my stories be if I didn’t try in real life?

It’s hard to enumerate, or even really define, how writing and stories have been a part of my life and thinking, since it is so interwoven altogether. I don’t think there’s anything where it can be fully separated: sometimes I learn, through writing a character who enjoys something, to have more appreciation for it myself. Some recent examples are that I see the beauty in the ocean so much more after having written Corostomir, a man who is in love with the ocean, and writing a dry plains-loving people sharpens my appreciate for desert climates, something that used to not exist at all: the greener and the wetter the better, I thought.


Raina Nightingale has been writing fantasy since she could read well enough to write her stories with the words she knew (the same time that she started devouring any fiction she could touch). She enjoys rich characters and worlds where magic and the mundane are inseparable. She calls her fiction ‘Dawndark’.

Author/Review Website: https://www.enthralledbylove.com

Universal Book Link for all my books: https://books2read.com/raina_books

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Areaer_Novels

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20243136.Raina_Nightingale


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Writing for Effect: A Dialogue with Jamie Tremain

Jamie Tremain: aka Liz Lindsay and Pam Blance

Currently, Jamie Tremain has two series. The Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series is in the mystery/crime genre revolving around a female private investigator, Dorothy Dennehy.  The story is set in Portland, Oregon. Her office is aboard a houseboat, ‘The Private, Aye?’, moored in the Willamette River. She has a solid circle of family and friends who assist in her cases.  By the time we’d written the second book, we realized what we seemed to enjoy from writing this series, and Grant’s Crossing, is the building of character dynamics and relationships with one another.

Grant’s Crossing is our second series and is a mystery/amateur sleuth series. It might have cozy ‘overtones’ but doesn’t classify as a cozy.

It’s set in rural Ontario. We have two main characters, Alysha – owner of the home, and Dianne – a resident, and the story is told from each of their POV in first person. The setting is an old farmhouse converted to house 8 retired seniors in a guest-home type environment. 

As mentioned above, we feel our strength, and passion, in these stories has evolved to focus on character relationships, to show what life can do to all of us and how we cope or carry on. We’ve been successful based on comments and feedback received from readers.


Emotion of Characters, Witty Dialogue, and Diversity are the three topics we’ve chosen. They dovetail into each other as we build stories that portray life experiences on different levels a reader can relate to, while still providing a crime or mystery to solve.


Emotions of Characters – The Goal to build relationships built on human experiences common to readers.

These are two scenes from Lightning Strike, the second book in our Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series. Our protagonist, P.I. Dorothy Dennehy has learned her fiancé, Paul, has been murdered.  The first scene is her father, Max, trying to comfort her, and the second scene is Dorothy waking up from a dream the day of Paul’s funeral.

“Why did you change your clothes? she asked, wondering why his casual jeans and sneakers had disappeared. Now he wore his best corporate attire. Perfect tie and polished shoes.

“I had to change, Dee. You know what today is. Have to look my best.”

She awoke with a cry on her lips and a breaking heart. As the dream’s images fluttered away, she sighed. “You always looked your best, my love. I miss you so much and today will be the hardest day I’ve lived through.”

Marian’s thoughts:

Dreaming of lost loved ones is a common human experience. Dreams, too, often have hidden meanings. If I read into the scene that Paul’s message to Dee is that she must put on her ‘best’ today: best clothes, best front, best control – to change her real feelings to get her through this hardest day – would I be reading something into it you didn’t mean?

Jamie Tremain:

We think you’ve reacted as we intended. And without “knowing” our character Dorothy, this is even more true because she is a strong and independent woman, but the death of Paul has knocked her off her feet, and in addition to his funeral she knows that she, as a private investigator, is going to do her best to solve his murder. So, control of her emotions is paramount to her staying level-headed. Her grief will be put on hold. And Paul would have known that, as well.


Dialogue – The Goal to bring humour at times, but to always show that our characters are “human”, subject, for example, to petty backbiting, or one-upping.

We have fun with some characters’ dialogue scenes. This is from Resort to Murder, the second book in our Grant’s Crossing series. Our characters, most retired, live together in a small retirement “guest” home – Leven Lodge. Mealtimes can be lively due to their various personalities.

Rose changed the subject. “Anyway, I hope the investigation wraps up soon so the spa can reopen. I’m anxious to try out some of the services they offer.”

“Maybe they can do something about those wrinkles,” sniped Minnie.

“At least I know what a spa is for,” retorted Rose.

I settled back to watch the show, but Nina broke things up. “Now ladies. Let’s not bicker. Life’s too short. I’d hoped to make use of the spa while I’m here as well, but if it doesn’t work out, c’est la vie. That’s French you know.” The barb hit its mark with Minnie.

“Well kiss my derriere. That’s French too.” Minnie smirked. Then she exited the room. I noticed Lily’s small grin as she watched our wicked witch’s departure.

I had a feeling breakfast congeniality was done.

Marian’s response: 

Writing ‘gurus’ often say that no dialogue tags other than ‘said’ and ‘asked’ should be used. (Not that I agree with it!) Here you’ve used a variety of other tags and descriptors. Can you expand on why you chose them?

Jamie Tremain:

When we were traditionally published with our first 2 books, we had an amazing editor. Her opinion favoured avoiding the overuse of ‘said’ and it stuck with us. Not that there is anything wrong with ‘said’, but I (Liz) recently read a book, where about ten consecutive pieces of dialogue were tagged with ‘said’, and I found it boring, as if the writer couldn’t find something more descriptive to use. Balance is key, because to overuse any tag runs the risk of reader turn-off.

The narrator and Lily both seem a little detached from the bickering. You convey this both through the use of ‘watch’ and the fact that neither speaks. Were those conscious choices?

Jamie Tremain:

Definitely on Lily’s part, yes. She is an introvert, overshadowed by her extroverted twin sister. As for the narrator, yes as well. She enjoys being a bystander during these exchanges, although she has been known to stir the pot when it suits her.


Diversity – The Goal to have diversity in various forms, woven into a story so that it’s done in a way to make it seem natural and not because we have to tick boxes.

Without really intending to, we find our Grant’s Crossing series has touched on several areas of diversity, most done in subtle ways, to hopefully show diversity is taken for granted, and not a big deal to be fussed about. We’ve touched on Aboriginal issues, mental health, have had a gay character, and, aging is a general theme throughout. We, as writers, hope it’s a reflection of ourselves, that diversity is, and should be, a natural part of life’s fabric.

The example concerns a new couple, Sasitha and Bachan Patel, who have taken up residence in Leven Lodge – from the third book in the series, Acting Off-Script. It’s a small town in rural Ontario, with little familiarity of East Indian customs.

I decided to ask about a question I had. “I noticed you’ve placed some beautiful small candles in the front room. Are they for a special occasion?”

Sasitha beamed. “Oh yes, my friend. These are for celebrating Diwali. So important for us.”

“Festival of Lights,” interjected Bashan. “Lighting these candles, for us, means we are getting rid of the darkness. The darkness can be meaning bad vices, such as greed.”

From what I knew of the Patels, greed was a foreign concept to this generous and kind-hearted couple.

Marian’s thoughts:

You have subtly captured the rhythmic speech patterns of West Asian immigrants speaking English. Did you worry about being accused of stereotyping in the name of diversity?

Jamie Tremain:

The Patels are my (Liz) characters and have been modelled after a former co-worker, whom I am very fond of.  The speech patterns were part of everyday work life. Honestly, if a reader feels this is stereotyping, then, with respect, that would be an inaccurate assumption.  Earlier in the book, the Patels give an account of how they came from India, lived in Scarborough, and ended up in Grant’s Crossing. We thought having a retired married couple, who happened to be East Indian, would be an interesting dynamic to add to the mix of characters living at Leven Lodge.

Was the use of ‘foreign’ in the last line purposeful? To me it creates an effective dissonance between the idea of ‘foreigner’ and how we all share universal human attributes and concepts.

Jamie Tremain:

That’s an interesting observation, Marian. It wasn’t intentional, but we agree with your assessment of its use.


One final question from Marian:

You strive to show character relationships, ‘to show what life can do to all of us and how we cope or carry on’. Author intent and reader interpretation can be very close, or it can be very far apart. Art is a tension between the creator(s) and the ‘consumer’, the person experiencing it. Have you had feedback from people whose interpretation was far from what you intended?  If so, how did you handle it? (And if not, how would you handle it?)

Jamie Tremain:

We’ve been told our character relationships are a focal point of both series, and so we now make a conscious effort to create life situations for our characters that most people could relate to at various times in their lives – aside from finding murdered bodies, of course!

The most feedback we received was when we “killed” Paul in the second book of our Dorothy Dennehy Mystery series. Readers who had enjoyed the first book were dismayed, and even a little angry, that we’d dispatched him. We didn’t expect the level of disappointment but were gratified in a way because it showed readers connected with the character. And it made us realize that a mystery is not just about the crime to be solved, but it’s about the characters. So having the strong feedback about killing Paul was valuable.

Every reader has their own viewpoint and interpretation on what they read. We’ll continue to create scenarios we hope are relatable and always welcome feedback, be it positive or not, on how we’ve tried to portray relationship dynamics. We may be the author, but we can always learn from our readers, as well.


Links:

Web: http://www.jamietremain.ca/   

Blog : https://jamietremain.blogspot.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.ca/Jamie-Tremain/e/B06X1FFCCF/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1

Books2Read :  https://books2read.com/ap/nObabJ/Jamie-Tremain

Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/jamietremainwrites

Email: jamietremainjt@yahoo.com


Would you like to be part of this series? Authors published or unpublished are welcome – leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Gallows Wake, by Helen Hollick

Gallows Wake is the first of Helen Hollick’s Captain Jesamiah Acorne books I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Nor was it necessary to have read the previous books to thoroughly enjoy this one; Hollick expertly weaves enough backstory into the narrative to explain what’s happening without taking away from the focus and momentum of the story.

Forced to put into a shipyard in Gibraltar for necessary repairs to his ship, Acorne finds himself in danger from several sides. Both his distant and immediate past are catching up to him—and his wife Tiola, pregnant with their first child. With a brood of children saved from capture to take care of, both Jesamiah and Tiola have their hands full. But Tiola has her own past to reckon with, and she too is in danger, especially after her return to England without Jesamiah.

Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, again, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.

I’m not a student of sailing ships, but the scenes on board ship felt authentic. The author’s nod to a classic story of the West Country amused me, but also helped set the mood and landscape. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, and I hope there are more to come!

Pre-order Gallows Wake on Amazon.

How Has Writing Changed Me?

A guest post by J.C. Paulson

On following your muse: it might just save your life, and other benefits.

When I awakened at three one morning a few years ago, as I had for months after a traumatic career ending moment, I was, for a change, not in tears.

I saw a (beautiful) reporter, a (stunningly handsome) cop, a (stupid homophobic) decision made by a church and a (dead) bishop. Where did that come from? Would I remember it all at a more reasonable hour of the morning?

Didn’t think so. But I did.

It became Adam’s Witness, a novel I never thought I’d write. Nor any novel, really.

I’m not much of a believer in intervention, divine or otherwise. Neither do I believe in astrology, but I am a perfect Virgo: analytical, critical, loyal to a fault . . . and very much with my feet planted on the hard unforgiving ground. Lightning bolts from heaven or any other mystical place do not, in my view, occur. At least, not to me.

But something happened. Somehow, my brain was trying to save my sanity, or perhaps myself. The mood did not actually improve much for a long time, in the overall; my father became desperately ill and eventually died, among other rather traumatic life events.

Even so, the creative muse eventually took hold and if nothing else served as a distraction. There’s nothing like diving into someone else’s life.

Even someone fictional.

And now, I am powerfully inclined to pitch my method of mind-bending to others. Simply, it is this: If a creative or athletic or other positive new thing is calling you, I advise answering the mental phone. Even if it’s hard.

Obvious by now is that my own escape from hell came via my creative cells, and I believe that most of us have those. Sometimes we have to go looking for them, but they are there; and in my view, they represent the best of ourselves.

Learning that I could actually sit down for longer than a few minutes, focus, type, research and write a book was an epiphany.

I am also here to tell you that publishing a book online and in print by yourself is not the easiest thing you’ll ever try, creatively or technically. Nor is trying to disseminate your new invention.

(I’m sure similar difficulties apply to all other pursuits.)

But I did it.

It boosted my self-confidence that I could learn something new — actually, several somethings. It cleared my mind of everything but my plot, characters, and message. Then it forced me to think, as they say, outside the box: how do you format a book on Amazon?

It also allowed me to blurt many of my strongly held beliefs (for example, why in the name of all that’s sane would some discriminate against or loathe LGBTQ people? Or any people?) when I had no other outlet.

To this day, I haven’t entirely sorted out why or how walking a new creative path changed my mind. Altered my brain, really. But it absolutely did. I’m quite sure it forged new synaptic pathways, and no kidding.

As to other benefits, there’s always a chance someone else might like, or even love, what you have made. Your book. Your painting. Your photograph. Your song.

You might make someone’s day. You might change their outlook for the better. You might entertain, or elevate, or excite.

But this is for certain. You have created something new and unique that did not exist before. And for that, my heartfelt congratulations.


Joanne (J.C.) Paulson, a long-time Saskatoon journalist, has been published in newspapers including The StarPhoenix, The Western Producer, the Saskatoon Express, allSaskatchewan and a variety of magazines.

She is the author of a mystery series including the novels Adam’s Witness, Broken Through, Fire Lake, Griffin’s Cure, and Two Hundred Bones, a novella. Her most recent works are a historical fiction/western novel entitled Blood and Dust, published by Black Rose Writing, and a wee children’s book, Magic Mack and The Mischief-Makers. Find her books via her website or on Amazon.


Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Empress & Soldier

A boy of the night-time streets; a girl of libraries and learning.

Druisius, the son of a merchant, is sixteen when an order from his father that he can neither forgive nor forget drives him from home and into the danger and intrigue of the military.

Eudekia, a scholar’s daughter, educated and dutiful, is not meant to be a prince’s bride. In a empire at war, and in a city beset by famine and unrest, she must prove herself worthy of its throne.

A decade after a first, brief meeting, their lives intersect again. When a delegation arrives from the lost West, asking Eudekia for sanctuary for a princess and support for a desperate war, Druisius is assigned to guard them. In the span of a few weeks, a young captain will capture the hearts of both Empress and soldier in very different ways, offering a future neither could have foreseen.

A stand-alone novel that can also serve as a second entry point into the Empire series. No previous knowledge of my fictional world is needed.

Electronic ARCs available after November 15, 2022. Email request to arboretumpress (at) gmail.com

The Lion of Skye, by J.T.T. Ryder

’Celtic’ is a magic bag, into which anything may be put, and out of which almost anything may come … Anything is possible in the fabulous Celtic twilight, which is not so much a twilight of the gods as of the reason.

This J.R.R. Tolkien quote would be an apt epigram for The Lion of Skye. Not in a derogatory way, but an introductory one, a warning to the reader not to expect the world of Skye in 200BC to behave in a way consistent with the modern world of reason and causality.

The Lion of Skye picks up immediately after the end of Hag of the Hills, and it picks up running and doesn’t stop for a breath for many chapters. Brennus, now renamed Vidav after the sword he found (or was given) continues in his sworn purpose to rid Skye of the Hillmen and their queen, Slighan. Over the course of the story he will make and break alliances, battle human and the sidhe, but his oath to protect the maiden Myrnna is still a driving force.

In my review of the first of this duology, Hag of the Hills, I categorized the books as more magic realism than fantasy, because this is a world imagined through eyes and minds whose concept of reality differs from ours. Gods and monsters walk the land, and perspective swirls and shatters like the shards of a kaleidoscope. Author J.T.T. Ryder’s style reflects this; the view never stands still. Characters move from friend to foe in a few brief strokes of a sword; brothers are sworn allies and then enemies. Nothing is quite what it seems in this violent world of sworn oaths and ritual battles.

Vidav’s companions are men, but it is women who drive him forward: his hatred for Slighan, his oath to keep Myrnna safe.  His ability to see into the otherworld is a gift from the Cailleach, the hag of the hills.  He both is drawn to and repulsed by the women whose fates drive his own, whether human or something else. But they wield power, both that of sexual attraction and that of judgement, and he cannot escape that, even when he believes he has.

Ryder pulls on many sources and many legends: the Wild Hunt chases through the sky; the Blue Men of Minch, selkies, Amazons all make an appearance. They fit into Vidav’s concepts of his world; while he may be surprised they have manifested, he’s not surprised they exist. Echoes of Cuchulainn – a hero to Vidav—resonate in his worldview: death matters little, fame does.

The Lion of Skye should be read after Hag of the Hills for a full appreciation of the world and characters Ryder envisions; it lacks the worldbuilding of the first book which is necessary to understanding Brennus/Vidav and what drives him. Together they make up an unusual story steeped in mythology; an envisioning of a culture inseparable from the mountains and rivers and oceans in which it developed, and whose spirits of those places are as real to its inhabitants as the birds of the air or the fish of the sea, but with behaviour far less predictable.