An Evening With Author Jonathan Rand

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Jonathan Rand is a very funny man. Last evening the prolific children’s author  of Michigan Chillers and American Thrillers and many other books, spoke here in Battle Creek, brought to us by our friendly public library.

The auditorium was crowded with elementary-aged children. Jonathan kept them/us entertained and involved (e.g., “THIS is how you do the Spooky Laugh”), all the while encouraging children/me to write and to read. The hour passed in a blink. I wondered if anyone would say that about my presentations.

I found it interesting that last night Jonathan didn’t bring up that he self-publishes. But for someone who has sold over four million books, even after traditional publishing houses approached him, he has decided to stick with self-publication. He is a prolific author who writes every day and gets out to schools (126 during this year) and runs a summer writing camp for kids.

Now off to read a new Thriller bought last night. (Wha-ha-ha!)

Reconstruction Update

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My goal was to move back into our bedroom by the Hobbits’ birthday (today). It is a goal which may actually happen. My husband and I have not spent the night in bed together here since the May storm. Our bedroom furniture is in the livingroom, the mattress and boxsprings upright against the wall, and we get dressed in the living room. It will seem odd to actually sleep in our bedroom, in one bed, and get dressed in the bedroom. I have come to take daily changes in stride.

I am taking an on-line course from the book, THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron. It is to bring out your inner creativity. This week, one of our assignments is to list ten changes we would like to make. Suggestions were new shoes, a new bedspread, take a new class, etc. From May 29 on, every day has been filled with change.  We still have eight dumpsters in the neighborhood, and I’ve heard that one elderly neighbor passed away from the stress of being displaced. His house was split by the trees and was unlivable. It remains so. It’s true that he was elderly, but everyone in the neighborhood knows the stress of this catastrophe-recovery and how long and lingering it is. As I type this, I hear a chainsaw in the wooded lot next to us, a circular saw and hammering from another house, and some sort of drill on the other side of our house, a drill which sounds each time like a giant is clearing his nose.

Last Friday, we got new blinds installed in the master bedroom. Yesterday, while the tree removal guys took down two of our damaged trees, I spent the day finishing up preparing the master bedroom — staining the rest of the floorboards and door and closet to match what our contractor did to two floorboards; I painted the bed headboard, and painted the three air vents. Today I wiped plaster dust from the top level of the closet. Tonight I may just sleep once again with my husband. We’ll probably lay awake all night long.

What has all this to do with writing? Life. I journal. I remember. Someday you may see these things, these feelings, in a story or dozen. Or maybe some writing friends will read this and understand a portion of what it’s like to go through a catastrophe, and just how long it takes to recover.

My challenge to you is to write about what is going around you right now. It may not be construction noises, but listen and see and smell and feel, then write.

Author Interview — Miriam Jones Bradley

My third interview this week is with children’s author Miriam Jones Bradley.

Sandy: Your characters seem very alive. Where do you come up with your ideas for
your characters?

Miriam: My characters are a combination and mutation of siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, and enemies. Mostly
friends. Because my first book was based heavily on experiences my siblings, cousins, and I had at our Grandparent’s ranch, the characters ended up being a combination of all of us. I tried really hard not to make anyone too recognizable as any one person since I want my friends and family to like me.
Some characters are directly from real people. The Grandma in the book is definitely my Grandma. Sometimes I will see someone somewhere and they will make an impression which I file away and they pop into my book.   

Sandy: For today’s writers, creativity is only part of the game. Can you address
some things you have done on the business side (marketing, publicity,
booksignings, etc.)?

Miriam: I have done book signings (I don’t sit behind the table, I stand in front of it and catch people walking by. I give
them a business card and tell them why I am there. If they act interested I keep talking. I have been to fairs and book conventions. I have developed a power point presentation and been in schools talking about the writing process and selling books. I have been on the radio and TV. On radio interview was arranged by my publisher, the others I arranged. I have had newspaper and newsletter articles written about my books. Generally, if you let people know about it they want to write something. I have a blog, a website,  and a facebook page. I have
passed out flyers online and in person. I sent out a LOT of postcards which I didn’t find very effective. I tell everyone I know about it, and even some people I don’t know! I had a friend once who talked someone at the next table in the restaurant into buying a book. . . Smile Smile


Sandy: Where is your favorite place to be creative?

Miriam: In a group discussion with my nieces and nephews. . . they have great plot ideas and I get the child’s perspective. I always get my best ideas when brainstorming with someone. I write best at home because I can putter between scenes. I have the cleanest house when I am writing. . .

Sandy: What three recommendations do you have for other writers?

Miriam: Join a writers group that encourages writing and publishing, one that challenges you. Listen to the advice of others but don’t let it get in the way of your dreams. Read a lot and write as much as you can.

Website/ Blog links:!/DoubleCousinsMysteries


Random Acts of Publicity– Jacqueline McMahon

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Continuing in the three days of Darcy’s Random Acts of Publicity, I interviewed adult thrill writer Jacqueline McMahon.

Sandy: You are such a nice person. Where do you get your ideas for such creepy villains?

Jacqueline: Well thank you for the compliment and I’m glad you don’t think I’m the role model for my villains. It’s weird but I have molded Mel Hanson, my first villain, partially after someone I once knew who had a real dark side hidden under what most people thought was an outgoing, wonderful person. I also try to think of what would scare me in a villain and use that to add more characteristics. But the other side of my villain is to find a reason for the behavior. I don’t think villains are as scary when they are just mean to be mean. I wanted just a touch of vulnerability in Mel. The reader may never feel sorry for him but they will perhaps understand how he could get the way he is now.

Sandy: For today’s writers, creativity is only part of the game. Can you address some things you have done on the business side (marketing, publicity, booksignings, etc.)?

Jacqueline: This is definitely the harder part of the writing business, at least for me. I’d much rather spend long hours inside my book world with my characters than trying to figure out how to market myself. That being said though, I have done a lot of reading and researching on this topic and have utilized several ways to get myself known and also to publicize my book.


Facebook page for my writing

Blog posts about my book, the genre (suspense), publishing tips etc.

Asking colleagues to write reviews or allow me to post their comments after reading the book

Sent out a mass email to friends/family/colleagues/business contact etc. advertising my book.

Added my book to a bunch of sites including Goodreads, The Book Marketing Network, Linkedin, Red Room (where the writers are). My book is also available at the publisher’s website (Red Rose Publishing), on Bookstrand,, Amazon (kindle store) and some other ebook sites.

Wrote a press release and published it online.

Sent a press release to local papers.


I did an e-book signing event at the local public library (burned copies of my ebook and some extras like bios of my heroine and villain, the first chapter of the sequel, my bio and all the places where my ebook can be bought). I offered some prizes (made mugs/bags/journals with my book cover on them at Cafe Press) and also had a huge cake with the cover of my book printed on the top. That event was very successful and I could autograph the CD copies for everyone.

Set up a table at different local events, again with CD copies of my ebook, and sold them that way.

I am booked to speak at a retired teacher’s sorority meeting, a book club and for a church group.

Took several copies of my ebook on CD to a local writers’ club meeting and sold a few copies there as well.

Did an interview with a local arts & culture magazine

Sandy: Your book is very successful as an ebook. How did you decide to publish in this venue and would you recommend it to others?

Jacqueline: I hadn’t given ebook versus print book any thought until I was propelled into the whole digital publishing world. I pitched my book to a publisher, who asked to read the full manuscript. They offered me a contract. Initially, they publish new authors in ebook format first. Books that sell well eventually get into trade paperback print form as well. I’m currently waiting to get the book into print, which I believe will open it up to yet another audience. Although many people are moving toward ebooks and ebook readers, just as many, maybe more, still like the feel of a real book in their hands.

The whole ebook technology means that more new authors can have a shot at being published (and I don’t mean self-published). Smaller publishers can invest in ebooks without the same cost as the print run, therefore likely being able to publish more works and perhaps take a chance on a new writer where the bigger, traditional publishers may not.

I think everybody should decide for themselves whether they want to go the ebook route or the print route

Sandy: Where is your favorite place to be creative?

Jacqueline: Although I’m faster at my desktop (downstairs in the dining room where it’s bright from my bay window), when I need to think and create, I head for my second floor bedroom. It’s painted a burgundy color with beautiful white wooden trims and a white ceiling. I have twinkle lights all around the ceiling. My wooden bookcases and cupboards are in there as well. The whole room is so warm and rich feeling and also so comforting and welcoming. I find myself capable of my best creativity in there. And believe it or not, my best creativity comes in the form of using pen and paper. I have tons of different hard and soft cover notebooks that I use, often keeping one of each project. I plotted an entire suspense novel (my 3rd) in an entire afternoon in that room.

Sandy: What three recommendations do you have for other writers?

Jacqueline: Don’t jump the gun. Make sure your work is the best it can be before querying or subbing it anywhere. (I can’t stress this enough)

Be prepared for rejection. It’s inevitable and it can happen over and over. It’s what you learn from the rejections that can help you succeed as a writer

Find a group of writing colleagues that you trust and who are on the same path to publication. Make sure they are as serious as you are. Without my critique group, I’d never have gotten this far. I respect their opinions and their comments and continue to learn so much from them.

Website & Blog links:

Random Acts of Publicity 2011 — Samantha Bell

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Celebrating Darcy Pattison’s Random Acts of publicity, I have interviews this week with authors and an illustrator-author. My first is Samantha Bell.

Samantha has illustrated:
Cathy’s Animal Garden: Enter at Your Own Risk (Alma Little)
Cinderfella and the Furry Godmother (Guardian Angel Publishing)
Burgher and the WoeBeGone (GA Publishing)
As I Watch (GA)
Growing Up Dreams (GA)
One Pelican at a Time (GA)
Shaping Up the Year (GA)

Samantha has written & Illustrated:
It’s Birthday Time, Jake! (GA)

Sandy: Where do you get your inspiration for your illustrations?
Samantha: My inspiration would have to be my children. They’ve posed for me for several books, and they’re always in my thoughts while I’m
working on a story. I think about how they might act or react as I’m drawing the characters, and I consider what they would enjoy looking at in a finished picture book. After I complete a sketch, I ask them to critique it, and they’ll tell me if they think something appears “off” or doesn’t look quite right. I’d like to say they’re my biggest fans, but, truth be told, they’re my best critics! 🙂
Sandy: As a wife and homeschooler of four children, how do you balance in writing and illustrating? 
Samantha: Not very well. But I think that’s true for any mom with children at home. When I work on a project, I feel I need at least a
couple hours of quiet to get in the “creative mode” and work effectively, but uninterrupted time is often hard to come by. Instead, I have to find an hour here or a half-hour there whenever I can, usually after most of the kids have gone to bed. But when I’m really crunched with a deadline, I send everyone off for the day with my husband; they have a good time with dad, and I get some things accomplished.
Sandy: For today’s writers/illustrators, creativity is only part of the game. Can you address some things you have done on the business side (marketing, publicity, booksignings, etc.)?
Samantha: How true! The business side is something every writer and illustrator needs to learn about, and one I’m still becoming acquainted with. I’m not a salesman, so marketing is not my forte, though with the abundance of traditional books, self-published books, and
e-books, it needs to be something I can do well.  Social marketing offers great opportunities; I just tweeted my first tweet on Twitter this month; I’m still learning all the ins and outs of that venue. And while I have a personal Facebook account, I also need to utilize it a lot more too. But I do enjoy teaching, so I’ve created a workshop for kids about how picture books are made, beginning with the author writing the story all the way to the final publication. I’ve presented it both as a library program and homeschooling program, and I’ve been asked to do it at a local school as well. Opportunities like that not only help promote my books, but they allow me to share my passion with the students and hopefully stir their passion, too.
Sandy: Where is your favorite place to be creative?
Samantha: I love being outdoors, and while that works for sketching, it’s not always easy for me to set up a place to paint outside. So in our home, I have a small room with two large windows that used to be the baby’s room (he’s seven now), and it’s full of my stuff. Some of my favorite things are on the walls; I have a clock that my oldest made when he was about four years old, some of the crafts my kids did over the years, a photo collage of our immediate family that my niece made for me, and my late dad’s architectural and engineering certificates. I also have the homemade cards my kids have made for me strung across the windows in lieu of valances. I have a bulletin board for reminders, three small bookshelves, a couple filing cabinets, a metal cabinet (featuring my kids artwork) to hold art supplies, a chair, a radio/CD player, a laptop, and two tables to work on, one being my dad’s drafting table. Really, it’s a small room — I have just enough room to turn around and take a few steps, but I love it!
Sandy: What three recommendations do you have for other writers/illustrators?
1. Learn, learn, learn!  There are so many writers/illustrators who are willing to share what they know to help you succeed. Get connected at
conferences, workshops, online forums — and ask questions! Learn from those who are where you want to be, and find out how they got there.
2. Practice, practice, practice!  As with anything you want to do well, writing and illustrating take practice. And the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

3. Don’t give up! It may take a lot of submissions and you may meet with a lot of rejections, but keep on trying. My kids and I looked up some quotes about failure when one of them wanted to give up, and here are two of our favorites:”Life’s real failure is when you do not realize how close you were to success when you gave up.” – Anonymous

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” – Benjamin Franklin. 🙂
You can find Samantha at:

Train Ride Equals People-Watching Time

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Early tomorrow I head home. It’s an eight-hour and 13 minute travel time… by train. My hubby is there to meet me. I’ll be traveling alone. And how does a writer spend so much time alone? Several ways. I’m taking enough with me to keep me busy for a couple of months. But I will have to restrict my writing and reading time so I can spend time people-watching.

Not only are there conversations to listen in on, but there are character — oops. I mean people — interrelationships to observe.  Or one of my favorite pastimes: make up character tags on interesting sorts. What day job does that man have? What would be a good name for a woman who dresses like that? How many times has that kid asked that question, and why aren’t his grown-ups listening to him? What happened to that girl to make her give such a look?

What fun. I can’t wait to “meet” the dozens of new potential characters.

The Good Thing about Angry, Irrational People

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The only good thing about angry, irrational people is that they make for memorable characters in stories — the stuff of nightmares, that is. You know. The bad guy whom the hero must somehow overcome, sidestep, or avoid in order to achieve his goal. He is the antagonist who lies or tricks or slashes out in anger for some unknown reason at the hero, or gives a reason which simply makes no sense.

Oh, hey. I have a living example of this sort, one of the storm reconstruction men working on our house. He’s made so many threats to us, and even insisted on holding us captive at a life-changing time of our lives until we called in his boss, and now the crazy man is so mad at us that I wonder if it would have been safer to be held captive. I won’t go into detail for fear of what may happen to us or our property were he to be identified in more than vague worker terms. Seriously.

Writing about him from the “end” of the story, from the realization of what this guy is really like, makes you wonder why we trusted him at all. You see, he didn’t start out that way. He morphed through the weeks from gentle golden retriever character, wanting to please us, to pit bull, watching our every move, manipulating us to turn in this direction or that, poised to strike for no reason. (Apologies to pit bulls.) Just like in any good story, we are given only bits and pieces of what the characters are like until by the end of the book, their full character is revealed. All I can say is that this angry, irrational man has a key to our house, hasn’t returned it, and we are having the locks changed. Unfortunately, the paranoid part of me remembers a locksmith friend telling me that locks are intended for honest people.

Ah, the continuing saga of storm reconstruction stories. It’s not just about the material damage, it’s also about the people, people all around us.

Do you have vivid, real “characters” in your lives who evoke deep feelings? Hang on to them. Remember them. Use them. Translate them into heroes or villains in your stories. And keep on writing.

Bad Catastrophe Thieves

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I just found out why, after paying insurance premiums for decades, we have to give our insurance check to our mortgage company, who will pay us upon three inspection completions, the last two of which we must pay for. (Oh, the things you learn in a catastrophe which you hope and pray you will never have to use again.) Two reasons: 1) stupid bankers who dished out money to people who couldn’t pay it back and now WE have to pay for their misjudgments; and 2) stupid Katrina homeowners who were given half the price of their ruined homes up front, and then, because of the drop in the housing market, knew they couldn’t get any more for their house even if they did rebuild, so took off with that money – thus leaving the bank hounding the insurance companies for the remaining half. And who pays for that, too? The banks? The homeowner thieves? Nope and nope. Us honest folk.

Someday… someday I’ll be able to use all this catastrophe knowledge in my writing. But I’m doing historical fiction and fantasy at the moment. So right now I’m just crossing my arms and stamping my feet at the situation. Does it help, you ask? Very good question.

Sometimes Non-Writing is Writing

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This week I told my critique group we all should write a going-back-to-school essay titled “How I Survived Summer 2011.” I was only half-joking. Then came the confessions how this and that have put a temporary halt to our writing times. Have I been doing a lot of writing this summer? Emphatically, NO. Have I been doing writing-related things? Equally stated: YES. Contradictory statements? Only to those who aren’t writers.

Before this summer, who would have thought I would be able to instantly tell the difference between saw sounds? If someone said, “make a saw sound,” I would have just thought of the boring back and forth sound of a hand saw. Boy, have I learned a lot. There are chain saws (the loudest of the bunch, especially when there are two dozen of them going at once in our neighborhood for weeks). There are stump-removers, circular saws, brick slicers, and several others I can identify from several houses away.

There are also the radios construction guys use. Each group listens to a different channel, blaring between their shouts to each other and tool noises they make. Of course, there are the groups which work without music, too. Why music? Why not? And why am I writing about this? Because it’s writing-related!

Perhaps I’ll write about sawing in a story. I won’t have to do much research, at least not in the area of how a particular saw would sound. And the business with the music? Characterization. My journals this summer fill up really quickly, and there’s still lots of summer left.

I may not have Rose’s summer distractions of kid herds screaming and laughing in and out of my house, racing up and down the stairs, but I know that Rose is taking in her own non-writing-but-writing-related experiences. And Rose is still thinking writing.

I suppose I could leave this mess and go away to some quite place to type like crazy. But I’m doing that here, amidst construction noise and strangers walking in and out of every door of our house. If I left, then I’d miss out on all this craziness. Now, I just need to find the balance between the activity and my sanity. (Time to journal!)