Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poetry Corner ~ Calling all Poets ~ Second Casting Call

Happy Saturday to all :-)

Once again, I figured we would have some fun on Mystery Writers Unite and see if we can get some of those shy visitors out there to post either some of their own poetry or a poem from one of the favorite authors.

Here is my selected poem for this casting call....


Please come and find me amongst my white walls,
I've lost my sense of direction somehow,
Drifting in and out of awareness,
I'm not even sure I'm still alive,

I am -- aren't I?

You don't have to join me here,
Just stay awhile and touch me with your sanity,
Let my mind rest just for a while,
Because you make me feel so alive,

You do -- don't you?

When you leave I'll drift back to this place,
All the feelings will return once again,
I'll become as numb as I was before,
That's alright thought you want me here,

My comfort zone -- or is it?

Written by Becky Illson-Skinner

Friday, October 21, 2011

Author Interview ~ Melissa Foster

Hi all,
I’m very excited about today’s blog post here on Mystery Writers Unite because I get to share with you an interview that I had with Melissa Foster, author of Chasing Amanda, Megan's Way and Come Back To Me
WOW! This is one hard working, talented, and inspirational woman!!
---- Interview
MWU: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer and what inspired you to write your first book?
Melissa: Hi Becky, thanks so much for having me on your blog today. I’m thrilled to be here.
My answer will appear different than it had in previous interviews, because I’ve not spent time thinking back to my youth and trying to figure out just when that exact moment hit. I don’t think I realized at a young age that I wanted to write, but when I was sixteen I wanted to either be a journalist or an attorney—I know, vastly different fields. That was probably the first time that the urge to write was strong enough for me to take note.
MWU: I read in one of your previous interviews that your writing style has streamlined from one book to another. In what way(s) and how much time do you think you shaved from bringing an idea that has been roaming in your mind to a novel?
Melissa: I’m laughing as I’m reading this because yes, that was true two months ago. I have learned to conceptualize more of the story before writing, and for COME BACK TO ME, my newest release, that helped streamline the writing process tremendously. Now, however, I’m writing a suspense novel and I’m finding that conceptualizing in the same level of detail as I did with COME BACK TO ME is nearly impossible. It’s a different type of story, and to a greater extent must develop and grow as I learn more about the characters and setting as I write. So…not much time has been shaved for this particular writing period.
MWU: What is the most difficult task you face when writing a book? For example, designing the cover, deciding on layout, marketing, self-promotion, etc.
Melissa: For all of my confidence when helping others, I’m equally insecure. That’s a secret :-) The most difficult part for me is letting my books go. When they’re released into the hands of the public, it’s the scariest time for me, and as such, the most difficult. I’ve said before that I feel naked when a book is released, and I’m not sure if I’ll be whistled at or beaned with tomatoes. I love whistles…please whistle.

MWU: Do you typically title your books before they are written based on the idea brewing in your mind or do you wait a bit to see how the story unfolds before you decide upon a name? I read that Chasing Amanda was originally titled “The Knowing” when you began writing it…why did you decide to change the title part way through?
Melissa: Yes. I’m weird with my titles. Sometimes I can’t move forward with writing unless I feel the title. I’m currently in a quandary over the working title for my next novel, and it’s amazing to me how many hours I can stare at my computer monitor figuring out the title.
MWU: Characters in Chasing Amanda and Megan’s Way have been given super natural gifts and I wondered if you could have a power bestowed upon you what would you want it to be and why?
Melissa: I would want the power to heal. Too many people are touched by unfair diseases. I wish I could help those people.
MWU: To date, and based upon all three books you’ve written, which character(s) have been the hardest for you to create and why?
Melissa: I had a difficult time creating April in COME BACK TO ME. She had a very different personality then that of my other characters. She was very hard on the outside, and a scared little girl, hiding from the pain of her past on the inside. Even though that’s not such a stretch for me, personally, it certainly was the most difficult character to develop.
MWU: Are any of your past characters really you in disguise? Are any of the characters in your books based on people you know?
Melissa: **Smiling** I get asked that a lot, and I like to think that no, these are not pieces of me, but the reality is that we write what we know. I do feel that in MEGAN’S WAY, there was some of me in both Megan and Olivia. If you’ve read the story, and the personal information in the back of the book, then you know that story is a very personal one. It was quite easy to step into the shoes of both Olivia and Megan, as daughter, and as mother, and develop the characters.
In CHASING AMANDA, I probably unknowingly gave Molly some of my stubbornness :-)
MWU: I know that Megan’s Way is being made into a film (Congratulations!!) and I was wondering how that project a) came about and b) how it is going and c) when can your fans expect to see it in theatres?
Melissa: Yes, thank you! I self published MEGAN’S WAY in 2009, and feedback from readers was overwhelming.  Many stated that they’d love to see the book adapted to film. One day my husband suggested that I pursue the idea. I called Dakota Fanning’s agent and we spoke for about 45 minutes (she’s just lovely). She asked me to send the book. Three weeks later she asked me to send a copy to Dakota, and Dakota’s manager. About six weeks later she asked for a screenplay. I’m not a screenplay writer, but I went to work with a local screenplay writer, developed a script, and she turned it down. During that time, I had also written a direct adaptation.
This past summer, I was connected with my new director, Lynn d’Angona (LULU ASKEW, THE PROPOSAL, X-FILES, etc.).  We really hit it off. I feel very blessed to have connected with her.

Lynn is directing MEGAN’S WAY through the New England Film Factory, with producer Nan Morales (EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES, YOUTH IN REVOLT, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, RUNAWAY BRIDE, etc.). Filming will take place in Cape Cod and I have full confidence in both Lynn and Nan. I’m excited to be part of this next adventure!

It’s my understanding that the process takes about 18 months. I’m just as anxious as you are!

MWU: What books or authors have influenced your writing? If you had to choose a writing mentor, who would that be?
Melissa: I answer this question a lot, and every book I read helps me in some way, whether it’s how I want to write or effects I want to stay away from. The one author who has influenced my writing from day 1 was Jodi Picoult. Her books drew me in on an emotional level in a way that others didn’t. Harlen Coben’s books did the same thing. To this day, if I read Harlen, I have to look at his photo several times because they’re so emotionally compelling that I can’t help but think they’re written by a woman (totally sexist remark. I apologize).
MWU: If you could part with one morsel of wisdom for new writers, what would that be?
Melissa: Never stop writing, never skip a professional editor, and don’t be in a rush to put out work that isn’t the best it can be. (oops, that’s three, sorry).
MWU: What are you working on now and when can we expect to see your next new novel?
Melissa: I’m currently working on FINDING KARA KNIGHT/FRACTURED MIND (unsure of working title), a suspense novel set in a small, blue-collar town. I have just begun writing this story, so I don’t have a great one liner for you yet, but I’ll try.
Kara Knight is on track to finally move away from the painful memories of a dysfunctional past—until the day she disappears. The very people she was trying to leave behind might be her only hope of survival.

FINDING KARA KNIGHT/FRACTURED MIND is a psychological thriller that will make you question your every memory.
I know how busy you are and wanted to thank you for taking the time to let me interview you for Mystery Writers Unite – this is a fairly new blog and I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to showcase your talents!
Becky, I feel blessed to have connected with you. Social media has opened such wonderful avenues to connect with readers and the literary community. Thank you for reaching out to me, and for having me as your guest. It has been my pleasure to be part of this project with you, and I hope to remain connected for years to come.
------ Melissa Foster Books

Synopsis for Chasing Amanda

Nine years ago, Molly Tanner witnessed a young girl's abduction in the busy city of Philadelphia, shifting her occasional clairvoyance into overdrive. Two days later, the girl's body was found, and Molly's life fell apart. Consumed by guilt for not acting upon her visions, and on the brink of losing her family, Molly escaped the torturous reminders in the city, fleeing to the safety of the close-knit rural community of Boyds, Maryland.

Molly's life is back on track, her son has begun college, and she and her husband have finally rekindled their relationship. Their fresh start is shattered when a seven-year-old girl disappears from a local part near Molly's home. Unable to turn her back on another child and troubled by memories of the past, Molly sets out to find her, jeopardizing the marriage she'd fought so hard to hold together.  While unearthing clues and struggling to decipher her visions, Molly discovers another side of Boyds, where the residents--and the land itself--hold potentially lethal secrets, and exposes another side of her husband, one that threatens to tear them apart.

Chasing Amanda Awards:

2011 Readers Favorite Awards, Winner (Paranormal), Finalist, (Women's Fiction, Mystery)
2011 Dan Poynter's Global eBook Awards, Winner, (Paranormal)

Order your eBook copy of Chasing Amanda  
Order your paperback copy of Chasing Amanda
Synopsis for Megan's Way

What would you give up for the people you love?

When Megan Taylor, a single mother and artist living in Cape Cod, receives the shocking news that her cancer has returned, she's faced with the most difficult decision she's ever had to make. the love she has for her daughter, Olivia, and her closest friends will be stretched and frayed.

Megan's illness reawakens the torment of her best friend, Holly Townsend, whose long-held secrets and years of betrayal come back to haunt her. How does one choose between a daughter and a life-long best friend? Can the secret she has been keeping be revealed after years of lying without destroying everyone in its wake? Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Olivia's world is falling apart right before her eyes, and there's nothing she can do about it. She finds herself acting in ways she cannot even begin to understand. When her internal struggles turn to dangerous behavior, even the paranormal connection she shares with her mother might not be enough to save her - her life will hang in the balance.

Megan's Way is a journey of self-discovery and heartfelt emotions, exploring the depth of the mother-daughter bond, and the intricacies of friendship.

Megan's Way Awards:

2010 Next Generation Indie Book Award, Finalist (Spirituality)
2011 Beach Book Award, Winner (Spirituality)
2011 Readers Favorite Awards, Winner (Fiction/Drama), Finalist (Women's Fiction)

Order your eBook copy of Megan's Way
Order your paperback copy of Megan's Way
Synopsis for Come Back to Me

Tess Johnson has it all, Beau, her handsome photographer husband, a thriving business, and a newly discovered pregnancy. When Beau accepts an overseas photography assignment, Tess decides to wait to reveal her secret -- only she's never given the chance. Beau's helicopter crashes in the desert.

As Tess struggles to put her life back together and deal with the pregnancy she can no longer hide a new client appears offering more than just a new project.

Meanwhile, two Iraqi women who are fleeing Honor Killings find Beau alive in the middle of the desert, his body ravaged. Suha, a doctor, and Samira, a widow and mother of three young children, nurse him back to health in a makeshift tent. Beau bonds with the women and children, and together, with the help of an underground organization, they continue their dangerous escape.

What happens next is a test of loyalties, strength, and love.

Order your eBook copy of Come Back To Me

You can follow Melissa on: her webiste, Facebook, Twitter
and The Woman's Nest

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Genre Question

Hi all :-)

Here is a topic of debate: 

As a writer, should you write only one genre or , like actors and actresses,  should you stretch your limits and try and write many different genres? 

I've heard both sides to the debate:

Some people think that writers should focus on one genre and one only (e.g. once a writrer of mystery, always a writer of mystery). That they should become an expert in that particular genre and build a strong following. Does this mean that the writer is branding the genre and not themselves?

Othere people believe that writers should never be tied to one genre but instead they should use their talents and their creative thoughts to write about whatever comes to them and not worry about branding a specific kind of book / audience. These writers would have to have a strong focus on branding themselves and not their work.

Personally, I think I tend to agree more with the latter statement as I believe that writers can cross from writing a thriller to a romance novel. I think writing should be based upon whatever creative thought takes place in a writers mind and that this process shouldn't be inhibited by genre.

What do you think? Also, if you agree with me, do you think writers should have a different pen name for each book genre they write or should they use the same name regardless of genre?

Have a great day!!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Self-Editing EHLP!!

Wendsday....ah, the ewek is alsot done!

I guess the above sentence shows the importance of editing and of course I did it to make a point. If you are like me, you will read your work over and over again and think you've managed to get all your typos, miss-spellings and quirks out of your writing only to have it read by a friend and they find a mistake in the first chapter and you feel deflated -- DON'T because this is normal. It's always harder to see our own mistakes and that is why it is so important to edit, edit, edit.

There are several resources available for this and I've reviewed three to help save other authors and writers some time.

Amazon Rating: #12027 in books, 4 1/2 stars (173 reviews)

Product Description: Both novice and seasoned fiction writers can ensure themselves greater publishing success by correcting textual problems before submitting their manuscripts to an editor. This exemplary instruction manual offers readers the wisdom of two experienced editors who focus on writing/editing techniques (the mechanics of dialog, characterization, point of view, etc.). Adhering to fiction's underlying principle of "show and tell," this lively text includes both good and bad examples in each lesson. At the end of every chapter is a tip checklist to match against one's own work and two or three exercises with which to practice and reinforce the chapter's topic. A superb tutorial for anyone wanting to learn from pros how to polish fiction writing with panache.

Amazon Rating: #37947 in books, 5 stars (27 reviews)

Product Description: Turn your knack for language into a lucrative career with must-know techniques and resources for maximizing your accuracy and speed.

Interested in becoming a copyeditor or proofreader? Want to know more about what each job entails? This friendly guide helps you position yourself for success. Polish your skills, build a winning résumé and land the job you've always wanted. Books, magazines, Web sites, corporate documents - find out how to improve any type of publication and make yourself indispensable to writers, editors, and your boss.
  • Balance between style and rules
  • Master the art of the query
  • Use proofreader symbols
  • Edit and proof electronic documents
  • Build a solid freelancing career

    Amazon Rating: #17676 in books, 5 stars (5 reviews)

    Product Description: Editing is often seen as one item on a list of steps in the writing process—usually put somewhere near the end, and often completely crowded out of writer's workshop. Too many times daily editing lessons happen in a vacuum, with no relationship to what students are writing.

    In Everyday Editing, Jeff Anderson asks teachers to reflect on what sort of message this approach sends to students. Does it tell them that editing and revision are meaningful parts of the writing process, or just a hunt for errors with a 50/50 chance of getting it right—comma or no comma?

    Instead of rehearsing errors and drilling students on what's wrong with a sentence, Jeff invites students to look carefully at their writing along with mentor texts, and to think about how punctuation, grammar, and style can be best used to hone and communicate meaning.

    Written in Jeff's characteristically witty style, this refreshing and practical guide offers an overview of his approach to editing within the writing workshop as well as ten detailed sets of lessons covering everything from apostrophes to serial commas. These lessons can be used throughout the year to replace Daily Oral Language or error-based editing strategies with a more effective method for improving student writing. 

    Make sure your writing is the best it can be and make sure you edit :-)


    Tuesday, October 18, 2011

    Author Interview ~ James P. Wilcox

    Happy Tuesday and what a funtastic day it is for Mystery Writers Unite!
    I was recently given the opportunity and pleasure to interview James P. Wilcox, author of The M-16 Agenda (see below) and Sex, Lies, and the Classroom (see below).  He has begun working on his third novel, which is due to be released (sometime in the spring of 2012, I hope).
    James is a former newspaper photographer and writer and is currently a high school teacher in Kansas City, where is lives with his wife and three children. As busy as he is, he still managed to find the time to let me interview him for my blog and for that I thank him!
    ---- Interview
    MWU: When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer and what inspired you to write your first book?
    James: I have wanted to be a writer since high school (and as much as I hate to admit it, I graduated over 20years ago), which is ironic because I wasn't a very good writer in high school. I was a reader though and a lover of stories.  I have to blame John Updike for finally pushing me to fulfill my dream of being an author.  I was reading Updike's Rabbit, Run when I realized that I could actually be a writer (and in no way am I comparing myself to Updike, he just got me going).  I think I was trying to make writing to hard before I read Rabbit, Run. This book showed me that an author doesn’t necessarily have to have multilayered and deeply complex plots and characters, and that I didn't have to have a bunch of flowery prose.  I just needed a good story, with characters who readers could relate to.  I guess it was just time.
    MWU: On average, how long does it take you to write a book? It must be difficult to juggle between teaching and family responsibilities.
    James: My first novel took roughly twelve months to write and at least as long to edit.  The second novel took even longer, almost 18 months, mostly because I have so many other things on my plate.  As a father of three and a high school Social Studies teacher, I just don't have a lot of time to write.  I try to squeeze writing in everyday, but most days I fail or I fall asleep with my writing notebook across my chest.  It has gotten worse as the kids get older because they are involved in so many activities.  I have trouble getting my grading and lesson planning finished each night and there just isn't enough time to write.  I am always thinking about my stories though, which helps me be productive when I find the time to write.
    MWU: What does your family think of your writing?
    James:  My kids think it is pretty cool that I am an author and they love looking for my books when we go into a bookstore.  In fact, my oldest son is trying to write a book of his own so he can be like Daddy (he is ten, so I know I only have a few years left of wanting to be like me).  My wife is very supportive although she doesn't always like giving up time together so I can tap away at the keyboard.
    MWU: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
    James: I am not really sure that I have any writing quirks because I simply don't have a writing routine.  I do know that I can't have anyone around when I am trying to write because there are too many distractions.  The only real quirk I have is that I often write ideas or lines of dialogue down on sticky notes (especially when I have to sit in a meeting).  I then struggle to keep track of my own notes.
    MWU: Do you have a specific writing style?
    James:  I don't think I have a style per say.  My books tend to be pretty bare-boned and straightforward (not a lot of flowery prose).  My books tend to be dialogue heavy because I want the characters to tell the story. Other than that I try to write realistic people in realistic situations with realistic reactions and realistic emotions.  In fact one reviewer called The M-16 Agenda creative non-fiction.
    MWU: How do you come up with your titles? Do you decide on them first or do you let the novel grow and make that decision closer to the end of the book?
    James: It has varied with each book.  My original title for Sex, Lies, and the Classroom was simply The Teacher, until I realized it was a dreadfully dull title for a book.  I then struggled for weeks to come up with a new title.  When I was writing my second book, The M-16 Agenda was the first thing I thought of and it stuck.  I usually try to come up with a title before I start a story, just to give myself a frame of reference.
    MWU: Do you use any of the writing software solutions that are available? If so, which one and why (what do you most like about the product)?
    James: Nope, I just write what pops into my head.  I haven’t used any writing software.  I just don’t have the time to research what is out there and I want my stories to be authentic, I want them to be true to the characters and the situations they find themselves in.
    MWU: What books or authors have influenced your writing?
    James:  I am not sure I have a good answer to this question.  I read a lot of books, but my interests are so varied that I don’t read the same author over and over.  Obviously, I credit John Updike for getting me going and I think Rabbit, Run influenced the way I approached writing Sex, Lies, and the Classroom.  I was reading Leon Uris’s A God in Ruins when I started writing The M-16 Agenda and it influenced my approach a lot.  Other than that I try to write good stories with strong characters.
    MWU: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
    James:  Surprisingly enough, I would have to say Stephen King.  His book On Writing provided me with a lot of direction, even though I don’t always follow his advice, when I finally decided to take a stab at writing.
    MWU: Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?
    James:  Writer’s block has never been a huge issue for me because I don’t have a writing routine.  As I mentioned before, I don’t get the chance to write everyday, but I am thinking about the story everyday.  I try to think through the plot, the characters, dialogue, etc. so when I do get to write I can be productive.  With that said, transitions are hard for me.  When I am moving from one setting to the next, or finish one chapter, it is difficult to start the next.  This is what I struggle with the most and causes me the most trouble.  My writer’s block is in the transitions.
    MWU: Do you write an outline before you begin to write your book?
    James:  No, which is one of the things I love about writing.  I have a general idea of how the story will begin, who the characters are, and where I want it to go, but nothing is set in stone.  I was just as surprised as anyone on how Sex, Lies, and the Classroom ended because it isn’t how I originally pictured it.  As the characters came to life and grew though, this is where they took me.  When I write, I want to let the characters take me where they need to go.  I don’t want to force them down a path that isn’t genuine.
    MWU: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
    James:  Time and editing.  It takes a lot longer to write a story than I want, especially because I have so many story ideas floating around in my head.  I thought I was a pretty good editor until I had to try and edit my own book.  I learned that I need a lot of editing help.  It is a struggle to make sure that the ideas in my head make sense on the printed page.
    MWU: Even though I write, I also read a lot and I was curious if you are reading a book at the moment and if so, which one?
    James:  I am reading several books at the moment.  Currently, I am reading a collection of short stories called Blue by Wodke Hawkinson.  I am also reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  I just finished Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson with my boys.  I also have the Book Thief by Markus Zusak waiting in the wings.  Even though I don’t have a lot of time to read, I always have a book going, even if I only manage to get a page or two in a day.
    MWU: Are there any new authors that have captured your interest?
    James:  I have been reading a lot of Indie author recently.  I have really enjoyed Pilate’s Cross by J. Alexander Greenwood and Megan’s Way and Chasing Amanda by Melissa Foster.  Also, I am enjoying Blue by Wodke Hawkinson.
    MWU: Do you have any advice for other writers?
    James:  Be true to yourself and never give up.  It is such a unique time to be a writer and the publishing industry is changing so much.  Most authors want the traditional publishing contract with a big name publisher, but there are so many other avenues for getting your books into print today.  If you believe in yourself and your story, you can successfully publish your books.  It just takes a lot of hard work, persistence, patience, and marketing.
    MWU: Do you have anything specific you would like to say to your readers?
    James:  I just hope the readers will take a chance on reading one or both of my books.  I think I have put together two strong stories with good characters and I think you will enjoy them.
    The synopsis for The M-16 Agenda is as follows:
    A man is not apt to forget the instant he becomes a killer; that one fateful instant when he takes another’s life. It would not matter that Jack Granger has killed; all soldiers train to kill, except that he is the Democratic nominee in the presidential election of 2020. Having secured the nomination as Governor of Missouri and on the strength of his M-16 Agenda, his political platform developed in the killing sands of Iraq, Jack is days away from the White House when the situation in Iraq and in Washington D.C. changes everything. Now it is a race against time, and his own past, as he makes a last ditch effort to save his bid for the presidency, and possibly the world.
    From the war torn battlegrounds of Iraq to the halls of power in Washington D.C., M-16 Agenda follows one man’s rise to the heights of political power, as he struggles to live up to the promises he made to his fellow soldiers, his family, and himself.

    MWU: I wondered, if there was a message in this novel that you wanted your readers to grasp?

    James:  Really, when I started writing this book I was looking for a way to vent my frustrations with the current state of politics in our country.  I also wanted to show people that it isn’t hopeless, that there are still people who are willing to serve and sacrifice for our country.  As the novel evolved though it became a story of personal struggle and family, wrapped around a political thriller, which I think is even better.  The message of the book is if you are willing to work hard, sacrifice and stay true to yourself, you really can change the world.
    MWU: How much of the book is realistic?
    James:  I think most of the book if realistic, in fact, one reviewer called it “creative non-fiction”.  I use contemporary issues and problems facing our world today and tried to write “real” characters.  Although it is fiction, I think it is pretty realistic.
    MWU: Are the experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
    James:  Most of Jack Granger’s (the main character) political ideas are my own and I would vote for him in a heartbeat, everything else is pure fiction.  I was never in the military and I have never run for political office.  It is just the story that Jack needed to tell.

    MWU: Did you learn anything from writing this book and if so, what?
    James:  Not everyone is going to agree with Jack’s politics and some people will actually favor Carlton Kincaid, Jack’s opponent in the book, over Jack.  I was a little surprised by this, but not every readers get what I hope they get from my books.  I also learned that it is okay to be controversial.
    MWU: What was the hardest part about writing this book?
    James:  Definitely the military jargon.  Having never served myself, I had to do a lot of research to get it right.  My father was a big help.
    MWU: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological or logistical) in bringing this book to life?
    James:  Mostly research.  I had to do a lot of research about the military, as well as treating burns.  It was also challenging psychologically because Jack faces a lot of challenge.  It was hard watching one of my characters go through so much to live up to his promises.
    MWU: Name one entity, outside of family members, that supported you to write this book.
    James:  This is a tough question because I am very private about my writing.  I don’t talk about my books with a lot of people while I am writing.  It is a very private journey for me.  I do have a fellow teacher that I bounce ideas off and give sneak peeks to.  Her name is Cynthia Knight and she teaches English.
    MWU: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about this book?
    James: Honestly, I don’t think so.  I am happy with the book and the story.  I am happy with the characters.  

    Get your eBook copy of The M-16 Agenda
    Get your paperback copy of The M-16 Agenda
    The synopsis for Sex, Lies, and the Classroom is as follows:
    Nathaniel O’Connell thought he knew what it takes to survive at Southwest High School, a low-income, ethnically diverse, inner-city school. After seven years of teaching, he thought he had discovered how to get through to these children of poverty. That was before he met Tyreshia, Krysteal, and Ebony, who know how to inflict pain, both physical and emotional. After a confrontation on the first day of school, O’Connell finds himself fighting for his reputation, his job, his family, his very survival. With his wife, Alexandria, O’Connell must battle the school system, the justice system, racism, and his own weakness, as he seeks redemption. Faced with investigations by the school’s administration, the Department of Family Services, and the District Attorney’s Office, he must find the strength and the courage to reach out to these same students to save his very soul.
    MWU: Again, I wondered, if there was a message in this novel that you wanted your readers to grasp?

    James:  There are a lot of challenges facing our public schools today, but money isn’t the solution.  The problems run much deeper than people think, especially in our inner-city schools.  The students attending these schools face so many challenges and the deck is stacked against them.  Really, I want people to understand what actually goes on in our inner-city schools.
    MWU: How much of the book is realistic?
    James:  This book is very realistic.  I taught in the urban core for four years.  I worked very hard to portray the school, the faculty, and the students in as realistic manner as possible.
    MWU: Are the experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
    James:  The book is based on my experiences teaching in the inner-city, sort of.  Although none of the things that happen to Nathaniel O’Connell (the main character) actually happened to me, they could easily happen and most teachers in these schools live in constant fear of just what I described in the book.  Most readers assume that Nathaniel is me, but he isn’t, although we do have a lot in common.
    MWU: Did you learn anything from writing this book and if so, what?
    James:  Not everyone is willing to pull the blinders off.  People don’t want to believe that things are as bad as I portray them, but I am writing from personal experience here.  Also, some readers are put off by the language in the book, although it is authentic.  In fact, I was pretty nervous about this when my mother read the book.  When she had finished, the first thing she asked me was if the students really talk the way they do in the book.  I could only shake my head and tell her it is a thousand times worse than what is in the book.
    MWU: What was the hardest part about writing this book?
    James:  Not putting myself into it.  Although I was writing based on my personal experience, I didn’t want people to think all these things had happened to me.  Although Nathaniel and I have a lot in common, Nathaniel is not me.
    MWU: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological or logistical) in bring this book to life?
    James:  Getting the dialogue and slang just right.  I listened intently and took a lot of notes so I could capture how the students talk.  It was the most difficult part for me.
    MWU: Name one entity, outside of family members, that supported you to write this book.
    James:  Matt Nevels.  He taught with me for three years in the urban core and he is one of the few people who got a look at the book while it was in progress.  He made a lot of helpful suggestions.
    MWU: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about this book?
    James: Again, I would have to say no.  I am happy with how the book turned out.
    MWU: Was it easier the second time around? If so, do you think your second novel is better than the first as a result?
    James: I don’t think it was necessarily easier to write the second novel, but I do think the writing is better in the second.  It is hard to compare the books though because the styles are so different.  It was easier in the fact that I had the confidence knowing I could actually do it.  I knew I could write a novel with the second one, because I had already done it once.
    MWU: Do you hope to become a full-time writer and give up teaching?
    Get your eBook copy of Sex, Lies, and the Classroom
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    James:  Honestly, I would love to be a full-time writer, but I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future.  Even if I could, I would always be involved in teaching though, whether through teaching writer’s workshops or helping in a college writing department.  I think I would get bored if I never had a reason to leave the house.
    MWU: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
    James: Currently I am working on a sequel to Sex, Lies, and the Classroom, tentatively titled Sacrificing Tyreshia.  I never planned to write a sequel, but enough readers have asked me, “What happens to Tyreshia and Nathaniel?” that I have decided to explore their relationship further.  Hopefully, it will be out in the spring of 2012 (again, if I can find the time to write it).

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    What can you write in 6 sentences?

    Happy Monday!!

    What can you write on my blog in 6 sentences?
    I thought we would do something fun and interactive again and seen this neat website that asked a very interesting and challenging question -- What can your write in 6 sentences? The only rule this website had for this challenge was that all 6 sentences had to be contained in one paragraph. So, what can YOU write in 6 sentences?

    I scoured the draft of the book I'm writing and found a paragraph about one of my characters that contains 6 sentences, which is as follows :-)

    "This brings us back to where he is now. He has succeeded in business and in terms of material possessions he is considered wealthy. He has a very large house with five bedrooms, two and half baths, a sunk-in living room, a sun room, a large den, and a beautiful custom made all weather veranda. Every room in the house has been professionally decorated in a traditional country classic design and the overall effect was comfortable. The property boasted an in-ground pool, Jacuzzi and a three-car garage. He also has a summer cottage, a boat, three vehicles and money in the bank and can afford to vacation as often as he would like. Yet, he’s never felt so empty or miserable in all his life. He longs to be needed again, to get his life on the “right track” and feel alive inside. Simply, he longs to be loved and to love someone."

    I encourage anyone and everyone to post a comment and see what you can write in 6 sentences!!

    Have a great Monday,


    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    Guest Blogger ~ James P. Wilcox

    I'm very excited to have my first guest blogger on Mystery Writers Unite...many thanks to James for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his experience and knowledge with us!!

    "Breaking Into the Writing Business"

    Congratulations!  You have crossed the final “t” and dotted the final “i” and your literary masterpiece is finished.  All the hours spent hunched over the keyboard have been rewarded with a book you are proud of.  Now that the writing is complete, you may be asking yourself, “What now?”  Well, I am here to give you a few pointers on breaking into the writing business.

    Now I know your first inclination is to run out and tell everyone you know (and even some that you don’t) that your book is finished.  After that, you are going to want to start selling your books and pulling in the rave reviews.  Before you start trying to fulfill this dream there are a couple of things you still need to do. 

    First, you need to find a good editor.  I know you think your manuscript is perfect, but trust me, it isn’t.  I poured over each of my manuscripts numerous times and they are still riddled with errors.  The problem with trying to edit your own work is the fact that you know what it is supposed to say.  When you are reading, you are already anticipating what comes next and you miss what is actually on the page.  You know what it is supposed to say, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that is what it says.  This is why you need a good editor and I don’t mean your husband/wife, your mother or father, or even your old high school English teacher.  You need to find someone who is a professional, someone who edits for a living.  They are trained to catch the errors we overlook and they aren’t afraid to hurt our feelings.  As a new author, this may sound intimidating and expensive, but there are reasonably priced editor out there (check with writing club, Google it, or contact other writers for recommendations) and we are talking about your reputation as a writer here.  It is worth every penny you spend.

    After your manuscript has been edited and you have made all the necessary changes, you have an important decision to make.  Are you going to try for traditional publishing or are you going to self-publish.  There are advantages to both routes and I am not going to try to sway your decision one way or another, but this is a decision you are going to have to make. 

    If you are going to try to go the traditional route, the first thing you need to do is write a quality query letter (again, contact your local writing club or other writers for tips on writing this letter).  Once your letter is complete, start sending them out to literary agents (you can find these in the Literary Market Guide or online).  Make sure you are sending your query to agents who represent your genre and who are accepting new clients.  This can be a daunting task and your may get rejection letters from hundreds of agents before you find the one willing to take you on (or you may never find one).  Once you sign with an agent, it is their job to market your book to potential publishers.  This is where you sit around and wait for good news.  Again, you might get dozens of rejections before finding a publisher, or you may never find one at all.  If you are lucky enough to find a publisher, it could take a year from the time you sign the contract until your book is actually printed (which can be a long time to wait).

    If you choose the self-publishing route, you have to decide on a company to work with.  There are a lot of self-publishing and print-on-demand companies out their and you need to do your research to find the one right for you (I recommend Createspace, which is owned by Amazon).  The self-publishing route can be fairly simple and you can get your books into customers’ hands quicker, but who is even going to know your book exists?  This is the challenge with self-publishing.

    Whether you go the traditional publishing route or self-publish, the one thing you are going to have to do yourself is market the book.  The days of publishing houses running multi-million dollar marketing campaigns are long gone and the bulk of marketing, especially with new authors, falls to the writer.  Yes, that means you.  If you aren’t willing to market your book yourself, for at least three years, then you probably shouldn’t even publish the book.  

    How does a new author market their book?  Social media is a great way to start.  When I published my first book, I immediately set up a book page on Facebook and started inviting my friends and family to join the page.  I then ran a give away (an Amazon gift certificate) to the person who got the most people to join my page.  I then emailed everyone I knew about my book.  After that I hit Twitter (I now have over 1000 followers).  I promo my books on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and I send out a steady stream of emails to my followers.  Most authors set up a webpage with a blog to help attract readers.  As you develop your marketing campaign, don’t forget to get in contact with the traditional media (radio, newspaper, and television) to try and create a buzz about your book.  Contact local bookstores and offer to do signings.  Print up bookmarks and business cards that you can hand out to everyone you meet.  Remember, this is a long process and success won’t happen over night.  If you do at least one thing to market your books everyday, whether it is to send out a tweet or sign copies at your local grocery store, you will go a long way in attracting readers, which is the goal.  Remember though, all the marketing in the world won’t cover for a bad book.  Even if you have the greatest novel ever written, there is no guarantee people will read it.  It takes a lot of hard work, persistence, patience, and luck.

    James is the author of The M-16 Agenda and Sex, Lies, and the Classroom; two books with grit and flavor! You can read the a the full interview on Mystery Writers Unite on Tuesday, October 18, 2011.