Wednesday, October 12, 2016

My Guest: Fiona Quinn

My Guest this week is a little under the weather...  in fact, we all are, as are the characters in the novels we read, and she's going to show us some clever ways authors can use this to immerse readers into scenes on the page. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Fiona Quinn

How’s the Weather? 
In Your Novel, 
It Makes a Difference.

Last weekend, I was out in the woods on an Evacuation Team with Search and Rescue. It was ninety degrees (32º C). Things had cooled down quite a bit from the last time I was out on a manhunt; that day it had been over a hundred (39º C) with a wall of humidity.

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Since I write Romantic Suspense/thrillers, I always try to note my experiences so I can bring my written words to life. In the case of searching for someone in the woods, weather matters. And I want to make the broader point that weather matters in all of our writing scenes.

Let’s start with my evac event as an example. In order to go into the woods, rescuers need to dress out; that is, we’re required to wear certain clothing to maintain our safety: boots, wool socks, long pants, long sleeved shirt, eye protection, helmet, heavy leather gloves. I was covered from head to toe except for the three or so inches between my glasses and my shirt collar. On top of that, I carried a rescue pack and equipment like rappelling webbing, a backboard, and a litter, as well as first aid bag, water for the victim and food. Water weighs a lot. Especially the amounts carried in for the heat. Ninety degrees. Remember that.

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In ninety-degree weather, a rescuer can quickly need rescuing. Rescuers are human beings, too. While often portrayed as heroic and never being aware of things like heat, Mother Nature really isn’t that kind. In ninety-degree heat, with or without the extra equipment, in that clothing, your character will be sopping wet with sweat. The sweat will make the dirt on the skin muddy. It will bring the bugs a-buzzing. It will make the character thirsty, tired, and probably a bit irritable. It will make the clothing cling uncomfortably to the skin, will increase the friction on the feet, forming blisters. Physical exertion in that weather will increase the need for water. Increase the chance of heat stroke. Use the weather to increase the misery of your character (nothing should be going well for them anyway.) 

Think about all of the wonderful ways you can describe the event once you take into account the weather: heat, cold, rain, drought, wind – it’s all plotting fodder.

The weather gives a writer plenty of ways to add beats into conversations instead of tags. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term 'beat', what I mean is that I would give environmental information or physical activity to the scene. It’s very important to resituate a reader, reminding them what’s going on. “Did you bring enough webbing?” (instead of saying, “she asked.”) Stella shielded her eyes from the sudden glare of sunlight as they moved into the clearing. This last example reminds us she’s in the woods. Here’s an example with orienting to time of day and the weather without saying, “It was four o’clock.”

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The sun struck Gloria in the eye as she pushed into the clearing. They’d only have a few more hours of daylight. The last thing she wanted was to be stuck in the woods overnight in her sweat saturated clothes and with no fire making equipment. This was a disaster in the making. With the storm moving in and the temperatures dropping so fast, how could they possibly keep the victim safe when they hadn’t prepared to protect themselves from hypothermia?

See how I also used the weather to predict a horrible outcome? That’s a hook that encourages readers to keep reading to see if that is what happened and how the characters handled the new mini-crisis. Or how they thwarted that crisis from arising in the first place.

More ways to use the weather to help your plot:

*         In the weather, you must dress your character. Clothing choices tell a lot about a character’s aesthetics and personality.

*         How they deal with feeling physically uncomfortable tells a great deal about a character’s personality. Do they grumble in their head? Do they bitch about it and want someone to solve the problem for them? Do they make themselves comfortable despite those around them? All very telling.

*         In the weather you have personal preference that gives minor information. For two of my kids, it can never be hot enough. Hundred degree days, and they feel nicely warm. One of my kids wants to move to Alaska so she will finally be cold enough. Weather is a source of conflict. If one character is cranking the air-conditioning to feel comfort while the other is turning blue and chattering, you have a dynamic that many people can relate to.

*        Weather adds to the ambiance
o        Maybe it sets the scene: Are your lovers walking through a warm summer rain and stopping in a gazebo to wait it out? They can finally take a moment and discuss how deeply they’ve fallen in love, now that the rain made them stop in an isolated place.
o        Mirrors the emotion: Is the countryside bleakly painted in winter greys and browns? Does it look as devastated as your character feels?
o      Mocks the character: It’s spring: the flowers are beautiful; couples are falling in love everywhere, and Joe just got jilted by Sadie – oh the irony of it being the season of love and your heroes heart got thrown to the ground and trampled.

If you’re a writer, I hope you’ll take advantage of the weather to help give your prose a visceral reality. Use it as the colors for painting your backdrop. Use it as a way of conveying character details. Use it to make all hell break loose and put your characters in difficult situations. Use it to best engage your readers, because we all have experienced how weather affects us.

If you’re a reader, I hope you enjoy how subtle things are written into the storyline to help you immerse yourself into the imaginary world, helping you to leave reality behind for a short time. Look for the weather next time you’re reading a book.

As my pilot friends say, Blue skies!

Canadian born, Fiona Quinn is now rooted in the Old Dominion outside of D.C. with her husband and four children. There, she homeschools, pops chocolates, devours books, and taps continuously on her laptop. Fiona is the author of the bestselling Lynx Series, with Book One, 'Weakest Lynx', a Kindle Scout book, the author of the Amazon bestseller 'Mine', and 'Chaos Is Come Again', and is the creative force behind the popular blog ThrillWriting. She also is a contributor to Virginia Is for Mysteries,
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Thank you, Fiona. If, like me, you are a die-hard fan of Fiona's Lexi Sobado character, you may want to know there's a little gem of a Lynx tale in a new short story anthology, 'Crooked Tales', where Lexi and a a few familiar friends go on a mini-mission - and the weather forms an important part of the tale too!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My Guest: Robert Wilson

My Guest this week is a bestselling, award-winning author who has even had some of his books picked up for TV series. He's here, however, to talk about something far more provocative...  Ladies and Gentlemen...

Robert Wilson

Where are we now?

The world is in the process of an extraordinary upheaval. We are living, perhaps, in a period of greater uncertainty than at any time since the end of WW2 and the onset of The Cold War. Never was the world economy so precarious as more and more people question the neoliberalist ideas that have informed the basis of global economic strategy. Never was the world in such a state of inequality. Never has politics been so divisive and people so divided. Never have we felt so threatened by implacable terrorists and the insoluble problem of climate change. Never were there so many world powers capable of destabilizing global peace. This should be an era for great crime and thriller literature.

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Great work comes from digging deep to describe a new world where a different, pervasive attitude is prevailing. John Le Carré memorably achieved this in ‘The Spy Who Came in From the Cold’ where he managed to depict not only the protagonist’s struggle in dire circumstances, but also a new global battle hidden from us all.

The publishing industry was different then. Put simply: there was no internet. Publishers were small companies producing books they wanted readers to read. They were supported by reviewers who drew readers to new books in the culture pages of newspapers read by significant numbers. They sold to bookshops that knew the titles, authors and their readers and could recommend.
Most of that has disappeared. Publishers are now huge conglomerates with accountants and shareholders who demand profits. Editorial teams no longer decide on what books will be published, but rather pitch their titles to sales and marketing who judge whether they’ll sell in the market place. They have no mid list, just best sellers and rookies. The few reviewers that remain in the diminishing culture pages cover the books that follow the trend so that their newspapers can maintain their dwindling readers. Readers have so many avenues through the internet to find out about new books that it’s impossible to quantify their effect. 75% of sales are made through Amazon who hoard all the information about their buyers, so that publishers can do little but follow trend. Fashions become imbedded and are much more difficult to break as we’ve seen from the present wave of ‘psychological thrillers’ prompted by the success of ‘Gone Girl’. The self-publishers are numerous, have no quality filters and sell their books at rock bottom prices. Amazon are only concerned by numbers, not caring if a thousand writers sell three books each or one writer sells three thousand. Bookshops are heavily demarcated and have little relationship with their customers. Everybody is following and nobody is leading.
This is the industry with which writers now have to engage.

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Six years ago, talking to a friend and her intelligent, 28 year old, high-achieving daughter, I was recalling times in the 80s, working in London, when all I wanted to do was read. I would get up early, read on the way to work, read in breaks and get back home to read. I was reading in order to get to grips with the strange world in which I was living. Books like ‘Illywhacker’, ‘London Fields’, ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, ‘The Confederacy of Dunces’ and ‘The Book of Evidence’ had done that for me. I asked the daughter, a Londoner at the time, whether the same had happened to her. Her mother said: ‘Am I going to tell him or are you?’ The answer was that it had happened to her and the last book that had done it was the latest Harry Potter. Puzzled, I asked her why? She told me she’d wanted to escape from her complicated, stressful life back into the simple pleasures of her childhood. She wasn’t alone. I was talking to a sophisticated, intelligent and well-off reader in his fifties who recently told me that he, too, reads ‘to escape’. Not Harry Potter but crime novels like Craig Johnson’s series featuring the wryly amusing Walt Longmire in the culturally unfamiliar surroundings of the wilds of Absaroka County in Wyoming.
I’d always wanted to be a travel writer. I’d travelled a lot, had strong descriptive powers and thought that this was the road for me until the travel writing industry collapsed in the late 80s early 90s. I turned to crime as a way of using the settings and my experiences to describe and understand the countries in which I was living in the context of a rapidly changing world. As my first book was published in 1995 the Fantasy wave was on the rise. By the end of the 90s children were into Harry Potter, teenagers were wrestling with vampires and the world seemed to want to revisit Middle Earth. We are still in the grip of that colossal trend.

My point here is that those of you who are thinking that the best way to bring readers on board is to attempt to explain the complex, uncertain world in which we are now living, as John Le Carré did back in 1963, then think again.

Unless, that is, the current change induces such a level of discomfort that readers feel they’re in need of new tools for this brave new world.


Robert Wilson has written thirteen novels: four West African noir, two WW2 Lisbon, four psychological crime novels set in Seville, and three international thrillers featuring kidnap consultant, Charles Boxer. A Small Death in Lisbon, won the 1999 CWA Gold Dagger. The first two Seville books were filmed by Sky Atlantic in 2012. The first Boxer book, Capital Punishment, was nominated for the 2013 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.Stealing People is out in paperback now.

Thank you Robert, for an interesting post. As my own fans will already know, one of my own formative influences is Charles Dickens, a master of wrapping stinging social comment in to entertaining tales. They will also know that I strive to do this with my own novels - entertain while taking pot-shots at all kinds of issues. One of my favourites, again as my readers are aware, is the abuse of electronic surveillance in our present society, but everything from money-laundering by Vatican banks, through questioning what information our governments have the right to withhold, to the criminal side of the Internet have all come under my critical pen whilst entertaining with my tales.

What do you think? Do readers need new tools in our frenetic times? Opinions in the comments below, please. I'll figure out a prize for the best one.

Eric @

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

11 Superstars you should be reading

Since the beginning of the year I have been proud to host ELEVEN outstanding writers from a multitude of genres here. This is another chance for you to read their articles and pick up their books. Just click on the title of the article to be taken to their post in a new tab.

Brandt Legg

Seumas Gallacher

Judith Lucci

Barb Taub

Joseph Lewis

Sarah Jane Butfield

Dianne Harman

and to finish off, one from me:

Eric J. Gates

Readers – the Bane or theBountiful?

Thank you once again to all of the Guests who interrupted their busy schedules to share pearls of writing wisdom with us all. Best wishes to all of you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Guest: Dianne Harman

My Guest this week is a seasoned writer with some practical tips for the aspiring. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Dianne Harman

So You Want to Write a Book!

People often tell me they want to write a book, but they don’t know what they’d write about. They want to know where I get the ideas for my books. How do I make them happen?

Believe me, the subject matter is all around you. What about that flower that’s growing up between the bricks you just walked on? Fantasy – did a large bird drop the seed while on a special mission from the king of birds to save the mouse from the trap the mean ogre set in his yard? 

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What about your crazy great-uncle who still talks about taking notes at a business meeting and then having several of the firm’s partners jump out of the office window when Wall Street crashed on Black Tuesday in 1929? Weave a story around that – maybe the before and after of the families of the partners or even how it affected him.

What about the young woman you saw at the supermarket this morning? She had a baby anchored on her hip and a tot in the child seat of the grocery cart. Normal enough, but what was that in her basket? A case of beer? So, who’s she buying it for? Her husband? Her lover? Herself? Seriously? At eight in the morning? Yeah, there’s definitely a story there.

And so it goes. Almost everything in every moment of every day can be woven into a story. Recently a friend came over for a glass of wine after work. She told me how she and her husband were disagreeing over something and he’d made the comment, “You’re a piece of work, but I guess you’re my piece of work.” Although it wasn’t the basis for a book, it could have been, but it’s now in a conversation that takes place in one of my soon-to-be published books.

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My husband and I were recently invited to Cuba by a fishing guide my husband has fished with for years. Since Cuba was getting ready to open up to direct travel from Americans, the guide was anxious to see if he could be one of the Americans allowed to be a fishing guide in Cuba. We went to Cayo Largo, an island off the coast of Cuba. 

The first day we were there the guide’s contact invited my husband and several of the guide’s guests to their fishing office on the island. I went with them and saw a door brightly painted with three kinds of fish on it. I asked our guide’s contact what that represented. He told me if a guest caught a tarpon, a bonefish, and a permit, all in the same day, the person was entitled to be member of the Grand Slam Club. That became the basis for 'Murder in Cuba' – egos and money intent on being the number one guide and the power of the Grand Slam Club.

A recent book of mine, 'Murdered by Words', is very loosely based on memories of going to college at a small Midwest school and the people who lived in the small town. The protagonist, Kat Denham, is widowed and makes career choices that lead to her editors’s death and fear for her own life. One thing just led to another, but what really prompted it was remembering how important the country club was to people in that small town. It became a focal point of the book.

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'Murdered by Country Music' came about simply because I was at a physical therapist’s office having a little work done on my lower back. While I was being treated, I overheard a conversation between a couple of the therapists regarding two music festivals that were going to be taking place near Palm Springs, California, in a few months. They were talking about mollies, Fireball whiskey, and just being part of the experience. I’d heard of the festivals, but had no idea what mollies and Fireball whiskey were. Thus began my education into the world of music festivals. We don’t live too far from Palm Springs, so my husband and I went there for the weekend to see if I could get a sense of the music festivals. That was the seed of the book. Although it’s a complete figment of my imagination, it came about because of the conversation I’d overheard.

So what’s the purpose of telling you about these books and things that are noticed? Ideas for books are everywhere. They’re in almost every conversation you hear, everything you experience, and everything you see. It’s up to you to give them life. In the words of the advertiser Nike, 

Just Do It! Write that book!

Dianne lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, Tom, and her boxer dog, Kelly. When she's not writing, you can find her cooking or playing in the yard with Kelly.

She's the author of four cozy mystery series, Cedar Bay, Liz Lucas, High Desert, and Midwest, as well as the suspense series, Coyote. If you'd like to sample her books, please go to and get free books.

When not finding interesting ways to murder people, Dianne can be located here:

Twitter:  @DianneDHarman

Thank you, Dianne, for that great advice. Come on people, this practical post is definitely one to bookmark!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

My Guest: Sarah Jane Butfield

Curiously, I've just realized I have never had a non-fiction author as a Guest since this blog started over four years ago. Well, let's remedy that now, and who better than this week's visitor to give us some practical tips. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Sarah Jane Butfield

Everyone has a story

I am sure I am not alone in being familiar with the phrase ‘Everyone has a story’ and I actually used it as the name of my very first blog which I created long before I even dared to dream of becoming a published author. I have always compared it to the other well-known adage, ‘having your 15 minutes of fame’ and as such, at that time, I thought that writing a story to be published or having 15 minutes of fame was something that happened to other people, not me. Who did I think these other people were? Well, people who had interesting stories to tell or a skill that made them topical or worthy of public acknowledgement. With this in mind I will give you a little background to my accidental foray into the publishing arena.

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Although I have kept a journal, on and off since my teenage years, it was after the huge physical and psychological impact of the Brisbane floods in Australian 2011, when our newly renovated home in the suburb of Ipswich, Queensland, was totally submerged that the power of a journal really came into effect. However, at the time I had no idea that my scruffy notebook style journal would become the catalyst for a series of travel memoirs and which would later move me into the world of mentoring other new authors with a story to tell.

My personal bucket list of over the years has included a variety of travel and personal objectives. Some I have achieved, while others are still regarded as ‘work in progress’ or ‘this could take a small miracle’ type projects. One of my bucket list items was to write a romance novel, in the Mills and Boon style, although I never believed I would publish it, but I wanted to achieve the writing aspect of it. I have enjoyed reading romantic fiction since I was about 18 and many times whilst reading, I day-dreamed about being the next Jackie Collins. In February 2011 after the floods we had to relocate from Queensland to Tasmania to live with my father-in-law while we started to try and piece together the remnants of our life in Australia and start over with a very unsure future ahead of us. I started studying how to write a romance novel as a way of keeping my bucket list dream alive and to give me something positive to focus on as the bureaucratic process of the flood's aftermath started. Alongside this I continued writing in my trusty journal documenting the personal journey we were undertaking to regain a degree of normality to our lives. This cathartic form of therapy helped to distract me from the psychological impact of what we now faced as a family. I am not a materialistic person and the loss
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of a house and its contents was one aspect that could be replaced, resolved or dealt with through a physical process. However, the loss of very personal items which are irreplaceable and which carry huge sentimental and emotional attachments, such as items made by the children during their school years, old birthday and Christmas cards with funny heart-warming messages from the children at the various stages of their journey through childhood into adulthood made an indelible stain on my heart. It was from this pain and sense of loss that the reflective element of my journal deepened. With little help available to us to help us deal with the personal aftermath of the floods, as we had relocated away from the scene of the devastation, it became a very personal journey to rebuild our lives. Finding a new home to rent, sourcing new jobs, a new school and a CRPS specialist for Jaime were all essential tasks to start restoring the basic elements of everyday life. During this transitional period, we needed more than ever before to remain positive in our outlook especially when in contact with our friends and family back in the UK, so that they did not worry more that was necessary and feel even more frustrated that they couldn’t help us on a practical level.

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When I started my new job as Injury Management Coordinator for Allianz Insurance Australia I recounted the story of how we came to be living in Hobart many times, as I met new people who were naturally curious about why a UK expat couple would firstly move to Alice Springs and then be left almost destitute in Queensland after the floods and ultimately end up in Tasmania. As one of the insurance companies that made the decision to not pay-out on the Queensland flood claims, at that time, there was degree of awkwardness initially when senior management visited, even though we had not been insured with Allianz in Queensland. I think that as they came to know me and my family, and as it is a very family oriented business, I became the personal face of an unseen tragedy. Regularly people would say “you couldn’t make this stuff up” or “it’s like the premise of a good movie or novel” and looking back it was from these tiny seeds of inspiration or maybe motivation to share our story that I began writing what would go on to become my debut travel memoir, ‘Glass Half Full Our Australian Adventure.

By the time I was at the stage of working out what to do with this book I had written we were living in France, which is another story you can read about in ‘Two Dogs and a suitcase: Clueless in Charente the journal was filling up again. With a very erratic internet service and whilst sitting in the building site of a house which was now our home I decided to self-publish my book expecting my audience to
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be that of friends and family who were curious about the way our life had been changed by the events of 2011. However, as I networked with other self-published authors, initially in my genre and later across all genres, I became hooked on the process and the total control that it allows you to develop as writer and a book promoter. Emails from readers started arriving with questions and feedback, all aimed at helping me to develop as an author and to give the readers who were now developing into fans and sometimes friends, more of what they wanted. And the rest as they say is history.  I became ‘The Accidental Author’ of a travel memoir series and later a series of self-help guides for new authors who are about to embark on the journey I had experienced and who I could help by sharing my challenges, successes and ever developing knowledge and skill base.

The lesson from this rambling blog post is that everything you experience and learn on your personal journey is your story, and it doesn’t have to be dramatic like a Hollywood blockbuster movie to capture the hearts and minds of readers who can empathise, relate or just plainly interested in the places, people and events that you are writing about. So my question to you is ‘what’s your story?’

Please leave a comment and feel free to get in touch about your story, or your writing journey.

I would like to thank Eric for the opportunity to share my story with you today, it has been a pleasure.


Author Sarah Jane Butfield was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, UK. Sarah Jane is a wife, mother, retired Registered General Nurse and is now an international best-selling author of Travel, Nursing and Culinary memoirs. She has also written a series of self-help guides for new authors based on her experiences to date.

Her life now as a successful author and inspiring mentor to new authors in her role as CEO at Rukia Publishing, is in addition to being a modern day mum to her 'Brady Bunch.' She has four children, three step-children and an 18-month old grandson. Sarah Jane loves spending time with her large family, their two Australian Cattle dogs, Dave and Buster, and her French cat called George.

Here are her author social media and website links:

Sarah Jane's Author website:



Thank you Sarah Jane for your interesting post. If there are any new writers out there, I urge you to check out her book promotional series, details of which can be found on her Amazon Author page:

Eric @