Wednesday, December 21, 2011

5 More Days to Win: Holiday Blog Hop

I've been giving away ebooks and entering people to win either a labradorite elephant, a malachite sphere, or a lapis cross pendant. The grand prize for this blog hop is a Kindle Fire.

For more details, please go to my web site

And Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Meet Sarah Woodbury, Author and Creative Dreamer

Sarah Introduces Herself

I am a homeschooling mom of four kids (ages 7 to 20), married for 21 years. I came to fiction writing 5 ½ years ago, having done the academic thing up until then, culminating with a Ph.D. in anthropology. Until I was in my thirties, I would routinely tell people “I haven’t a creative bone in my body.” I believed it! I don’t anymore. According to my extended family, I’m now so far off the map in being arty and alternative, that I’ve forgotten there even is a map.

Sarah, since my blog is about creativity, that's a great introduction to yourself. What created the shift in your belief about your creativity, and what did you do to encourage taking action?

When I was in graduate school, I remember talking with my sister-in-law (also in grad school), about my committee’s desire for me to come up with an original research project for my dissertation. I didn’t know how they could expect that when I hadn’t had an original thought in 12 years! We laughed because it felt so true.

Undermining that certainty, however, were my children. My daughter was born after my first year of graduate school, and my son two years later. Because of them, I postponed looking for a ‘real’ job as a professor, and then decided that staying home with them and homeschooling was a real job.

My focus had been on academics. That was my identity. That was my value as a person. With academia in the rearview mirror, I was only a mom. And that’s where my creativity began to sprout. Tiny at first. Ten years ago, we bought a house that needed a complete makeover, inside and out, and we did the outside first. Which means I designed the garden and planted it. I had told myself for years that I had a black thumb and all of a sudden, the plants grew! And were beautiful.

My daughter, in particular, has always been very creative and my next foray was into quilting, entirely because I was looking for something to do with her. Was writing a logical extension of that? I don’t know if it would be for anyone else, but on April 1, 2006, I sat down at my computer and wrote the first line of my first book. And changed my life.
I love the idea that the act of gardening and resultant success helped to make inroads into the "black thumb" belief.

You discovered that you could create beauty. That's so powerful.

Let's move on to the flowering of your literary imagination. Tell us about that first book: why you chose the subject you did and how it played an integral part in your creative journey.

I wrote that first book in six weeks, just to see if I could. I’m thankful that I didn’t have any desire to write the great American novel, or to exorcise demons from my past because it might have made the book harder to abandon. Again, it was my children that drove my creativity and I wanted to write something that they might enjoy reading.

This book had elves and magic in it and will never see the light of day. It is locked at the bottom of the proverbial trunk. It was very bad. Unsalvageable. At the same time, it showed me that I could write a novel (bad though it was), and gave me hints as to how I might go about writing a second one.

It is my second novel that set me on my present course. I had a dream about driving my mini-van into medieval Wales. I woke up and knew I had to write the story. This book eventually became Footsteps in Time. It is a young adult novel about two teenagers who do exactly what I dreamed: drive a mini-van from our world into thirteenth century Wales.

It is Footsteps in Time that I wrestled with and that haunted me for four years. I queried hundreds of agents about it, acquiring 72 rejections before one took me on. I read it out loud to find typos. Twice. I cut 1/3 of the chapters from it three times. I rewrote it a fourth time (cutting out 15,000 more words) before I published it in 2011. I’ve sold over 7000 copies of the book this year. And every one is like a little miracle.

I'm so glad you raised the subject of dreams, because they have always been a powerful source of creativity for me. The story of your second novel also reveals a fascination with Wales. Would you like to tell us more about the source of that fascination?

Some of my ancestors were Welsh, and that tradition is one of the stories that my family has always told about itself. That we came from Wales, even if it was 400 years ago, is a source of pride, as well as curiosity as to what that means and who those people were. My daughter and I (as a homeschool project) began researching our genealogy in the late 90’s and that’s when I began to read more about Wales. I also lived in the UK for a year while in college, visited Wales, and fell in love with the country and its people. So to dream about it was natural.

The dreaming is also one of those double-edged swords. I dream vividly (and some time horribly) every night. I don’t sleep well—to wake up a dozen times in a night is normal for me—and this pattern started about the time I started writing. I think it’s clear that my dreams inform my writing, and in turn, my writing seeps into my dreams. I’m not sure now if I could have one without the other.

Getting more specifically into your novels: While I don't have a lot of knowledge about the Arthurian era, I am aware that probably countless novels have been written on the subject. It's obviously a story/saga that captures the human imagination.

Why does it capture your imagination? Why do you think it has so great a universal appeal?

It is my sense that the King Arthur story appeals to different people in different ways, and on many levels because it’s got a little bit of everything in it. There’s the beginning—the young boy who becomes a king. It’s the child’s story of the mythic hero; then there’s the sophisticated interplay of politics, the machinations of Merlin, magic, and treachery—the dark side, if you will; and finally, there’s the tragic downfall.

But that’s not the King Arthur story that appeals to me, actually. King Arthur, as usually written, comes off as either as a flat character, someone whom the author employs as a backdrop to explore the personalities of other characters (Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot), or as unheroic and human, tripped up in the end by the overwhelming burden of his imperfections. Arthur is either a pawn, buffeted by the winds of fate, or so flawed, one has to ask how he was remembered as a hero in the first place.

There is a simple reason for this: it is very hard to synchronize the different aspects of Arthur’s story into a complete whole because the essential, heroic element of Arthur’s story—his defeat of the Saxons for a generation—has been grafted, at both the beginning and the end, to a romantic tale told for reasons having more to do with the medieval authors who were telling the story, and the time in which they were living, than with Arthur. In so doing, his character is incomplete and inexplicable, one who reacts instead of acts, and who never has a say in his own destiny.

Instead, it is Merlin who is the active character. It is he who sets the whole plot in motion, whose behavior acts at times like a ‘get out of jail free card’ for Arthur, who manipulates everybody else, but who is powerless to stop Arthur’s downfall in the end. In the classic Norman/French tale, it is through Merlin’s actions at the beginning of the story that Arthur becomes high king, and because of Merlin’s abandonment at the end of the story that (in rapid succession), Arthur loses his wife, his best friend, his son, and his life.

In the Welsh tales, on the other hand, Arthur is nearly super-human. He may have a few flaws, yes, but he is a ‘hero’ in the classic sense. He takes his men to the Underworld and back again, he finds the 13 treasures of Britain, and he rescues his friends and relations from danger and death. It is these tales, that appeal to me and the stories upon which I base my books.

I have three books related to King Arthur. Cold my Heart, which is set in the end of his reign: By the autumn of 537 AD, the autumn of 537 AD, all who are loyal to King Arthur have retreated to a small parcel of land in north Wales. They are surrounded on all sides, heavily outnumbered, and facing near certain defeat.

But Myrddin and Nell, two of the King's companions, have a secret that neither has ever been able to face: each has seen that on a cold and snowy day in December, Saxon soldiers sent by Modred will ambush and kill King Arthur.

And together, they must decide what they are willing to do, and to sacrifice, to avert that fate.

The Last Pendragon/The Pendragon’s Quest, two books about the heir to Arthur’s throne: He is a king, a warrior, the last hope of his people--and the chosen one of the sidhe . . .

Set in 7th century Wales, The Last Pendragon is the story of Arthur’s heir, Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon (Cade), and his love, Rhiann, the daughter of the man who killed Cade's father and usurped his throne.

Born to rule, yet without a kingdom, Cade must grasp the reins of his own destiny to become both Christian king and pagan hero. And Rhiann must decide how much she is willing to risk to follow her heart.
My other books are a medieval mystery, The Good Knight, and a time travel fantasy series about two teenagers who travel back to medieval Wales: Footsteps in Time/Prince of Time/Daughter of Time.

My web page:
My Twitter code is:!/SarahWoodbury
On Facebook:
Links to my books:
Amazon UK:


Barnes and Noble:



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Blog Hop: Dec. 15--25

Members of fIndie Writers Unite!, myself included, are participating in a Holiday Blog Hop from Dec. 15 to Dec. 25. Many great prizes, including free ebooks, gift cards, and other special gifts, will be offered on participating blogs and web sites.

The grand prize will be a Kindle Fire.

I will give away two copies of Big Dragons Don't Cry per day. The first two people to email me will win.

If you don't hear from me, you weren't the first.

I am also giving away a carved labradorite elephant, a lapis cross pendant, and a malachite sphere.

For more details, please visit http://www.adragonsguide, my web site.

Everyone Wins!

Cats in Command and Other Stories has just been published, and it's free at Smashwords in a number of ereader formats.

In Cats in Command, a woman is abducted into a world ruled by cats. Among other problems, she discovers that felines have their own view of justice.

This is one of seven short stories and a novel excerpt. In other stories, the villains rewrite fairy tales, a jury decides the fate of humankind, and a gargoyle comes to life.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Magic and Mermaids: The Fiction of Marsha A. Moore

This week I welcome Marsha A. Moore to the blog. Marsha writes fiction on a wide variety of subjects.

I notice that you have a mermaid series. Could you tell us what inspired you to choose that subject?

I enjoy reading/researching fantasy written through the ages in folktales, myth, legend, and lore. My library of those is constantly growing. I often blend ideas of folklore from around the world into my works.

During the winter of 2008-9, I moved my mother from NW Ohio to Tampa. It didn’t take much to convince me to stay through the winter to help her get settled before I moved my own household the following summer. When I learned about the annual Tampa Gasparilla Festival, I was enthralled and a pirate captain, a mermaid, and a merman became the characters of my writing. Local legends and folklore of the famed pirate Jose Gaspar inspired me to write my fantasy romance book, Tears on a Tranquil Lake, which released earlier this year. The sequel, Tortuga Treasure: Ciel’s Legacy, will release in January, 2012.

My latest release I'm promoting is an historical fantasy about the big-top circus in the 1920s.

Tell me more about Le Cirque de Magie. What inspired you to write that story?

When we first moved to the Tampa area three years ago, we toured the Ringling Museum in Sarasota—a fascinating trip back into the magic of the circus. The spirit of the circus pervades the community, adding to the local cultural heritage. As a hub of circus activity for over seventy-five years, the city has earned the title, “Home of the American Circus.” No other area in the country has served as home base to as many circuses as Sarasota. I was fascinated by the local history, which inspired me to write this story.

Tell me more about Ravi's magical abilities.
Ravi is a character based upon Sanskrit folklore. He is an Asura god—a human who now possesses magical power or maya. Specifically, Ravi is a Suparna or sun-bird, who receives his powers from the sun. That much is based on Sanskrit legend. In my story, he is a human who can sprout wings and fly when he wishes. The stars give him guidance, and he can channel the sun’s energy through his eyes in various ways.

Add anything you'd like to say about this story.

I enjoy combining topics that interest me in unusual ways. I’ve been a yoga addict for twelve years, and the Indian culture fascinates me, their gods and goddesses. I enjoy studying folklore and legends from this culture. I also love the magical illusion of the circus, as well as nostalgia for the simple pleasures of visiting the traveling big-top show when I was very young. This story combines those interests in a way that explores my new environment in Florida. Those three elements in the story are parts of my regular life.

What books do you have planned for future writing/publication?

In January, I have a fantasy romance novel, Tortuga Treasure: Ciel’s Legacy, releasing from MuseItUp Publishing. This is a sequel to Tears on a Tranquil Lake, in a series about the adventures of a mermaid named Ciel. It involves plenty of fast action and romance, but also allows Ciel to mature through her interactions with the mermaid and pirate communities.

I’m eager to self-publish an epic fantasy romance series, Enchanted Bookstore Legends, I’ve been working on for a year and a half. It is a five-part series, and books one and two are written. The first will release in March, 2012.

As a writer, do you plot extensively, or do you let the story come to you as you write?

I create a detailed outline to make certain I have the correct turning points spaced properly to allow adequate development. I know the major events each chapter must contain. From that, it flows openly with details falling into place. Without some freedom as I write, a lot of the rush of getting swept away by the story would be lost.

What other creative outlets do you explore?

I paint and draw. The cover image for Le Cirque De Magie is my own original watercolor. I’ve wanted to paint my own covers for many years, and with a self-published work I gain the satisfaction of meeting that goal which working with a publisher hasn’t allowed.

Also, I love cycling and ride at least thirty miles each week. During the past year, I’ve been learning kayaking—it’s wonderful! I kayak each week on the big lagoon beyond our backyard which connects to Tampa Bay. I love the beach—can’t possibly be there enough. I write at the beach, longhand in notebooks.

Do you find that having more than one outlet enhances your writing?

Definitely. I draw from all of my interests to feed both my writing content and creative process.

Why Indie?

Like I mentioned, it is fun for me to have more control over my cover design. Also, there is a unique satisfaction that the product is more representative of me, my vision and my creativity.

What advice would you give people considering diving into writing (or into any creative endeavor)?

You must enjoy writing for its own intrinsic value, aside from publishing. One of my favorite quotes: "Don't seek to be published, seek to be read." ~Tracy Hickman

This quote helps me take a deep breath and refocus when the publishing industry overwhelms me. Some days it seems like a chaotic mess, expecting me to be capable of the incapable. Maintaining this perspective on a simple, clear goal helps me disregard the muck and consider what is really important--writing for the enjoyment of readers.
This space for anything else you want to say.

The circus is a blur of commotion with last minute preparations for the spring tour. Ravi, the high-wire heart throb, becomes jittery when he meets the company’s newly-hired female dwarf. Hours before departure, his magical perceptions are on fire as he witnesses her involvement in a gory bump off.

The circus manager can’t be found. Ravi is desperate to protect his sweetheart and performing partner, Alice. The train creaks away, beginning the long journey with danger stowed on board. Nicknamed the Great Birdman, Ravi steps forward and exposes his true identity—a real risk during edgy, vigilante times of prohibition. A brave move—but will his Suparna abilities be enough to snuff out this fierce demon?

Le Cirque De Magie Excerpt:

Before the evening show, he dressed early and patrolled the grounds. Nothing appeared suspicious outside, so he stood between sets of bleachers, watching for trouble during the performances. Again, Sadie missed her cue. It seemed too easy for her to give up at his warning—demons liked to fight.

Clowns, trained dogs, unicyclists, and fire-eaters all came and went without issue. Alice was in his sight, in the watchful company of her brother and the manager. Aromas of buttered popcorn and spun cotton candy mixed with animal odors—the typical circus smell. Nothing odd. He looked through the crowd for the dwarf. Instead of finding her, the number of children in the audience impressed him. All those smiling, young faces he must keep safe.

After a deep breath, he refocused, looking for any strange happening in the rings. Clown acts took the right and left rings. In the center, the snake charmer and his assistant wheeled out carts of large rush baskets. Three would contain his Naga friends. Upon the sweet notes of the charmer’s wooden flute, lids of the baskets opened and ropes danced up in response to his calls. Henry, Walter, and Gladys actually controlled those ropes, using their magic to extend them above their bodies. Ravi seldom watched the shows anymore. In full costume, the act came off well, a crowd-pleaser earning lots of cheers.

Tigers growled and pawed the wagon bed of their holding cage as it rolled in behind where Ravi stood. Sensing his magic, they clawed the bars nearest him, creating a spectacle.

Blocked from leaving by the animal wagon and not wanting to walk in front of the crowd, he climbed into the stands. When at last he found a seat, chaos ensued in the center ring.

The Nagas crawled in all directions, writhing and coiling. Above them a white bird with a forked, black tail swooped—a kite. It struck the snake people with both its talons and beak. The charmer, his assistant, and half a dozen other men ran around frantically. Some waved large nets on poles to catch the bird, and others yelled in various languages.
How did the raptor get into the ring?

Ravi jumped to his feet, again wrestling to control his outward appearance.

Soon everyone around him stood, craning to see the ruckus.

The snakes hissed and struck, but the bird soared out of reach. In one ill-fated attempt, Henry missed and bit the shoulder of his trainer.

The men dropped their nets and kneeled beside the wounded man. They slapped his hands and cheeks. It was too late. Few knew the snake people possessed real, deadly venom.

The kite continued to torment Gladys, despite her attempts to slither under a cart. Her snake tail hung limp, wounded. Was that bird another form of the dwarf?

The tigers roared and flung themselves at their cage walls. Spectators screamed and rushed down the steps to leave. The rickety bleachers swayed with the frenzy of motion.

Ravi’s wing tips burst out of the slits in his costume at his shoulder blades. The tangle of people stopped him from getting to the ring, so he climbed atop the handrail and lifted into flight.

Someone high in the stands cried out, “Birdman!”

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Author Lynn Hubbard Visits

Tonight my guest is Lynn Hubbard. She talks about her favorite book of those she's written.

Run into the Wind by Lynn Hubbard

Back Cover: Sabrina Lovett heads west and hops off a train to start anew. Hiding from her affluent brother she takes on the guise of a boy. Brock Stafford the new Sheriff was used to being in control. He was irritated to no end by the stable boy “Will” who challenged him at every turn. Aggravated by his own reaction to the boy he tries to ignore him completely until tragedy brings them together. 

Run into the Wind is one of my favorite books I have written. Even today, I still go back and take reread my favorite parts. I have a twisted since of humor so I tried to instill that into the book. You can’t have drama and tragedy without laughter. That’s not how life is.

So Sabrina goes through a bevy of emotions as she tries to find her path in this world. Much like we all do. When I write, I try to get into the characters heart and mind. So that you can better understand their choices.
I also tend to write with emotion! If I’m having a good day, Sabrina has a good day. If I’m in a bad mood…watch out Brock! ;-)

I cannot write on a schedule, I can only write when I’m inspired, otherwise it doesn’t flow properly. So it does take me a year or so to write a Novel but you know what? Life takes time.

I am attempting to take Run into the Wind to the next level. I am starting a Kickstarter program to convert it to an Audio Book. Being a mother of a child with disabilities it makes me more aware of the plights of others. I would like to share my book in all forms so all persons can enjoy listening or reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Please take a peek at my Audio Book Campaign and share it with your friends!

Please enjoy this excerpt of Run into the Wind.

To set the scene this is when Sabrina and Brock first meet. Of course, he thinks she is a boy. ;-)

Brock rode up to the stable only to find it void of life. He looked around irritated from his fatigue and then decided to tend to his own horse. He led his mahogany stallion inside and noticed an empty stall in the rear and headed over to it. He was about to open the stall door when he noticed a boy asleep in the corner. He cleared his throat and the boy woke, startled, and scrambled to his feet.

"I'm so sorry, mister, may I help you?" Sabrina stammered. After a quick glance up at the handsome man, she quickly turned all of her attention to his horse. Sabrina was glad that it was so hot; it helped explain the blush that suddenly colored her cheeks. It had been a long time since she had seen a man like him. He reminded her a little of her father. He was tall, and his clothes were dusty but clean. Since she did not get an answer yet, she reluctantly looked back up at his face. He stared at her intently as if looking into her soul as she waited for him to answer her question.

Nervously she looked down, relieved that her shirt was completely dry. Well, maybe a little damp. She saw the long shadows through the open doorway of the stable and realized the sun was sinking in the sky and she gasped.

"Oh, my gosh! What time is it?" He looked at his pocket watch irritably.

“It’s three thirty."

"Oh no! Mr. Swanson is gonna skin me alive. I was supposed to have Miss Reynold’s carriage ready by four." She started out of the stable and stopped in her tracks, remembering the man and his horse. She bit her lip in indecision. It would take at least twenty minutes to rub down his horse and then another twenty five to get the carriage ready. She sighed, well first come, first served, she thought as she walked back over to the gentleman.

"I'm sorry, sir, let me tend to your horse," she said, walking over. He watched, impressed, as she spoke softly to Troy before actually touching him or attempting to take the reins from his owner. "He's a beauty," she breathed, looking up at the graceful animal. "What's his name?”

She took the reins and skillfully led him into a stall. The deep rumble of the man’s chuckle sent shivers down Sabrina's spine.

"His name is Troy, and my name is Brock Stafford."

Sabrina nodded to him. "They call me Will." She ran her hands over Troy's flank.

"He's dehydrated." She looked accusingly at Brock.

He nodded in agreement. “We’ve traveled a very long way," Brock murmured, wondering why he felt guilty. He always took excellent care of his animals and here was this boy insinuating that he did not. He watched the boy get fresh oats and water for Troy and then head off to set up the carriage.

"I'll rub him down after he's better rested," Sabrina said over her shoulder to Brock. Brock shook his head as he headed out of the barn. He watched the young boy struggle to pull the fancy black carriage around so that he could align it with the horses. "Need a hand?" Brock questioned.. "No, thank you," Sabrina grunted as she pushed it into place with an extra hard shove. He watched amused as the boy scurried around, expertly taking down tack to fix it to two brown mares. She then led the ladies out of their stalls and hooked them up to the carriage.

Sabrina had just finished checking their hooves and bits when a well-dressed lady in a bonnet swaggered up to them. She was attached to a nicely dressed man who Sabrina knew was her brother. She had never liked Sally but her brother seemed okay. His name was Thomas and she thought he was a little puny, but he seemed nice enough. He stopped by occasionally to check on their horses.

“Why who is this?” Sally Reynold drawled with a simpering smile as she spied Brock leaning against the corral fence.
“Stafford, Ma’am; Sir,” Brock said, tipping his hat to the pair.

She noticed he did not introduce himself as Brock as he had to her and wondered about it. Sabrina nodded to the woman as Thomas ushered Sally quickly up to the carriage. Sabrina kept her head down as she held the horses steady and Thomas helped his sister into the carriage and took the reins from Sabrina.

“Thank you, Will,” Thomas said, paying Sabrina for the horses’ board and giving her a nice tip. She thanked him without looking up and headed into the stable to finish caring for Troy.

"Who was that?" Brock asked, watching the carriage roll down the dusty street. Sabrina's brow furrowed.

“Why didn't you ask her yourself?" she said, biting her lip. She had a bad habit of saying what she was thinking. She sighed, wondering why he had not left yet. Brock was wondering the same thing as he watched her walk up to Troy's stall and unlatch the door. She first took a tool and cleaned around his shoes, removing tiny pebbles and as much dirt as possible. She checked the nails in his shoes and hammered in a couple that were loose. Grabbing a brush, she began the tedious yet soothing task of grooming the horse.

She started at his head and worked her way down, talking in a soothing tone to the horse the entire time. Brock strained his ears to hear what the boy was saying but he could not make it out. At some point he thought he was actually singing to the horse. Sabrina stepped back, looking at how Troy’s dark red coat shimmered in the dim light and she smiled at her work. Troy seemed much more relaxed.

She nodded. "Much better." Turning around quickly, she ran right into Brock’s chest. The force knocked her back into the wall and she cursed as she hit her head.

"Would you look where you’re going?" she grumbled, as she walked around Brock to put her cleaning items away. "Your horse is fine; you can go now."

Thank you all for your time, I know this is a busy time of year!

Find Lynn at:
Kickstarter Campaign

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why I Write

Author Camelia Miron Skiba asked fellow authors why they write. Here's my answer on her blog.

My reasons may not be so creative, but they are definitely survival oriented. If cats run your life, you'll understand.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Crush Your Creativity: Worry

Worry might be described as a single-minded focus on negative possibilities. It doesn't have the strong physiological intensity of fear. Worry's effects more gradually—but just as surely—erode the creative urge.

Start with this scenario. You get a really exciting idea that you'd love to develop.

Worry that someone has already thought of it.
Worry that you won't be able to keep your inspiration high for the idea.
Worry that it isn't as good as you thought it was.

Next, work on your project, and don't tell anyone about it, because you worry that they'll laugh at you. Even if they don't laugh, they will think loud thoughts that would destroy you if you heard them, so you imagine them instead.

Complete your project and worry that no one will like it. Again, tell no one and do nothing to unveil it or in any way bring it to anyone's attention.

Worry is really very creative. You may not like what your imagination is delivering, but there's no questioning that it's at work. If you can pause in the midst of one of the humiliating scenarios you're concocting, you'll recognize this. If you're a writer, you have material for an enlightening expose of a character. If you paint, you can describe in color and form the complex emotions that worry arouses.

No matter who you are, once you've managed to detach from your emotional turmoil to realize that you are the artist who's created it, you can begin to make the necessary shift. Now that you've proven your ability to create through this nightmare scenario, realize that by changing your intention to experience positive energy, you can imagine the circumstances and details to do so.

Challenge: Practice changing your mental story.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

With A Little Help From My Friends: Interview with Cindy C. Bennett

The theme of my blog is creativity, and one aspect I haven't yet explored is the importance of having support from others. It occurs to me no one more desperately needs supports than teens. So often, they face the choices of denying their individuality, which is the source of creativity, in order to be accepted or of trying to be true to themselves and risking ostracism.

Do these themes come up in your YA novels? If so, how do you express and resolve them?

It’s funny that you talk about teen’s creativity. I just had a conversation with my friend who has a daughter who is extremely unique and creative. Her daughter (who is 14) recently had two separate friends tell her she needs to stop being so unique if she wants people to like her. I find that depressing. One actually told her she needs to be more like everyone else.

To answer your questions, yes, I hope to make my characters unique, where they stand out from the crowd for one reason or another. I want them to remain true to themselves even if it means being made fun of or being looked at oddly. I try not to make any of my main characters “stereotypical”, such as dumb jock, air-headed cheerleader, etc. Those characters might exist on the fringe, but not as a main part of the story. In Geek Girl, which comes out in December, my hero acts like a jerk at one point just because he thought people were thinking him a fool, and hurts the one he loves because of it. But I gave him a brain, which he uses to figure out that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, and he gets over it.

What your friend's daughter is experiencing is depressing. That brings me to the question of your own children. Obviously, you give them the best possible role model by expressing your own creative uniqueness? How else do you support them in their creative expression? What advice would you give to those parents who want to encourage/support their children?

I truly believe that kids’ creativity should be allowed to flow. I’ve always tried to support and encourage my own kids in this area. For example, if they have a report due, I would work with them and try to help them to make it the best they could, so that it would stand out above others. My sons always tease me that I don’t believe any piece of school work is done until it has a border around it. But you know what? Over the years, teachers have kept many of my kids projects to use for examples for other classes. So borders help. :o)

I have been in homes where they look a bit like a mausoleum, and I’ve been in homes pasted with drawings and writing done by their kids. I like those homes better. I still have walls and shelves decorated with things my kids have created over the years. You always have time down the road to have a museum quality house, at least until you have grandkids! They say necessity is the mother of invention, I say creativity is the mother of invention. Encourage every ounce of creativity your kids have, because you never know where it might take them.

What a great answer. Now I'd like to move onto a related area. I know that you're part of a very successful critique group. I know from my own experience that a good group can truly support one's creative work with constructive feeback.

I have several questions. The first two are of a practical nature.

1. How did you all find each other, and how long have you been together?
2. How does the critiquing process work (meaning in practical terms)?

We met through an online class for writing a winning query letter. Once the class was over, Camilia Miron Skiba asked if we all wanted to stay in contact. Only Jeffery Moore and I said yes, and she’s the one who came up with the idea of exchanging chapters for critique and editing. We’ve been together almost 2 years now, and have added a fourth member, Sherry Gammon, recently.

What we do is send out a chapter when we’ve finished writing it. One person takes it and goes through it, pointing out editing issues (punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc.) and adding any suggestions or critiques. We use the review feature on Word so that is shows in a different color. That person then emails it to everyone one, and someone else takes second shot, and then finally the third person. We used to all send separate critiques, but then it’s harder for the person receiving them because they have to match three to their original, rather than having all three on one. It also makes sense to do it this way so that we aren’t all correcting the same mistakes, though the second or third person sometimes catches things the first misses. We don’t have any kind of organized order in which we take them, it’s just whoever has time when they first see it on an email. We all takes turns, and have had no issues with anyone feeling like they are doing more than anyone else. We all have different strengths, write different genres, and it works very, very well for us.

The next are of a more subjective nature. I have observed that when people share their creative works with others, they—especially if they are new to this process—feel unsure about handling critiques. Sometimes they experience them as criticism. Other times, they may feel that the critiques are off the mark, but their own confidence in their work may be weakened by differing opinions.

These issues go to the heart of the creative process, in my view. We need to trust our own insights and intuitions and also be able to receive critiques in an objective way.

3. How do you handle critiques that you feel are off the mark?
4. What do you do when you're unsure?
5. How has being in a critique group affected your creative process.

Please add anything else you'd like to say about your group.

You are absolutely right in what you say. And I will say that when we first began, we were all much more hesitant to give honest critiques. We now are very honest, but we also keep it kind and respectful—no mean spirited comments allowed. We also understand that critiques are opinions, and we can choose to use the suggestions or reject them. It depends on how strongly we feel about what we’ve written—after all, our writing is our baby. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of the writer assuming knowledge on the part of the reader, and when someone says what? then we can realize we didn’t give a good enough explanation or back story. Sometimes we defend our choices to one another, which might sway the critiquer, or sometimes we just ignore the suggestion as I said. It can be hard to take critiques of my baby, but honestly, my writing is much stronger when I listen with an open mind. Sometimes one person will offer a suggestion or critique, and the others will disagree.

Being part of this group has expanded my creativity to no end. It’s nice to have others to give you feedback, especially when you’re unsure of a particular passage, or to ask questions about plot points, or have something pointed out that you’ve used incorrectly. It helps me to know when I’m writing really well, and when I’ve veered off course and am writing something that has nothing to do with the story I’m trying to tell. I can’t imagine any professional editor worth more than our group, and all they cost me is a little of my time returning the favor. It’s the best thing I’ve done for my writing yet!

That is so well said, and I hope those writers reading this who haven't considered or are wondering about the benefits of a critique group will benefit from what you've said.

If there's anything else you'd like to say about your writing process, creativity, or your books (or all of the above), this is your opportunity.

I hope that when people read my books they find themselves entertained. That’s my goal. If you finish one of my books and are glad to have stepped into that particular world for a few hours, then I’ve done my job. You won’t find me on the literary lists next to Shakespeare, for example, but hopefully I’m just as enjoyable to read (and easier to understand).

I would like to thank you for having me on your blog. If I could give any advice to writers or inspiring writers out there, I would just say to use whatever process works best for you. Everyone has a different way of writing, a different way of tapping into your creativity. It’s great to discover how others do things, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily work for you. My creativity comes from just letting it flow when it will, not trying to force it. Some people are more regimented, and schedule it. I envy them! I can’t do that. Find your creativity in whatever area it is, and make sure to nurture it.

You can connect with Cindy C. Bennett at

Blurb for Geek Girl

"Think I could turn that boy bad?"
My two best friends--my only two friends, really--follow my gaze and laugh.

"Trevor Hoffman?" Beth scoffs. "No way, Jen."

"I bet I could," I say, shrugging.

"Why him?" Beth asks. "Why not any of the other nerds sitting there with him?"

"Because," I say slowly, "he isn't your typical run-of-the-mill geek. Trevor Hoffman is different. He would be a little more difficult to take down--more of a challenge, you know?"

Jen's teenage life of rebelling and sneaking out is growing stale. In an effort to combat her boredom, Jen makes a bet to turn Trevor, a nice geek, into a "bad boy." Unexpectedly, she is pulled into Trevor's world of sci-fi movies, charity work, and even--ugh!--bowling. Jen discovers that hanging out with Trevor isn't so bad after all.

But when Trevor finds out about the wager, all bets are off.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interview with R. J. Palmer: How to Saddle Your Imagination and Ride It

Since my blog is about creativity, I'm especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

Most people might call it a little airheaded when I say that it didn’t hit me until I was in my early twenties that I even had talent and potential as a writer. Really when I finally understood that I wanted to be a writer it was one of those “facepalm” moments and I wanted to berate myself by saying, “Why didn’t you think of that before, you twit? DUH!” I really wasn’t that hard on myself or anything but I wanted to be primarily because, well, I was so OLD when I started writing. Ah well, better late than never I suppose.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

Looking back on it, yes I can say that I was a very creative child. I could rock a brainstorming session and my parents tried to push me toward drawing but I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, so that was out. My best drawings were the happy face doodles on my folders when I was bored in school. Other than that, I read a lot and had an insatiable appetite for the written word. Honestly, if someone couldn’t find me, I was curled up somewhere with a book I didn’t want to put down. When I wasn’t reading or drawing horridly lopsided and disfigured cartoons on my school folders, I couldn’t shut up. That probably should’ve been a clue to parents and teachers alike.

Your autobiographical notes are quite intriguing. You describe yourself as having an over-active imagination that finally got channeled into writing. Do you find other useful outlets for your imagination when you're not writing?

Does cooking count? I have several taste testers around the house, just ask the kids and every once in awhile, I’ll experiment with something new. Sometimes it turns out and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s never fun or interesting if you don’t try. If I don’t write or have some kind of creative outlet, I’ve figured out that I can’t sleep so well because I can’t get the rampaging thoughts that are swirling chaotically around in my head to settle down for long enough to fall asleep. It’s horrifying when I’m getting to a really good part in a book I’m writing because I’ll toss and turn until the wee hours of the morning if I don’t either get up and write or concentrate on clearing my mind.

What inspired you to write Birthright?

Sheer unadulterated penniless boredom. I had had the idea for Birthright revolving around in my head for years and just hadn’t acted on it so when I was out of money and totally at loose ends one winter I just sat down and started to write. Birthright came out and I discovered a passion for writing. Writing is now something of an addiction for me. I gotta get my fix!

What methods do you use to enhance your creativity (i.e., certain music, total solitude, etc.)

When I was writing Birthright, it was nothing less than Mozart all the way and it did the trick. Now that I’m writing Sins of the Father, I like total quiet because it helps me focus and center myself. Sometimes I wish someone would tell that to the kids and the dog. I can’t complain too much though because the dog hangs adoringly on my every word and it strokes my inner ego-centric.

How do you get yourself back in motion when you get stuck?

Sometimes when I’m writing something that’s just everyday stuff I have to slog through it and get on with it. I was plagued up until a few months ago with the most horrible case of writer’s block ever though and it took me months to get past it. I tried everything from the advice of others to reading back over my own work to see if there was something there that might spark my creativity and nothing until I sat back and almost gave up to start writing another project. At that point it was like BLAM! Something went off in my head and I’ve been writing every spare moment since pretty much. I guess I just needed to quit beating my head against the figurative brick wall and relax.

How does a mother of six find time to write?

All kids go to school and sleep sometime. I love early in the morning when the kids first go off to school because the house is quiet and I can write. I hate getting up at six a.m. to get them off to school but I guess that little sacrifice is worth it in the end. I do so love school!

Do your children inspire your creativity?

All the time, my dear. I look at the little things the kids do and the funny little ways they act and whether anyone knows it or not, which is something I’m sure no one ever really will know, I incorporate small aspects of my children’s personalities into my writing. It helps to make the characters come alive for me and maybe someday the children will notice this and realize how much I cherish them. Then again, maybe not.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination?

I’ve never regretted the decision to go Indie because I have free license to make professional and creative decisions that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I have creative control over my own work and when my work comes out in publication, it looks a lot more like me and my work. It echoes my thoughts and personality more than it would if I had to deal with a publishing house and though I’m not contemptuous of the work and sacrifice that traditionally published authors have had to go through, I can smile and say, “Glad it’s them and not me.” That rocks!

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?

Disregard everyone else because I’m guessing someone somewhere down the line was very jealous and made a tart or rude comment that turned you off to the idea of being creative. They need to shut up and get real because they’re always going to be the voice inside your head that says you can’t do it when you know you can. It’s far better to be yourself, be creative and fall flat on your face than never to bust out with what could be the next great work whether written or drawn or sung. I can respect having tried and failed because at least you tried and you learned from your failure. Build on that. If you don’t ever try, you can’t fail and that will never garner anyone’s respect, including my own. Wouldn’t you be kicking yourself in the posterior for years if you didn’t and someone else did?

Description of Sins of the Father:

A minister losing touch with his faith…

A severely autistic child with no past, no present and no real future…

An evil older than time itself…

When the boy Lucian is thrown into Aaron’s life with nowhere else to go all hell breaks loose and Aaron confronts things he never actually imagined could really exist in an effort to save one small, tortured child.


Aaron’s dreams, if they could be called such with their nightmarish quality, were dark and angry and brutal. Blood and fire; there was blood and fire everywhere and no matter where he ran, he could not get away. The blood and the fire chased him and no matter where and how fast he ran, he was endlessly pursued. Disembodied laughter and a voice echoed in his consciousness as well and they were filled with undiluted malice. He didn’t know what the voice was saying; the language was not familiar to him. The wealth of loathing and bitter rage that were infused into both the voice and the laughter were though and he shied away from them both even if he could not escape them.

There was also a great infinite black that was his constant albeit unwanted companion. It shadowed and followed him with lethal intent and an unquenchable thirst and that thirst was for blood. He didn’t know how he knew that but he did for there was a constant feeling or portent running through his dreams apace with the blood and the fire. It was as if whatever chased him doggedly in those dreams was whispering something to him that he could not hear with his ears, only with his deepest secret heart.

He tried desperately to ignore it but it would not be ignored. He tried with everything he was to run away and could not escape it. He tried to confront it but there was nothing there to confront. There was an invisible nemesis driving him to the trembling edge of madness from the confines of his dreams that would not be silenced or stilled and he couldn’t get that one idea out of his head.

Vengeance thirsts for blood…

Birthright is available at:



Visit R. J. Palmer's blog.

The Sins of the Fathers will be available in April, 2011.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Dreams Come True: Interview with Camelia Miron Skiba

My guest this week is Camelia Miron Skiba. She grew up dreaming that anything is possible as long as you want it badly enough." For a blog about the power of creativity, no statement could be more appropriate. I hope you will be inspired by this interview.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways? And how would you say that growing up in Romania, under a Communist regime, affected your creative growth?

Growing up under communism stripped us of many things—pride to be a Romanian, loyalty to a government that was busy fattening up their accounts rather than protecting its citizens, belonging to a nation older than most nations in Europe—but what it didn't take away from us was the freedom to dream and be creative.

Without electricity and food we learned to entertain ourselves making up games and toys. My sisters and I had one doll each. Summer vacations were spent in remote villages where we weren't allowed to take our dolls for fear they might be destroyed. Empty boxes and sticks then became our toy dishes. Corn replaced our dolls, sometimes taking us hours walking between rows of corn to pick the perfect doll. Blond or redhead, the longer the hair (meaning the silk on the corn) the better. Twigs formed the limbs. My mom's aunt used to be a seamstress and her leftover fabrics made for awesome clothing. Dirt and water was the best dessert our dolls had ever tasted. Leaves made for perfect beds where princesses slept until knights came to rescue them...
In looking back, they might've resembled anything, but dolls. But to us they meant as much as to a girl playing with her first Barbie.

I might not have had an abounding childhood, but I definitely grew up creating heavenly worlds, and dreaming that anything is possible as long as you want it badly enough. I should know that—I now live the American dream.

Your creativity as a child was so beautifully expressed. As a child, did you also write stories and/or dream of becoming a writer? If not, when did this dream become compelling? What did it take for you to realize it?

There is no other way to say other than: as a child I sucked at writing. Period. I always looked for ways out to escape going to school (eating chalk to fake fever, tons of ice cubes for sore throat, etc—thank God my mom doesn’t read English, otherwise she'd wrinkle her brows at me for all the lies I've told her).

On the other hand, my older sister Lumi wrote a love story while in high school. I got sucked in from the first page and fell in love with the heroes. I laughed with them, cried with them, felt my heart melt at the sight of them, lived life through their eyes. Unfortunately my sister hid the notebook so well I couldn’t find it again and I often wonder if they had the happily-ever-after ending.

Since then all I've done was to create stories in my head, heroes and heroines looking for love and eventually finding it. Well, fast-forward 20 years later, my son asked me one summer day what were my childhood dreams. I told him about the love story my sister had written and how much I wished I could do it. He said, "Why wouldn't you? You have nothing to be afraid of. Just sit and write." For some reason his trust, his words compelled me to do it.

And here I stand with one book published, a second one to be released end of this year and several other stories outlined. Yes, I can do it.

What a moving story about your son. I can sense how important he is in your life.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems safe to say that the idea of writing romances has drawn you since you read your sister's story. I also imagine that growing up in a very unromantic environment, i.e., Communist Romania, may have heightened your desire to imagine a more emotionally fulfilling world.
Getting down to the basics of writing, how fully do you outline before you are ready to write? What kind of research is necessary for your books? Do you find that the characters sometime or often guide you in the story, dialogue, etc?

My son means the world to me. Without his encouragements each time I doubt myself, without his shoulder to cry on when I can’t find my words, none of my stories would’ve been on paper.

My debut novel “Hidden Heart” took me only three months to write the first draft. That was back in 2009. Then I put it aside, starting another story. In parallel I took several online creative writing classes, read lots of books about the English grammar, sentence structure (English is my third language, so I had a lot of learning to do). Then I went back to my first draft and picked it apart, chapter for chapter. With the help of my amazing critique group (at that time only Cindy C Bennett and Jeffery Moore, now we added a new member, Sherry Gammon) I finished a second draft. I had then found three other people who very graciously agreed to read and edit the book. “Hidden Heart” was ready for publishing and saw the printing light seven months ago, end of March.

Since then I went back to finish the story I started while taking the break from “Hidden Heart.” It’s a contemporary war romance titled “A World Apart”, half of the story set in my native Romania, the other half in Iraq. Let me tell you, this has been an experience beyond anything I have ever imagined. We all know what war means—attacks, explosions, army, wounds, victims, etc—but to have a believable story I had to read lots of military documents, learn the acronyms they use. To make it even harder, both my heroine and my hero are doctors, which means I had to switch gears and learn a lot of medical terms, medical lingo, etc. I watched lots of documentaries portraying the Iraq war as well as war movies. I think I spent more time doing research than actually writing the story.

As for my characters … well, sometime they really misbehave. Not the “Hidden Heart” protagonists. They’ve been so eager to leave the small confinement of my brain, they were happy with their story. But the “A World Apart” ones, oh, boy!, talk about stubbornness at its core and class A negotiators—it’s either their way or they don’t talk to me. I had a secondary character set to die, but I had to change the story, otherwise the main characters were done, as they so (ungraciously) put it. The novel was on standby for a month until I gave up, threw my hands in the air and let them have it. I wrote five chapters in less than a week!

How I know those characters who insist on running the show, and I am very grateful for them. I can only imagine the vast amount of research you had to do.
I'd like to hear your thoughts on choosing the path of an independent author. Do you feel a great freedom in choosing subject matter, for instance?

Absolutely! Since I’m a controlling freak choosing self-publishing route was the best-suited venue for me. I write what I want and how I want. My critique group influences me, but they don’t alter the story. I’m in complete control over book size, format, cover, price, where it’s distributed, marketing, everything. I choose how many books a year I want to write, and determine my own publishing dates. To sum it all, I run my own show.

I've learned so much about you and your writing habits. Thanks for being so forthcoming. Are there any last remarks you'd like to make?

Thanks for having me over, Connie. Really enjoyed it.

For more information about Camelia, please visit her website

Her first novel “Hidden Heart” came out in March 2011. Her second novel “A World Apart” is coming out in December 2011.
Hidden Heart can be found at:

Barnes & Nobles


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Interview with Author Mike Cooley

Mike Cooley, a 9-to-5 engineering consultant, musician, Egypt enthusiast, and husband and father, tells us how these various factors influence his writing.

Since my blog is about creativity, I'm especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

I consider my creativity and imagination to be my strongest abilities as a writer. My process has evolved over time from just having a basic idea or concept (“What if?”) and building a story around it to being more organized and character-driven. Until last year I was primarily a short story writer. I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy books, which fueled my imagination. I am attracted to writing that is very visual and deals with the nature of existence, so I try to incorporate some of those things in my own writing.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

I think my parents would say I was off the charts with creativity and curiosity. I was always taking things apart and putting them back together.

My Dad loves to tell the story about when I bought my first computer (Apple II+) and the next day I had it completely apart. He was astonished when I put it back together and it still worked. I read every science fiction and fantasy book in the library while I was in grade school, and took Creative Writing (mostly because I wanted to avoid Speech Class). I wrote short stories and poetry as well. I taught myself electronics and used to build all kinds of circuits.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I started my first novel many years ago. I’ve always had a love for “artifact” stories, so I wanted to write a novel that was about magical artifacts (in this case crystals) that each had unique powers. I am also very fond of strong female characters so I wanted the story to revolve around a female warrior that would be able to use the crystals. I was excited about writing a novel set in a world that had no ties to Earth, so I could make everything up from scratch.

You're a musician as well as an author. Do you find that these creative paths affect each other in distinct ways?

Very much so. My music is all original and I primarily operate as a one-man band. I find music to be inspiring in many ways, and I find that writing lyrics IS storytelling. It’s just a lot more like poetry than novels. I think that writing music has taught me that sometimes the things you don’t say can be as important as the things you do say. You don’t have to say everything and spell everything out. Let the reader (or listener) write some of the story in their own head.

I notice your interest in Egypt. How does this involvement feed into your creative paths?

The trip to Egypt was completely due to my wife’s involvement in Middle Eastern Dance (she’s a belly dancer and instructor). I was not that enthused about going, but it was a rather amazing place. I’m glad I went. I’m writing a non-fiction book about it now called Before The Revolution – 13 Days In Egypt. I have many ties to Egypt even predating the trip.

One of my good friends had a music site called Anubes (spelled differently on purpose) where a small group of us used to hang out and work on our craft. I have worn an Eye of Horus ring for many years (along with a Thor’s Hammer necklace). That’s kind of the way I am. I don’t play by the rules.

I find various mythologies fascinating. And I experienced things in Egypt that I carry with me. It is a powerful place emotionally and intellectually.

What are your literary influences?

I have many influences. And I’ve met many writers at science fiction conventions over the years. To name just a few of my favorites, I would say: Phillip K. Dick, James Tiptree Jr., Roger Zelanzy, Theodore Sturgeon, H.P. Lovecraft, Samuel Delany, Stephen King, and Harlan Ellison. That should give you a flavor for the kind of writing I’m drawn toward.

You work as an engineering consultant during the day and write at night. How do you switch gears?

It’s not easy. The biggest challenge for me is finding time to write. I’m so busy at work and at home that often, by the time I have an hour to write, I’m too tired to concentrate. If I have time to sit down, I can fall right back into the story pretty easy. I also tend to work on three or four writing projects at a time, so I switch around a lot. I’m a terrible single-tasker, but I multi-task well. I used to get upset at not being able to concentrate on one thing at a time, but now I just accept that that is how I am and deal with it.

How does having a child in your life enhance your creativity?

Kieran constantly reminds me of the most important thing about storytelling: capturing the sense of wonder. He is so unlike me in many ways. He’s much more social than I ever was. And he needs that social feedback and support. I was a loner as a kid, and it really didn’t bother me that I didn’t fit in. It was a source of pride for me that I was different.

He is a good example for me and I draw things from his words and actions that sometimes end up in the more playful characters I write.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination

I absolutely feel that being an indie is where I was meant to be. My story is my story. I feel very strongly about that.
Other than spelling and grammar editing, I WANT to be on the line for every word I write. I am happy that I’m not locked into deadlines (other than the ones I impose on myself), and I love that I can write in multiple genres if I want to. I cover a lot of my reasoning in my non-fiction rant Traditional Publishing Is My Bitch.

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?

My advice is: life is short to not do what you love. Don’t be afraid to fail. Somewhere out there are readers that will instantly understand what you are saying. They will hang on every word and make you proud. You are good enough.

And you will get better. Without risk there is no reward. Just do it! Don’t make me come over there!

Now that you've met Mike, get to know his work.

The Crystal Warrior: Legend of the Crystals.

Skin of Giants

Visit him at

and at Twitter: @last_writes

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview with Author Dana Taylor

This week I interviewed Dana Taylor, author of several books. Her writing will be of special interest to those reading this blog because she writes stories to uplift the spirit. Her work as an energy healer influences her tales of flawed humans seeking spiritual and emotional healing.

CB: I've noticed that those who become authors often are highly imaginative as children. Some want to create their own stories shortly after they learn to read. Some enjoy solitude. Others have imaginary playmates. Are there events and patterns in your childhood that you can look at and realize that they helped to propel you into your writing journey?

DT: Definitely! I was an only child and enjoyed the company of my many imaginary friends. I also had an old black and white TV in my room for company. I loved to sing and perform the catchy theme songs of the day—“Gilligan’s Island,” “Beverly Hillbillies,” and “I Dream of Jeanne” come to mind. I remember jumping on my bed and pretending I was the “Swamp Fox.” When I was writing the campy Royal Rebel, I channeled a lot of my power-girl fantasies.

My latest release, Hope for the Holidays, is a collection of short stories. This summer I enjoyed writing Patty’s Angels, which is inspired by my childhood in Los Angeles of 1960. My mother drove into downtown LA to work as a choir director. A woman with a checkered past named Geri became my “Sunday mother.” It was fun to imagine how a couple of angels might have influenced people’s lives.

Last week I was with my 3 year old grandson, Will. All week long we made up stories about a turtle named Mack and his dinosaur friend, Ned. I told him his imagination is his best toy! Maybe he’ll be a writer someday like his “Nina.”

CB: Telling him his imagination is his best toy is the best gift you could ever give him.

That brings me to the subject of elements that can short-circuit imagination.You and I share the desire to express what we believe in our fiction. In my first book, Big Dragons Don't Cry, that meant working with the idea that a large percentage of human problems come from their alienation from and disrespect for other life forms.

That's potentially a heavy theme, and I found that I had to take great care not to get pedantic and, frankly, boring. I had several priorities in this regard: not to allow the natural flow of the character development and story line to get derailed by what I thought "should" happen, to make extra efforts to "show," not "tell," and to reread the so-called "spiritual" sections of the story with special care.

As a writer who has a a well-developed belief system, how do you balance these beliefs with the desire to entertain?

DT: Lovin’ this discussion, Connie! There was once a Movie Mogul, Samuel Goldwyn, who was urged to make “messages movies.” He replied something to the effect, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” He knew audiences balk at getting a “message” shoved down their throats.

On the other hand, the pen is mightier than the sword. It was the invention of the printing press and the essays of Martin Luther that split Christendom, and ultimately inspired Puritans to settle a New World in pursuit of freedom of thought. Today, the so-called “Arab Spring” is being fueled by social media in a modern pursuit of freedom of thought.

But, I am aware that the average Kindle owner is looking for entertainment for their 99 cents. Compelling characters, good writing, a plot that keeps must be the key ingredients. Any “message” has to be a delicate spice added for flavor. (How’s that for a metaphor?)

CB: Fantastic metaphor. You've given us some ideas about ideas and/or experiences that inspire you to write. Since my blog is about creativity and inspiration, I'd love to hear more, so I'll throw out a few questions.

When you're writing a novel, do you have the plot line down before you begin, or do you discover it as you write (or any variant of these choices)?

DT: I am in awe of people who can plot before the get-go. Alas, there is often a point in my writing process when I feel the story should be subtitled: “Characters in Search of A Plot.” Which leads to your next question.

CB: Which comes first, the plot or the characters?

DT: The characters always come first, even when I’d like a bit of peace. A few years back, I’d finished a long project and was ready for a break, Christmas was coming. But no. Maddie and Phil and that Devil Moon showed up. The opening scene began as a dream—two lonely people, the lake, and the huge, compelling moon bringing them together. I remember stumbling to my computer and pounding out the first draft in the pre-dawn hours.

CB: When/if you come to an impasse, do you use meditation or energy work to get the creative inspiration flowing again?

DT: When I get to “what happens next,” I like to go for a pounding walk. I also open my top chakra and just watch my feet, trying to break through the top level of mundane consciousness to the creative consciousness. If you put stock in the left brain/right brain theory, there’s a knack for stimulating the right brain, which is where all the good stuff comes through.

A little aside—people ask me where I got the idea for “Shiny Green Shoes,” which is part of “Hope for the Holidays.” SGS features an 8 year old black child and an aging actress during the Depression in a small Oklahoma town. I feel like that story was a strange sort of collaboration.

A few weeks before I was trying to come up with a new kind of holiday story, I had gone to receive a Reiki treatment. The treatments really changed my life, as my book Ever-Flowing StreamsEver Flowing Streams relates. On this particular visit, the image of a black woman dressed in a satin, purple dress and hair band came into my mind. I had the impression she was a blues singer from the 1950’s. She seemed very friendly. I left the appointment thinking, “That was interesting.”

When it came time to write the story, I saw a row of fancy theatrical shoes and “heard” the opening lines. A black actress named Mazie June MacDonald reflects back on her life and I think the inspiration came from the woman I met during the Reiki session. It’s my most popular piece—so far!

CB: Your stories about how inspiration arrives truly demonstrate the power of receptivity. So often, people try to stalk creative ideas in a kind of predator-prey relationship, but the prey is always faster.

That brings me to the post-writing phase of a novel: promotion, publicity, etc. It can be very tempting to link sales to external conditions: the economy, people are busy getting their kids back to school, people don't read, and so on.

I try to walk on by when these excuses lure me and look inside. What am I doing, what am I feeling? From that, what am I attracting? Since I launched my first book, I have learned so much about my subconscious thoughts and programming. Being responsible for my book is both confrontational and enlightening.

How has this experience been for you?

DT: The publishing industry as we knew it is dying and then being re-born. There is certainly pain in the process. It’s a challenge to do things that are actually productive and not just big time suckers. Following intuition is essential. Being willing to learn and move on is also important. Consistency is also key. Get the word out every day, somewhere, to a new group of readers. Make the rounds.

One thing I have I enjoyed more about Indie publishing than I did in the Traditional publishing world is the authentic sense of support from other authors. Traditional publishing was more competitive—there were only so many contracts, so many 1st places in contests. The digital world is infinite. Everybody can publish, everybody gets a shot—even if they are terrible writers!

The cream rises to the top. I love finding a new Indie author who is a real gem. It’s like digging through a pile of rocks and finding a diamond. With the free sampling available, it’s great fun to jump from sample to sample on a Sunday afternoon, searching for the diamonds.

As far as finding my audience, a phrase came through in a meditation session yesterday—“As Within, So Without.” If I write competently from the heart, the readers will come. I find it quite stunning, actually, to see that now somewhere, pretty much every day people are downloading one or more of my books.

It’s a great time to be a writer.

BIO: Dana Taylor writes uplifting stories filled with inspiration and humor. Born and raised in California, she graduated from the University of Redlands. She has been published in various magazines, including the Ladies Home Journal. She hosted the Internet radio program Definitely Dana! at and won various contests with the Romance Writers of America, including Best First Book from the Desert Quill Awards. Her published works include ROYAL REBEL, AIN’T LOVE GRAND?, HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS, and DEVIL MOON: A MYSTIC ROMANCE. Her non-fiction book is EVER-FLOWING STREAMS OF HEALING ENERGY. Visit her blog site Supernal Living with Dana Taylor at www. She is a founding member of the on-line community and can be reached at

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Interview with
Jennifer Rainey, author of
These Hellish Happenings

My guest on this week's author blog is Jennifer Rainey, author of These Hellish Happenings. I could tell you how hilarious this book is, but the primary commandment for writers is Show, Don't Tell (which bears no relationship to the recently-repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell). The author's blurb shows what you can expect in her novel.

In 1707, hapless vampire Jack Bentley made a pact with the Devil in order to escape a vampire hunt. Dealing with Satan seemed better than your standard angry mob at the time. But three centuries later, Satan is ready to collect His dues, whether the vampire likes it or not. He's taking Jack down to Hell, and He's even got a job picked out for him down below: an eternal position at the Registration Office of the Damned. Jack attempts to adjust to life on the Administrative Level of Hell where fire and brimstone have been replaced by board meetings and the occasional broken copier. But the whiny complaints of the recently-deceased and the legions of suited, cookie-cutter demons are the least of his problems. Try adding to the equation a dead ex-lover, a dangerous attraction to his high-ranking demon companion, Alexander Ridner, and the sticky and distorted anti-vampire politics of a Hell that is surprisingly like our own world.

CB: Jennifer, I have a feeling that whatever genre you chose, you would approach it satirically. Why were you attracted to the paranormal genre and specifically to the subject of vampires and demons?

JR: I do love my satire, and I’ve always liked paranormal stuff. I was always the kid reading “real” ghost stories and wandering through cemeteries and all that splendid nonsense. For as long as I can remember, my writing has had a least a little bit of a paranormal slant to it. The vampires and demons came in specifically because of my mother, who is absolutely in love with the darlings of the night and has been my entire life. I was sort of destined to write about them, I suppose, ever since I was that seven-year-old kid drawing pictures of The Vampire Lestat for my Mom as a Mother’s Day gift, haha!

CB: I think in our "modern" age, anything having to do with death is either ignored or feared, but you were there tripping happily among the gravestones. It doesn't surprise me that this child ended up writing a satire about hell, Satan, and a demonic horde of bureaucrats.

I'd love to know more about your creative process. How did the characters and structure of These Hellish Happenings evolve?

JR: The very first element of the book to come to me was Jack, the protagonist. He showed up in my brain, and I knew he was a vampire who worked in Hell, and that was it. So, I built the story, the setting, the other characters around him. The story itself was very different when I first started; the political subplot wasn’t there at all. It was just going to be this love triangle-based romantic comedy about Jack, the demon he falls in love with in the book, and his ex-lover who reenters his life with a dash of satire thrown in for fun.

But I thought it really, really needed something else. It needed some cajones, for lack of a better word. And one day in 2008, I was trying to brainstorm what I could add to it, and I hopped on Facebook and saw a campaign ad for Obama. Ta da! The political subplot was born and gave the work some much needed substance.

CB: That reminds me so much of how my first work began, with a depressed dragon living in a swamp and ending with attempts to overthrow a government.

You thoroughly made the most out of that subplot. The aspect of discrimination against vampires particularly caught my attention. It was so beautifully satirical.

Was your intention from the beginning of the writing to go independent? If so, do you feel that gave you more freedom to develop a fairly unconventional subject?

JR: When I decided to publish, I wasn’t one hundred percent sold on either independent or traditional publishing. I was both looking for an agent and researching self-publishing at the same time. But in the end, the reason I think I did go with the independent route was just that; I knew I wasn’t going to have to change anything to get the book published if I went with self-publishing. It was all in my hands, and that freedom is a very good thing. And now when I’m ready to publish the sequel, I can skip all that agent nonsense, haha!

CB: I'm very excited to hear about the sequel. At what point did you realize that you weren't ready to say good-bye to the characters in These Hellish Happenings? Were you still writing the first novel when ideas for the second developed? Have you found writing the second novel easier than writing the first?

JR: I recently finished the first draft of the sequel, and I’m still not sure if I’m ready to say good-bye to these characters, haha! I love all of them, and I’ve gotten to know them so well. It was while I was editing the first book that I realized I still had more to say about the characters and Hell itself. I kept getting all these new ideas, new scenarios while I was editing and before I knew it, I had an entire new story for the characters! And yes, it was so much easier to write the second one; these days, I can slip into Jack Bentley’s character at the drop of a hat.

CB: I don't want to ask you who your favorite authors are, because that question always paralyzes me. There are too many to name. Instead, could you name authors who have especially inspired you as you developed your own unique method of creative expression?

JR: Definitely Aldous Huxley, Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore. They all mix elements in their works that people might not mix traditionally, and that’s something that has definitely inspired me in my writing.

CB: In conclusion, please say anything you'd like to tell readers about These Hellish Happenings and its sequel or about yourself as a writer. If you'd like to, include also an excerpt from your favorite review of your novel.

JR: If you’re looking for something different, something smart, something with a good sense of humor or all of the above, pick up These Hellish Happenings. It’s been so much fun to write, and like I said, I can’t see myself leaving these characters any time soon. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from a five star review of the book on Quirky Gurl Media:

Before I even read this book I knew I was going to like it., and I was right. The cover is engaging and suits the tone of the novel perfectly, and the synopsis was tight and piqued my intrest right away. The novel was all I’d expected and then some. Concise, evocative writing made this novel read like a movie- I could picture it in my mind, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t made into a movie at some point. These Hellish Happenings is a mostly one of Dark Humor, mixed with a little light paranormal, a smidgen of suspense with a dash of romance– and all of these are perfectly balanced into a stellar first novel.

Jennifer's biography: Jennifer Rainey was raised by wolves who later sold her to gypsies. She then joined the circus at the age of ten. There, she was the flower girl in the famed Bearded Bride of Beverly Hills show until the act was discontinued (it was discovered that the bearded lady was actually a man). From there, she wandered around the country selling novelty trucker hats with vaguely amusing sayings printed on front. Somehow, she made enough money to go to The Ohio State University for a major in English.

Get to know Jennifer better.
Buy her book at Amazon. (This is the Kindle link. It's also available in paperback.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Interview with Cheryl Shireman

Cheryl is a prolific best-selling writer who has harnessed her creativity to produce compelling fiction and nonfiction. But that's enough of telling. In her interview, she vividly describes her methods for keeping creative energy flowing.

Since my blog is about creativity, I'm especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

I was an only child and if an only child wants to play, they very often have to be creative. I spent a lot of time outside exploring our yard. It was only two acres, but the back of the property used to be a peach orchard, so there were old peach trees to climb and lots of room to roam. Inside the house, I used to play "farm animals" a lot. Farm animals were cheap little plastic animals that you could buy in a bag at any grocery store. I set up fences for them and created worlds where a family took care of their horse ranch during the day and also had time to visit the dinosaur farm and zoo right down the road.

What inspired you to write your first book, Life is But a Dream?

One day I started thinking about how our lives are often defined by our circumstances and we can make informed and empowered decisions, or we can merely float along. I wondered what would happen to a woman who suddenly lost everything that defined her life. I imagined a woman who has given her life to others. She is a devoted wife and mother, but when her husband files for divorce and her daughter leaves for college, she realizes her own life no longer has meaning. Just to make it even more interesting, I wanted the main character to be in unfamiliar surroundings so I placed her, Grace Adams, in a secluded lake cabin. Then I started writing, watching as Grace's life unfolded before me. It was a lot of fun to write and I came to really love Grace.

Your own main character is highly creative when it comes to dreaming up things to fear. What interested you about developing that character?

I think we all have fears; Grace just has a tendency to allow those fears to take form in her mind, creating problems that may never arise. She can also be quite funny in her musings. I love being able to get into such a character's mind. I have received many emails from readers telling me they love Grace and can relate to her. I just received one the other day from a reader who told me that she lost sleep over her book because she stayed up until three in the morning to finish it! That is the ultimate compliment for a writer.

What methods do you use to enhance your creativity (i.e., certain music, total solitude, etc.)?

I like to write the first thing in the morning, when I am as close to the sleep state as possible. I pull on the most comfortable clothes I can find (usually one of my husband's sweatshirts, a baggy pair of yoga pants, and an old pair of hiking socks), wad my hair up in a ponytail, and start writing. For years I wrote in longhand, but now I do all of my writing on my laptop. I have a desk, but I like to write on a couch with my feet up on an ottoman. Comfort is important. I also like solitude and silence. If I have any music on, it is usually soft classical music like Vivaldi. I can't listen to any music with words when I write. It is distracting. As the writing gets intense, I may even turn that off. I also love to write for long periods of time whenever possible. When I am writing, I very often work ten or twelve hours a day. These are my ideal writing conditions now, but as a mother of three, I seldom had those. I once wrote in a Chucky Cheese while my kids played nearby with probably fifty other kids. Now, that’s concentration!

How do you get yourself back in motion when you get stuck?

I don't get stuck. I don't believe in writer's block. Even when the words don't want to come, I write something. It might be notes, or brainstorming, or words that I will end up deleting, but I keep writing because you never know when a gem might be discovered. But I also believe in the value of long hot baths when the writing seems to be a mere trickle instead of a constant flow.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination?

I love being an indie writer! I have total freedom to write the books that I want to write. I am now working with a professional editor and really feel this is the very best situation for me. I have just rereleased the professionally edited version of my first novel (now titled Life Is But a Dream: On the Lake) and am about to release the edited version of my second novel, Broken Resolutions. I hope to release the second of the Grace Adams Series this fall. And then I will start a new novel after the first of the year that I am already very excited about. The ability to publish independently has opened a whole new world for me. I am living my dreams.

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?
Nike said it better than I can - Just do it. I believe everyone is born with a purpose. There is a reason you are on this earth. If you have creative urges, they are there for a reason. Don't ignore them. Nurture them and bring them to fruition. It won't be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Your talent, your creativity, is unique to only you. If you don't express it, it will never be expressed, and the world will be a poorer place. Just do it.

Amazon Links

Life is But a Dream: On the Lake

Broken Resolutions

You Don't Need a Prince: A Letter to My Daughter