Working Together in a collection by authors of “Always a Wedding Planner” Romance
TONI SHILOH is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.
When I was first presented with the opportunity to join the Always a Wedding Planner collection, I immediately jumped at the chance to have a character who was a wedding cake baker because . . . cakes! Although I have no experience baking on that level, I do love to bake. So, I delved into the world of cake baking and pinned way more cakes than was necessary on my Pinterest board for inspiration.
But I also wanted to create a character who had a deep desire to be married but couldn’t. Through brainstorming and maybe inspiration I saw through real life, I came up with a character who wasn’t able to have kids.
Felicity Edwards never knows when is the perfect time to tell a guy she’s dating that she’s infertile. This is a major conflict in her life and the reason she feels she’s remained single. But when Will Davenport walks into the story, she has to decide if being vulnerable is May 31st
worth the risk.
How may our visitors find you and your work?
Blogs I’m part of: www.inspyromance.com; http://diversitybetweenthepages.wordpress.com
M.M. Chouinard is the USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Charts bestselling author behind The Vacation, a standalone psychological thriller. The Detective Jo Fournier series, featuring The Dancing Girls, Taken to the Grave, Her Daughter’s Cry, and The Other Mothers.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember—my first fiction piece was published in a local paper when I was eight. My guess is the desire to write was born from being exposed to wonderful stories in books since I was a baby.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I’ve tried hard to write in as many different situations as I can: at home, in cafés, in hotels, on public transit, etc., (even while waiting in the doctor’s office!) and with whatever distractions occur. The reason is I’ve tried to train myself to be able to focus wherever I am, so I can meet my deadlines no matter what’s going on.
Tell us about your writing process: I’m halfway between a planner and a pantser. I start with what I call a ‘roadmap’—it’s nowhere near as detailed as an outline, but it gives 10-20ish stops I want to make along the way. I always know who my murderer is (and why they’re murdering), what my main twist will be, and have my characters ready to go. From there, I find that the story will come together in ways I never expected, and I love that. But, I believe the writing goes far more smoothly when I have the journey generally laid out.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The days when you feel like every word you write is horrible, and it’s like pulling teeth. Some days I can write 3,000 words, almost as easy as breathing, and other days it feels like I’m slogging through mud, and I struggle to get a thousand. The only way to break through it is to keep writing, so I just chant to myself, “You can’t edit a blank page, you can’t edit a blank page, you can’t edit a blank page.”
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I’m a member of Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and they’ve both been amazing! I wish I’d joined sooner, and I’d advise any new crime fiction writers to join one or both ASAP.
How long did it take you to write your first book? The first book took over a year to write the first draft. Since it still isn’t published and still needs revision, you could say I’m still writing it…The first book that actually got published I wrote in six weeks (bad first draft). Part of that is because I was no longer working full-time at another job. Still, part of it was learning how to turn off that internal editor and trust myself to get that first draft down on paper.
Give us a hint about your latest project: My current release is The Vacation – One of them is missing… One of them did it…
The Thanksgiving retreat was meant to be a time for them to get away from it all, miles from the secrets that threaten to tear their family apart. But they’re each hiding something:
Rose hopes the pretty house overlooking the sea is just the break her family needs. But as she gazes at the water and remembers her childhood, she is utterly terrified.
Brandon knows his wife Rose has barely forgiven him for his affair. He’s started drinking again, a road that led him to disaster once before.
Brianna, Rose’s sister-in-law, is recovering from her fifth miscarriage. When she looks at her adorable niece, she can’t help but see the daughter she deserves.
Then three-year-old Lily disappears from her bed in the villa. Isolated in what should have been paradise, it quickly becomes clear that one of them took her.
As one by one their secrets are uncovered, who will be destroyed next?
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Mine tend to do exactly what they want, exactly when they want to do it. If I try to force something on them, the writing dries up. So if I’m having a hard time with a scene, the first thing I do is back-track and figure out what I’m making them do that doesn’t fit their personality in that situation and fix it. Their reactions play a huge role in why I can’t do a full outline—sometimes I’ve quite surprised with what I discover.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? In my series, I try to make sure my detective’s personal life has parallels to whatever’s happening in the main plot. I try to make sure the case she’s investigating gives her something to think about and potentially learn from. In The Vacation, every character is bringing their own subplot to the main plot, so the main plot is really a tapestry of the consequences of those subplots.
What kind of research do you do? I always do a lot of research about the crime that’s being committed so I can do my best to get the forensics facts, legal facts, and police procedural facts right (hopefully!). But I also do a lot of specific research for each book too. With The Vacation, I did a lot of research about Jamaica (even down to what you can buy in pharmacies there), Lake Merritt and Children’s Fairyland, and a thousand other little things. That’s one of the things I love about writing—I’m always learning things, and I never know what I’ll need to look up on a given day!
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? A blend of both. For example, my detective series is set in Western Massachusetts but the exact county my detective works in is fictionalized. For The Vacation, every location was real. And for the private investigator novel, I’m writing, all of the locations are real places in the Bay Area, except for the town my PI lives in, because I had a very specific idea of what I needed for her where she lives.
What is the best book you ever read? That’s like asking which cell in my body is my favorite!! But a few that I love with all my heart are Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Pillars of the Earth, The Princess Bride, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Don’t give up! Keep writing and improving. And join an organization like Sisters in Crime or Mystery Writers of America (or whatever is relevant to your genre) sooner rather than later. There are so many resources that will turbo-charge your writing.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about your books?
The Vacation is available for pre-order now:
My Detective Jo Fournier series, which begins with The Dancing Girls, is available wherever you buy books.
How do our readers contact you?
Mary Keliikoa is the author of the Lefty, Agatha, and Anthony award-nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series and the upcoming Misty Pines mystery series featuring Sheriff Jax Turner slated for release in September 2022. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the anthology Peace, Love and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by Music of the ’60s. A Pacific NW native, she spent a part of her life working around lawyers. Combining her love of legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails.
When not in Washington, you can find Mary on the beach in Hawaii, where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—novel, that is.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, George! I’m delighted to be here. I came to writing in my late twenties and penned four novels by the age of 35. It was about that time that my husband and I opened a natural pet store and a distribution company, where all of my creative energies went for the next 15 years! I tucked away that last book I wrote in 1999 and set out to grow and run those businesses.
Fast forward, 2016, I’d turned 50, and we sold part of our company. Suddenly, I had time and energy to go back to that last book I’d written. I pulled it out and found that it wasn’t horrible, but it sure needed work—and updating. That last book I’d written was DERAILED, which is the first book in my series. When written, social media wasn’t a thing, and cell phones weren’t as savvy for taking photos and searching the web.
After many drafts and being involved in a mentoring program, I got my agent in 2017. The book deal came in 2018 and DERAILED published in 2020. It’s been racking up some nominations for best first novel, and today, I’m excited to say that BOOK 2, DENIED, just released.
When I’m not writing, I love to travel. Because my husband is Hawaiian and his family lives on the Big Island, we have a home there and get to visit quite often. But several years ago, the international travel bug bit us. Exploring other people’s cultures and meeting new friends has been the best part. And of course, as a mystery writer, I can’t go anywhere without wondering if I couldn’t set a story in that place or where to hide the body!
Do you write in more than one genre? I don’t write in any other genre than mystery and suspense. That is the genre that I love to read, and I can’t imagine anything else. I spent 18 years in the legal field, and I’ve always been drawn to that world and how it works. If I could volunteer to be on a jury, just to have a birdseye view on a regular basis, I would! I find it so intriguing. In mystery, I get to explore not only motivations and the crime but the way people tick and their thoughts and processes. The psychology of it is fascinating.
Tell us about your writing process: I’m a creature of routine. I put in 2-4 hours of writing, five days a week. I find that showing up at the same time each morning signals to my brain that it’s time to work. I aim for 2000 words a day, but I don’t worry if I don’t get there. Some days the story flows easier than others. One day I might manage 1000, but another day I cruise past 3500. At the end of the week, though, I’ve usually met my goal. And while editing doesn’t require the same word count, I still put in the time regularly.
What are you currently working on? With Book 3 already in the publisher’s hands and approved, I’m working on a standalone that could have some series potential. It features a paralegal, something I know quite a bit about, who is forced out of her workaholic comfort zone when her boss is murdered, and her sister goes missing,. The two events appear inextricably linked.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I do have subplots, and I think they’re so important to the story! They also have to tie into the main story to be effective. For me, I use family and the obstacles they can pose as a subplot quite often. In DENIED, a subplot is Kelly and her ex-mother-in-law. They are at odds on many occasions, but their history and Kelly’s daughter binds them. I also have Kelly’s ex-husband with his own subplot. But it still ties back to their love of their daughter and how that affects Kelly’s choices as a private investigator.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I’m always asking myself what can they lose or what do they feel they might lose in this scene—respect, their life, their ability to succeed. It doesn’t have to be huge, but there has to be the threat of something either physically or psychologically in play that means a lot to the character. If the character is invested in the outcome of the conversation or the action, then the reader will be as well. And I’m constantly turning the screw to make it harder on my characters. Of course, they get to save themselves near the end, but until then, I’m making them sweat! The fun part of writing for me is making life difficult but rewarding for all involved when the story is resolved.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I would say that I am influenced by real people, but I never create a character that is specifically one person. I pull different pieces from many people I’ve met or known in various situations, and create a composite. Having worked in retail, and in law, I definitely have had a view of many different personality types, and that has been a gold mine when I create characters.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Book 3, DECEIVED, has been approved at this point and will be published in May 2022! That will be the end of this part of the series of Kelly Pruett. But that’s not to say I won’t come back to her later. However, I have signed a two-book deal with Level Best Books. Book 1, HIDDEN PIECES, will be out September 2022 and features a small-town sheriff, Jax Turner, set in Misty Pines on the Oregon Coast. Of course, I have the second book in that series to write, and I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon!
Do you have any advice for new writers? My advice for any new writer is just to keep writing what you love, continue to hone your craft either by taking classes or finding a group of other writers you can bounce ideas off of and find your community. The best part of writing for me has been enjoying getting to know so many other mystery writers. Whether it’s that we support each other by critiquing each other’s books, or just boost each other on social media, or just boost each other on those days when we feel like we don’t know how to write (and even after having written nearly eight books now, I still have those days), it’s important to have people to lean on.
How do our readers contact you? https://marykeliikoa.com
My latest thriller, The Unseen, was published in June 2019 by 9mm Press and was a Distinguished Favorite for the 2018 IPPY Awards in the Thriller category and was the winner of the Crime Fiction category of the 2019 NYC Big Book Award.
“Lisa Towles weaves an exquisite tale of deception, ancient scrolls, and kidnapping that spans continents and lifetimes. Beautifully rendered, The Unseen is a must-read for thriller lovers!” (Cat Connor, Author of The Byte Series)
My standalone thriller Choke was published in 2017 by Rebel, and it’s about a bioengineer who develops a cigarette that cures lung cancer. That book was a Distinguished Favorite in the 2017 IPPY Awards and the 2018 NYC Big Book Award in the category of Thriller.
My four previous books were published under my previous name, Lisa Polisar, including Escape: Dark Mystery Tales (2010, Nukeworks Publishing), The Ghost of Mary Prairie (2007, University of New Mexico Press), Blackwater Tango (2002, Hilliard & Harris), and Knee Deep (2001, Port Town Publishing).
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Trusting my writing voice enough to allow it to lead the way. Learning to let go of the reins and not try to control everything is a hard lesson. But I’ve discovered that my best writing comes out when I get out of the way, listen, and let my characters take over.
Plotter or Pantser? My outlining style is like driving with my low beams on. I don’t really plan chapter-by-chapter, but I keep a list of upcoming scenes, so I typically know what to do for the next 3-4 chapters. I often get glimpses of how a book is supposed to end and have no idea how I’m going to get there. And that’s the whole fun! -?
What are you currently working on? I’m writing my first series right now – a California-based thriller series, and I’m about 80% done with Book 3. I’m also writing a new standalone thriller.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Oh my goodness, yes. The Mystery Writers of America NorCal community means so much to me and was an important anchor to help me get through 2020. More recently, I re-joined Sisters in Crime NorCal and have been enjoying their frequent write-ins, including a small group that writes from 10-11 pm weeknights. Both organizations have some really wonderful programming that keeps me connected to the how and why of crime writing.
Favorite books/authors: I have so many favorites it’s hard to narrow it down, but I’ll list four:
• Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson is one of my early favorites. I love that book because it’s about what I care about the most in my books – secrets.
• The Resurrectionists by Michael Collins
• The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez Reverte
• The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I think about six months. I wrote my first book when I was 20 after I finished reading the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I wrote that book, called Real Horizons, longhand on legal pads. I wouldn’t allow myself to buy a new legal pad until I’d filled in every inch of the current one because I didn’t want to jinx it, so to speak. That book was never published, but it was one of my most important accomplishments because when I finished it, I could finally say that I’d started a creative project that I actually finished.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I think characterization, in general, can be very challenging. My book The Ghost of Mary Prairie is a heartland suspense that takes place in Grady, Oklahoma, in 1960. The main character is Jake Leeds, a 15-year-old boy. I don’t have any brothers, so I’m still a bit bewildered by that book, and I don’t really know why Jake Leeds’ voice and presence was so strong in my head.
What kind of research do you do? Exhaustive research. Internet research, but that’s top down, so I also try to link up with someone in the field I’m writing about to consult with an actual expert who has more foundational (professional training) knowledge in the field I’m writing about. And before the internet was so widely used, I used to connect with someone from the Chamber of Commerce in whatever area I was researching to ask for maps, feedback, local resources, and people in a community who could answer questions. To me, the most important thing about research is to get a hands-on experience of what I’m writing about.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I feel like I wasted a lot of time, in my early 20’s, trying to be good instead of trying to be me. I read constantly, I still do, focusing on the classics and the masters. In my desire to be taken seriously as a writer, I think I was trying too hard to emulate those masters. In so doing, I think I hindered my authentic writing voice from coming out. So my advice to novice writers is to read a lot, write, and just keep writing to cultivate your unique voice. That’s the voice of your creative passion, the voice that will sustain you.
How do our readers contact you?
My writing website: http://lisatowles.com/
Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Towles/e/B001JS7KWI?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1618725756&sr=8-1
My writing blog: https://digitalraconteur.wordpress.com/
Facebook Author Page: Lisa Towles | Facebook
Linkedin Profile: www.linkedin.com/in/lisatowles/
Kathryn Wilder is the author of the memoir Desert Chrome: Water, a Woman, and Wild Horses in the West (Torrey House Press, May 2021),
Kirkus Reviews calls it “a spirited and impassioned chronicle.” Wilder’s essays have been cited in Best American Essays and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. They have appeared in such publications as High Desert Journal, River Teeth, Midway Journal, Fourth Genre, and Sierra, and in many anthologies and Hawai`i magazines. A graduate of the low-rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, she was a 2016 Artist-in-Residence at Denali National Park and Preserve finalist for the 2016 and 2019 Ellen Meloy Fund Desert Writers Award and 2018 finalist for the Waterston Desert Writing Prize. She lives among mustangs in southwestern Colorado, where she ranches with her family in the Dolores River watershed.
“Testimony to the healing power of wildness . . . a candid memoir that interweaves a trajectory of loss, pain, and hard-won serenity with a paean to wild horses.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS
“‘Blame it or praise it,’ Virginia Woolf writes, ‘there is no denying the wild horse in us.’ Desert Chrome is the story of a landscape and the many ways the land sings us into being. It is the story of one of our most iconic North American species, Equus caballus, the wild horse. And, most of all, it is the story of a woman coming to know her own wildness—a wildness that is free, and sustaining, and on her own terms.”
—JOE WILKINS, author of Fall Back Down When I Die and The Mountain and the Fathers
Do you write in more than one genre? I write fiction and nonfiction yet publish mostly literary nonfiction (apparently, my fiction needs work). Occasionally a poem slips out—one in about every ten years.
Tell us about your writing process: I write first by hand, usually outside unless it’s too cold, sitting on a rock or the rowing seat of a raft, or in a camp chair on the cabin porch. Those journal entries, where I’m just recording what’s going on around me or writing a scene of fiction that’s wanting out, will be fresh and raw and unfiltered, like rainwater rushing over the edge of the cliff into the creek. I don’t have to finish those entries for them to be the first draft of something—because of whatever details I put in, I can go back, reread, and reconstruct where I was and what I was feeling enough to write more. I can feel the rain, hear it collecting, pushing, splashing; I can smell it; it becomes a thing, a subject, and a story gathers around it…as long as I have enough scribbled details
When I transcribe that material onto the computer, I make changes, add details, clean up wrong sentences, and start to see structure, which becomes the second draft. From that point, it’s a process of braiding: printing out a hard copy and again sitting outside if possible to edit and rewrite; taking those changes back to the computer; editing for a while there; and printing out and making notes on hard copy, etc. It might be ten or fifteen drafts before anyone else sees it.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Perhaps the most challenging parts are prioritizing and dealing with distractions. I read once, back when my kids were small, about a mother setting up the playpen and climbing inside with her typewriter, typing away while her kids played around her. I thought that was brilliant! Today, when I’m at the ranch headquarters, my son and his family in their own house on the same property, interruptions are constant—my sisters and mother will tell you that I cannot get through a single phone call without an interruption of some sort. It might be grandkids wanting to show me something (I am not complaining!), or cattle are out somewhere, and I have to jump up, pull on my boots, and race around afoot or in the side-by-side chasing cows; or it’s simply, suddenly, chore time. This happens whether I’m on a phone call or deep into revision.
I have found that I recover from interruption more easily during some parts of revision than in other parts. The final proofreading of Desert Chrome was interrupted constantly, but since I was reading carefully line by line and not needing to hold a whole concept or scene in my head, I could mark my place and return to it without stress (errors do occur in the book, however, which I may have found with better concentration).
For some of the revision, I had to go into isolation—days at the cabin alone. And I love those times, the creek, black bears, dogs, and mustangs my company. I understand now why going to a writer’s retreat is so desired!
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I would tell my freshman comp students to outline after they had a first draft. Fresh from high school, they would look at me, confused, and I would say, how do you know what you want to write if you haven’t started writing? And then I’d say, shit-can the five-paragraph essay. Stop thinking. Start writing. When you have even as few as a couple of pages, we can look at what’s coming out and see if there’s an outline to be found. This paralyzed many of them.
I don’t think I’ve outlined anything since I was required to do so in high school, and I’m guessing I did it after that first draft, which was probably considered cheating at the time. When I’m beginning a project, if I force myself to think about something like organization, it will stifle me. I won’t be able to move, think, feel. Write.
Later, when I’ve got material all over the place and organization is imperative, I might panic first, then experiment with ordering chapters or paragraphs in different ways. Maybe a previously written outline would help me at this point. But. It’s not likely to happen.
When I wrote my thesis for the Institute of American Indian Arts, I chose the simple format of alternating longer, essay-type chapters with shorter pieces. It worked enough to get the job done but felt too regulated, constrained, linear, so as I moved material into what was becoming Desert Chrome the book, I mixed it all up and put the small pieces in where my gut told me to. That felt so much better.
Do you have any advice for new writers? In two ways, I am an old writer: I’m sixty-six, and I have been writing for a long time. That Desert Chrome came out two-plus decades after my first books (a children’s book co-written with the painter Redwing T. Nez and two anthologies), with only articles, essays, and some fiction in between, is, on the one hand, an embarrassment; on the other, it’s a nod to my perseverance (or stubbornness). I did not quit. I will not quit.
Writing is about writing first, and then it seems to me that it is about rejection and resiliency. Fortitude. Some people have great success stories. Most do not. My mother published a new book in her eighties. I want to do that. I’d also like to publish a few more before then. How do I do accomplish that? Keep writing, even in the face of rejection.
How do our readers reach out to learn more about you and your work?
Thank you so much for this opportunity, George, and your support of writers and IAIA alum!
Kathryn Wilder’s “Desert Chrome,” Tychi and Jasper, Brumley Point and
Temple Butte in the background; Spring Creek Basin Herd Management Area, Disappointment Valley, Southwest Colorado