Denise Kalm is the published author; of the novel, Lifestorm. Her non-fiction books include Career Savvy – Keeping & Transforming Your Job, Tech Grief – Survive and Thrive Through Career Losses (with Linda Donovan), First Job Savvy – Find a Job, Start Your Career, and Retirement Savvy – Designing Your Next Great Adventure. Her books are available on all major sites as paperbacks and e-books.
The new definition of retirement is simply “doing what you want to do.” And this begins with figuring that out and putting it into action. Retirement Savvy is designed to help you design and act on your dreams so that you can take full advantage of these well-earned years.
I’ve been writing since I knew how to write, actually delighting in writing assignments in school. That’s just a part of what made me different throughout my life (okay, weird). I also love to do public speaking, which sets me apart from many writers. I’m an extrovert and highly gregarious, which inspires some of my better ideas as well as giving me great input on dialogue. But that means some aspects of writing are frustrating, as being alone is not my core strength. The writing itself is one thing—once I get going, I have to remind myself to get up for a break. But editing is more challenging, as you rarely can achieve “flow” in editing.
I started out dreaming of being the next Stephen King or Robert Ludlum, liking to write horror as well as suspense. If you check out my writing, you’ll wonder at that, but I have an unpublished book (my first) that is a legitimate techno-thriller about biological warfare. I have an MS in biochemical genetics. And I have a boxful of great horror stories, two of which were published.
What made me switch genres and write four non-fiction, how-to books? I began writing career advice articles for IT magazines when I realized how many techies didn’t know how best to present themselves. As e-books and self-publishing got going (and the economy flat-lined), I was encouraged to publish my tips so more people could learn how to get a job more easily, keep it through layoffs and then transform it into something they loved. Once I had a process and design in mind, the books flowed easily so I could get them out to my friends and colleagues more quickly. I felt like this was a way I could make a difference.
As I got older, retirement started becoming real to me, though I wrote most of Retirement Savvy before I retired. And my plan came out of my book and loads of interviews, research, and thinking on the subject. I still work, though most of it isn’t for profit. I’m crazy-busy and enjoying it. But I do allow my travels to extend out, as I no longer have to cram them into too-short vacation windows.
I started a murder mystery set in a retirement community, and then Covid hit. I needed to interview people to give my story more reality—and I couldn’t. Then, I began to consider what else I could write. Realizing that no one could fire me anymore, I felt empowered to start a blog. The twice-weekly writing “assignment” keeps me busy, researching, talking to people, and responding to comments, and it’s writing I enjoy. Still, years remain to get back to fiction if I want to.
My favorite tip to writers is to go for a walk outside whenever you get stuck. It has to be outside; that’s where inspiration can be found. Don’t think about solving your problem; your brain is hard at work without your effort. Most times, to my endless surprise, the solution is there when I get back to work. I also find I can write whole short stories and articles in my head when I walk. It’s the most powerful inspiration I’ve found.
Writing-wise, I’m a member of CWC-Mt. Diablo.
Web site: www.denisekalm.com.
Blog: Right on the Left Coast | Denise Kalm | Substack
Michael was born in Manchester, England. He lived in France and joined a French Order of Missionary priests. He spent ten years in West Africa, several of them during a civil war when he was stood up to be shot. He spent a year living as a hermit in Northern Ireland, was a teacher in Madrid, Spain, and as part of the British ‘brain drain’ taught at the Univ of Puerto Rico.
The owner of MJB Consultants, he flew all over the world monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is fluent in several languages, an avid golfer, and academically considers himself over-engineered, having three Masters’ Degrees and a Ph.D. On his bucket list is to pilot a helicopter, become fluent in Arabic, and spend a week’s retreat at Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.
Michael lives with his French wife, who designs and paints the covers of his books, and a Tibetan terrier in Clayton, California.
His latest novel, The Ethiopian Affair (May 2022), begs the question: Is there a plot to abduct the US ambassador to Ethiopia? MI6, the CIA, and NISS (Ethiopian Secret Service) are faced with discovering the truth.
He has always been a writer, and his first book, The Bishop Wears No Drawers (2017), is a memoir of his time in Africa. Let the Peacock Sing (2020) is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the French Resistance during World War II. His second novel, a coming-of-age book, Becoming Anya, was published in November 2021. Michael also writes fiction and nonfiction articles for several magazines, including Alive East Bay and The Big issue (UK). He is a feature writer for the Mt Diablo Gazette.
Do you write in more than one genre? My first book is a memoir of ten years spent in Nigeria as a catholic missionary priest, where I was stood up to be shot. My second book is the historical novel Let the Peacock Sing.
What brought you to writing? I have always been a writer, mainly nonfiction and academic articles on philosophy and spirituality. Retirement gave me the time to develop my craft and let my imagination run wild.
Tell us about your writing process: I treat my writing like a job as if I am employed and quite disciplined. I usually spend six to eight hours a day on a book, either writing or doing research. I take breaks with a round of golf and vary my writing by producing fiction and nonfiction articles for various magazines.
With fiction, I usually have an idea with just a couple of specific points, and the rest of my process depends entirely on my characters. As they grow and develop, they tell me who they are, what they want to say, and what they are doing.
Nonfiction: It depends on my mood and particular interest at a given moment. I occasionally do book reviews.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The only challenge I have as a writer is that there is insufficient time to write all the stories and characters in my head.
What are you currently working on? I am five chapters into a novel comprising six different stories, all intertwined with links to two main characters. It’s fun and challenging.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Not really. I joined CWC because writing is a lonely business. I started the Writers Connection, where a group of us could meet to socialize and talk about anything related to writing.
I read more biographies than novels. Who’s your favorite author? Depends on the type of book. Thrillers: John Le Carre; Literary: Edna O’Brien & Jose Luis Borges. Paul Theroux is, for sure as a travel author.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Love/romantic scenes are particularly difficult to write, just to get the language balance and sensitivity right. My wife, who is both a painter and psychologist, is always the first to review my drafts and gives me excellent feedback.
Do you have subplots? Always have several subplots. That’s a major part of the fun and challenge in writing.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes. I believe that almost every author, especially early in their career, base some characters on their own experiences. We often write from what we know.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Sometimes it’s difficult to access or find all the information needed about a character. For example, I needed a great deal of information about the French railways during World War II. There are lots of bits and pieces, but that complete history has still to be written. I have researched French archives and come away empty-handed.
Where do you place your settings? Depends. I write a lot about places and countries I have lived in, especially France, Ireland, Spain, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Latin America.
What is the best book you have ever read? Henry Kissinger: 2 Vols. The Whitehouse Years, and he was writing in a second language. From the point of view of command of language and style, Mark Kishlansky’s A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? My head is full of characters wanting to tell their stories. I’ll just keep writing because I must. I would like to see my book Let the Peacock Sing turned into a mini-series, and I am working on that.
How do our readers contact you?
I was born in London, England, a few years after World War II. I watched London being patched back into a vibrant commercial center. Sights of bombed-out buildings and devastation still linger in my memories.
At age 26, I moved to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco (an oil company.) I worked there for four years and traveled widely in the region. I grew to love and be intrigued by the local people and their culture.
Years later, as I neared retirement, my family requested I write down some of the many stories I had told over the years. One theme kept appearing in these pieces, my driving a Chevy Blazer from London to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia – a journey of 5,500 miles in 15 days. That became my first book, a memoir, Journey to Self, published in September 2019 – available on Amazon.
While working on that book, I said I had no idea how to write a novel. It seemed overwhelming. However, after one workshop, I saw I had the basic framework for a fictional story. Having never been one to shy away from a challenge, I started work on it. My story is set around a Syrian family and covers themes such as:
- most Syrians, most Muslims, like ourselves, want to live in peace – that is not fiction,
- how to counter a ruthless dictator,
- the roles of men and women in Syrian society,
- how to hold grief, love, and fear while fighting for your life,
- how people, despite their dire circumstances, can imagine a hopeful future.
In the past few weeks, I have received feedback from a group of beta-readers, and so far, there have been no show-stoppers but plenty of words of encouragement. While working through the multiple drafts of this first novel, I started work on the sequel: Syrian Rebirth – Ahmed’s World. This is now a completed initial draft. I have in mind the third and final book in the series, Syrian Rebirth – Fatima’s World.
Syrian Rebirth – Rashid’s World. Rashid wished his family to be safe. He joined the fight against Syria’s brutal president. How would that affect him, his family, and his country?
What brought me to writing: Writing is a way for me to purge demons that hindered me for too many years. I learned to read as a child, but I truly hated and, in some ways, feared it. I read my first book for pleasure when I was 26 years old. To many people, that may sound horrifying, but it was my world as a youngster. Numbers and logic were my saving graces. I became a computer software engineer for a career. Reading never became a pleasurable activity for me. I missed reading the classics, much to my detriment.
Over the years, I have displayed some competence in various artistic mediums: drawing, painting, woodcraft, story-telling, and cooking. Then I started writing, and it became a passion. I have taken many classes, and some teachers have had a profound impact on my writing.
Tell us about your writing process: I arise early each day and make my wife’s coffee (a survival technique I learned early.) Depending on the priorities of the day, I make time most mornings to review and edit what I worked on the previous day. I try to dedicate an hour or two each day to writing new material or making revisions to pieces that are my focus at that time. If I do not manage to find time, I do not judge myself but try to use my sense of frustration as an impetus for the following day.
Do I kill popular characters? Yes. My novels are thrillers. I think in my first novel, more characters are dead than alive in the end. And several of the dead are good/popular characters. One of my favorite characters in that first novel is among the dead, and I still grieve their loss. Reading that section still causes my eyes to tear up. A few beta-readers admitted they cried when that death happened.
How do you raise the stakes for the protagonist? One of my teachers frequently tells me to keep winding up the tension and never let it go. I understand this and try to do that. But I do find when a sub-plot comes to its termination, then along with that, some of the protagonist’s tension is released. So in my novel, the tension is more like waves with spikes along them. Even though some tension may be released at times, it still adds to the overall tension.
How did I come up with Character Names. Most of my main characters are Arabic. So names like Joan, Paul, Marge, and Randy are inappropriate. Thankfully, lists of Arabic names can be found on the web. I have selected names with which I am comfortable, and I hope readers will not trip over. I have tried to have each name start with a different letter for easier recognition. In the forward to each book, I have listed out the main characters and their relationship so that readers have a quick reference, e.g. Rashid is married to Fatima.
Do I outline, or am I a pantser? At heart, I am a pantser, but I will admit that I have my thoughts reasonably outlined in my head before I tackle a section. What fascinates me is how my mind conjures up a scenario that appears on the page/screen without me consciously thinking about it. Sometimes, as I fathom out how to write a section, I will realize in my wordy/ugly first draft I left a hook or a character that will allow for a smooth continuance of the current storyline.
Sources of Expertise / Advice. I have read posts, articles, and books about the book’s locations, particularly from current day journalists. Also, I found a local Islamic Center and talked with one of the leaders about these novels. He gave me some useful information and encouraged me to continue working on them. He agreed that, basically, Syrian refugees are people who have been forced out of their homeland by violence and intimidation. They are desperate to find a safe environment in which to raise their children. They are no more inherently violent than we are.
Going forward, I have plenty of work integrating the comments that I received from beta readers and improving the readers’ experience of the novel. After that, I will reach out to a few agents and publishers. If those connections raise no interest, I am prepared to self-publish, which I did for my memoir.
A reader of this post may be able to assist me with achieving one of my next steps. Does anyone know a Syrian or a person from the Middle East who may be willing to read the revised beta draft of the novel? I would be appreciative if anybody could suggest a female as the book addresses gender roles in Syrian society. But I am looking for any person from that region who may be willing to review the revised draft.
My website can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com
My blog can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com/blog
My email address is: BDHWrites@gmail.com
Ana Manwaring is a former newspaper lifestyle columnist. Her poetry, personal narratives, book reviews, and short stories have appeared in diverse publications, including the California Quarterly, KRCB Radio, Morning Haiku, and Mystery Readers Journal.
A graduate of the University of Denver (B.A.) and Sonoma State University (M.A.), Ana teaches creative writing, produces the monthly North Bay Poetics poetry event on Zoom, and operates her editing company, JAM Manuscript Consulting—“Spread Excellence.” She’s also the 2022 SinC-NorCal programs chair. In her “past life,” she has prepared taxes, taught ESL, worked for a PI, consulted brujos and out-run gun totin’ maniacs on lonely Mexican highways—the inspiration for the JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures.
Ana, husband David, ace gopher hunter Alison, and a host of birds, opossums, skunks, deer, fox, coyotes, and occasionally the neighboring goats co-habitat an acre of Northern California.
After earning her M.A., Ana finally answered her mother’s question, “What are you planning to do with that expensive education?” Be a paperback writer. (ebook and audiobook, too!)
The JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures: A missing persons case to locate an American gone missing in the resorts of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo turns investigator JadeAnne Stone’s life into a nightmare of secrets, betrayals, and pursuit as she and her dog are ensnared in a web of trafficking. Who will she trust as loyalties shift and greed rules?
JadeAnne and I are thrilled to be back on George’s blog. Since our first visit, we’ve published books two and three of the JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventures. And now we’re unpublishing them. Why on earth? Because I’ve been picked up by Indies United Publishing House who is re-releasing second editions of all three books and publishing the 4th this year. An Ambitious publishing schedule, but penance for taking 28 years from being threatened on a lonely stretch of the Pan American Highway in Michoacán (the inspiration and inciting incident) to publication of Book 1, Set Up. I’m paying my dues now with the new covers, more revision, and editing, as well as finishing Coyote—Pursuit and Terror Across the Border (there’s going to be an exciting chase, shoot-out, and lots of suspense), which will release in November.
Set Up re-released February 16, 2022.
People ask about my writing process. Unfortunately, I’m lousy at discipline and routine. The most challenging part of the process is getting myself to sit down at the computer to write. I always find pressing things to accomplish first. Today it was weeding. But I’m really fortunate to be blessed with a large, light-filled writing studio on the second story of a barn behind my house. I look into oaks and eucalyptus and can watch the birds, the play of light and shadow through the leaves, listen to the soft susurrus of the breeze off the coast, and, when I’m not distracted, write. I’m making good use of our wonderful Sisters in Crime write-ins (I attend 1 Pm and 10 Pm currently) and my M/W/F Study Hall with my writing students. I use the social writing time for outlining, revision, poetry writing, blogging, or brainstorming character names, which often come through reading my mail. In book 4, we’re going to have two new bad guys: Denver “Zeke” Stoner and Slim Killins. I have no idea who they are or what parts they’ll play yet, but when I went to mark my mail-in Recall ballot in the California recall election, there they were. The good news, I get to my desk every day since COVID and sometimes three times, even if I’m not specifically writing, but I’m most productive with high-intensity writing stints like NaNoWriMo.
A huge help in launching my writing career (besides retiring in January) is Sisters in Crime NorCal. I can’t stress enough how beneficial professional organizations and conferences can be to your development as a writer, marketer, and speaker. I’ve met many wonderful writers and readers who’ve helped me, taught me, and encouraged me. I’m a member of several branches of SINC, MWA NorCal, California Writers Club, and a Left Coast Crime attendee and participant. I’m looking forward to our LCC after two years without a conference. I’m excited about Albuquerque, too. The big chase scene culminating in the climax of Coyote will take place between Albuquerque and Denver, and I’m going to take a few days while I’m in the “area” to scout out locations. I try to experience my settings whenever I can. However, I’ll leave the shoot-out to vicarious experience and my imagination—but I’ll know what the air feels like and how the trees smell!
I write in more than one genre. I’m currently completing a memoir of my years in Mexico, and occasionally I write book reviews and short personal essays. I have two poetry chapbooks published, and I’m working on a third of “found” poems on climate change. I’m also writing the great American dysfunctional family novel told in three voices: the dying matriarch with dementia, the elder daughter who is deceased, and the resentful second daughter. Luckily the dead sister is pretty funny.
Two events brought me to writing: I’ve always loved reading stories and wrote a short story entitled “Me and My Dinosaur” instead of writing my third-grade dinosaur report. My teacher Mrs. Clancy loved it, and I got to read it to the class. (This trick worked again in Medieval History at University—I wrote a short story instead of writing a term paper, Another A, but no public reading). The second push toward writing was when I was 11 or 12, and a palm reader predicted I’d be a bestseller by the time I was 50. Isn’t 70 the new fifty?
I’m on my way! Set Up released on 2/16, The Hydra Effect releases 5/18, Nothing Comes After Z 8/17, and Coyote 11/16.
Find me at:
Judy Lussie uses her cultural background to write stories about Asian-American women. Her latest novella, Bought Daughter, is based on her grandparents’ immigration to America.
Judy writes women’s contemporary novels. Lake Biwa Wishes and the sequel Second Time Around were her first two novels. Her short stories have been included in several anthologies. Her most recent novel is titled Bought Daughter.
The original Moy sisters and their mother. The baby is Judy.
Bought Daughter: When she was a child, Mei-Ling’s poverty-stricken father sold her to a wealthy family. Despite her status as a Bought Daughter, she was determined to go to America. When the Chinese missionary Ah Pu proposed marriage and travel to the New World, she jumped at the chance, even though she did not believe in his God. Could a Christian and an atheist succeed in marriage? Would her past forever haunt her?
What brought you to writing? While on the Board of Directors of Presbyterian publishing Corporation, I was asked to write a week’s worth of devotions for These Days Magazine. At the time, I was the Technical Information Director of Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. This was my first experience in paid non-technical writing. As a result, I received many letters from old friends and compliments from new readers. One man wrote that his wife suffered the same disease I had–polymyositis. The following year he wrote that his wife had died. I offered my prayers. Then later he wrote that he met a widow whom he asked to marry and thanked me for supporting him with my letters. Until then, I never realized how writing could help another person.
Has association membership helped you or your writing? Yes. California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch (of which I was Program Chair), San Francisco Writers Conference (5-year volunteer), and several writing classes. I met many New York Times best-selling authors and learned more about the art of writing, publishing, and marketing.
Who is your favorite author? I have many, but Lisa See, Erica Jong, and Catherine Coulter are at the top of my list. Each one writes in a different sub-genre, but all are great writers. Lisa See writes historical novels, Erica Jong writes women’s novels, and Catherine Coulter writes crime fiction.
Do you base your characters on real people? Yes. The characters in Bought Daughter are based on my grandparents, aunts, and uncle. The character Kyoko in Second Time Around is based on my granddaughter (when she was 3). I tried making up characters, but they seemed phony.
What kind of research do you do? The research for Bought Daughter fell into my lap. While visiting Angel Island Immigration Station, I was told I could find more information in NARA (National Archives and Records Administration). Previously, as a technical information manager, I was required to send NARA information with strict requirements. Finally, I became a user instead of a contributor. When I entered the facility, I showed them my grandparents’ travel info and signed up as a researcher. The attendant wheeled a cart full of papers in both Chinese and English, which they photocopied for me. With all that information, I knew I had to share it with others. I also use online resources. Taryn Edwards provided a comprehensive list of historical resources.
Where do you place your settings –real or fictional locations? I feel my story is more accurate in the locations I visited. For my first two books, I lived in Japan for two years and skied in many ski resorts around the world. For Bought Daughter, I lived in Chicago Chinatown as a child. I visited China as an adult.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Write, write, write. Even if you just put the manuscript on a shelf. Read, read, read. Highlight passages that move your heart and soul.
Thank you, George Cramer, for inviting me to be a guest blogger.
I can be contacted by email at Sursum Corda Press, LLC. I welcome your comments and questions.