Thursday, August 30, 2012

What the Experts Say: Contemporary Fiction Author - Raynetta J Stocks

Raynetta J Stocks, Author
Please welcome Raynetta J Stocks. Raynetta is a budding contemporary fiction author whose debut novel, THE GRIM, opened to rave reviews.  Having written since childhood, Raynetta’s work consists of plays, short stories, prose anthologies, and editorial essays.  When a severe bout with congestive heart failure forced her to discontinue her longstanding work in mental health, she decided to pursue her writing career full-time.  She now resides in Maryland with her son.

Q What led you to write THE GRIM specifically?

THE GRIM in a lot of ways was my own story.  My main character, Jaycee, and I had a lot in common in that we shared similar fears and traumas.  When I set out to write this book, it was meant to be a Gothika-like tale of intrigue and mystery.  Instead, I found I was pulling from a darkness in me I thought previously extinguished.  It was therapy, for me and Jaycee.

Q How do you use back story to drive the plot?  For example, how did you use PTSD symptoms to write a compelling novel?

PTSD is an acronym for post-traumatic stress disorder and is a clinically recognized mental health illness dealing with individuals who struggle to live normal lives in the wake of disturbing events.  The condition typically affects individuals with serious traumatic events in their past: the sexually and physically abused (many of them children), murder witnesses, victims of long illnesses or cancers, and most notoriously war veterans.

Jaycee is diagnosed with PTSD after she kills her abusive ex during an incident she cannot remember.  Instead of being sentenced to prison, the judge takes pity on her and sends her to a psychiatric facility to face her demons.  So, in Jaycee’s case, her backstory is crucial to recalling these repressed memories.  It is what has happened prior in Jaycee’s life that the reader is drawn to, the mystery of what occurred to land her in this facility surrounded by other mentally ill patients.  Much of the story are therapy sessions with her new doctor recounting parts of her past and what led her to the event in question.

Q What do you believe is most important about THE GRIM? About your other writings?

Innately, THE GRIM is about survival.  Many people believe that if you bury what is dark and ugly about yourself or your life that it will remain there forever.  What Jaycee, and many people like her, come to find is that nothing ever stays hidden.  And a lot of those things we seek to forget or bury have truly affected us, our lives, and the lives of those who love us.  Only by digging them up and dealing with that trauma do we triumph over what sought to oppress us.

Q Who are your target readers?

THE GRIM is an “anybody” kind of story, but as the main character is a young woman in her mid-twenties, I would say women between the ages of 16-40 would probably identify more readily.

Q Actually I would expand that to older readers as well. As someone over 40, I am very intrigued with THE GRIM.  

Q What is key to developing characters that readers care about? How do you make your characters engaging? Are they based on real people? How do you make them credible?

As a writer, you have to care about what you’re writing.  When you’re passionate about something, it shows in the work.  Engaging characters, to me, are characters with stories never before told.  I like to put a creative spin on the mundane or shock with stories the reader may not have ever experienced.  Some of my characters do have basis on real people; as I’ve said, Jaycee in THE GRIM is quite of bit of me and my experiences.  A character’s credibility is rooted in the writer’s ability to make that character respond in a human way, even if that character is somehow supernatural or of another world.  It is the reader’s ability to identify with what’s on the page that makes them keep turning.

Q Why are you a writer?

I am a writer because I am an avid reader with a love for good stories.  When you’ve experienced so many great stories, one’s imagination becomes teeming with stories of one’s own.  A quote that I love from Toni Morrison is “If there is a book you want to read but hasn’t been written, you must write it.”

Q  What’s most important about dialogue?

Dialogue is about natural human speech.  Conversations must flow as though real people are saying them.  It helps solidify the validity of the characters.  I often read my dialogue aloud, either to myself or with someone else, when available, to see if it sounds like a real conversation.

Q What activities do you do for inspiration to write?

I’m inspired by life.  I people watch, especially when I’m in new or interesting environments.  Intriguing stories are about putting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances or vice versa.  That happens daily in the world; you just have to be able to recognize it.

Q Does writing relax you or stress you out?

Writing is always relaxing.  What makes writing stressful are deadlines, which I hate.  Nothing good comes from forcing the Muses.

Q Do you have any kind of routine – or muse – to write your novels?

I do not necessarily have a routine.  But I feel my Muses respond best in quiet environments with little to nothing else going on.  I need to be able to see my world clearly in my mind’s eye so that I can describe the movie playing out in my head.

Q Who is your favorite author? Book? Character?

Tough questions!  My favorite author would most likely be Terry McMillan [Disappearing Acts, Waiting to Exhale]; I’ve read and own more of her books than any other author.  She has a real way of portraying the single black woman experience.  My favorite book is definitely The Color Purple by Alice Walker.  It reminds me that genuineness of spirit creates a true richness in life, despite what may feel like insurmountable adversity.  My favorite character would probably be Milo from The Phantom Tollbooth.  He is the quintessential kid: unable to appreciate the proper use of words, mathematics, or simple common sense until he’s faced with a world without it.


·      Website:
·      Blog:
·      Facebook page:
·      Twitter: @RaynettaStocks
·      Goodreads:
·      Purchase links:

Friday, August 17, 2012

How to Write an "Entertaining" Book that Delivers a Message: Who is Oscar Wilde and Why does He Matter? By Paulette Mahurin

Paulette Mahurin, Author
The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

I am honored that Joyce Stand has allowed me to come here and say a few words, especially on a topic for which I have much passion -- two topics actually, creating an entertaining read and Oscar Wilde.  The question for me then is how do I entertain you, the reader right here, right now? I hope I succeed.

Who among us would want to be prevented from loving? From intimacy, from the one we love? Then why do so many voices want to enter a discussion that make it impossible for another, to lay with their beloved in safety, unafraid of persecution, or worse, imprisonment or death. Who would dare hold to his/her passion and risk this? 

And, yet we read books daily by the millions with stories of these loves -- tragic, agonizing, unrequited-- and we fixate on the page, imagining this fantasy world out there.  We point fingers out there, and yet sit down with a book and in the safety of our imagination go to places beyond our beliefs.  This is what books do, they allow us to venture out of our collective boxes and entertain the possible, in the fantasy. We are entertained by our own human desires, hooked by the chemistry words create that set in motion images of what it must be like if only… 

As a writer, it is not difficult to understand what entertains, in light of seeing the human condition, and what has drawn us to stories for centuries.

Around the world, there are a multitude of things that entertain us as a society, the celebrity, the infamous, the rich, the utterly destitute, a poignant love story, devastation, the unbelievable, ad nausea. My story, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, started from a photo I had seen of two women standing closely together dressed in turn of the twentieth century garb. They jumped off the page as lesbians, which seeded the story of a lesbian couple on the frontier, fearful of being found out.

In researching that time period, I hit pay dirt when I came across the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in Britain in 1895.  Now, I have the sensationalism to thread my story, hold interest, and hopefully entertain.

Here, I will take the liberty of quote from the prologue of my book:

Telegraphs clacked around the world with the breaking news of the conviction of Oscar Wilde. Mr. Wilde, noted celebrity and one of the most successful playwrights, novelists, poets, and short story writers, suffered a stunning defeat when he was sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison after being convicted for “gross indecency.” Wilde’s case, one of the first tried under Britain’s recently passed Criminal Law Amendment Act, criminalized sexual activity between members of the same sex, thus changing people’s attitudes about homosexuality from a mood of pity and tolerance to hatred and abuse.

The unofficial buzz in the tabloids was that Wilde was caught in the act with another male, Lord Douglas, the son of the Marquis of Queensberry, and Victorian London would have none of it. The news of trial and conviction spread fast and furiously to towns large and small around the world, exactly the kind of news story Red River Pass, a small town in Nevada, relished.

Oscar Wilde was the first celebrity tried and convicted under Britain’s recently changed law to make sex between men, indecency, a criminal offense, with a prison sentence of hard labor for two years. Where telegraphs existed in the world in 1895, the news of his imprisonment became known. It was this news that changed views on homosexuality from that of an attitude of observed conservative tolerance to outward hostility and abuse. There was an article in the New York Times, April 1895, that went on about the immorality of Oscar Wilde and homosexuality. Conversations, banned from living rooms around the world, became front and center, Wilde’s imprisonment, the vehicle for intolerance and hatred, was a set-back in the history of human rights.

Oscar Wilde’s importance is not just as one of the most prolific literary figures of our time but as a lightening-rod scape goat for unleashed hatred, that the ignorant can not see lives in their own hearts. I would like to close my wonderful visit here with an excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s De Profoundis, a letter he wrote to his lover while imprisoned. It is what inspired my writing The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap.

When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.

More on Paulette Mahurin
Paulette Mahurin is a Nurse Practitioner (NP), specializing in Women's Health in a rural clinic in Ojai, CA., where she lives with her husband Terry (a retired NASA attorney) and her two dogs Max & Bella (rescued from kill shelters). She has taught nursing in several college level programs, including preceptorships for UCLA and USC's NP programs in the emergency room (ER). She worked as an NP in the second busiest ER in Los Angeles County, with the highest census in child abuse. Her current novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, draws on her work in the ER to connect the reader with an emotional authenticity about prejudice, abuse, violation of body and soul, as well as the loving compassion of friendships and supportive relationships. 

When Mahurin isn't writing, she is an advocate of tolerance, women's rights, and an animal activist, who spends a great deal of time doing pro bono work for women in her community along with rescuing dogs. The profits from her novel go to SPARC, the first no-kill animal shelter in Ventura County, CA.




SPARC:  (their fb page shows a post on our affiliation)

Friday, August 10, 2012

What the Experts Say: Author Sandra Nikolai "What Makes a Mystery?"

Sandra Nikolai 
Fans of the genre will agree that nothing beats the thrill of reading a mystery and trying to solve it.

But what exactly makes a mystery?

To put a spin on what Sherlock Holmes might have said, “The elements must come together, my dear Watson.”

In a mystery, the plot is the element that weaves events together to create a dramatic and engaging story. The solution to a murder or another crime is gradually revealed by a detective or amateur sleuth through the logical interpretation of evidence and a bit of luck. A mystery is similar to a jigsaw puzzle in that all the pieces of information, or clues, needed to solve the mystery are presented. These clues connect so that the solution or true picture reveals itself by the end of the story.

To continue with the analogy, a piece of a jigsaw puzzle might look as if it connects to another at first glance but then doesn’t, as with certain clues scattered throughout a mystery novel. Clues that mislead, or red herrings, are the ultimate challenge to readers of whodunits. Red herrings raise doubts about characters linked to the victim and expose them as potential suspects, making it harder to determine which one is the real perpetrator.

The investigator is the protagonist or main character, the element with which we form a “human” connection from the onset. Secrecy and danger surround the crime, so it’s normal to fear for the safety of the investigator who gets pulled into the case. If the investigator’s private life is affected by the incident, it can bring into play inner struggles with personal issues and generate more conflict—a situation that keeps us turning the pages.

Suspense is intensified when an amateur sleuth plays the role of investigator because we identify more easily with a protagonist who is inexperienced in solving crimes. Feelings of surprise and fear are heightened each time our hero or heroine experiences a setback or encounters danger. Regardless, we cheer them on, knowing that the end of their journey will bring worthwhile results. Family, friends, and other secondary characters complete the protagonist’s life with their comments, emotions, and actions, and add a realistic feel to the unfolding story.

The perpetrator is the character we love to hate. However, no one is one hundred percent evil, so he or she needs at least one redeeming quality. He might be a family man who takes his kids to baseball games or a part-time volunteer at a hospital. She might be a reliable employee at the office or someone who helps an elderly neighbor with the groceries. A pleasant characteristic in a criminal generates surprise—even horror—when the real perpetrator is exposed. Who? The butler?

No mystery is complete without the element of setting. Forget the “dark and stormy night.” Nothing is more shocking than finding out that your neighbor down the street is a serial killer or that a young woman in the hotel room next to yours was murdered the night before. Extraordinary events that happen to ordinary people in everyday places incite more terror because we can’t possibly imagine such terrible things happening in our little corner of the world.

Whether real or imaginary, the setting adds visual layers to a story by zooming in on small locales, such as a room, and zooming out of larger places, for example, a city landscape. The setting can include a period in time, local news events, the weather, the culture of the population, and natural disasters. These aspects also affect how a character feels and reacts, and intensifies the mood of the story.

Like the pieces of a puzzle, the elements that make a mystery can vary in countless ways. What’s important is that they all fall into place at the end.

More on Sandra Nikolai
Sandra Nikolai is the author of False Impressions, her first book in a mystery series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. As the title implies, things are not always what they seem—at least, not in the land of mystery!

After having worked in sales, finance, and high tech, Sandra took an early retirement from the workforce and pursued her lifelong dream. She is the author of more than a dozen short stories published online and in print.

Sandra is currently working on Fatal Whispers, the second book in the Megan Scott/Michael Elliott mystery series. She lives with her family near Ottawa, Ontario.

False Impressions: Description
Montreal ghostwriter Megan Scott falls under police suspicion when her husband and a female friend are found murdered. In what a Qu├ębec detective calls a crime of passion, startling evidence surfaces to implicate Michael Elliott, a young investigative reporter who’d rather rub elbows with scumbags than live the posh lifestyle he inherited.

Clutched out of her comfort zone, Megan is flung into Michael’s dark world of criminal investigation. As they make a last-ditch attempt to prove their innocence, an elusive enemy closes in and threatens their lives. Who wants them out of the way and why?

Their only path to freedom is to catch the twisted killer before they become the next victims. But not knowing who to trust or where to turn can have consequences that are just as lethal…

To learn more about Sandra or to purchase False Impressions, go to her blog for links to and other eBook distributors. A paperback version will soon be available.

Ways to contact Sandra:

Twitter: @sandranikolai

Friday, August 3, 2012

What the Experts Say: Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author J. Naomi Ay

I’m very pleased to be hosting Sci-fi/Fantasy author J. Naomi Ay today. Over a period of 20 years, this accomplished author wrote THE TWO MOONS OF REHNOR as one giant epic saga. Today it is available as a 5 part series with each novel more than 70,000 words. She is also just in the process of releasing a short story prequel to THE TWO MOONS OF REHNOR series called LYDIA'S DANCE.

In addition, Naomi works in the renewable energy business, and agreed to offer us some tips on how we can contribute. Naomi lives in the Northwest U.S. where sunshine is rare. She has 3 children and a Pomeranian.

Q: You’ve written an epic saga THE TWO MOONS OF REHNOR SERIES  that you started 20 years ago and includes five separate novels. How and why did you start the series? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Why science fiction?  

J. Naomi Ay: Honestly, I never thought of and still don't think of myself as a writer.  I started the series out of sheer boredom and for my own entertainment.  I was always a sci-fi fan and a trekker as a kid so that's where most of the sci-fi elements have come from.  More importantly though, by writing sci-fi/fantasy there are no boundaries as to what I can do as it's all happening in a made up world in my head.  If I want a character to do or act in a certain way that may not be physically or even conventionally acceptable, I can make them do it because after all, it's my world.

Q: What do you do to make your characters compelling and engaging?  

J. Naomi Ay:  TIP:  Primarily by building their back stories so they all come across as real people with real hopes and fears and real weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  The entire series is written in first person narratives and the story is told by all the people who surround the main character, Senya.  The reader will learn a lot about Senya but never really know him while at the same time you'll feel you know some of the other characters very intimately.

Q:  How do you make your background information support your story? Do you do any research?   

J. Naomi Ay: Without giving too much away, yes, I did research some things in the later parts of the series.  There is a fair amount of medical terminology, references to spiritualism, political issues and more that I tried to provide at least some correct information.

Q:  Did your work in the renewable energy field influence your writing? 

 J. Naomi Ay: At the end of book 4, there are definitely some references to my work.  In book 6 which I am working on now, there is also a fair bit of it.  Even before I was in this business and without being a spoiler, I can tell you that the growth of the Empire of Rehnor was primarily fueled by a clean and abundant energy source.  The energy source I use is entirely made up though, unfortunately.

Q: Do you have any advice to those of us who want to help support renewable energy activities? We installed solar panels on our house, by the way. The sun is very available here in southern California. 

J. Naomi Ay: Up here on the far northwestern tip of the continental U.S., the sun is something that we see only rarely.  When we do, we generally drop all activities to run outside and point at it while shouting something along the lines of "Look at that strange orb in the sky!" 

TIP: That being said, there is in fact a source of energy that can be acquired cleanly by using what is essentially an endless supply of feedstock, that being our trash.  There are ways to cleanly convert trash to synthetic oil as well as generate electricity.  The biggest obstacle to it unfortunately is the government.  Permitting authorities even in the most "green" areas tend to thumb their noses and make it extremely difficult for new innovation.  I will get off my soapbox now and just tell you that the most important thing individuals can do is elect people who will not hamper innovation by over regulating it but rather encourage it.

Q: Next book? Will you continue to write science fiction? Or are you investigating other genres? 

J. Naomi Ay: I am continuing my series but also have plans for a few more projects.  I've just released THE NEW PLANET, which is book 1 in a prequel series called JOURNEY TO REHNOR.  ARAN’S GIFT, which is book 2 in that series, will be out sometime in the fall.  I'm just finishing up what has essentially turned into Book 6 of the TWO MOONS TO REHNOR series.  It's called GOLDEN’S QUEST and I hope to have the e-book up and running by September 1, paperback soon to follow.  Also on my plate is a historical fiction centered around the John Adams family.  I'm working with a descendent of both John and John Quincy and together we hope to put together her family's story in a way that hasn't been done before.

Q: WOW! That’s a very impressive lineup. I wonder when you find time to go boating and beach walking!  By the way, I find it interesting that your favorite books (following) are not in the Sci fi/Fantasy genre, but rather in women’s fiction.   

Thank you so very much for taking the time to answer questions and sharing some tips.  Good luck with your books.

J. Naomi Ay Favorites
Jane Austen
Gone with the Wind
Fun activity
Boating, beach walking
Washington State Rieslings
Decaf grande sugar-free caramel soy latte with extra foam

J. Naomi Ay Links

Amazon or other sites for purchase.  

Prequel LYDIA'S DANCE available on Amazon for $.99:
Also available at B&N, iBooks, Kobo, ARe and just about anywhere you can
think of.

Twitter @jnaomiay
Web site