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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

New Release -- MUSIC OF THE HEART -- Giveaway!

Some song titles evoke memories not only of the song, but also of the time…the era…the place. They call for stories all their own, and at Fire Star Press they’ve inspired a new boxed set!

From the 1940’s through the 1980’s, each decade is represented by a song that was made powerhouse-popular during the time.

NEARBY by Tanya Hanson
With a marriage of convenience and an unexpected baby on the way, Stella Klenner fights her feelings for her bridegroom, the brother of her dead G.I. fiancĂ©. But Coast Guard signalman Titus Myers keeps secrets of his own. Two lonely people in war-time wish for “Someone to Watch Over Me”… But can they work through guilt and grief to find new love and their own happy-ever-after?
Kort and Rebekah’s star-crossed love is torn apart by family bigotry. Though Kort’s been away at college, his return immediately kindles the old flame of passion for both of them—and they won’t let anything stop them from wondering what could happen “If I Loved You”… for love is the only thing that can break the bonds of hatred between two small town families.

CRAZY HORSE HIGH by Sara Swann-Barnard
Cynthia Ann Johnson is devastated to leave her California home for a barren Sioux Indian reservation just before her senior prom. When some of the Native high school thugs corner her, she is rescued by heartthrob Danny Silver Sky who risks everything to save her. Romance blossoms between them, and Danny must stand up to those who condemn their relationship—including Cynthia’s father. Can true love happen in “This Magic Moment”—an instant in time that defines everything?

Meladee Lerner is a single mom and struggling songwriter in hiding, escaping a marriage she never wanted. When a snow storm paralyzes the city, she and her young daughter run into Niall Dillon, a handsome, hard-working Pittsburgher with strong Irish roots and plenty of captivating charm. When near-tragedy strikes, Meladee and Niall fall under love’s spell quickly and realize that while they’re together, everything that comes their way will be “Wonderful Tonight”…

Glamorous New York fashion designer, Erica Lime, has a messy life. She can’t cook and has lost her muse—and that elusive promotion is just out of reach. Because of one impulsive decision, she falls for stripper Ken Donovan, aka “The Phantom”, headlining in a nearby strip club. Though she tries to hold her emotions apart, memories of a magical night with The Phantom leave her with one burning thought:“I’m On Fire”… Will she complicate her life with an honest love?

Pull up a chair and settle in for five music-inspired love stories through the decades that will take you down a breathless walk through memory lane…  

Be sure and leave a comment for a chance to win a free ebook!


Sunday, May 21, 2017

WRITERS’ BLOCK, by Mollie Hunt, CatWriter

One of my most useful writing tips came from an unlikely source in an unlikely place. The place was a mega-Star Trek convention in Las Vegas; the source was William Shatner, known best for his role as Captain Kirk in the short-run but long-lived Star Trek, the 1966 to 1969 original series. 

To be fair, Bill Shatner has written a multitude of  books of his own. Goodreads lists 95 with 61784 ratings at an average of 3.78. He has several sci-fi & sci-fi series (yes, he brought Captain Kirk back to life after his untimely movie death in Star Trek Generations) as well as non-fiction. His most recent are Leonard, memoir about his long-term friendship with Leonard Nimoy, and Spirit of the Horse: A Celebration in Fact and Fable, a subject Mr. Shatner knows and loves. And we mustn’t forget his 1999 classic, Get a Life! where he mocks the Trekkies for not having anything better to do than play Star Trek. (A stance he recently rescinded after setting out on a mission to discern the true meaning of Star Trek and its hold over a legion of devotees. “Though Star Trek’s fandom may be rooted in science-fiction,” he writes, “it revolves, and thrives, around friendship, belonging, love, hope, and understanding.”)


Shatner is no slacker, in fact he’s one of the most driven people I know. He dives into his projects with passion and enthusiasm. He pushes himself to deliver the best he can create. He seeks and learns with every accomplishment. So with 95 books under his belt, (even if a number of those have been co-written) he has to have gained some perspective on the craft. At the convention, on stage with 15,000 Trekkies watching, he proved it. 

The format for the con’s guest stars usually begins with a few minutes of talk and then questions from the audience. Most of the questions for Mr. Shatner have to so with Star Trek and his famous role as Captain Kirk. “What was your favorite episode?” “ Tell us some of the behind-the-scenes anecdotes.” “Why aren’t you in the new movies?” But one young man asked another sort of question: 

“What do you do when you get writer’s block?”

Shatner didn’t hesitate. “When you get writer’s block,” he said, “it’s because you’ve gone wrong somewhere in the story. Go back to the last place that your story worked and start from there.”

Simple. Elegant. True. 

People ask me why I go to Star Trek conventions? I can honestly say that, among other things, it’s to get writing advice from William Shatner.

Next time: A revelation from another Star Trek writer alum, David Gerrold.

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Happy reading!

Friday, May 19, 2017

WHAT'S WITH THE MAP? by Zina Abbott

 What's with the map?

If you are a visual person like me, just about everything. Don't try to describe it to me. Show me on the map.

I have found Google Maps (MapQuest would do about the same thing.) is great. It gives me street maps and topographical maps like the one below. When I am researching an area, I love how you can find out how many miles are between one place and another. Also, it gives the estimated travel time. Since most of my writing today is historical, I switch to walking rather than driving or bus. Sometimes the walking routes are different than taking the main roads, and are more inclined to show how a person may have traveled by horse. 

Larger, regional maps give a sense of where places are located in relation to each other.

This earth map gives a true sense of the mountainous terrain up in the Eastern Sierra-Nevada Mountains, the locality of my current work in progress. No, it will not be a Fire Star Press submission, but one I will submit to Prairie Rose Publications, the parent company.

Here is the map that prompted this blog post. My latest writing takes place to a great extent in Lundy, a defunct gold mining town. There are no current street maps of the area as it was at the time my story takes place--the current fishing resort has one main road going through it. 

I have used this map from the book on Lundy I have as a guide for the first five books. However, this sixth book required more research. I found as I read accounts by local "historians" the "facts" read more like tall tales. Of the secondary characters and names of saloons, there was no consistency. In desperation, after even my timeline of all the information from all my sources didn't solve the mystery, I made a photocopy of the map on which to plot what I gleaned from research books and online newspaper sources.

The photocopied map is pretty beat up by now. It has been dropped and stepped on. Both me and my cat have sat on it more than once, and food has been spilled on it. Yet, in an effort as I write to keep the people and places consistent based on what I figured out was the best scenario, that map is what I keep by my side and refer to often as I finish up my manuscript.

Did I use a map for my Fire Star Press-published book, Family Secrets

You bet. 

I wanted a hypothetical town in the Sacramento, California area as my setting. I knew from being a union steward representing rural letter carriers in many rural post offices in Sacramento County that there was a lot of rural land around Florin road between Elk Grove and Sacramento, and it wasn't far from Consumnes College where I have my heroine, Jennie Graves, taking classes. Still, driving the streets is not the same as getting the big picture on a map. This one shows where my hypothetical city of Golden Oaks fits.

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. For more great images about this book, visit and follow the Family Secrets Pinterest board.

Friday, May 5, 2017


In television jargon, the job is called being a second banana.

I Love Lucy, an old television show still being broadcast somewhere, has Ethel as second banana to Lucy. Ethel participated in most of Lucy’s madcap adventures and often helped the viewer to understand Lucy’s point of view, why Lucy did what she did.

Dr. Watson performed the same function for Sherlock Holmes, which was a good thing because readers wouldn’t have known what Holmes was thinking at any given time without the banter with Watson. 
The process of storytelling hasn’t changed much for writers today. 
A main protagonist needs to bounce ideas off someone. A secondary character can be supportive, define the setting or help progress the story. Going deeply into the plot without an ally is difficult, and even lone wolf detectives have a backup somewhere.

Dashell Hammett’s Sam Spade had his trusty secretary to lean on when his partner was killed. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone had her steadfast neighbor, Henry, to pull her back when she went too far on that proverbial limb. Luke Skywalker had Han Solo to help defeat the Death Star and Harry Potter had Hermione and Ron in his battles with He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

Secondary characters can be good or bad. Having a pristine character of any kind is not particularly interesting because humans are not perfect. We all have flaws so the characters we read should have flaws as well. Hans Solo seemed to get on everyone’s nerves, up to a point, until his true blue nature came shining through and he fell for Princess Leia.

While having a secondary character can be fun, don’t write too many. If your readers are flipping back to remember who a character is, you’ve confused them—never a good idea. Be sure your characters have a reason to be there and your story will be the better for it.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Long and Short of Things

I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. When it comes to my next read, I don't give a thought to it's length. Okay, maybe that's not exactly true. Before diving into a missive the length of those written by Diana Gabaldon or Brent Weeks, I do pause to consider if I'm willing to devote myself to a lengthy read at that point in time. If the answer is no, I just move that book further down my stack until my schedule is a bit more accommodating.

As an author, I know that there are many categories of stories based on length, but your average reader seems to lump books into one of two categories: full-length novels and short stories. I didn't realize until last year that there seems to be a lot of dislike for short stories. A year ago I participated in a collection of short, sweet romances. And, as authors are wont to do, we requested reviews of our collection. While the reviews were primarily positive, most of them started with "I don't usually read/like short stories..."

Short or long I love them all!
When I first moved from the world of fan fiction to original stories I didn't expect to write short stories but I do. And, I don't know why I though that. My favorites of my fan fictions are only 1700 and 4500 words respectively. To me, not all stories are meant to be long. Some stories just give you a peek into a world and I'm okay with that.True, I have read short stories that felt incomplete because they left questions unanswered. But, at the other end of the spectrum, I have read many full-length books that would have been better if they were a few chapters shorter.

So, dear readers, let's chat. Do you love or loathe short stories and why? This inquiring mind wants to know!

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Escapism - by Michael E. Gonzales

     One of the definitions of Escapism is: “A mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an escape or dissociation from the perceived boring, arduous, scary, or banal aspects of daily life.”
     Undoubtedly, there is some truth to that, but I believe some of us just enjoy a good story!
The Great Hunt

     Humans have been telling stories to one another for time immemorial. Troglodytes once gathered around the fire in the safety of their caves to relate stories of the day's hunt. I have no doubt that the hunters would oft times exaggerate―and so, fiction was born!
     Likewise, cave drawing, and hieroglyphics painted inside ancient tombs, told stories―stories of the pharaohs’ great victories in war, or of the mass sacrifices the Maya and Aztec made to their various gods.
     The Sumerian ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ was first written down somewhere between 2150–2000 B.C.!
The Epic of Gilgamesh 

     Along came paper, bound together, and books were invented. It really wasn’t until the invention of the printing press that books became available to the masses―well, the masses who could afford them.
     Then, in the 18th century, there began to appear books delving into topics other than religion, science, and poetry. Stories of romance, and then adventure. Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, was published in 1719. Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, was written by English author Mary Shelley, and published in 1818.
Frankenstein and his monster

     Then came the grandfather of modern science-fiction, Jules Verne,
Verne's Nautilus

whose stories of great adventure and scientific achievement began in 1862. Of course, he had his contemporaries: Camille Flammarion, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton to name a couple. But no author reached the level of Verne until…H.G. Wells.
HG Wells

     Wells's stories use science fiction devices that both entertain and make points about the society in which he lived. In The Time Machine, published in 1895, the technical details of the machine are quickly glossed over, so that the Time Traveler can tell a story that criticizes the stratification of English society. In The War of the Worlds, published in 1898, the Martians' technology is not explained, as it would have been in a Verne story, and the story is resolved by a deus ex machina, albeit a scientifically explainable one.
     The differences between Verne and Wells highlight a tension that exist in science fiction to this day. The question of whether to present realistic technology, or to focus on characters and ideas. 
Thus, the difference between science fiction, and what is called, hard science fiction.
     An author must decide whether to write an exciting story, and make only a passing reference to science, or write a story that adheres strictly to the science behind the story.
Then the author must decide if his story is going to make an obvious or an underlying didactic point. In our modern age of heightened sensitivities, this can be a very dangerous thing to do, as someone is likely to be offended. This could mean the alienation of a segment of your market, and even result in "bad press" on social media. However, as a wise man once said, “All press is good press.”
     I don’t know that any author attempting to be a futurist can write anything that does not make a political statement. The most benign description of a future culture or civilization can’t help but exclaim the form of government that the author sees surviving the test of time.

     Here, the author must walk a thin line. Should the author, in his/her attempt to be educational and moralistic, be perceived as "preachy" they may very well drive readers away.
     It is, I think, important that fiction―all fiction―should make a statement about the human condition. But to do so too loudly will remove the author’s work from the genre, “escapism.”
     Every author’s work I cited above made a point about humanity. The author entertained us, and left the thinker with something to chew on. The best authors’ stories, and messages, have transcended time.

Look for book III of the Unborn Galaxy series, "Across a Sea of Stars," coming out soon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Release -- THE BABY BARGAIN by Diana Tobin -- Giveaway!

After years of estrangement from her family, Lynn Baxter comes home to Webster, Maine, for her mother’s wedding—but she brings a load of secrets with her. The life she’s planned hasn’t worked out. She’s lost everything—her fiancĂ©, her job, and the law degree she’d left home so eagerly to pursue. As Lynn makes amends with her sister, brother, and mother, she realizes Webster is where she needs to be to heal her heart and her wounded pride.

JC Benjamin is a farmer—and he loves that life. But seeing Lynn again for the first time since high school kindles emotions inside that he thought had died with the pain of divorce—and the departure of his ex-wife! JC wants Lynn just as much as he did all those years ago—but what would an upper crust woman like her see in a farmer? Much to his surprise and delight, Lynn gives him a chance to be the man he’s always wanted her to see…

When Lynn asks JC to give her a child, he bolts, fearing being trapped as his ex tried to do. But a sinister attack by a man from her past changes everything, and JC must face the truth—he can’t live without Lynn Baxter. It’s time for both of them to take a leap of faith after the hurts of their bitter pasts, but can they trust each other enough to find happiness? JC wants so much more from Lynn than what she’s suggested in THE BABY BARGAIN…but will she agree to be his wife, as well? 


     He backed up a half-step. “Put them down, please.” She did as he asked, setting the can on the floor and the brush on top of the can. “Now, step over here.” He backed up another two steps. When Lynn was in front of him, JC wrapped his arms around her and hugged her to his hard body. “You are clever. I can’t believe all the thought and hard work you’ve put into this for me.”
     His praise pleased her even as a worrisome thought flitted through her mind. Was she repeating her Donny mistakes with JC? No. “It’s for me, too. You said you’d share your profits with me and I can sell my cookies. Plus, I can do what I want when not waiting on customers.”
     “All true,” he agreed, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “You’ve got to remember, my mother and ex-wife never wanted anything to do with the stand, the farm, nor my father and me.”
     “Your mother and ex-wife were idiots,” she spit out, then wondered if she’d overstepped the bounds of friendship.
     JC pulled her tighter against him and chuckled. “Keep talking like that and you’ll give me a swelled head.”
     She rubbed her belly against the front of him. “Think I already have.”

Be sure and leave a comment for a chance to win a free ecopy of THE BABY BARGAIN.


Monday, April 17, 2017

OLD FRIENDS, by Mollie Hunt

Last night I dreamed about old friends. It happens occasionally; at 64, there is more behind me than ahead, and my past covers a lot of ground. This dream was different though. Where usually I get caught up in the color and romance of a life left behind, in this dream I stood back from the misty used-to-bes, then said goodbye. I don’t know what it means. 

I know what prompted the dream, however: a few weeks ago I was contacted through Facebook by someone I haven’t seen for nearly 40 years. I met him when I was 18. The gap between then and now is virtually unfathomable. Still, he was a friend for many years so I confirmed the request without (too much) reservation. 

That was the beginning. As I read through his posts, followed links to other long ago familiar names, I discovered myself immersed in a rabbit hole of memory. Fearsome yet compelling, I moved deeper, touching, tasting, remembering things I hadn’t thought of for a long, long time. 

As I read on, however, the landscape began to change. The golden-lit past morphed into a present I didn’t understand. A new labyrinth emerged: A daughter who had recently died, a son who had taken a dark path, a dear friend who was off the grid and his kids were worried. Trying to read lives from Facebook is like seeing the ocean floor through the rolling layers of the oncoming waves: the words were there, but I could not comprehend the pictures. 

I didn’t pursue it, deciding to wait and let the stories unfold on their own. I’m not ready to embrace this long lost life just yet, so divergent from the one I’ve built for myself, brick by brick. Time to say goodbye to fantasy and greet old friends where they are now.

Maybe that’s why my dream was so mundane, bereft of all the usual passion and nostalgia. I’m 40 years past my beautiful, dramatic youth. I don’t miss it; I’m at home where I am.

Check out more blogs by Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer at:

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Behind the Literature II

I previously posted a piece here ( about my discovery that Jack London and Hunter S. Thompson had both once lived in Sonoma County, not far from where I live now.  I was fascinated to imagine these historical literary figures living their lives in some of the same places I now live my own.  What would it be like to run into Jack London at the local saloon, or Hunter S. Thompson at the corner market (or more likely, the local saloon)?  

On that note, I recently found myself in Charleston, SC, for work.  I'm embarrassed to admit that on prior trips there, because of my busy schedule and the time change from California, I rarely got out to see the sights or experience the famous Charleston cuisine.  People would always tell me how lucky I was to have the opportunity to visit Charleston and ask me what I saw and where I ate while I was there.  I never had much to tell them because, due to the free happy hour and snacks offered by my hotel, it was easy to just return to my room in the evening and stay in for the night.  However, I promised myself that I would make myself get out and experience the local culture on this trip.  

Fried oysters at Pearlz Oyster Bar

U.S. Custom House

Purely by happenstance while at work one day, I overheard a colleague recommending to someone a local joint called Poe's Tavern.  I didn't pay much attention until I heard, "Joe's Tavern?"  Then, "No, Poe's.  It's named after Edgar Allan Poe."  That piqued my interest as I have always been a huge fan of Poe, who is credited with creating the mystery genre with his shorty story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."  I put my exceptional Google skills to work and found that Poe's Tavern is located on Sullivan's Island, SC. 

Now, I will tell you that this was a big leap for me, going from staying in my hotel room every night to driving out to an actual island (albeit only about a fifteen or twenty minute drive), but I was up for the challenge.  And how could I go wrong with Siri and Apple Maps leading the way?  So I took a scenic drive across the Arthur Ravenal, Jr., Bridge to the island.

Siri did not disappoint, and I arrived at Poe's Tavern without incident.

But what does Sullivan's Island have to do with Edgar Allan Poe?  Well, aside from having a tavern named after him, Poe, after enlisting in the U.S. Army under an assumed name, Edgar A. Perry, was stationed at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island in 1827 for about a year.  Poe set his short story, "The Gold Bug," about deciphering a secret message leading to Captain Kidd's buried treasure, on Sullivan's Island.  This story is said to have had some influence on Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, adding an additional layer of mystique to the place I was visiting.  

Inlaid tile on sidewalk at Poe's Tavern

I ended up sitting outside on the deck of the tavern since the weather was nice.  I was a little disappointed that the place seemed more like a beach dive than a tribute to Poe, not that I'm against a good beach dive.  However, when the menu came, I was delighted to see the burgers named after Poe's stories, like the Amontillado and the Tell-Tale Heart.  

I also wandered inside and saw that there were numerous works of art, such as paintings, prints, and sculptures, depicting Poe and his macabre works covering the walls and much of the other surfaces of the establishment.  Even more interesting was the bathroom, which was wallpapered with pages from vintage Poe books.  You could also hear the spooky narration of one of Poe's stories being broadcast while, er, making use of the facilities.  (See this short YouTube video I found:  I'm not making this up!)

After an enjoyable dinner and a unique experience, I easily navigated back to my hotel.  True to my promise, I got out and about a few more times while in Charleston, but stumbling upon a piece of literary history was my favorite part of the trip.  

Angela Crider Neary is an attorney by day and writer by night. She is an avid mystery reader and especially enjoys reading novels set in interesting locales. She was inspired to write her first mystery novella, Li'l Tom and the Pussyfoot Detective Bureau: The Case of the Parrots Desaparecidos, by one of her favorite areas in San Francisco, Telegraph Hill. To learn more, visit her on Facebook and Amazon.