Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Chat with Sylvia Dickey Smith

Sylvia Dickey Smith was born and reared in exotic southeast Texas, the land of Cajuns, cowboys, pirates and Paleo-Indians. She came into this world feet-first, and spent the first half of her life making it up to her mother. After marriage, she lived on the Caribbean island of Trinidad for seven years before returning to Texas. At 41 she took her first freshman class and fought her way to a BA in Sociology and a Masters in Educational Psychology while raising four children. After that, she worked with non-profit and for-profit organizations within the human services field before embarking on a career as a novelist. Books in her debut mystery/suspense have achieved winner status in writers’ contests. Her books are Dance On His Grave, Deadly Sins Deadly Secrets, and Dead Wreckoning, along with a cookbook, Sassy Southern Classy Cajun. She writes the Austin Writing Examiner on-line newspaper featuring the works of other authors, and conducts weekly interviews with mystery writers on her blog talk radio program, Murder, She Writes. Her latest work, A War Of Her Own, an historical novel set during WWII, is set for release on
September 2, 2010.

Sylvia, it's great to have you over. What an interesting background you have! I've read your books and enjoyed them immensely.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

Susan, I’m all about supporting women and helping them find their voice. For too many years, I didn’t have a voice. I started writing after I retired and that effort helped me find my voice and give it wings. These days, I never hesitate to speak up for myself, to express who I am in words.

I remember reading "Divorcing God",  a short, and my first introduction to Sylvia Dickey Smith. I remember the struggle. I'm so glad you worked through that to become the independent thinker you are now.

When I write, I also keep in mind how important if is for me to think outside the box. That catch phrase has been so overused I’m afraid it may lose it’s meaning, but to me, thinking outside the box means to not accept easy or pat answers that people give and expect me to embrace them simply because they tell me they speak truth. Actually, I not really into answers at all anymore. I believe in questions. They are what empower me—the what if’s, the why’s, the how come.

As a part of this thinking, I like my writing to cause people to question prior learning—whether it’s about religion, prejudice, or other social issues.

Briefly tell us about your latest book, A War of Her Own.

It's historical fiction set during WWII in southeast Texas, during a time when the whole world is at war and people live for the moment.

What’s the hook for the book?
A WAR OF HER OWN transports the reader to both a time and a place in American history when "all hell breaks loose." Of people caught in the backwater of the Depression. Where a sleepy little town, overnight turns into a vibrant wartime shipbuilding center caught in a maelstrom of social change. Yet one woman fights another war, and the unnamed enemy resides within her.

I'm intrigued.
Do you think your writing has improved since your first attempt? In what way?

Most definitely improved--my fans tell me so. Practice does, indeed, make us better regardless of what we're practicing! I think my characters are better and I give the reader a better sense of place.

Were any of your books more challenging to write than the others? If so, why?

Yes, A War Of Her Own was the most challenging. I’m dealing with an historical period—which requires more research. People thought differently, acted differently, had different social values.

How do you develop characters? Setting?

Setting, to me, IS character. When I read novels, I want to be IN the story—not simply read ABOUT the story. Setting, to me, is what accomplishes that. To develop setting, I take myself inside the scene and feel the temperature of the room, see what is around me, react to the tension that might be there. Flavor it with smells and colors and sounds! Character—I guess I do the same thing. I get inside the person and BE them.

I totally agree.
Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

No, I’m a pantser—true and simple. I just sit and write. Sometimes this approach really slows me down because I must go back and look for information. And sometimes I don’t stay on track and have to get back on it! Critique groups help me with this. My brain resists outlines and tracking techniques. I discover the story as I go, and rewrite when I go astray. One of the neat things about writing a book though, is you do what works for you. There is no right or wrong way to go about. Writing is a very personal, individual effort. What works for one, might not work for me. And that’s okay. I figure it out as I go.

I'm also a pantser.
With your background I feel certain that your environment/upbringing color your writing.

Totally! In more ways than I can count! It guides me in character development, in describing setting—even in story ideas. None of my books were written in a vacuum. Each involves elements—all mixed together and changed until they are something/someone new. My beliefs and struggles flavor my work, inspire me, set me on the hunt of a good story.

What are your current projects, Sylvia?

Right now I have about three projects going on at the same time. One is a breakout novel from my last Sidra Smart mystery of Dead Wreckoning. Fans fell so in love with one the characters in the book that they begged for her—Boo Murphy—to have her own series—hence the birth of Swamp Sleuth. Another is the fourth book in the Sidra Smart series called Dance With the Devil. The third thing I’m working on right now is more of a saga named Call Her Cyn.

Wow! Good luck with all that going at once.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

My blog, has descriptions of my published books. The books are available to purchase—autographed—from my website at using PayPal. If folks want to pay by check, they can email me at and we can work out arrangements. They also can be purchased at, Barnes &, etc.
This week I will be adding a place on my blog where I can let folks know about the upcoming book launch events for A War Of Her Own, which should be on the streets in August, with an official launch date of September 2, 2010. A pre-order discount form for the book is now on my website at the May 27th posting date.

Sylvia is giving a free copy of A War Of Her Own to a lucky commenter. I will draw a name from the comments and Sylvia will take it from there. Don't forget to click the comment link for your chance to ask her a question or make a comment. Good luck!

Syliva, it has been my pleasure to learn more about you. Continued success!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

J.R Poulter

J.R. Poulter is a prolific writer and my guest today. Welcome, Jennifer. Please give us a brief bio.
Trained as a reference librarian, I have worked in a variety of positions from a rare books librarian to book reviewer, from English Expression tutor and academic editor assisting Indonesian postgraduates, to assessment package writer for the Queensland Education Department, from children’s magazine literary editor to working in a circus! I wrote plays before writing poetry and later I wrote stories. I have been published as a literary poet in leading journals in Australia as well as the USA [e.g., Quadrant and Antipodes] under J.R.McRae. I was first published as a poet when still at school. I started writing for children when totally sleep deprived with my youngest, twins. I have 10 books out here, so far, as J.R.Poulter – 6 volume series for education, two picture books and two junior novels. I am married with five children, two full time cats, a part time cat, geckos, water dragons, possums and lots of wild birds from the large park nearby.

What books came along at just the right time to influence your reading/writing?
I have always been an avid reader. My Grandmother had a wonderful collection of books called ‘Lands and People’ and a children’s version of the stories of the Shakespearean plays. My Aunt Mary had amazing books on Egyptology and on famous artists like Rubens, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Impressionists, Kandinsky and others. My Father and maternal Grandfather used to recite the poems of Lewis Carroll and Henry Lawson, Mrs Hemans and Banjo Patterson. I think the end result was manifold. I love the sound and shape of words, the music locked in language, how you can bend and blend them to say new things new ways. I love combining words and images [am teaching myself illustrative art], have been called a highly visual writer and have a Carrollesque sense of humor.

What are your writing goals?
To have books published around the world – stories and narrative poems that children will love - stories that will engage them and make them want to read, poems that will imbue in them a love for poetry and the rhythms of language, books with images by the amazing illustrators with whom I have been very fortunate and honored to collaborate. I want very much to publish a book of literary poetry as well, possible with my own illustrations.

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
The love of reading! Reading is the key that opens many, many doors - books do not just entertain, they also inform, instruct, guide and illumine. These days, children and young people are much more visually oriented so I believe that images accompanying the text of books of prose and poetry for children, young adults and even adults are important in helping to convey meaning and messages.

Briefly tell us about your latest book.
Can I give you two – each in different media?

Hard copy -

Mending Lucille, which deals with loss and grief, will hopefully be released in the US later this year. It won the Crichton, a major award out here, was listed in the top ten children’s/young Adult books in New Zealand, and was nominated for the Family Therapists’ Award,

Digital media –

“Toofs” has just been accepted for publication on iphone with PicPocket Books. It will be released in mid to late August and was co-written by my daughter Estelle Poulter and illustrated by Monica Rondino and Andrea Pucci of Italy. This is a first venture into the digital publishing arena for all four of us!

What’s the hook for the book(s)?
Hard copy -

Loss and resulting grief happen in all our lives but for a small child it can be harder to communicate the heart ache and sense of loss. The central character, a little girl, is helped to reach out for help on her road to recovery via a kindly woman who mends the child’s broken doll.
Digital media –

Did you know the Big Bad Wolf had teething problems? He did when he was a baby and oh what problems he caused for his big brother! This is a humorous look at the problems caused in a family by one baby's teething driven need to chew and BITE! The text has been co-written by Estelle who is a childcare professional and features the methods used in childcare to overcome the problem for other siblings and playmates.

Do you think your writing has improved since your first attempt? In what way?
Yes, I hope so – practice makes perfect! J Always be prepared to learn and be prepared to listen to constructive criticism. You aren’t perfect so don’t expect your writing to be that way first off. Put distance between yourself and your writing before a final edit. It helps you be more objective. It is not easy to tear your own child limb from limb and that is what a writer’s creations are to them!

Were any of your books more challenging to write than the others? If so, why?
The series of six books for education was the most challenging. The book was submitted originally as one volume, accepted and contracted. Then a new curriculum came out in draft form in one Australian state and the publisher decided they wanted the book to comply. No one outside of the higher echelons at the Education Department had a copy. This was a challenge. Sleuth work required. I did it whilst in hospital with a copy of the draft smuggled to me by a contact in the department. The rewritten ms was submitted. The company then went to the brink of bankruptcy and dropped their education titles. I found a new publisher. They decided they wanted to split the book into an anthology and four subject grouped collections –more work. They also wanted a sixth volume of humorous poetry.

How do you develop characters? Setting?
I’m a right brain writer. I get a phrase or image etc and just go for it! The story creates itself as it writes.

What are your protagonist’s strengths? Flaws?
It varies. Some are not so much protagonists as people on a journey of discovery about others in their lives, the world, and perhaps most importantly, themselves.

How do you determine voice in your writing?
Whatever fits that particular story. It happens spontaneously. Sometimes it is first person, sometimes third and so on.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
I think the challenges, sorrows, traumas we all face in life shape us and help us grow. You write best, I believe, about what you know from experience or close observation.

How do you promote yourself online and off?
I’m learning – I’m not a natural self-promoter. I prefer to just write and draw so this doesn’t come naturally. I’m trying to get my head around FaceBook and Twitter and LinkedIn and JacketFlap and blogging – trouble is, when do you find time to write with all this stuff!

Where do you write? When? What do you have around you?
Anywhere! Any time! J Paper and pencil or biro at all times – never be without them!
Lots of books, computer, dictionary, images, photos piles of papers etc.

After hours of writing, how do you unwind?
Word games, drawing or photography, writing humorous verse that plays with words.

What are your current projects?
“Toofs” is coming out on iphone with PicPocket Books in mid to late August. It was co-written by my daughter Estelle Poulter and illustrated with humour and a real feel for this family’s not so funny dilemma by Monica Rondino and Andrea Pucci of Italy. This is my first venture into the digital publishing arena and I am truly excited about it.
Other projects include picture books with Angel Dominguez [Spain], Mary Manning [USA], novels [including “Cats’ Eyes” and “The Quizmaster”], a collection of literary poetry [“Blood and Other Essentials”], a collection of stories for children with Shahab Shamshirsaz [Italy] and two collections of humorous verse for children with Mattias Adolfsson [Sweden]. “Fox Shadows” will be published by Windy Hollows Books in 2011.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Watch - mid to late August “TOOFS!” will be released on iphone. for children’s writing and
for literary material and poetry
and blogs at and

Jennifer, continued success. For more information about all of Jennifer's books, see the sites listed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Whitfield Cover Award Winner Announced

The winner of the first Whitfield Cover Award is....The Little Pot by Dawn Stevens. Dawn will receive a free autographed copy of Sin Creek, to be released later this year along with a printable Whitfield Cover Award decal. Thanks to all of you who voted and special thanks to all the wonderful authors who were guests since this blog's inception. The next contest will be with covers from guests appearing after April 17th through the end of 2010.

The winning cover....

Tied finalists...

Edging Past Reality
by David Fingerman

                                                             Marta Stephens'
The Devil Can Wait

Congrats to all !

Monday, May 31, 2010

Mark and Charlotte Phillips Answer Questions

Today I welcome the writing team of Mark and Charlotte Phillips. Please tell us about you and your work.

Mark: I’m originally from Illinois. I grew up on the classics: Greek mythology, James Bond novels, golden age science fiction, and Batman comics. In college I majored in philosophy and minored in film. Now I teach high school precalculus and political philosophy in Houston, Texas. I’m a biblioholic and ardent individualist anarchist.

Charlotte: I grew up reading in Pennsylvania. I had wonderful elementary school teachers and librarians who wouldn’t let me get away with reading only Nancy Drew. They challenged me to read books by Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, and Edgar Allen Poe. From these wonderful books I developed a love affair with reading that quickly grew into a love of story telling.

When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

Charlotte: I was nine when my youngest brother was born. As soon as he was old enough to understand, I’d invent stories to make him laugh. But when teachers began asking for works of fiction, I returned to my first love, mysteries. I’m sure I wrote more than one very bad Nancy Drew rip-off. I do hope all the evidence is long gone.

Mark: I got the writing bug early, when I was seven years old. I still have all my juvenile manuscripts. Most are pale imitations and pastiches of authors I admired. I loved humorous adventures of lovable rogues. I have numerous failed attempts to mimic Keith Laumer’s Retief stories and Harry Harrison’s tales of Slippery Jim di Griz. I also greatly admired and tried to pastiche the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber. Only a wet-behind-the-ears kid would try to mimic any of these authors. I soon learned that their magic was not only beyond my juvenile abilities, but also beyond all but a few masters of their genre. But the biggest influence had to be the writings of Robert Heinlein. I was about seven or eight when my mother bought me Podkayne of Mars. After devouring his juveniles, I quickly moved up to his classics. His The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress set my political views on the path towards individualist anarchism. His I Will Fear No Evil opened my mind to the possibilities and complexities of gender. He was an author of ideas, integrity, and just plain fun to read. I tried to evoke a little of the spirit of Heinlein in my science fiction novel The Resqueth Revolution.

How do you develop characters? Setting?

Mark: We use our own personalities. Steve Marks, the first person protagonist of The Resqueth Revolution, is definitely a version of me. The Eva Baum character is an amalgam of character traits from Charlotte and me as we were in our youth. As both characters react to events in their respective novels, I think you will notice that both have major issues with authority. We haven’t yet had to work out those issues as violently and decisively as Steve and Eva, but who knows what the future may hold.

Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?

Mark: I think we both enjoy writing about Shade, a mentally unstable, homeless street-artist who is a continuing character in the Eva Baum series. He has a fascinating personality, and it took us a long time to get his voice just right. I think we both feel he has a lot of possibilities for substantial character development as we get farther into the series. A new character, Janet Ives, will, hopefully intrigue our fans as well.

Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?

Mark: We hammer out the outline carefully so that we can work on different parts without too much danger that they won’t fit together later on. But sometimes I get pulled into new directions while I’m immersed in writing. I’ve occasionally thrown some monkey wrenches into the process. But one ignores one’s muse at one’s own peril.

Charlotte: When Mark changes the outline on the fly, well—I have a mantra, “Don’t hurt the people you love. Be flexible.”

Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?

Charlotte: Yes. Most of my favorite mysteries are written in first person POV. That writing style comes naturally to me, so I much prefer it. I’ve been challenging myself to learn to write engaging third person POV stories. I think I did a credible job in “A Cave in the Canyon,” a story in the soon to be published Twisted Tales of Texas short story collection.

Mark: First person seems more honest for detective fiction. If the reader sees and hears only what the detective does, there’s less opportunity for the writer to cheat.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

Charlotte: I grew up in the inner city and had to suffer bullies most of my childhood. Bullies don’t usually survive in my stories. The same is true for anyone who abuses power. I really enjoy beating them up and/or killing them off – fictionally, of course.

Mark: I agree. I have a deep loathing of anyone who uses force or intimidation to control others. Anyone who pretends to have the authority to wield such power is evil (though I hope not irredeemably so). Criminals who prey on innocents disgust me. Politicians who oppress and exploit people from behind the cover of law enrage me. I am an individualist anarchist because I believe government authoritarians, kleptocrats, and the people who bribe them are the source of most pain and misery in the world. One of the characters in The Resqueth Revolution extols Bugs Bunny as being our most profound political philosopher. When someone tries to oppress or threaten Bugs, or when he simply comes across anyone pompous enough to think he has any authority, Bugs’ reaction usually involves anvils and explosives (and, bizarrely enough, dressing up as a woman).

Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.

For The Resqueth Revolution, we were thrilled to read the Midwest review that said, “The premise is thrilling and readers will be so intrigued with this well-written sci-fi they will be reluctant to put the book aside once it's finished.”

We thoroughly enjoyed reading what one Hacksaw reviewer said: “Beginning on page one, Hacksaw is one mystery/thriller that the reader won't want to put down - not for food, sleep or even sex.”

What are your current projects?

Charlotte: We are anxiously awaiting publication of Twisted Tales of Texas, a short story collection that contains three of our stories. We are also busy putting the final touches on several stories we plan to submit for the next mystery anthology from The Final Twist, and working out final plot details for The Golden Key, an Eva Baum mystery.

Mark: Eva Baum fans will love the next installment. The Golden Key has our plucky heroine mixed up with spies, gunrunners, counterfeiters, bikers, and anarchists. We’ve got a first draft, but Charlotte had a brilliant idea about how to add a layer of emotional subplot that will require some rewriting—so not all the deviations from the agreed outline are my fault.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Please check out our website at

Thanks so much, Susan for inviting us to your blog.