Friday, May 31, 2019

Priscilla Brown  considers carrots and cliffs

Men are off Cristina's essentials list during her working holiday at a luxury Caribbean resort. 
But can the resort's zany charmer of a pilot break through her defences?

Carrots have received many mentions in literature. Grimm wrote a fairytale The Carrot King; Shakespeare mentioned them in several plays; Edward Lear in a limerick rhymed about a purchase of two parrots fed on carrots (the parrots who frequent my garden turned up their beaks at shredded carrot).

Real carrots for me are just another vegetable, arranged on a dinner plate or shredded onto salad, their colour cheering up the conglomeration of all that green stuff. Perhaps, like me, as a child you were told to "eat your vegies". If you did, something nice may come your way; if you threw a tantrum, you were sent to bed early. The old carrot and stick idiom.

Fiction writers use carrots as turn-the-page bait. A character wants something that's out of reach, but if s/he accepts the dangled  "carrot", for example, adjusting behaviour, overcoming a challenge, telling the truth, the desired outcome may be attainable. We want the reader to worry about the character; will s/he get this elusive something, and if not, what will happen? Tension, conflict, suspense.

In One Thousand and One Nights, each night Scheherazade tells the king a story. Leaving it incomplete, she promises to finish it the following night, so that he, keen to hear the endings, abandons his plan to kill her. Carrots save her life.

 Cliffhangers are similar to carrots in that they encourage readers to continue with the story, eager to know what happens next. Writers use a chapter or scene with a dramatic climactic ending to raise the stakes for the characters: a question or situation unresolved, a physical threat or sense of foreboding or urgency, distressing information...scenarios which leave the reader in suspense.

In Where the Heart Is,  the cliffhanger is almost literal. After an evening of sexy dancing, the protagonists are perched on a dangerous cliff top. She badly wants to sleep with him, but won't until he reveals a secret she believes he's holding. He wants to sleep with her but won't because he's afraid of falling in love and she must return to her home country. The chapter ends with just three words from him, words which devastate her.

Enjoy the carrots and cliffs in your reading!  Priscilla

Thursday, May 30, 2019

They say an army travels on its stomach. So do tourists. Margaret Hanna

Traveling to a foreign country entails learning about the culture, and culture involves food. What a feast for the senses!

Mexico: The best place to find food is in the market. Sounds, sights and smells assault you at the entrance. You enter, dazed and confused at what at first seems like a maze of stalls and people and “stuff.” Take heart. The adventure awaits.

The pineapple vendor selling thick, juicy, sweet slices for pennies apiece. I bought one. Juice ran down my chin as I ate it. It was so good I had to have another. And another.

The lady selling blue corn tortillas. She patiently sorted through her stock to find ones without any holes. If you have never eaten a blue corn tortilla, well, you don’t know what you’re missing. They are so flavourful and aromatic, not at all like the packaged tortillas you buy at the supermarket.

The fruit vendor had piles of large green “things” I had never seen before. I asked my friend, “Is that a squash?” “No, that’s a papaya!” (That was in 1987, before such exotic fruit appeared in Saskatchewan supermarkets.) What a taste treat I was in for. I think I ate half the papaya myself.

The mole vendor (“mole” is a paste that you make into a sauce). Red, green and black mole, ready to serve over chicken, enchiladas, fish, chilis rellenos, or whatever else. Eat your heart out, ketchup.

Some places, like the meat market, are not for the faint of heart. Sides of beef or pork and freshly killed chickens with feathers, heads and feet still attached hang in conditions that would give a Canadian food inspector a heart attack. But you know that the meat you cook for supper was freshly killed that morning.

France: Just around the corner from our little hotel was a little plaza with an open-air market. Fresh fruit and vegetables, good cheeses, crunchy bread and bottles of unlabeled but extremely drinkable red table wine, all relatively inexpensive. We often created our lunches from these vendors.

We saw open-air markets everywhere. Some operated every day, some only once a week. But everything was fresh. Tomatoes smelled like tomatoes; peppers like peppers.

And the bakeries. Oh my! The smell of freshly baked bread, the CRUNCH of a buttery croissant that disintegrated into a thousand delectable crumbs, exquisitely decorated petit-fours – how could one resist? Calories? Who’s counting?

Indonesia: An array of vegetables and fruits we had never seen before. Alas, we spoke little Bahasa Indonesian; they spoke even less English. We never did learn the names; that did not lessen their taste. Or our enjoyment.

Ah, but coffee! Powdered, not ground. Throw a handful or two thrown into a pot, pour boiling water over. Let steep. Inhale the aroma. Drink. Hot, black and strong, but never bitter. We have yet to find coffee that good anywhere else.

Newfoundland and Labrador: A food and cultural experience of a different sort. We were traveling through Labrador with our truck and camper, and arrived via overnight ferry at a small outport. We needed to restock our fridge so we headed to the nearest grocery store. What a shock! There was nothing fresh, only ancient vegetables and fruit – wizened apples, black and shriveled cabbage, – and frozen meat encased in layers of frost. It brought to mind the limited stocks we had grown up with in our small prairie town groceries stores – one variety of apples (usually Macintosh), cabbage, head lettuce (who knew it was called “Iceberg”?), onions, potatoes, maybe turnips and parsnips, and four wan tomatoes in a cardboard sleeve with a cellophane window. And we thought this was just fine because we knew nothing else!

How spoiled we have become, with access to almost every variety of food in our grocery stores, even if it wasn’t picked just yesterday.

                                                                          * * *

My grandmother, Addie, wasn’t sure what she would find the first time she went to Mr. Haddad’s store in Meyronne, for everything had to be freighted in, a two-day wagon trip if coming from Morse or three days from Moose Jaw. As you can imagine, there was little that was fresh. Here’s what she saw (from Chapter 7 of “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead):

“I knew better than to expect shopping like in Toronto or even Dundalk; even so, my heart dropped when I saw the Meyronne store. A false front wooden building with a sign on the front that said, “General Store,” plopped out there in the bald prairie, no side-walk, no street, not even a hitching rail for the horses, just trails leading off in all directions.

We walked into the store and when my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I was quite surprised at what I saw. Oatmeal, flour, sugar, salt, tea, dried beans and peas, dry mustard, some canned goods – I remember canned sardines particularly, – crackers, pails of lard, and some dried apples, although they looked as if they had arrived last century. A barrel of pickles and another barrel of salt pork sat in a corner. One shelf held tin plates and cups, lamp chimneys and wicks, saucepans, frying pans and matches. Underneath were pails, kegs of nails and bottles of kerosene. Behind the counter, there were shelves of lye soap, liniment, Perry Davis Pain Killer and Dr. Thomas Eclectic Oil.”

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Writing Life Self Care

Barnes & Noble

"...watching the wheels go round and round..."
 The quote is from a post-Beatles John Lennon song, because I'm in a similar dropped out, meditative State. The New Englander inside my head keeps yelling that I "ought" and "should" do lots of things, like mow and mop and scoop cat poop and write and call my repugnant congressman, so maybe what I've got currently is simply Sloth.  Who knows? I'm not a Spring time Optimist--especially this spring, where Ragnarok--at least--apparently just around the corner for our poor old 21st Century world.

Lying fallow is part of the writing life, it seems, every bit as much as the obsessed hustle of those "creative" moments, when The Spirit of Tell Me a Story takes possession. I'm still a writer, though, even if nothing is coming out, information is always coming in, whether it's just this year's peonies, lanky from over-dosing on fertilizer (I think) and the record 12 months of rain-rain-rain we've just logged here in PA, or the burst of color around the base of the Witch Hazel. Here are little moments of lovely that I'm collecting a memory of for later.


May into June  I always seem to be waiting for something. I'm wondering if it's because 50+ years ago, my new husband and I were living in a basement apartment in Boston. I was awaiting the birth of a first child. We were taking time off from college, having our baby and getting our feet under us a married couple. It was hot as the hinges of hell before a/c there in the city, and I, sweaty and fat, ironed my husbands shirts in a hallway which connected the three rooms in which we lived.

It was also the summer of the Boston Strangler, so being alone in a basement apartment for hours every day was--let us say--unnerving. We didn't have a television, only a radio, but enough scary news came, on the hour, via that. I'll never forget the moments of stepping out into the hall, listening for the sound of human activity in the laundry-cum-trash bin-area, and, finally, after deciding the coast was clear, turning and swiftly locking the door behind me before running as fast as a heavily pregnant 19 year old can go upstairs to the lobby. It was not a transition I looked forward to. I walked along the burning sidewalks to the Shop Rite many blocks away with my little, happily anticipating the shade of each and every ragged city tree.

I spent a lot of head time in either past or future back then--the mysterious trial of labor lay ahead of me as well as the gender surprise which, in those days, only came upon the birth of the baby. An only child and a bookworm, my education came not from female relatives or neighbors, but from Alan Guttmacher's Pregnancy & Childbirth, as well as a then revolutionary English book called Natural Childbirth, by Dick Grantly.

At the clinic, when I asked about this method, I was cautioned rather sharply that "American Women are too weak for that."  An epidural, I was informed, was the closest I could get to "natural."  I also had a well-worn copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, loaned to me by a mother of eight who my husband used to baby sit for. In the end, the anticipated drama of "going into labor," --such a standard of books and movies--never happened. One day, I rode the bus to the hospital and then was required to stay. By the time they'd given me the epidural, my son had practically arrived, so, in the end, I was glad I'd geekily studied the Grantly book with care and had learned some strategies to deal with what I was supposed to be "too weak" to endure.

Time has passed, lots of it! Those childbirth stories I can tell are part of history, fifty years past, tales that are triggered by birthdays and Call The Midwife. That hapless younger self is gone, replaced by one that is older, wiser, but doubtless just as hapless as ever. This body hurts for no discernible reason at times, but that's apparently the new normal, as entropy takes hold. We all know the jokes: "Past your sell-by date" etc. I've got several stories begun--two series books I want to complete--but it's all on hold.

Zauberkraft: Black
(And Where oh Where is Zauberkraft: Green?)

The characters have walked away; they aren't speaking to me, not telling me their "thrilling tales of yesteryear." I used to fret when this happened, to do writing exercises and tricks to jump-start the flow. One thing I've learned over the years, though is that worrying doesn't solve a single thing. I've also learned that sometimes, sitting on the patio, watching the clouds flowing this way, and then that, while the  jet stream tries to figure out what it's trying to accomplish in this part of Pennsylvania feels sufficient. 

Here I sit, enough to eat, roof over my head, surrounded by green--the weary old trees with holes full of starlings and woodpeckers, and the spry young trees, ones "I've known from nut and acorn" like the Ent, Treebeard, in LOTR.  It's sufficient, the light and the green.

           "To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower
             Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour."
                ~~William Blake

I've realized The Muse will come back when (and if) She/He/It feels like it. In the meantime, try on a dragon tail; lighten up, reminisce with small pieces concerning pains and pleasures past, enjoy your bright little spark of human consciousness--and scribble on!   

~~Juliet Waldron
For all my historical novels:

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Do you Really Know the Characters in your Novel? by Connie Vines

Before a writer starts the first draft of a novel, the writer has the plot-points drafted.  The setting, profession, manner of dress and speech have been established.  The writer knows what the character looks like. 

The writer knows the characters, right?

Maybe.  Or maybe not.

Yes, there are character questionnaires, we’ve all seen them and groaned.  Two- hundred plus questions, who has time for that?

  • Approach it as a brainstorming exercise
  • Understand that your in-depth knowledge of the character will bleed into your writing, even if the vast majority of this information is never written in your manuscript
  • Use it to start building a character - you should already have the broad brushstrokes of your character, including what drives them and their biggest flaw
  • Use all of the information in your novel - most of the answers should be internalized, not spelled out
Basic Character Questions
  1. First name?
  2. Surname?
  3. Middle names?
  4. Nicknames?
Physical / Appearance
  1. Height?
  2. Weight?
  3. Build?
The seven questions listed above are standard. 

I work my characterization backwards.

1.       .1 What is my main character’s profession?

2 This will determine a great deal of his/her physical, mental abilities, and personality traits.

For example:  branches of the military have requirements, moving up in rank require additional skills.
·         A rodeo clowns’ skill set is different from a bronc-rider, or a bull-rider.
·         Where as a spy and an under-cover cop may share some of the same skill set, but the focus and the personality/ training would be more selective.
·         A professional blogger and home-cook vs a food-critic who’s travel-the-world and only dines at 5-star restaurants.

2.       How do they wear their clothes?
3.       What are their feet like? (type of shoes, state of shoes, socks, feet, pristine, dirty, worn, etc)
4.       Race / Ethnicity?
5.       Mannerisms?
6.       Are they in good health?  An athlete will have had injuries.
7.       Do they have any secrets? 
8.       What haunts them?

Personality (this is something that pops into my head during the writing of the 1st draft)
  1. Catchphrase?
  2. Bad habits?
  3. What makes them laugh out loud?
  4. How do they display affection?
  5. How do they want to be seen by others? (this can be a secret)
  6. How do they see themselves?
  7. Strongest character trait?
  8. Weakest character trait?
  9. How do they react to praise?
  10. How do they react to criticism? (this can be a trigger for a villain)
  11. What is their greatest fear?
  12. What will they stand up for? Willing to die for?
  13. Who do they quote? (The Commissioner in the TV show, Blue Bloods quotes Teddy Roosevelt.)

Friends and Family

  1. Is their family big or small? Who does it consist of?
  2. What is their perception of family?
  3. Do they have siblings? Older or younger?
  4. Describe their best friend.
  5. Do they have any pets?
  6. Who are their natural allies?
  7. Who are their surprising allies?

Past and Future

  1. What was your character like as a baby? As a child? (This is something the hero/heroine can wonder about or even ask.)
  2. Did they grow up rich or poor?
  3. Did they grow up nurtured or neglected?
  4. What smells remind them of their childhood?
  5. Has anyone ever saved their life?
  6. Strongest childhood memory?


  1. How do they respond to a threat?
  2. Are they most likely to fight with their fists or their tongue?
  3. What is your character’s kryptonite?
  4. How do they perceive strangers?
  5. What is their choice of weapon? (the home-cook could serve a crispy and dry mac and cheese casserole.)
  6. Where do they go when they’re angry?
  7. Who are their enemies and why?


  1. What is in their fridge:
  2. What is in their purse or wallet?
  3. What is in their pockets?
  4. What is their most treasured possession?


  1. What do they think is the worst thing that can be done to a person?
  2. Did they keep or break their last promise?


  1. What would they do if they won the lottery?
  2. What fairy-tale do they hate? Why?
  3. Do they believe in happy endings?
  4. What would they ask a fortune teller?
  5. If they could have a superpower, what would they choose?

My questionnaire is just a little over 50 questions.  However, the important answers pop into my mind when I’m writing the first draft.  Others are answered when I’m working on a revision.

And as every writer knows, at some point during the writing process, the characters take-over and a great deal of careful plotting gets tossed out the window.

Along with the links to my novels, I’ve included a recipe for a potato-side dish (remember the reference to the food-blogger/home cook?

Lynx                 Brede             Tanayia 

This is a hot casserole for dinner, lunch, or breakfast.  I often make it for a potluck, church social, or divide it into individual containers and freeze and reheat for future meals.

8 ingredient/Gluten Free  

9 X 14-inch casserole dish (bottom coated with oil/butter).
350-degree preheated oven

Potato Casserole

1 small onion, diced
1 bag 30 oz. frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed
1 can cream of chicken soup
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
Dash of garlic powder (optional
1 stick of butter, melted
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese (1/2 of the cheese in the mixture)
1 cup sour cream

·         In a large bowl add ingredients one-by-one, folding each into the mixture with a large spoon or spatula.

·         Pour n the melted butter and then add the cheese and sour cream.

·         Toss into casserole dish, moving the mixture so it is evenly distributed and touches the all sides of the dish.

Add the reminding cheese on top of the casserole.  Since my family loves cheese, I was much more generous with the cheese topping.

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Happy Reading, 

Connie Vines

Monday, May 27, 2019

What's this kitty cat doing on my new sci-fi cover? by Vijaya Schartz

Find the links to purchase this book and my other titles from BWL here

What is such a cutie doing on a spaceship? On the cover of a book titled BLACK DRAGON? He is neither black, nor a dragon.

Well, there is an explanation. You see, this kitty's name is Marshmallow, and he is the prized pet of the fierce Black Dragon, code name of an infamous Resistance fighter, escaped from prison, and wanted by the authoritarian regime on several star systems.

Unlike his heroic guardian, Marshmallow is quite spoiled. He loves tuna, loves the ladies, loves angels, loves blue crystal, and no one can resist petting him when he rolls on his back and rounds his blue eyes into pools of cuteness. He also has a special telepathic connection with the hero, and serves as his side-kick in undercover operations. This kitty is the best at distracting the enemy.

But although everyone loves Marshmallow, BLACK DRAGON isn't a story about a cat. It's a sweet sci-fi action romance, set on the Byzantium Space station. Book Two, AKIRA'S CHOICE, is scheduled for release in October 2019.

This space station was previously featured in the Azura Chronicles series, in ANGEL MINE, and ANGEL FIERCE. It will also figure in book 3, ANGEL BRAVE, scheduled for 2020.


About Byzantium:

Hovering at the edge of conquered space, in orbit around a dying star, sits an aging space station under the control of the Galactic Trade Alliance. Byzantium, once a thriving commercial hub, is turning into a den of crime, drugs, and debauchery, where anything or anyone can be bought or sold. The maximum-security penitentiary at its core, the Fortress, is a pit of despair and holds the most dangerous felons in the galaxy. For over a hundred cycles, the GTA has annexed worlds and plundered their resources. It now controls most of the galaxy, except for a few useless rocks and a small number of rebellious planets, who still manage to challenge their military might. But something is coming to upset the balance of power... something the GTA did not foresee.

Byzantium Book 1
June 7 release, in preorder now

amazon -  Smashwords -  B&N -  Kobo

A gambler is cheating in a den of the Byzantium space station, and Lieutenant Zara Frankel intends to catch him in the act. She always gets her man, but this one could prove more than she can handle.

Captain Czerno Drake, code name Black Dragon, has come under cover to break his innocent uncle from the most secure penitentiary in the galaxy, the Fortress, on the Byzantium space station. He will stop at nothing to succeed, even enrolling the help of the lovely straight arrow GTA enforcer. 

When Zara realizes that she’s been duped by a shrewd but seductive Resistance fighter, her reaction surprises everyone, most of all herself.

Early reviews:

"I love this one by Vijaya Schartz. As always, her action-packed, well-plotted out prose kept me glued to the pages of Black Dragon from start to finish." TwoLips Reviews 5-kisses a RECOMMENDED READ

"I like the balance of humor and danger in this story, and the action kept me glued to the pages... I enjoyed watching as suspicion turned to admiration, and admiration became the first flickers of love between Czerno and Zara... Pick up a copy of Black Dragon, by Vijaya Schartz, and enter a world of adventure, romance, and a spoiled cat named Marshmallow." 4½ stars Sensual Long And Short Reviews

"Vijaya Schartz is known for her strong female characters and Zara is no exception... gives the reader lots of action and a sweet love story." Single Titles Review 4½ stars


Vijaya Schartz, author
 Strong heroines, brave heroes, cats, romance with a kick
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