Monday, May 14, 2018

Location Location Location - Fact or Fiction?

I was recently interviewed on a local radio station and one of the questions put to me was “Why did you choose the label A Cheshire Love Story for your books?”

My reason was purely a marketing ploy. Although my stories are all stand-alone, I want the flexibility of offering box sets in the future. Having been in an upmarket magazine, called Cheshire Life, I thought A Cheshire Love Story sounded…lovely. I live in Cheshire in the North West of England. It is a relatively prosperous area with some beautiful mansions, luxurious cars and private schools. Of course ordinary people live here too.

It got me thinking. Does it help the author to know the towns, roads, restaurants, landmarks, etc. that appear in their stories?

An obvious answer to that has to be “Yes.” Many authors set their stories in places they have some connection with, perhaps somewhere they grew up, or where they now live. I know of many who write about a holiday location, some even lucky enough to own a holiday home. But that doesn’t mean you are “stuck” there.

So what tools are available to us in this twenty-first century?

1. Good old local knowledge.

In a novella I’m writing, there is a scene set on the way to Manchester Airport, which isn’t far from me. I needed to get my protagonist from a hotel in a village I know, to the airport, and I needed to know how long it would take. Being able to do that journey, checking out the surrounding area at the same time, meant I could write the scene with confidence. Many readers love it if they know the area you are writing about. Likewise many will be delighted to correct you if you get it wrong.

However, beware. You can get caught out. In Keeping You I wrote about a bookshop near where I used to work. My hero had the nerve to park his car illegally in front of the shop. When I held a book reading in said shop one night, I discovered that there was no longer a road in front of it – it had been pedestrianized. Makes the offence of parking outside even worse J

Another advantage of naming actual places, hotels etc. is the connection you can make with the community. It could be the local library, a bar in a hotel (particularly nice setting for an evening discussing erotic romance) or a book group. Some people love that, and you may be able to use it in promoting your work. For example, I often use #Cheshire in Twitter posts, and can gain retweets and likes from organisations in the vicinity – even getting invited on the local radio station.

Although personal experience is of great value, it doesn’t have to be a limiting factor when it comes to setting scenes. The internet has opened up virtually the whole world. And Google Earth is an added bonus when it comes to an author’s use of location.

2. Google Earth and the Internet

All of my stories have some connection with Cheshire, but they also include additional locations, including London and Manchester, and further afield in Kenya and Australia.

Keeping You takes the reader to White Chapel in London. Even though I have been to London many times, I have never been to White Chapel. But with the help of Google Earth, I was able to locate a high-rise apartment block in a very rundown area, with a phone box on the corner and smaller houses across the road. It was the perfect setting for my hero to be holed up while he sought revenge for the killing of his best friend, and it was a far cry from the luxurious mansion he lived in near Crewe in Cheshire.

Another of my books still to be published by my publisher, Black Opal Books, involves a trip to Melbourne in Australia. I have never been to Australia, let alone Melbourne, but I did my research using the internet and Google Earth. I needed a seedy location where sex workers resided, with a nightclub, and betting premises. Internet searches gave me St. Kilda, and Google Earth helped me house a young woman who never wanted to be a nice one… I was also able to confirm there was a cycling track nearby, as my protagonist was a keen cyclist. I backed up my research with requests to a friend who did live in Australia, leaving me confident enough to write about the area. Further research involved checking local facilities for paternity testing. This was all carried out from the comfort of my own home.

3. Websites selling houses

I confess to being someone who trawls, more nosily than thoroughly, through internet sites offering all sorts of homes to buy. I need to know what type of places exist in the location I have chosen.

On one such site I found the perfect mansion, with its own swimming pool, gym, and amazing grounds, for Lawrence in Keeping You. I named it The Sway. I even used the floor plan to walk my heroine through the house when she was left there alone near the beginning of the book. I find it a great help to visualise the layout of homes in my stories. However, I never use the images on any promotional sites – you have to be vigilant about copyright etc. I purchase all my photos or use Google free “labelled for reuse” images.

So I don’t restrict myself to places I know or have visited. I broaden my horizons and “travel” with no expense spared.

3. Mix and match

Of course, your location doesn’t have to actually exist. (I’m not just talking scifi/fantasy here.)

In The Secret At Arnford Hall I decided to use a fictitious village in Cheshire, and broadly based the Hall on a castle, which was for sale in the Channel Islands. I located Arnford next to a real town called Knutsford, and mention several places that exist there. Again I have been caught out when Gabriel Black takes Grace for lunch in a restaurant in Knutsford, which has since closed down!

Why don’t you share with us the tools you use for the settings in your stories, and maybe confess to the odd faux pas? After all, we are lovers of writing romance and entitled to have our heads in the clouds every now and then J

Images of some of the homes in my books

The Sway, Keeping You 
White Chapel - Google Earth, Keeping You

 Arnford Hall, The Secret At Arnford Hall

The old farmhouse, Guiltless

Sunday, May 6, 2018

For Wannabe Authors

by Linda Thorne

Someone I know recently asked me if I’d give her some insight on how to go about writing a book. It wasn’t until yesterday when I couldn’t come up with a subject for my scheduled post on Novel Spaces that it dawned on me. This would be a good topic.

Most people who are published authors got there by happenstance. They’ve stumbled upon the notion after some event prompted them, or they saw or heard something that sparked the desire. Then there are those with the unexplained itch that began brewing inside them years earlier coming to fruition when they finally must write “the book.” My motivation came from the latter, “brewing” up to it. I can’t claim to be a career author since I have another full-time career, but I have published a debut novel and several short stories and I’m well on my way with book  two.

If asked how to write a book and publish it, I can’t really speak for others, but I can tell you how I pulled it off. Here’s the skinny:

  • I bought a book on how to write a book. I followed the directions, made index cards, detailed plot points, drew up story lines.
  • I wrote the book with the plot and subplots that had been in my head for years. It took a year. When I read what I’d written, it didn’t sound like any book I’d ever read. It was far from good.
  • So, I took a pause, to read more books in my genre, mysteries, and edited my first draft. It was better, but it still didn’t read like a published book.
  • I joined a critique group and took pieces of my book to weekly meetings where they ripped it to shreds. It helped. Warning on critique groups, you need to get savvy on what to take away and throw away from a critique meeting.
  • I’d take month long breaks from novel writing to write short
    stories. I sent my polished shorts off to contests and magazines. I learned from the reject letters and when I began to win or publish a story, I had a thermometer to tell me where I was. Writing shorts and receiving feedback, improved my writing skills.
  • I’d go to the Killer Nashville conference year after year, pen and pad in hand, and go to every session on topics I had not yet grasped.
  • I read more self-help books this time on plot, structure, and basic rewriting the novel. My 150,000-word book was now down to 110,000 and I started submitting it to publishers and agents like crazy, which stopped when I could no longer take the onslaught of rejection letters.
  • Instead, I started sending segments of my book to contests where the judges gave critiques. There were many, but some were especially helpful: The Sandy Contest, the Colorado Gold Writing Contest, and the PNWA Literary Contest. I never won, but I used every suggestion given by the judges and my manuscript was the better for it.
  • I found a different sort of contest that accepted my manuscript in its entirety. The Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest had a winning prize of $10,000 along with publication. The only entry requirement was not to have already published a novel. My first submission did not make the finals, so I went back to the drawing board. My book was getting smaller, now down to 95,000 words. The second year, I did not make the finals again, but my assigned judge sent me an e-mail telling me it had promise. The judge assigned to me the third year, sent my manuscript to the finals, big step, but another author’s book won. I didn’t know how close I might’ve been to beating the winning author until the fourth year when I went to the finals again. This time none of the finalists were good enough for publication, which meant I wasn’t even close to winning author the year before. That did it! I had more work to do and this time I needed to revise it for publication. I didn’t have time to wait another year to re-enter the contest.
  • I tore through my book again, taking pieces of it to my critique groups, using my self-help books, my notes from the Killer Nashville conferences, judges comments from various contests. I revised and revised and then began submitting my manuscript, now down to 85,000-words, to publishers and agents again. Bingo! Black Opal Books read my entire book and asked to publish it.

I’m not sure whether my friend will still be interested in writing a book after reading this. It might not be such a hard process for her. It was a ten-year run for me and a lot harder than I’d thought when I first started out. Was it worth all the work and frustration? Absolutely! That would take a whole other post to explain why.      

Buy Link: Amazon

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Guest author Anne Louise Bannon: The Hard Part of Historical Research

Anne Louise Bannon
One of the things I love most about writing historical fiction is the research. I love reading old newspapers, poring over old maps, trying to decode old hand-writing, trying to determine if I’m getting an accurate understanding of something.

But the toughest part of any historical research is figuring out the day to day minutae of people’s lives. That’s the stuff that seldom gets written down or kept. Even in these days of tell-all social media, we seldom post about the baloney sandwich we had for lunch, the button we sewed back on our shirt, or even bother to describe how we make a baloney sandwich or sew a button on. Why should we? We all know what baloney is. Most of us get the idea of needle and thread going through the holes of a button.

The problem is, that’s exactly the information I need to bring an era to life. When did doctors start using plaster casts? (Doctors in Europe started using them in the 1840s and ‘50s, American doctors knew about them, but didn’t like using them for a long time – no idea why).

That was one of the biggest problems I had when writing my latest novel, Death of the Zanjero, a mystery set in Los Angeles 1870. The medical stuff was reasonably easy to find (my main character, Maddie Wilcox, has medical training). The politics of the then small town? A snap – there are scads of city council minutes I could draw upon, as well as newspapers from the time on microfilm.

However, there’s a lot about daily life in Los Angeles that was not in any of those sources or many others, as well. The story involves the town’s irrigation system, which was a series of ditches, or zanjas (pronounced zahn-ha), that had been dug off the main ditch, or Zanja Madre, which brought water from the Los Angeles River. The opening of the sluice gate to Maddie’s vineyard zanja is a major scene. Could I find anything referencing how the gates opened or what they were made of? Not in the city council minutes. There were several references to monies given to the Zanjero, or Water Overseer, for materials, but zip on what those materials were. Why would they write that down? They knew what those materials were.

One of the primary crops in the area at the time was wine grapes. Yep. The California wine industry actually started here in sunny SoCal (sorry about that, Napa). So, it made sense that Maddie made her living as a winegrower and winemaker. Yeah, but how did they make the wine? I had plenty of information on crop rates, who was making and selling the wine, stuff like that. But even one of the most prominent experts in the history of wine in the city, Dr. Thomas Pinney, couldn’t tell me what the process was. No one had written it down. They knew how it worked. Why should they?

I did actually find the answers, thanks to the doggedness of a couple librarians, one from the public library and the other from the wine industry archive at California State University of Pomona. And you know where both of them found those answers? In the tourist literature of the time.

Of course! Outsiders will write about what we think of as mundane. It’s new and strange to them. The other fun thing about tourist literature is that it goes back a way long ways, even to ancient times. You won’t always find information on cooking and what went on in kitchens and how houses were cleaned. Tourist literature, like most things in our planet’s history, does tend to be written by men and with their perspective. That which was written by women was usually written by women with the means to travel, which means they weren’t paying attention to what the servants were doing.

Diaries remain an excellent source of information. But don’t forget to check the tourist literature when you’re looking for daily life details. It sometimes has what nothing else does – and that’s a lot of fun.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Club Snacks

            Lately it seems like I’ve been hungry all the time. I don’t know why—maybe it’s because spring is in the air, maybe it’s stress, maybe the fault lies with Pinterest and Instagram—but more often than not, my thoughts have turned to food.

photo has nothing to do with post--it's just a photo I love and it's cake...

            So this month, in honor of World Book Day (which was April 23rd), I’ve decided to write a post about book club snacks. The post therefore combines two of my loves: reading and eating. And yes, there will be recipes.

            Ideally, a book club snack serves two purposes: 1) it is tasty and invites club members to linger, and 2) it has some connection, however tenuous, to the book under discussion.

            I am lucky to have been invited to attend book club discussions on many occasions when clubs are reading and discussing one of my books. One club has had me visit twice—first to discuss House of the Hanging Jade and second to discuss The House on Candlewick Lane.

The members of this particular club really get into the food-theme pairings. For the discussion of House of the Hanging Jade, which was set on the Island of Hawaii, the members served a smorgasbord of tropical delights, two of my favorites being the fruit punch and poke. For the discussion of The House on Candlewick Lane, which is set in Scotland, the members brought Scotch Eggs, homemade toffee, and even whisky for those who wanted to partake! I took shortbread to add to the spirit of the discussion.

One group in Pennsylvania read The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor. There is a hurricane in the book, which is set outside Charleston, South Carolina, and the family in the book makes something called Hurricane Stew. The group made stew for our meeting! There were also quick breads, which was a specialty of one of the book’s characters.

Book clubs that meet to merely discuss books are great and I’ve been to plenty of those, too, but add food to the mix and you’ve got an extra layer of fun and discussion.

So below are three of my favorite snacks for book clubs. Is your book club reading a romance, or a book set in a steamy locale? Try the Jalapeno Popper Dip. Are you reading something funny? Try a snack that’s sweet and light, like the Fruit Dip. Are you reading a psychological thriller? Try the UFO Dip, which is layered, just like the story.

            Got any favorites of your own? Share them in the comments!

Jalapeno Popper Dip
(from “Every Day with Rachael Ray”)

3 slices bacon, chopped
1 c. panko
3 cans (4 oz. each) diced jalapenos, drained
2 pkgs (8 oz. each) cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 small fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 T. grated Parmesan cheese
Tortilla chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet cook bacon over medium heat until crispy, 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all but 2 T. of the bacon drippings; add the panko and stir to coat. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, mix half the bacon with the canned jalapenos, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and cheddar cheese. Transfer mixture to a 2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with the panko, remaining bacon, fresh jalapeno, and Parmesan cheese. 

Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips.

Fruit Dip

2 small boxes instant vanilla pudding
3 c. cold milk
8 oz. container whipped topping
almond extract to taste
cut-up fruit

Mix pudding and milk for about 2 minutes. Fold in whipped topping. Add almond extract to taste and mix well. Serve with cut-up fruit.


2 pkgs (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 pint sour cream
onion powder to taste
1 jar medium salsa, divided
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 large tomato, diced
1 large can black olives, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped.

Using an electric mixer, blend together the cream cheese and the sour cream. Spread on a large circular platter or tray (I use the reusable aluminum ones) and sprinkle with onion powder to taste.

On top of the cream cheese mixture, layer the rest of the ingredients in the order they're listed above. Use only 3/4 of the jar of salsa and 1 1/2 c. of the cheddar cheese. On top of the green pepper layer, sprinkle remaining cheese, then dot with remaining salsa. Serve with tortilla chips or crudites.

P.S. Wine is also a popular beverage at book club meetings. Need a suggestion? You're in luck! My website has some great lists of reds and whites--find it at

Saturday, April 21, 2018

How “Real” Are My Characters?

Are my characters modeled after real life people? This is always an interesting question. The answer is yes. And the answer is no! As my characters are a hodge-podge of the many “real” people I’ve known over the years, snippets of their experiences wind up on my pages. And I’ve known people who live turbulent lives; Carlene Arness, the victim in Murder at the Book Group, #1 in my Hazel Rose Book Group series, is a case in point.

I think people expect similarities between myself and my sleuth, Hazel Rose. Like Hazel, I was born on the east coast, moved to Los Angeles in my twenties, and started my career as a computer programmer. Like Hazel, I had a calico cat named Shammy who accompanied me when I moved back east in 1996 and settled in Richmond, Virginia. Hazel and I share a commitment to the environment, we’re both frugal and unimpressed with the high life.

But divorce and widowhood have not touched my life—I will soon celebrate 29 years with my one and only husband. I may get stuck in ruts, but not for long. And, alas, I don’t have Hazel’s “money green” eyes.

The biggest difference between me and Hazel is this: if I needed to re-purpose my life a murder investigation would not be the method I’d choose. No question about it. 

But real people did find their way into Murder at the Book Group, like a woman I used to see at a gym in Richmond. I never knew her name or even talked to her except for a hi and a wave. She was partial to leopard prints and chartreuse. The last time I saw her she sashayed into the gym sporting chartreuse stiletto boots and a leopard cowgirl hat, platinum blonde curls cascading down her back. She became Kat Berenger in the Hazel Rose series. As a perk, I gave her a personal trainer job at the same gym.

Jeanette Thacker “reminds” me of a former co-worker. Jeanette doesn’t feel the need to censor her speech.  However, her language was much saltier in earlier versions. My editor advised me to ditch the swear words. If the real Jeanette reads my tome and recognizes herself I think she’ll be pleased but will probably wonder why she’s using words like “frigging.”

Another character is based on a woman with whom I once had an adversarial work relationship. I made her nasty as all get out. But I had a runaway word count and some ruthless editing was in order. Ms. Nasty got whittled down and, lo and behold, she became quite nice! I’m still scratching my head about that. Do other writers unwittingly transform their characters via literary nip n tuck? Is writing a vehicle for forgiveness? Someone with savvy in the spiritual realm can weigh in on this question.

Here is a list of some classic characters you may not have known were based on real people. Dorian Gray is one of them.

Image from

How about you, my fellow writers: how “real” are your characters?

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and two overly-indulged cats.

Instagram: authormaggieking

Amazon author page:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Top Tips to Write More

Don’t you find sometimes life gets in the way of writing? Perhaps you have guests due to arrive and you have to clear the spare bedroom. Or maybe that family holiday you booked way back, is now imminent when you are so close to completing your manuscript—or worse still, your publisher is waiting for your final review to be returned before going to print. I have experienced these “obstructions” and many more. But then we got a puppy and I understood what a real obstruction was.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Pepper to bits and am so glad she came to live with us last October. But, as many of you will know, raising a puppy is hard work and very time consuming. My writing was put on hold, together with most other things which were not dog related.
By January I was determined to start writing again. It was a struggle and I needed a push. When I came across 12 Top Tips by Sue Moorcroft of The Romantic Novelists Association, I found some inspiration. Sue has kindly agreed to let me share those tips with you.

# 1. Plan? Don’t Plan?
Don’t be afraid to try either. You never know what will work for you when you’re stuck.
# 2. Think of Your Page as a Stage
Your characters are the actors. Keep them interacting with each other and give them dialogue.
# 3. Struggling with a character?
Discuss her/him with a friend. Personality traits and motivation will often become clear.
# 4. Replace bland verbs with vivid verbs
Instead of walk use trudge, march, hurry etc. to capture your character’s mood.
# 5. I can’t write if…
Have faith in yourself that you can. It’s just that sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard.
# 6. Sagging middle to your story arc?
Prop it up with incidents, lies, secrets, accidents, a new character, deepening conflict, surprises or twists.
# 7. Setting can be a conflict in itself.
Has your character’s car broken down? Place her on a lonely moor in a snow storm. No phone signal. No one to help.
# 8. Keep your story going.
Give your characters goals, missions, and, above all, conflict. Make them resolve those conflicts themselves.
# 9. Dialogue isn’t just the words the characters say.
The words are just part of a scene that includes action, thoughts and a dash of description.
# 10. If you’ve edited your story so many times that you’re sick of it…
Change the font for the final read through. It wakes your brain up.
# 11. Understand which character holds the viewpoint.
See what they see, hear what they hear, know what they know and feel what they feel.
# 12. Enjoy your research.
Make your characters do things YOU fancy trying—a balloon flight, a dance class, a visit to a new country. Have fun!

I hope these tips might get you out of a hole, add sparkle to your writing, or simply be useful to remember. My thanks go to Sue.
I would add one more – when “life” gets in the way of your writing, step back and create a new schedule of when to write, and the word count you hope to achieve. Be realistic about the timeframe to complete your manuscript. Most of all?  Don’t stop writing, or you’ll lose more than just a bit of yourself.
Share any great tips with us here.