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.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Table or Booth Book Selling

by Linda Thorne

I’ve sold from tables, booths, tents and a Barnes and Noble “meet the authors” event where a group of us shared a couple of tables. I’ve sat on panels at bookstores and writers’ conferences where the panelists move to signing tables after their session. I’m not much of sales person and some of my author friends encourage me to speak out more at these events.

Will I? From my consumer experience, it’s unlikely. At various times spanning most of my life, I've hung out at places where books were sold at manned tables or booths. I’ve always been interested, but I’ve also noticed my reluctance to approach when the author or authors are present.

Why? I’d like to look over the books without feeling pushed. And the “feeling pushed” comes from within me. If I find out someone is manning a booth who has not authored any of the inventory, I feel freedom to peruse, to buy or not to buy. No pressure. But how often is anyone other than one of the authors going to be selling the books?

Rare, but I’ve seen it happen. I did it a few times myself before I became published, manning the local Nashville Writer’s Meetup Group tent at the Southern Festival of Books. Of course, I had a free handout about my own work in progress to give to anyone who’d take it. When folks came by, I’d say something like, “I’m giving the authors of these books a break.” and thought they showed signs of relief. I’ll never be certain whether their relieved looks were real or just my interjection of what my feelings would be if in their shoes.

Books are expensive and open wallets aren’t rambling around the Nashville area waiting to make authors happy. And books take a while to read. Even those who can afford to buy often have an unread stockpile at home pressuring them with guilt.

Yes, the person selling books from a table or booth is normally the author of at least one of them. If they are friends of mine, then I’m torn with buying from one and not the other. I still gut up and go to these places and when I do, I’ll buy from one and not the others. Although this is still awkward for me, it’s the reality of shopping books and they know it too. Sometimes I don't buy any.

If you’re not James Patterson or Lawrence Block, table or booth selling is a tough, slow way to sell your books. Is it worth it?

I think so. You’re marketing yourself and your work and there’s always the chance for something big to happen, and I’ve seen it happen right here in my town. An author friend of mine, was manning the Nashville Writer’s Meetup tent a few years ago at the Southern Festival of Books. A video editor who was at the festival scouting talent stopped by and asked my friend about his only book, his debut novel. The agent bought it and not long afterward, this author was signing an HBO TV movie option for $$$. That may have been the only book he sold, but I’m sure he was glad he showed up. That’s what authors do.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Cover Stories

Unless you're Stephen King, Dan Brown or JK Rowling where simple name recognition sells your books, the cover is your most important marketing tool. The cover holds the power to make that all-important first impression, to attract and induce a prospective buyer to take a closer look. How much control an author has over her cover depends on whether she is traditionally or independently published. I've been both (aka a hybrid author) and here's what I've learned.

1. If you're traditionally pubished, as I was for my first novel, the publisher has total control over the cover design. 
In many instances, the first time the author sees the cover is when it appears in stores. I first saw my cover online and was taken aback. There was nothing to indicate that the story was contemporary romance--just a woman sitting in what appeared to be some kind of concourse. Since important scenes in the story take place in airports, I assumed this was the publisher's rationalization for the cover...

It wasn't until many months later that I discovered the cover had been created for someone else's book. When the author withdrew her novel the cover was repurposed--and slapped on to my book. To say that I was startled by this revelation is putting it mildly. The first version of the cover had already been sent out to stores before the book was withdrawn...and it's still out there in places like FictionDB. Bizarre, huh...

2. When you publish independently, the cover hurdle is all yours. 
I published my second novel independently so I had total responsibility for the cover. I spent long hours searching stock image sites and finally found two images that I liked for the cover concept I had in mind. I did a (very) rough sketch and hired a highly-recommended cover artist (Kim Killion of Hot Damn Designs) to execute it. I thought the final product was beautiful, and perfect, and exactly what I had in mind. (Kim also has hundreds of stock images and pre-made book covers. I found all the images for my historical romance series on her site.)

3. If you have some basic design skills, you can make your own covers.
I generally don't recommend going this route, but I've done this for most of my short stories and novellas. I buy a stock image that won't need a lot of tweaking and upload it to one of the cover creator tools on publishing platforms such as Amazon's KDP or Pronoun (now defunct) where all I need to do is find an acceptable font and layout for the title, subtitle and author's name. I also did this for authors that I published in the past to keep costs down. Here's one I created for a short story for a client:

4. Cover artists work with stock images. If you're looking for someone to produce new and original art for your cover, you're opening the doors of hell.
I no longer publish other writers, but I do provide editing services and I collaborate on covers. A client wanted an original illustration for his new book, so he hired a graphic artist off of Fiverr who had done a cover for him before--from a stock image, of course. He explained to the artist that he was not going to work with a stock image this time but wanted an original illustration/drawing. The artist said he could do it.

The first red flag went up when Fiverr dude asked to be paid up front. I have NEVER had an artist ask for money before I approved a draft, and I've worked with several to date. The sequence goes like this: I approve a cover draft>>I pay artist>>artist sends me hi-res final images. The second red flag was when he asked to be paid outside of the Fiverr system so that he could avoid paying the commission on the sale. My client agreed to pay half up front and, predictably, disaster ensued.

The sketches were horrendous, and it became obvious that the artist could not draw. I know 8-year-olds who would have done a better job. My client gave the artist many chances to present something we could actually use, but the sketches just kept getting worse. Even the title fonts were atrocious, despite the fact that we sent the artist samples of the sort of font we wanted. Eventually my client had to fire the artist, who, of course, did not refund his money.

Then, without discussing it with me, the client hired someone who had never made a cover before. NEVER do that. NEVER. Did you get that? Not. Ever. This guy took us on an unbelievable, month-long ride before finally producing something we could use. He got things wrong that I did not think it was possible for anyone to get wrong. He disregarded instructions, sending PNG files instead of JPEG files for the e-book. He got the sizes wrong. He got the DPI (resolution) wrong. He got the RPG color profile wrong on the JPEG, using a CMYK format that is used for print, not digital images. He got the specs for the PDF cover for print wrong about 5 times. He sent the spine for the print book separately from the front and back. He neglected to leave margins around the back blurb on the print cover, or a space between the header and the body of text. All of this despite being given clear instructions, links to further explanations, and examples of previous projects. And just like the first 'artist', he could not create acceptable art from scratch despite his protestations, so my client had to finally give in and provide him with stock images.

When we finally got images we thought we could use, CreateSpace rejected the PDF for the print version, and Draft2Digital rejected the JPEG cover. I've published 50-plus titles, my own books and on behalf of clients, and I'd never had D2D reject a cover before. I hit Google to figure out what D2D meant by RPG and CMYK color profiles, then it was back to the drawing board.

So what's the takeaway from my experiences?
1. Be prepared to have zero input on your covers if you're traditionally published.
2. Understand that you have total control over your covers as an indie author/publisher.
3. You can design your own covers if you have basic design skills and can work with the cover creator software that's provided free by some platforms
4. Self-made covers tend to look self-made, however, so it's always best to hire an experienced cover artist.
5. If you use services like Fiverr, play by the rules. Do not pay for artwork until you approve the work, and do not make payments or deals outside of the system provided. The system is your protection.
6. Do not ask someone who has never designed covers for e-books and print to make your covers. Capiche?

Do you have interesting cover stories of your own? Please share them in the comments.