Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ghosts in the House: Research For My Latest Novel, Quarry

Blurb for Quarry

Reeling from the loss of her job in New York, Sari comes home to Gramps mountain-top farm near Montbleu only to find that he has been ill and has high medical bills. Jake, the man who worked their quarry, is using Gramps debts to try to buy the farm for a pittance. Sari vows to help Gamps save the farm.

At the jail, Police Chief, Chess Devon, is waiting for her Deputy, Lance Andrews, to take over prisoner duty. Flinty Mathews, the town drunk, is in for drunk and disorderly. Chess thinks he’ll sleep it off until she hears screams from the cell block. She thinks Flinty is having DTs, but when Lance comes into the area and nearly passes out, she isn’t so sure.

Right on schedule, Bartlett Thomas, Chief of Detectives from Scranton, shows up. He has even more bad news. The governor has gotten word that a group of environmentalists plan to blow up a gas well. It could be one near Montbleu.

Available from

Research for the Novel

When I decided to have a ghost as one of the characters in my novel, Quarry, I asked my friends, Beth and Anna, to give me a taste of ghost hunting. We live in a town founded in the 1800s that has it's share of ghost stories. The best places in town to find ghosts are the cemetery and fire house. Anna and Beth have done ghost hunting in both locations, but we opted for a different local, my house.

The main part of my house was built in 1825. The ownership is fairly well documented in local histories so we know there have been several deaths there over the years. I wasn't completely sure I wanted to find out whether I was living with ghosts, besides I really didn't believe we'd find anything.

Anna and Beth arrived at my house in the evening with the usual paraphernalia for ghost hunting: a digital recorder to capture electronic voice phenomena, EVPs. a digital camera, and a small device to measure electromagnetic radiation.

When I showed them around the house, Anna, who is the most sensitive, felt that the parlor was the place to start. She sensed that a person had been laid out there, and the people around the coffin were sad. So we set up in the parlor.

Beth carried the digital recorder. We had compiled a list of questions. Her job was to ask the questions to see if the ghosts responded. Nothing happened until she said, “If you're here please give us a sign.” I heard a crack from the second floor. It sounded like ice breaking or wood splitting. This was getting serious. If we really did have ghosts, rousing them might not be a good idea. I was ready to get call the whole thing off, but Beth and Anna were perfectly calm, so I sat still.

While Beth was asking questions, Anna was taking pictures. When she reviewed the pictures she'd captured, she said, “Wow, look at this,” and passed me the camera. I was stunned. The picture showed me sitting on the sofa. Two orbs were just above my head in a darkened spot. Orbs are supposed to be a manifestation of spirits. Not all the other pictures showed orbs, but there were several in the photo of Beth asking questions. We also took photos in the attic, and those showed orbs.

Beth couldn't analyze the voice recording that night. It takes a special voice enhancing program to hear the EVPs. In a few days she brought me the results. There were seven EVPs. I have to admit I had trouble figuring out what was being said. The crack from the second floor was clear, and there was a surprise at the end. When we finished in the parlor, I said, “I'm glad you came. I had fun.” A fairly distinct voice on the recording, and it wasn't one of us, said, “I had fun, too.”

It was a productive evening of research. I guess there is some sort of paranormal activity in the house. Thankfully, they are friendly ghosts. They don't bother us, so I don't mind sharing the house with them.

Excerpt Showing the Use of the Research

  Chess had barely unlocked the door to the old jail when she heard voices coming up the path. Bartlett opened the door and five people filed in. Tory and Andy led the way followed by a short pale couple. Sari, looking frightened, was last. Chess thought the ghostbusters looked as much like ghosts as the phenomena they tracked. 
  Andy drew the couple forward. “Chess, Bartlett, I want you to meet Martha and Howie Collins.”
  Chess extended her hand; Bartlett followed suite. “Thank you for coming,” she said. “I don't know if we have ghosts, but some rather strange things have happened.”
  Howie and Martha shook hands. They stayed close together as though drawing support from each other. Chess wondered if they were brother and sister rather than husband and wife.
  “We often don't find evidence of actual paranormal phenomena . . . er ghosts. Many times there are perfectly logical explanations for what's happening, but sometimes . . .” Howie grinned broadly. “We do find evidence of spirits.”
 “We've had some unusual cases,” Martha said.
 “We're eager to hear what you do.” Chess gestured toward the long table against the windows.            “Why don't we sit here and you can tell us what to expect.”
  With a scraping of chairs on the old wooden floor, they seated themselves around the table. Chess looked around. “Lash isn't here yet.”
  “Who are we waiting for?” Howie asked.
  “My deputy, Lash Andrews.” Chess glanced at her watch. “Let's get started anyway. We're working a case, and he may have gotten held up.” She looked at Howie. “So how do you go about tracking ghosts?”
  “As I said, we try to take a scientific approach to looking for spirits. Many times there are logical explanations.” He paused to look at each of the people seated around the table. “Sometime people hear what they think are chains rattling at night. We've found more than once that the sound was caused by pipes in the house, particularly those houses that use hot water heat. Under the right conditions they can expand and contract at night causing strange noises. Lights that go on and off can be caused by faulty electricity. Windows and doors that open and close by themselves can be caused by the breeze from an open window.”
  Martha broke in. “Once we found a door that opened itself because the floor was slanted. Most of these phenomena appear, as you would expect, in older houses.”
  “And that's why people immediately think of ghosts.” said Howie.
  “That all makes sense.” Chess said. “So how do you figure out what's happening?”
  “We make a careful evaluation of the physical aspects; looking for loose wires, faulty plumbing, that sort of thing.” Howie gestured at the walls and ceiling. “If nothing appears to be wrong then we start looking for paranormal explanations.”
  “And how do you do that?” Bartlett, who had been sitting with his chair tilted back, leaned forward. The front legs snapped against the floor.
  Tory jumped. She gave a slight laugh and covered her mouth. “I guess I'm nervous expecting ghosts.”
  “That's all right.” Martha patted her hand.”I still get nervous on some of our cases.”
  “We have several techniques.” Howie said. “Probably the easiest is to use an audio recording device. Ghosts will often respond to questions or say things you can't hear with your ears, but come out quite clearly on the device.”
  “That seems simple.” Chess said.
  “We call these Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP for short.” Howie laid a digital recorder on the table. “I'll take this recorder in with us when we examine the cell block where these manifestations are occurring. It's easy to do and we may get a hit.”
  “Interesting.” Bartlett picked it up. “This looks like the kind of recorder we use for dictation or to make notes during an investigation.”
  “I'm sure it's the same. These little voice activated recorders work extremely well.”
  Bartlett laid the device down. “If we have a criminal, he should be right a home having his statement recorded.”
  “If the ghost is from the 1800's, I don't think so.” Chess frowned at him.
  Bartlett shrugged. “You never know who or what's in there.”
  Howie laid a small digital camera on the table. “We also use digital cameras to try to get a picture of the phenomena.”
  “Did you ever get a picture of a ghost?” Chess asked.
  “Not a picture of a person. Usually our pictures look like smoke, a bright spot, or a series of bright spots.”
  “Then how do you know they're ghosts?”
  “We don't, but if we have EVP and electromagnetic radiation we can be fairly confident it's some sort of paranormal phenomena.”
  “How do you measure electromagnetic radiation?” Bartlett asked.
  Howie laid another device on the table. “This is a fairly simple device to measure electromagnetic radiation. It was designed to detect the presence of computers and other electronic signatures, but we can use it to detect paranormal activity.”
  Bartlett leaned forward to study the device. “This all sounds pretty sophisticated.”
  “We try to use as many modalities as we can to detect paranormal disturbances.” Howie said.            “Usually, if there are some, we can find them.”
  “Great,” Andy scribbled in his notebook. “This is really interesting stuff. Hope you don't mind if I do an article on it for the Tribune.”
  “Not at all. It's good publicity for us. This is an old town. There may be lots of paranormal phenomena.”
  “Wow, more ghosts. Do you really think so?”
  “It's possible.” Howie held up a cautionary hand. “I'm not even sure we have an entity here.”
  “What are we waiting for?” Andy looked longingly at the devices spread on the table. “I want to see what we get.”
  “Not quite so fast. Tonight we wanted to meet with you, tell you about our investigation, but we also want to hear about what you're experiencing, and whether there are any historical reasons for it.”
  Chess said, “It's easy to explain what happened, but I don't know if we have anything but an old drunk and my deputy, who'd been working too hard.”
  “So tell us about it,” Martha said.
  “We had Flinty Matthews locked up in back. He was in for drunk and disorderly. I was going to let him sleep it off and then take him home.” Chess rubbed her index finger along the wood grain of the table. “I was sitting out here waiting for Lash to check in when Flinty started screaming that he was being attacked. I thought he was probably having DTs. I went back to see what was going on. When Lash came, he walked into the cells area. Before he'd gone very far, he doubled over and practically fell on the floor.” She looked toward the door. “I wish he was here. He could tell you what he felt. I thought it might be a lack of food. He hadn't eaten that day, but I suppose the ghost or whatever's in there could have been the culprit.”
  “That's a fairly complex phenomena.” Howie massaged his cheek. “Did any of you see anything?”
  “Flinty said he saw a ball of light in the corner of his cell. I thought it was just the DTs, but . . .” She spread her hands. “I suppose it could have been something else.”
  “It sounds like you may have a demonic entity.” Howie looked from one to the other. “Good entities don't attack people. Did anything happen here in the jail that could have resulted in a demonic entity coming to reside here? Any murders? Things like that?”

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meet Scott Coren Author of Mathew 13:44

Scott has written a fast paced novel about finding God in the face of adversity. It's a book that many people will find helpful because it encourages us to not lose hope and to keep going. Scott provided some insights about how and why he wrote this book.

  1. Tell us about your book Matthew 13:44
Matthew 13:44 is a novel which is influenced by true events. It is about strength in the face of adversity and how good can sometimes come from the bleakest of circumstances, though you wouldn’t know it until the darkness has lifted. Like many of us making our way through life, Lucy Sinclair will stumble, fall, get up and walk, all because there is no other alternative but to carry on; in her case for the sake of her critically ill daughter. And all the while, like the last days of Christ, she will be betrayed, tried and publicly humiliated by those who would do her harm for no other reason than their own personal gain. Although written as a thriller, Matthew 13:44 is primarily a journey from ‘no faith’ to ‘belief’ and from a world view as seen through the prism of chance to a heavenly view of divine intervention and love.

  1. What inspired you to write your novel?
My firstborn came into this world needing life saving cardiac surgery. She then suffered a complication. On day ten of life she was given tracheotomy—an artificial airway cut straight into her neck—something which even a full grown adult would struggle with. And so our journey began, though little did I know, a second journey would be running in tandem.
The first, was the pediatric experience which is a vicarious one. Vicarious, in that as parents, we are not patients and so are lucid. We have our full faculties to suffer every step of the way as our children, our small bundles of pure love, suffer in front of us, while we are powerless to help them. Instead, we put our trust in strangers, doctors who—like all people—can be brilliant, appalling and anything else in between. In our case, we had the full spectrum, as we soon saw that medicine is part science, part art and part guesswork. We are now two years in to this experience and as a result, all night, every night, I sit by her bedside, like a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ dad, as her tracheotomy tube can and does block, leaving us with thirty seconds to intervene and change the tube less irreversible brain damage occurs.
I wrote this book by her bedside as she slept, in the dark, except for one dimmed light in the corner. It is in part a catharsis; to rationalize my experience…the uncertainty, the pain, the ups and the downs of her condition, the reality of her going from well to seriously ill at the drop of a hat. But also to touch others who are living the same solitary, sterile life as me, regardless of their children’s condition.
The second journey was less expected. I found faith. Not in an instance. Not as a sudden realization, and certainly by no revelation or voice. But by a slow burning, gradual and very personal meeting with Christ. Matthew 13:44 is thus a testimony. A statement of faith, made most surprising of all to me, given that until two years ago I’d have happily described myself as a militant atheist.

  1. You describe yourself as ‘once an atheist,’ why?
Faith for me wasn’t sudden. And it wasn’t imposed or taught. Like the male lead character in the story, religion just wasn’t on our radar. I was brought up an atheist in the United Kingdom. My grandfather was a medic during the second world war. He spent his time policing up the wounded and dead in North Africa as Nazi Germany and Great Britain engaged in an attrition in the sand. In fact, my grandfather served at the famous battle of El Alamein. If it was ever possible back then to have had a ‘bad war,’ given the whole affair was so turgid, then he certainly had one. God for him, as he would say, died on that battlefield too; a notion which continues to run strong in my family to this day. In other words, how can there be a God in the midst of such carnage? Why would He let it happen? Or indeed, how could any good possibly come from such a tragedy? These are well charted dichotomies which I wanted to explore, but through my own life experiences, which is as the father of a medicalized child. An innocent who is born to suffer.

  1. What influenced the setting?
The latter part of the story—and the setting which the various plot strands work towards—is a children’s hospice. And for me, a children’s hospice is surely the very apex of all human suffering, outside of a concentration camp or a disaster zone. It is a place where bad things happen to the most innocent of people. And more so, it is a place where the incomprehensible must be explained to those who can comprehend the least. If angels do walk our earth then they exist in places such as these. They are the staff. They are the people who live their lives in that moment between being alive and not; between the trauma of a young death and the devastation of its aftermath. Yet every day they do it with an incredible mix of decorum and joy. And they do so for no other reason than making those days, hours and minutes just that little bit more tolerable.
  1. What do you hope readers will take away from this?
That no matter how isolated we feel, we’re never alone. I hope readers will take strength, courage even, to get up and walk regardless of whatever the setback, obstacle, or hurdle. I hope that readers will see something of themselves in my lead character Lucy. That she never knew when she was beaten, even at the bleakest of times.

  1. Where can we get the book?
It’s available on as a paperback or Kindle eBook. It’s also available through Barnes and Noble.

Ashley Lauretta,, (512) 501-4399 ext. 712

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dialogue: Asset or Liability?

I recently reviewed a book, Inca's Death Cave by Bradford G. Wheler. I loved the plot. The author had done a lot of research on technology and how it could be used in archaeology. The setting in Peru was beautifully described, and the plot was interesting. These were pluses. However, the dialogue almost made me put the book down.

The mistakes in the dialogue were the ones everyone warns beginning writers about. Every time the main characters had a conversation they used their first names. People don't talk this way. They may use a first name in greeting someone, or in adding emphasis to a statement. They do not constantly refer to each other by name. It isn't necessary and it becomes tedious to read. It also makes the dialogue sound stilted.

The second mistake the author made was using conversation as a data dump. In the early chapters of the book, the female character gives long dissertations on the technology. The author does it in the guise of explaining technical areas to a novice, but it quickly becomes wearing. There is no give and take. If the explanations were necessary, and in this case they were, description could be used effectively at least part of the time.

Dialogue is not the easiest thing for most people to write. Even experienced authors have some character come off sounding stilted. The best advice I've heard about how to correct this problem is to listen to people. If eavesdropping on conversations seems too intrusive watch good movies, or there are places like the library of congress where native speakers have been recorded. If you listen to them enough you will get the speech patterns, and your dialog will sound natural.

One of the best ways to draw a reader into your world is a conversation. Readers get caught up in the exchange between characters if it's well done. Another plus is that dialogue sentences are typically short, at least they should be. This means lots of white space on the page. Readers like to see white space. It doesn't look so daunting.

Writing dialog may not come naturally to you, but if you work at it, it will pay dividends with your readers and reviewers.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Do ebook Readers Want Simple, Unchallenging Novels?

I recently reviewed a book, Locked In by Kevin Wilkirson, that raised this issue. The book has been a best seller in the UK, and Amazon picked it up in the US. It's a publishing phenomenon that I think deserves a passing look.

It's not a bad book, but as crime novels go it isn't a great one. So what's the appeal? My take on the book is that the plot is simple to the point of allowing the reader to move at least a few steps ahead of the police. The characters are two dimensional. The twists are predictable as is the ending. It wasn't a memorable book. So what's the attraction.

Another reviewer had an observation that made me think. Do readers want unchallenging novels. I suspect that may be the case. In this novel, the main character is a female detective who has a rather abrasive and aggressive personality, but no lusting after the boss, no steamy sex. The prose is simple, but that makes the book a quick read. Because the plot is predictable, you don't have to pay close attention to the clues, you can pick the book up at intervals and still be quickly up to speed with what's happening.

It's been suggested before that the reading public likes Dan Brown novels because, while the writing is less than stellar, the plot moves quickly, and the chapters are short. That's another way of suggesting that the novel is unchallenging. Romance writers understand that the public wants plots that are similar, with romantic settings, attractive protagonists, and not too many complications.

I love the idea that people are reading more. An observation on Digital Book World, reported that ebook sales were down during World Cup Soccer. This suggests that reading has become a relaxation pastime equivalent to watching sports, but I may be reading too much into it. However, if what the public wants is simple, unchallenging novels, that's something writers have to take to heart and decide whether they want literary fame, or best sellers.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What About Unlikeable Heroes?

Heroes don't have to be paragons. They can even be villains, but can they be arrogant, egotistical and thoroughly unlikable? My belief is: “No.” I recently reviewed a books with a hero most reviewers disliked. I gave it a low rating, and I wasn't alone.

The Other Story by Tatiana de Rosnay sounded like a book I'd love to read. A young writer Nicholas Duhamel has written a best seller on his first foray into publishing. If you're a writer, this book beckons. It promises a glimpse of the creative process and how fame can affect a writer's ability to create. It also has a mystery about how the book he's written connects to his own life. However, Nicholas turns out to be a thoroughly unlikable character: egotistical, self-centered and demanding. I believe the author created him this way to show that at the end of the book he realizes that he has been driving his friends and lovers away and that is responsible for why he can't write.

The problem is that you have to get to the end of the book to see this, and many reviewers gave up in disgust before they got there. You have to be very committed to a book to keep reading about a jerk.

So to answer the question: Can you get away with an unlikable hero to show character development? I would suggest that you be wary. There are always people who like a book that others can't stand, but it you want a large following, it's better to have a character that is attractive in some way so that people can feel emotionally connected to the character. This isn't new advice, but it's illuminating to see it in action.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Meet Angela Smith Author of Fatal Snag


Meet Angela:

During her senior year in high school, Angela Smith was dubbed most likely to write a novel, and that has been her dream ever since her mother read Brer Rabbit to her and her sister so often that they were able to recite it back to each other before actually learning to read. She’s always enjoyed stories about the adventure of love, and getting involved in the legal field developed her love of suspense. A certified paralegal, work gives her perfect fodder for her romantic suspense stories. When not caring for her small farm or spending time with her husband of two decades, she enjoys creating, reading, and dreaming of the places she’ll visit one day.

I asked Angela some questions about herself and her writing.

What made you decide to write romantic suspense?

I’ve always loved reading romantic suspense, and I’ve always known I had to write to shut up the voices in my head. I had already been writing romance (unpublished) when I started working at a prosecutor’s office and once there, I knew suspense was what had been missing. (Too bad it took me another ten years or so to pursue publication!) 

Did you do research for your books? If so, what kind?

Absolutely! I do all kinds of research for my books throughout the entire writing process. I read a lot of books on topic that relate to my book as well as search the internet for anything that might help in my research. I’ll ask questions and read blogs on topics. And when I can’t go where I want to write about, Google Earth is my friend! I recently contacted a police department in another state for information I needed and they were very helpful. Learning new things through my research is one of my favorite parts of writing.

Who is your favorite character and why?

A favorite character I wrote about would be like picking a favorite child. I can’t do it. I have certain characters that won’t leave me alone, but those are usually characters I haven’t completed stories on. I could pick a favorite one for a particular subject, but not overall.

How long does it take you to write a book? How much revision do you do? Any tips for other authors working on romantic suspense?

I typically plan to write one book a year, and my revision process is grueling because my first draft is like a puzzle. The three books I have now (one still in the works, but all part of my Slopeside series) took five years from start to finish, but they were finished long before I did anything with them and that’s when I was letting other things get too much in the way. Although I’d love to write and publish three to four a year, I have to be realistic with my schedule and other demands. And I always remind myself that Sandra Brown, my favorite author, only writes one a year. And she doesn’t have another job full time! So that always makes me feel better. My biggest tip for authors of any genre is to write what you enjoy reading, and don’t be afraid to write bad on the first draft. Keep writing and don’t give up, and learn everything you can. 

How did you find your publisher? What made you decide to publish this way?

A lot of research. I decided to go with a smaller press because they don’t require an agent and I love the fact my book won’t take years to get published once I sign with them. I also love that Crimson Romance is a part of Adam’s Media, a well-established publisher that has been around a long time. Going with a smaller press has a lot of huge advantages, and I’ve been very happy with them. 

What sort of writing schedule do you have?

I have a full time job, so my writing schedule revolves around my work. I usually try to get up early enough to write in the morning and I write most evenings. I usually try to write a few weekends a month, but not every weekend. I do miss weekdays, though, but have learned not to beat myself up. 

Anything you'd like to add about your books?

Fatal Snag is the second in a stand-alone series set on the ski slopes of Montana, featuring the brother of the hero in my first story, Burn on the Western Slope. Along with the romantic suspense, there’s a lot of adventure, even some history and learning tidbits (i.e. Chayton discovers his mother is Native American living on a reservation). Although I’ve always called my stories mindless entertainment that won’t change the world (to my non-romance reader friends), I always try to add some depth in the form of setting, character development, and many unusual ways, including topics that interest me. For instance, Winona, who you’ll meet in Fatal Snag and who has her own story coming out, volunteers at an animal shelter. And I’m a huge animal lover. And I’ve always been infatuated with Native American history. So I tend to add tidbits in my stories about things that interest me. 

Blurb for Fatal Snag


Hollywood fashion consultant Naomi Fisher is happy to use her obsessive-compulsive planning to assist with her cousin's wedding, but her history with the sexy and sullen Chayton Chambers, the groom’s brother, terrifies her. When the groom is kidnapped at his own wedding, Chayton and Naomi rush to find an important relic to satisfy the ransom before her cousin becomes a widow before a bride. Naomi trades garters for guns as survival, and love becomes a deadly game impossible to resist.
Information about the book:
Title: Fatal Snag
Author: Angela Smith
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Release Date: 17 March 2014

Buy Links:
Crimson Romance:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Do Readers Finish Your Book?

"Use Grammarly for free proofreading because it can keep your readers from tossing the book across the room and editors from depositing it in the circular file."

Grammar mistakes are one reason readers become frustrated and stop reading your book somewhere before the middle. I review a lot of books and read other people's reviews. Poor grammar is so annoying to many readers that they actually start marking up the book before giving up in disgust. Running a thorough grammar check on your book can pay big dividends in reader satisfaction.

Grammar isn't the only reason readers stop reading. You have to play fair with your readers. I recently read a book in which the author set up the first three chapters as a murder mystery. I love murder mysteries, so I was ready to keep reading, but in the fourth chapter the author included about fifty pages of backstory. Too much backstory is frustrating because is slows the action, but worse it can change the character of the book. This book turned into a character study rather than a mystery.

Readers will also put your book down if you are inconsistent in your presentation. A romantic novel can have elements of fantasy, but if your sizzler slides too far into fantasy your readers may give up. They bought the book for the sizzle. Conversely, a fantasy should stay a fantasy and not become a modern romance.

I recently read an article in the New York Times, December 25, 2013, about new services like Scribd that track how readers are treating your book. This can be valuable information for authors, but you don't have to wait to subscribe to a service. Read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, not only for your books, but for books you've read. You'll find plenty of reviewers willing to tell you exactly why the stopped reading and where.