Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 12.38.12 PMAfter releasing my latest novel THE SECRET MISS RABBIT KEPT, I put ‘Enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest ‘ on my Bucket List. I’d never considered a contest before, but I thought there might come a day when I might regret having not given Miss Rabbit the opportunity to try her luck.

**Background for those not familiar with the contest: Any non-contracted author can submit their work into one of five categories. The entries are then whittled down in stages: 10,000 to 2,000, then 500, then 25. From there, 5 Finalists are announced and held up for a popular vote. And all of this takes place over a 5-month period.

Torture, right? You have no idea

If you haven’t seen my FB posts, my Tweets, my LinkedIn or Goodreads profile, my Pinterest pages, or my Instagram shots (yes, authors have to be social media freaks),  you might not be aware of my current spot among the remaining 100 entries in the General Fiction category. There’s still a long way to go (or not), but as a member of the ‘100 Club’, I received a review by Publisher’s Weekly. Mine, completed last week, is included below: 

“Smart but self-doubting Sophie — nicknamed So-So by her family — narrates this winning coming-of-age-story that takes place where people really do come of age: the nursing home. Although loved by her parents, Sophie lately feels the sting of being abandoned by her birth mother when she was an infant. “Assuming the residents were unloved toss-aways” like her, Sophie starts a job on her 16th birthday as a nurse’s aide at Sterlingwood Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where one Mrs. Gertrude Steiner promptly pees on Sophie’s leg and dies in her arms. Although she’s devastated by her first three days at the home, Sophie’s new friend and guide, Emma Jean Baker, is able to show her — and the reader — the humor and humanity behind the horrors of aging and dementia. She’s also Sophie’s guide into the world of Miss Mable Rabbit, a slight but sharp resident who resolved decades ago never to speak to anyone. In her, Sophie finds a purpose: to unlock her secrets and hear her talk again. By uniting the young and old souls, the sly and ever-caring Emma Jean hopes that each woman will come to an understanding not only of the other damaged soul, but also of their own. Though the plot is predictable, the novel’s sharp, funny characters, their warm and friction-filled relationships, and the madcap — but very real setting — provide insights and surprises aplenty.” 

My current placement could be the last stop on this journey (the competition is fierce), but I’m thrilled with this reviewer’s kind words.

We writers put our hearts and souls into our stories, and The Secret Miss Rabbit Kept took every bit of mine. While I would love nothing more than to see Miss Rabbit among the next 25 (dare I say the final 5?), my readers love her as much as I’d hoped they would. Winning hearts — more so than winning contests — is the stuff of any writer’s dream.

PS Lest I jinx anything, let me say BOTH would be very nice🙂


© Robin Cain 2014

Screen Shot 2014-04-22 at 12.33.03 PMAs author Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, author of The Piano Player’s Son, points out in another stop on this tour, “the blog tour is the electronic progeny of the old chain letter, where you’d receive a letter and have to pass it on to ten of your friends to make something magical happen.” Here, the writer’s hope is to spread the word and attract readers along the way — in other words, make something magical happen!

I was asked to take part in this Writing Process Blog Tour by Chioma Iwunze Ibiam, a fellow writer in my Internet Writing Workshop group. The IWW, comprised of writers across the world, is good like this. Not only do we, as participants, nudge each other to greatness in our writing endeavors, but we look after each other’s marketing efforts. As everyone knows, the only way to sell books is word-of-mouth and good press. I thank Chioma for looking out for me. 

Chioma has a new novel slated for publication in September of this year. You can read more about her work here 


This tour requires answers to four questions about my writing and my process.


Marketing, marketing, and more marketing!

My second novel THE SECRET MISS RABBIT KEPT  was recently published and sadly, those characters are still inhabiting my head. I can’t seem to move on from their lives and into another story. I trust this will happen soon, but in the meantime, marketing calls. Books don’t get sold unless the word gets out.

Being a bit of an all-or-nothing gal, I’m hyper-focused while writing, and marketing is a distraction. I spent many weeks preparing my pitch and manuscript for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. This last week, I learned that Miss Rabbit is now among the Quarter Finalists in the General Fiction category! While marketing and promoting are not among my favorite activities, this ABNA achievement lends credibility to my efforts.


Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 12.38.12 PMTHE SECRET MISS RABBIT KEPT is quite unlike anything out there in the General Fiction genre (in my very humble opinion, of course). Told in first person POV by sixteen-year-old Sophie, the story centers around her work in a nursing home. Someone not familiar with the story might scoff and say that’s not the kind of stuff anyone wants to read. Though there are some heartbreaking scenes, the story revolves around Sophie’s quest for answers to her abandonment as a newborn,  her frustration with Miss Mable Rabbit’s refusal to speak, and the life lessons Sophie learns along the way.  The book is a bit of a coming-of-age story, but the questions posed speak to readers of all ages.  Ripe with poignancy and humor, it’s a story of unexpected friendships and second chances.  As one of Amazon’s contest ‘expert reviewers’ said, “The psychology of this piece is brilliant.”


This particular book came about as a result of many things: my experience with adoption, my own work in a nursing home when I was sixteen, and the political climate of this country (as it relates to women’s issues). I wanted to offer my readers food for thought, as well as immortalize some of the dear souls who entrusted me with their care on their final journeys so many years ago.

I hope after reading my book, readers come away with a new respect for the elderly, as well as respect for the choices others make. I find we, as a nation, are often too quick to judge these days. Everyone has their burdens, yet so few take the time to consider this.  As my mother always liked to say, “Never judge a person until you’ve walked a day in their shoes.”


In this case, the title of the book arrived out of the clear blue. I had a vision of Miss Rabbit, but she refused to speak. From there, I used creative license in crafting the reasons for her silence. I built characters around her and filled in the blanks. As for the actual mechanics, I start in longhand on blank, unlined paper and flesh out the plot basics.  I transfer my rough work to a WORD file, where I spend days, weeks, and often months, writing, editing, and tossing what doesn’t fit. With Miss Rabbit, I subbed a chapter at a time to the writers at IWW, then made changes based on their feedback.

There are likely more efficient ways to craft a story, but none of them work for me. Every writer has their own system. The key is finding what works.

If I’ve sparked your interest in my latest book, I encourage you to download a sample at Amazon, or visit my website www.robincain.com

For the next stop on the ‘Writing Process Blog Tour’ please visit these participating authors. I’m certain you’ll find your next great read!



PETER BERNHARDT: Having grown up in Stuttgart, Germany, Peter spent the first twenty-three years of his life writing in German. That changed when he emigrated to the United States. After learning a new language in college and law school and after a civil litigation career with the U.S. Department of Justice, he finally found the time to harness the creative juices necessary for writing fiction. The combination of a German upbringing, a lifelong love of opera, and his experiences as an attorney inspired Peter to write ‘what he knew’. Now the best-selling author of The Stasi File:Opera and Espionage: A Deadly Combination — a spy thriller that takes place during the collapse of the East German police state after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Stasi File was a finalist for Book of the Year by the British Arts Council and a quarter finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. There is also a German edition Die Stasi-Akte -Oper und Spionage: Eine todliche Kombination. Peter also wrote Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter , a tense mystery/thriller that interweaves the activities of a vicious gang of smugglers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with the story of a lost treasure and a Native American family’s struggles during The Peublo Indian Revolt of 1680.

You can learn more about Peter and his work here. Read his contribution to this Blog Tour here.



DELLANI OAKES : Dellani Oakes makes her home in Florida, but she grew up in Western Nebraska. Bitten by the writing bug early in life, Dellani first pursued poetry as her medium of self-expression. Soon, she moved onto song parodies, short stories, and humorous essays until she took up writing full time when her youngest son started kindergarten. Since then, she has published five books: The Ninja Tattoo, Lone Wolf, Indian Summer, Under The Western Sky,and Shakazhan. Her two romantic suspense novels are with Tirgearr Publishing, though she has a historical romance and two sci-fi novels with Second Wind Publishing. She has also contributed to several anthologies, MJ Magazine, and shares her unpublished works on her blog. Dellani hosts two talk shows a month on Blog Talk Radio. Listen in every second Monday of the month at 4:00 PM Eastern for Dellani’s Tea Time, and every fourth Wednesday, at 4:00 PM Eastern for What’s Write for Me. You can learn more about Dellani here




BRIAN HEFFRON: Poet and novelist, Brian is a staff writer/director/producer at Public Television where he creates educational programming.  He has worked in Los Angles since the early nineties as a screenwriter and TV producer/director. A winner of Telly Awards, Aurora Awards, Videographer Awards, Emmys, and the Davis Award, he is also credited with creating the first animated web series on AOL entitled “Hollywood Nights”. Brian is the author of Sustain Me with Your Breath (a handmade poetry chapbook), a  poetry CD entitled, “Something You Could Touch”, and the novel Colorado Mandala. You can learn more about Brian and his work here.




© Robin Cain 2014

ddc6c2b2e0870ad8986ce2.L._V201243649_SX200_My next guest in this Authors Helping Authors series is best-selling author Sherry Gloag, a transplanted Scot now living in the beautiful coastal countryside of Norfolk, England.  Sherry and I ‘met’ through our mutual involvement in the Internet Writing Workshop.  I invited Sherry to share some insights and experiences.

Welcome, Sherry. To give the audience some perspective, tell us how many books you’ve written.

Taking your question literally, I have written about fifteen books, nine of which have been published so far. Five of those books were submitted and rejected.  I lost those manuscripts during a PC changeover, and they were never re-worked or submitted again.  Of the nine books published so far, one of those, The Brat, was rejected by a big-name publisher of romances here in the UK, but was accepted by The Wild Rose Press a couple of months later.

 Have all fifteen been in the same genre? 

No. I write contemporary romances with a dash of mystery and, at most, one to three flames. Within that category, I have written both full-length novels and some novellas.  Two of my other novels are Regency Romances. One, Vidal’s Honor, enjoyed best-seller status on both Amazon, and Amazon UK, for several weeks.

A great many authors don’t feel they’ve actually made any headway until they’ve subbed to agents or been published. When did you first feel you could call yourself ‘a writer’?

Before I was published I called myself an ‘aspiring author’.  That made me feel my goal was more feasible.  I’ve had to think back for this one, and don’t know, for sure, that I ever described myself as a writer. Don’t ask me why!

How did you go about get your first book published? 

The Wild Rose Press  published The Brat in October 2010. I tried a leading UK publisher of category romances early in 2010 without success. I then offered a whole revision of the story to The Wild Rose Press a couple of months later. The editor, who was absolutely charming, declined it too, but offered a host of suggestions, including trying another category within TWRP.

Many writers would’ve taken the rejection and not resubmitted, but you did and were successful?

Yes, I followed the suggestions and met with success, but I didn’t do that the first time it happened to me.

So, there’s advice you would give your ‘younger self’?

Yes,  when a leading UK publisher of romance rejected a manuscript with a note offering suggestions for improvement, I should’ve recognized that as an invitation to rework the story and then submit it again. Sadly, I missed out twice on that one for lack of knowledge. So it follows on I would also advise my younger self (and all new writers) not to give up. Even though it wasn’t so much a case of giving up, as lack of knowing the form, at the time. Also my younger self would have benefited from realizing that just because certain members of the family didn’t take me seriously, I should have ignored them and believed in myself.

Where do your story ideas come from? 

Anywhere and everywhere. It could be a phrase that pops into my head. A snippet of overheard conversation. Something seen on TV – don’t watch that much so it’s not a big source of ideas. – A picture or a tune may inspire me, but quite often the characters or an ideal title may come to mind and I ‘go from there’.

How has your method of publication and/or writing changed over the years?

In the three years since The Brat was published I think my writing has changed. I’d like to think it has improved. It’s hard to analyse the changes in my writing, but I think it is edgier.

Do you have a favorite among your titles? 

My favourite book is usually the one I am writing. That said, The Brat, Duty Calls, From Now Until Forever and Vidal’s Honor are all close to my heart. The first two because they took much more time to write, and I fell totally in love with my characters. The other two, because my heroines were gut-deep strong women. They both constantly surprised me with their actions and solutions to the obstructions I put in their path.

Which of your works has outperformed the others and why do you think this is?

Vidal’s Honor quickly became a best selling book. I’d like to say it’s because of my writing, the story content and the plot, but I have to acknowledge that the stunning book cover plays a great deal in the success of the book. When I take the printed copies on my books to fairs it is always the cover of Vidal’s Honor that draws the most comments and interest and also generates the most sales.

With all this success, one would have to guess that you’re very disciplined about your writing. How much time do you spend writing? Do you plot your stories ahead of time? 

I’d like to say I have a set time of day for writing. I used to. But sadly this year has been – on the writing front, at least – disruptive, disjointed, and at times downright disenchanting due to ‘life’ getting in the way and dropping several other issues and commitments into my lap.  I seriously hope 2014 reverts back to a more fluent writing routine for me.  No, I don’t plot my stories ahead of writing. I do, though, as I write one chapter make a series of notes about events I intend for the nest one.

 What would you tell aspiring authors about the best way to reach readers?

Promotion is an essential part of a writer’s life these days, and for me, one of the most traumatic. And yes, I do mean, traumatic! Like many other writers, I am a solitary person and the promotional aspect of writing is more than hard for me to come to terms with. As always, I keep promising myself I will improve, and once again I am looking to 2014 to see major inroads to my attempts to improve on this.

 I don’t think you’re alone with those fears, Sherry. Many writers dread the marketing aspect of being an author — myself included. What are you working on now?

At the moment, due to events throughout this year, I have done something new. I have several writing projects on the go, so if I get stuck with one, I can move to another. SO of the eight projects in my files, I am working on two of them more than the others. Born Again is a hard hitting story with a romance woven through it. It has involved a ton of research and is constantly changing direction. So when that becomes a pain, I switch to another project which incorporates a series of stories under an umbrella title based around myths and superstitions. The stories are varied. Some are pure romance; others have romance in the background, while others are downright different. I’m enjoying working with this one.

Considering the amount of books published every year, why should readers buy your books?

Because one reviewer described my writing as ‘having a ‘unique voice while maintaining and upholding the characters and story.’ Others have described my writing as ‘gentle, almost poetic, while handling hard-hitting subjects while upholding the true romance within the tale.’

There is a saying, and I paraphrase it here…”The first chapter sells the book, the last chapter sells the next one.” I’d like to think that my readers like my writing enough to look out for my next book. My latest book, entitled Name The Day, was published by Astraea Press and is available from many online outlets including Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble 

Sherry’s latest news is her short story contribution, Queen of Diamond, to a fifteen author anthology called Love and Diamonds.  Released February 6, 2014, it can be found at  Amazon  or  Amazon UK .Love and Diamonds

Sherry Gloag’s writing resume attests to the success achieved through tenacity. She didn’t let initial rejection stop her from pursuing the career she wanted. Her advice? Listen to those who offer advice and press on. Believe in yourself.

When not writing and being published (and this author is wondering when that is), Sherry escapes to her garden for “thinking time”. There, she works out the plots for her next novel. Though she enjoys “talking to her characters”, she also loves to hear from readers. You can reach Sherry at sherrygloag@gmail.com



Many an author embarks upon a publishing journey armed with little more than talent, desire, and blind faith.  Unfortunately, snake oil salesmen love the rookies in this business (discussed in Part I of this Authors Helping Authors series) and my next guest learned this lesson the hard way. 

Meet mystery writer Evelyn Cullet. An aspiring author since high school, she began her first novel, Romancing A Mystery, while attending college. After years of hard work, she submitted the manuscript to multiple traditional publishers and, like many other talented writers, her efforts were met with rejection. She went on to self-publish the story. 

Evelyn,what can you tell others about your experience with self-publishing?

For my first book, Romancing A Mystery, I used an all-inclusive publishing company called Outskirts Press. It was an expensive option, but my book was published. Things went fine until I ended my contract. I wanted to re-write the book, so I asked that they remove my ebook from Kindle. They’d  set it up for me in the first place — at a price, I might add — but they informed me that, since my contract had ended, they had nothing to do with the Kindle version. They said, as the author, I had the responsibility to deal with Amazon. When I contacted Amazon, the reps told me that they could only deal with the company who set up the Kindle version. Outskirts Press refuses to help and Amazon says they are following ‘company policy’. So, it’s a “Catch 22”.  I’ve contacted both firms several times and they both say the same thing. It became so frustrating I finally gave up. It’s a big mess and there’s nothing I can do.  Getting old physical copies of that first novel off the market is impossible, too. Buyers are reselling copies on Amazon. Now it’s too late to do anything, but I am re-writing the book.

You’re rewriting Romancing A Mystery?

Yes. In retrospect, I see why it had been rejected by traditional publishers. The story had a lot of good light romance, but there wasn’t much of a mystery.

You went on to write more mysteries, but you didn’t self-publish those? 

No, I’m happy to say they were both accepted for publication by Wings ePress.  My second book, Love, Lies and Murder, is about two capricious friends who turn their small town upside down in an attempt to solve the gruesome murder of the town’s millionaire industrialist, only to discover that people are not always who they seem, and a single error in judgment can prove fatal. The third, Masterpiece of Murder, is the sequel about a heartbroken art student who follows her errant fiancé to Bariloche, Argentina. His reasons for being in Bariloche complicate her life and threaten her very existence as she unintentionally stumbles into a downward spiral of deceit, art forgery and murder. Both books are mysteries, but I’ve added light romance and a little humor.

Where do you get your story ideas?

So far, my story ideas come from my own experiences. Romancing A Mystery grew as a result of a trip to England I had planned with friends when I was twenty-four years old. I wound up getting married instead and since I couldn’t take the trip, I wrote about how it might have turned out had I gone. Most of the action in Love, Lies and Murder takes place in a small company office, much like the one where I worked when I was single — and where I had an office romance that ended badly. The idea for the Masterpiece of Murder came when I was taking art classes and met an artist who had gone to Bariloche, Argentina for a Master art class. Upon seeing the lovely photos the artist had brought back, the writer in me immediately envisioned Bariloche as a great setting for a murder mystery. And it turned out I was right.

If you could, what would you tell your ‘younger writing self’?

I’m sorry now that I didn’t work with a professional editor when I was writing my first novel. I wasted a great deal of time and expense that could have been avoided. I should have done more research before self-publishing. I also should have asked Outskirts to take the novel off of Kindle BEFORE I ended my contract. How many more mistakes could I possibly have made with that first novel? Live and learn.

You have learned. Now you enjoy a successful writing career. What’s your greatest struggle as a writer?

Finding the time to write. I thought that after I retired from my day job, I would finally have enough time, but in fact I don’t, because now I find all kinds of other things that require my attention. Marketing my novels and doing a blog are just two of them.  I just have to try and budget my time so I can get in a few hours of writing. Limiting my online time is important as well.

What do you think is the best way for authors to reach readers?

Guest blogging, doing library talks, book club talks and craft shows. I recently did a large Christmas craft show where I got a chance to talk with mystery readers who had never heard of me. I sold quite a few novels, and I passed out a lot of bookmarks to potential readers.

The experience with your first book obviously hasn’t stopped you from pursuing what you love. What are you working on now?

Right now I’m editing my next mystery, Once Upon a Crime. Containing several of the same characters mentioned in my previous novels, it’s about a newly published mystery author who goes to Michigan with her friend, to take a much needed rest. She gets anything but rest when she becomes involved with stolen gemstones, two murders, and her friend’s handsome, Machiavellian cousin. I’m working on a release date of Spring, 2014.

Evelyn is a current member of Sisters in Crime. When she’s not reading mysteries, reviewing them or writing them, she enjoys playing the piano, is an amateur Lapidary, and an organic gardener. When she’s not ‘limiting her online time’, you can find her on Facebook , Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, and her website.


For the next entry in this Authors Helping Authors series, I’d like to introduce my friend and colleague Peter Bernhardt, whose work I discovered through the Internet Writing Workshop. A Quarter Finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Award, Peter is a talented author and one you need to know. His stories are a delight for the senses.

Unlike the snake oil salesmen residing in the corners of this business (a reference I made in Part 1 of this series, regarding the plethora of available bad advice), Peter Bernhardt is a professional who knows his way around this business and never hesitates in lending a hand to other writers.  Not a member of the ‘Let’s kick out a story this weekend and publish it on Monday’ group, Peter is the real deal — willing to put in the hours it takes to give the reader a hell of a good story.

I sat down with Peter and asked him about his experiences.

Peter, how many books have you written?

I have written two books that are published, and I am halfway through writing my third one. My first novel, The Stasi File – Opera and Espionage: A Deadly Combination an espionage thriller in which, following the age-old advice to “write what you know,” I wove together the unlikely combination of a German upbringing, a lifelong love of opera and my experiences as an attorney.

When I finished Stasi, I had a deep sense of loss. Sylvia and Rolf (the characters in the story) had been with me for several years and there was hardly a morning when I didn’t think about them during my jog through Sedona. I had already planned to write another spy novel involving the Stasi Romeos—the novel I am currently working on—but several readers encouraged me to write a sequel. The Stasi ending contained a subtle hint of a sequel to take place in Santa Fe, New Mexico. What better place to send Sylvia to perform than at the Santa Fe Opera, which is where my wife and I attend performances every summer? A magical setting, which I hope I managed to convey in Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter [Kiss].

The sequel turned out to be more of a mystery than a thriller and did not involve espionage. Surprisingly, this German male author penned chapters of an imaginary young Pueblo Indian girl who lived over three hundred years earlier in a voice that made me feel as if I had been there.

 Stasi seems to speak more to male readers while most female readers prefer Kiss.

Spoiler alert: if you plan on reading both novels, please start with Stasi, as it contains a plot twist that will be spoiled for you if you read Kiss first.

Where do you get your story ideas? 

I start out by asking myself what I want to write about. Then I open my mind for ideas to come. Most of them come while I’m running (the trick is to write them down as soon as I return home before they vanish). I find that it takes weeks of mulling over various ideas, considering them, thinking them over, casting them aside. One day an idea gels that my gut tells me is the one. Then it’s a matter of sketching it out. Of course, it often evolves into something different than what I envisioned at the start.

Let me illustrate with the example on how I arrived at the story for my second novel, Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter. Once I settled on the story location of Santa Fe, New Mexico, I let my imagination go to work, considering several scenarios that would create danger for Rolf and Sylvia, the Stasi protagonists. News accounts of traffickers in Native American artifacts in Utah gave me the idea of including archaeology and the illicit trade in the plot. Not knowing anything about the subject, I spent weeks researching on the Internet and reading numerous books. I had never heard of the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680 and most readers I have asked haven’t either. The subject fascinated me and somehow this German without one drop of Indian blood came up with the idea of creating a young daughter of a Pueblo shaman and giving her a crucial role in the revolt. Add to that a news account in an Albuquerque paper of the lore of lost treasure of Indian artifacts and Spanish gold, and voilà.

But how do you combine two story lines over three hundred years apart?

I wanted to experiment with a novel approach that might stretch the imagination. I chewed on that for a long time until I came up with a technique I was happy with. So I wrote the contemporary chapters in past tense and the Pueblo Revolt chapters in present tense. I think it worked rather well.

How did you go about getting your first book published?

After collecting close to a hundred rejection slips, I took advantage of an offer of the YouWriteOn site sponsored by the British Arts Council of free paperback publication. Based on peer reviews, Stasi made the site’s monthly top-ten list and stayed there long enough to be included in its permanent bestseller list. After some time, I published a second edition on Create Space and Amazon Kindle.

How has your method of publication and/or writing changed over the years?

After wasting precious time in querying agents with my first novel, I will no longer pursue that avenue. The traditional publication model is flawed in my opinion. The business is populated by agents who are interested in serving existing clients with name recognition. Publishers no longer promote or develop new authors and the royalties are paltry. I want to make my books available to readers who have an interest in what I’m writing about. Feedback from readers as to how much they enjoyed my book is enough payoff for me. Don’t get me wrong, I would not scoff at sales in the thousands.

My writing has changed in that I have learned to express more with fewer words. And while it took two and a half years to write Stasi, I put Kiss to bed after a year and a half. In other words, I have learned how to get to the point faster, to economize, to be more efficient without sacrificing effectiveness.

Do you have a favorite among your titles? 

I have favorite parts but not an overall favorite as between my novels. My favorite scenes include those integrating opera seamlessly into tense action, showing a reader an aspect that he may not have known before, be it about opera, culture, or history. The most fun I’ve had was to write in the point of view of a thirteen-year old Pueblo Indian girl, who in this author’s imagination played a crucial role in the Pueblo Indian Revolt that drove the Spanish invaders from New Mexico in 1680.

What do you find to be your greatest struggle as a writer? 

My greatest struggle as a writer comes whenever I start a new chapter. Fingers poised over the keyboard, I sit there while a multitude of openings flood my mind. More times than not, I change the opening paragraph half a dozen times before I’m satisfied. Once I’m beyond that, the prose usually flows. A close second as far as writing struggles concerns discipline, which tells me I should write every day, but another voice counsels that unless I experience life, I can’t possibly write about matters that will interest others. So I give myself permission to spend my mornings running, playing tennis, or to pursue other interests. I often recharge my batteries by following my passion for opera—watching one of my videos, listening to the Metropolitan Opera Radio, attending a performance. And then there are, of course, the daily tasks demanding my attention.

Thus, I usually don’t settle down to writing until afternoons and often stay with it into the evening. The way I overcome procrastination is by setting deadlines. For example, as the facilitator of the Sedona Writers’ Group, which meets twice a month at our local library, I do not permit myself to attend a meeting without submitting at least one chapter for critique. I suppose this harkens back to my attorney days when federal judges demanded pleadings on a certain date and if you wanted an extension you had better have a darn good reason.

When did you first feel you could call yourself a writer?

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have considered myself a writer from as early as I can remember. I grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, during the post-WWII years where the occupying American forces set up a library. You could only check out three books at a time—not nearly enough to satisfy my voracious appetite for reading. When my mother turned out the light in the bedroom I shared with an older sister and brother, I read under the covers by flashlight.

German schools had composition classes, and my essays often received the top grades there as well as at an American university I later attended as a foreign exchange student. As a judicial clerk and later, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, I made it a point to hone my skills in creative writing and to steer clear of legalese.

So I’ve been a writer all my life, albeit in fields different from fiction (no wisecracks please, about legal writing being fiction). But it was not until after I began receiving positive feedback from Stasi readers that I considered myself “an author.”

If you could, what would you tell your ‘younger writing self’? 

Where to start? I have learned so much over the years. Here’s my attempt at a list of dos and don’ts:

1. Find a good writer’s critique group and participate. Avoid puff groups (members showering your work with praise at the expense of thoughtful feedback).

2. Be open to well-founded criticism, but don’t let others write your novel for you. Always remain the final arbiter what works for the novel you want to write.

3. Learn about filters, echoes, was, as . . . dependent clauses, overexplaining, adverbs (especially those explaining dialogue), dangling modifiers, passive voice, mundane dialogue, POV, tenses . . . and the list goes on.

4. Purchase a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers—the only how-to book a writer needs.

5. Use The Chicago Manual of Style, a good dictionary and thesaurus.

6. Write for yourself. Write what interests you. Write what you’re passionate about.

7. Pay no heed to naysayers spouting artificial criteria (e.g., word count limits, no prologues).

What do you feel is the biggest mistake made by upcoming authors today?

1. Inability and unwillingness to accept and benefit from legitimate critique.

2. Becoming defensive when others point out shortcomings.

3. Taking others’ opinions as gospel. Develop an inner gauge what’s right for your novel and after giving reviews full consideration, stick with what feels right to you.

4. Failure to proofread and edit your work. If you don’t care about your work, why should the reader?

5. Writing for a perceived market instead of yourself.

6. Blindly adhering to cookie-cutter criteria advocated by unimaginative gatekeepers.

7. Failure to learn about the craft of writing, including proper use of point of view and dialogue mechanics.

8. Failure to perform adequate research. On the flipside: including too much research information instead of only so much as is necessary for plot progression, character development, or atmosphere. One must find the right balance.

What do you think is the best way to reach readers?

I believe word of mouth is the best way to reach readers. Someone active in social media probably has a leg up, but so far I have not been willing to invest the considerable time necessary to blog, tweet and Facebook. Traditional advertising is probably the least effective and a waste of resources in my opinion.

What are you working on now?

An espionage thriller involving a female West German intelligence officer on the trail of a Stasi Romeo who is seducing a secretary in the West German Chancellery in an effort to get her to spy for communist East Germany. Over forty West German secretaries were convicted in real life of spying for the East for love. While I use episodes based on true events, I, of course, infuse them with fictional characters of this authors’ imagination.

Considering the amount of books published every year, why should readers buy your book?

I write for readers who are looking for something other than the same old formula: the world will come to an end if the bad guys aren’t stopped; gore and violence; sex; the f-word used prominently; plots that choose shock value over logic and credibility. I cater to readers who value a tightly woven plot that makes sense, holds together, gives insights into an unfamiliar world. I do not insult the reader’s intelligence, be it by repeating things, by talking down or condescending, or by overexplaining, which deprive readers of the opportunity to use their imagination— the greatest pleasure fiction has to offer. If you fit this reader profile, my books are for you.

Not the same old formulas? Tightly woven plots? Insights into unfamiliar worlds? Peter, I couldn’t have described your stories any better. 

Readers, writers, do yourself a favor and pick up one of Peter’s books. And for the Germans in the audience, The Stasi File is  also available in German for the Kindle  Die Stasi-Akte – Oper und Spionage: Eine tödliche Kombination

© 2013 Robin Cain, author of The Secret Miss Rabbit Kept and When Dreams Bleed

Snake oil salesmen hide in the corners of every business.  This is particularly true in the publishing world. From what to read, how to write, when to publish, and where to find resources, good advice is often elusive. Having encountered my fair share of bad tips (including the downright ‘criminal’), I’m going to spend the next few weeks introducing readers and writers to a few of the best authors whose work you need to know. Let me say that again: The best authors whose work you need to know. Their stories are second to none, their passion and commitment is of the highest caliber, and their wisdom makes them stand-outs in the field. Perfect qualities for this Authors Helping Authors series.

I chose James Lockhart Perry as my first guest. His published works include The Messsenger, The Expatriate, Cat Flight From Birdland, Daddy’s Girls, Exposure, and The Quotidian.

Why James Lockhart Perry? His Amazon biography explanation for the pseudonym he uses might lend some insight:

“James Lockhart Perry was a Texan born on Valentine’s Day in 1892 into the wilds and woolies of East Texas. Daddy Jim, as he came to be known, never worked the oilfields that erupted all around and became so potent a symbol of the crude, brash, lawless state the rest of us recognize. Instead, he patiently farmed the rice fields, married the fine-looking Missouri-bred schoolteacher Dora Mae, and built a beautiful yellow house in the tiny hamlet of Markham for his three lovely daughters Adrienne Lavonne, Audrey Louvelle, and Anita Lorraine. He also built a legend in his lifetime for tireless inner strength and placid outer humility.

So the author’s use of Daddy Jim’s name for a pseudonym serves as homage as much as anything to the towering gentle spirit of that pioneer and his brave people. The only historical connection Daddy Jim and the author share is that Daddy Jim died on the author’s twelfth birthday, thirty-three days before John Fitzgerald Kennedy set off with Jackie of the pink pillbox hat for Dallas. And the fact that both author and rice farmer have loved Daddy Jim’s granddaughter to distraction.”

Yep, Lockhart (as he’s fondly known) can transform the simplest story into a thing of beauty. He had me at hello, but now having read several of his books, I’m a huge fan.

So I picked his brain…

Do you have any advice for ‘young’ authors?

  1. Throw away the TV—no, don’t just turn it off, get rid of it. Your friends will tell you who won the election, and you can get all the sports you need in the nearest Sears showroom. Look out your window for the weather report. Not only are the experiences you gain from TV derivative and hackneyed, but watching TV is a passive experience. You want to invest every waking minute of your day in actively developing your writer’s brain.
  2. Read a book, any book. Start off with the easiest trash you can find and gradually work your way upward. Read an entire author’s repertoire, then move on to the next. I started with John McDonald, author of the Travis McGee series, read all 23 installments, then moved on through Ian Fleming, Delacorta, and Eric Ambler to Wouk, Manchester, Michener, and eventually ended up at Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Proust, and Joyce. The important thing is to read for pleasure (otherwise, you’ll end up back in that Sears showroom). Set yourself a goal of reading every book in the universe. Read constantly, everywhere you go. If your friends won’t let you read at the dinner table, eat alone.
  3. Subscribe to the New York Times and read it cover to cover every day. Forget your local newspaper that thinks it’s in competition with TV (because it is). For the same reason, forget the scandal rags and McPapers like USA Today. The NYT (print version, that is) is your only source in the USA for great stories, impeccable writing, and almost no fluff.
  4. Get a job that’s interesting, but not exhausting (if you need to recover at the end of the day, pick up a book!). Alternatively, find the interesting and curious in everything you do. Supermarket checkout clerks, parking lot attendants, and door-to-door salespeople find the human condition all around them if they look (I’ve slaved away at all three). Every human being you meet is a character, every trivial, ridiculous story you see and hear is a detail in your next novel.
  5. Write stuff down. On anything, from a napkin to a laptop. Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on an envelope. George V of England recorded the daily tides in a leather-bound diary. Write down stories you hear, great lines people use, character sketches, views out the train window. I would call this a journal, except that implies that you have to keep everything. The material isn’t nearly important as the writing, and the writing isn’t nearly as important as the observing. So throw it away or lose it—doesn’t matter.
  6. Do things. Get in your car and drive around a new neighborhood. Get on a train, bus, and plane and go anywhere, even if it’s across town. Go picnicking and backpacking in the woods. Sleep through an opera and a political speech. Stumble through Tae-Kwan-Do and ballroom dance classes. Whatever you do—and you should do everything—if you see something interesting, ask about it or look it up when you get home. Make it a goal to becomes an expert on every place you go. My father, a world traveler, always started off in the local stores and supermarkets to get a sense of a culture; my mother headed for the museums, churches, and opera houses; my first week in Los Angeles, I put a thousand miles on the odometer and barely scratched the surface. Do everything and go everywhere.

In my experience, unfortunately, most people will be defeated by the first item here. Nothing is easier to spot than an author who has derived all their life experiences from the evil tube. But the good news is that the accomplishment of the first item opens up vast reservoirs of time for all the others.

What were your ten biggest mistakes as a writer?

Taking too many breaks, including a whopping ten-year hiatus spent working, building a house, and staring at the TV. Cranking up your writer’s brain after that much time is harder than starting a car in Buffalo in January.

Taking bad advice from people who didn’t know what they were talking about. If you can’t muster the critical faculties to differentiate between good and bad advice, it’s better to ignore all of it. The good advice will percolate into your thickest skull anyway. Eventually. Hopefully.

Worrying about my message, instead of just telling a good story. Worrying about where I stood philosophically in the scheme of the universe. Once I accepted the answer (nowhere in particular), and started to simply tell cool stories, the pen overflowed with words.

Taking criticism to heart, especially when it came from other clearly hyper-competitive authors intent on demolishing the competition.

Taking any advice on punctuation, since most people who give it seem to think that’s all there is to writing. As long as the writing’s clear, none of the rest matters.

Ignoring flattery. With no one to sign your paycheck or give a damn if you scribble another word, the writer’s trade is all about self-motivation. Take the flattery—it’s your best friend, and oh so true anyway. Whoever said you should ignore the compliments of friends and family probably has no friends or family to irritate them with love and support.

Worrying about money and survival. Worrying about book sales before I even finished a novel. Worrying about book sales before I moved on to the next novel. Worrying about book sales, period.

Worrying about destiny. Wondering if I was wasting my time, if my great-grandchildren were going to find a manuscript in an attic and giggle over or—worse yet—feel sorry for their tongue-tied ancestor.

Not going to Spain or Greece when I had the chance, just because both countries were ruled by fascists. Not going to India or Iran when the trip was offered, because I had to get off to college. Not sleeping with the hippie in the commune in Spanish Harlem and not swimming in the nude at Woodstock. Not quitting a job I hated for ten stultifying, brain-addling years. It takes interesting people to tell interesting stories, and you only get interesting when you remain open to the world.

Not reading enough. There’s no satisfying this one—you’ll never read enough, no matter how hard you try.

Where do you get your story ideas?

I don’t generally get story ideas. I have hundreds of story fragments, character impressions, one-liners, and so forth knocking around in my head at any given time. When one of them feels appropriate, I pop it in.

The Messenger started off with the simple line, “I love my wife.” Not another thought except to charm the clothes off my wife who reads everything.

Cat Flight from Birdland started as a description of a vicious fight among the cats in a European garden in the middle of a bitter winter. I had arrived to mow the lawn and found a foot of snow. My wife wasn’t on hand to entertain, and I was bored beyond belief.

Exposure started off as a character portrait of an angry old man with colon cancer (I was waiting for a colonoscopy appointment when it hit me).

The Quotidian started as the description of an incident in the North End of Boston when I actually overheard a small-time mob boss ordering a (non-lethal) hit. Then I had to add dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant and a description of an old girlfriend (I turned her into a lusty, raunchy mob hit-girl that I knew would make her scream with laughter).

In each case, there was a list of things I wanted to write about at the time—sailing and photography around the time of Exposure, my crazy sister when I was thinking through The Expatriate, German business practices and my daughter’s obsession with the Green Bay Packers when Daddy’s Girls came up—but these only made it into the novels because they happened to fit the story lines.

How has your method of writing changed over the years?

I finish everything, no matter how thin the inspiration by the end. Alternatively, I don’t start anything until I know it’s going to finish. If it’s not working, I know within a page or two and ditch it immediately and entirely. No leftover fragments lying around to clutter and distress the author’s mind.

I no longer choke when I’m 40,000 words into a manuscript and running out of steam. I just wait a few days for the kettle to start whistling again.

I’ve never been disciplined—my novels rarely take much more than a month of round-the-clock scribbling to finish, because I have to get them out before I forget what I wanted to say. It makes for a punishing routine, but the resulting stories mostly read fluent and coherent.

Do you have a favorite among titles? And if so, why? 

No, but I’ll bite anyway. The Messenger, because it stars the gorgeous, creative, zany, always surprising woman I married twenty years ago. Exposure, because it’s well written and so delicately balanced between the four characters. The Expatriate, because it tells my father’s story. Daddy’s Girls, because I have a permanent crush on all of the characters, but especially the crazy, determined, hard-headed, and beautiful woman who most resembles my mother.

Which of your works has outperformed the others and why?

The Messenger probably. It’s the only one I’ve actively promoted. Plus, it’s a fun, slick yarn about a lazy, lovesick husband and the wife whose principles and integrity never cease to get him into trouble. Nick and Nora Charles without all the martinis. Maybe a little George Burns and Gracie Allen. Women generally love it, if only because the paperback version makes a great weapon to hit their husbands over the head with.

One of today’s great talents (and modest to a fault), James Lockhart Perry is an author to keep an eye on. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of his books. If you’re a writer, study it. If you’re a reader, enjoy it. Either way, just please don’t use it as a weapon.


  Chapter One

ImageMy mother was murdered.

That’s what I told nosey old Penny Parker, anyway–mostly because she always acted like she was better than me, but also because the truth was much worse. I’m sure she would’ve loved to hear how my real mother didn’t love me, how she’d thrown me away like an old bag of clothes, but I refused to give her the satisfaction. Penny would say, “She actually dumped you like garbage? Wow, glad I’m not you.”

Heck, I wished I wasn’t me, but Penny didn’t need to know that either. No one did. So to make myself feel better, I made up the story about my mother being murdered—anything sounded better than rejection—and she bought it.

Unfortunately, Penny Parker had a big mouth.

“Why on earth would you tell Mrs. Parker’s daughter that your birthmother was murdered?” my mother asked the very next morning. Although she’d waited until she’d sung me Happy Birthday and lit the candle on my birthday muffin, her question turned my wish into one for Penny Big Mouth’s murder.

“Good Lord, So-So,” she said, using the moniker I’d been given years earlier by a relative who’d curiously decided ‘Sophie’ was too difficult to say, yet hadn’t considered its possible long-term affects on my self-esteem. “Making up a story about your birthmother being murdered? That’s just wrong. Reminds me of the nonsense folks made up back in the fifties. Girls suddenly sent off to live with relatives, parents hoping no one would be the wiser when their daughter reappeared nine months later, everyone acting like nothing happened. You know my dear friend Linda? She reached adulthood before her parents even told her she’d been adopted.”

Sixteen years old and my birthday celebration reduced to a lecture and a muffin.

“Things have changed in the last twenty years, So-So. Putting babies up for adoption is an act of love. If you aren’t comfortable telling people the truth then tell them it’s none of their business, but don’t just make up stories. Especially not awful ones.”

A long silence followed, leading me to believe she might’ve finally exhausted her subject matter.

“Do you suppose she ever thinks of me?” I asked.

“Does who ever think of you, dear?” She tilted her head to view me above the eyeglasses perched upon her nose and which had come precariously close to falling into her sink of sudsy water. “And stop playing with your food. You’re making a mess all over my floor.”

“My birthmother.” I swept the remaining muffin crumbs off the table and onto the floor when she looked the other way.

“No matter how many times you ask, my answer isn’t going to change. I don’t know.”

“Come on. Isn’t it normal for me to wonder about something like this–especially on my birthday?”

“Yes, of course it is. It just seems that you’ve been asking for as long as I can remember–and not just on birthdays, either.” She tossed the towel she’d been using to dry the dishes on the counter and faced me. “I don’t want to seem heartless, but I can’t change the facts. I don’t know the answer.” She removed her glasses and held them up to the light. Once satisfied her view was unimpeded–acknowledged with an imperceptible nod of her head–she put them back on. “Enough now. Go get ready for work. Seeing as this was the only job you could get, you better not start off being late.”

Lie number two I’d told in as many days. The nursing home wasn’t the only place I could get a job. It was the only place I’d applied. Assuming the residents were unloved toss-aways like me, I figured we’d have something in common. This idea—spawned by the anniversary of my birthmother’s choice—made near perfect sense, but my mother didn’t need to know as much, seeing as she’d just busted me for one lie.

Instead, I left the lie intact and dressed for work. The required shapeless polyester uniform, paired with the white rubber-soled shoes, looked ridiculous and only added to my already-sour mood.

Happy birthday to me.