Writing ‘ho-hum’ fiction

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Vancouver is the city of my birth. Its population today is much larger than it was all those years ago, but even then I considered it big. Still, my parents never hesitated to let me roam our neighbourhood to play with friends in the evening darkness, or as a young teenager to take a city bus into the downtown core by myself for weekly dance and baton lessons.

It wasn’t that crime didn’t exist. I recall hearing of a body being found in a wooded vacant lot next to my primary school — a lot in which most of us regularly played hide-and-seek games during recess and lunch hours. I was in Grade Three, and for the remainder of that school year there were more than the usual reminders not to talk to strangers. The P.A.C. had the lot cleared as a precaution, but the murder was seen as an exception… an isolated event.

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As I returned to the mainland from Vancouver Island via ferry earlier this week, the setting sun bathed the city in a rosy glow. But no amount of ‘viewing through rose coloured glasses’ can eliminate the statistics that prove how much it has changed over the years. It is now an area of about 2.3 million inhabitants — the third most populated metropolitan area in Canada. While it ranks as one of the top places worldwide for livability, there are also more homicides — to date in 2013 34 of them in the metro Vancouver area — as well as organized crime and drug-related gang activities.

It’s a beautiful city, but high-density living in the twenty-first century has its drawbacks. Many Vancouverites lock their doors even when they are at home, accompany children to and from all their activities, and never go for walks alone in secluded areas, especially at night. Although people don’t live in fear, nevertheless suspicion and caution are frequent bywords of our time. “You can’t be too careful.”

This week I was passing through Vancouver on my way home. I no longer live in the city, but when I consider how much things have changed in half a century, I understand why people are drawn to historical novels, seeing them in an almost nostalgic light. There has always been crime in the world, but we tend to believe earlier generations enjoyed a simpler, safer lifestyle.

Which brings me to my writing application. You knew there would be one, right? My genre isn’t historical fiction, although I occasionally enjoy reading it. Whatever I read, I respect authors who thoroughly research the eras in which their stories take place and whose characters and setting feel authentic.

Unfortunately there are some who are writing contemporary fiction, only because it’s what they know. They might believe no research is necessary, but in my opinion contemporary fiction requires a broad knowledge of present-day lifestyles. For instance, with over fifty percent of Vancouver’s residents having a first language other than English, it is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse cities in Canada.  Even when our personal lives might be limited in experience and exposure, our characters may need thorough researching to be realistic in today’s society.

If we aren’t careful, writing “what we know” could tell our readers we’re lazy writers!

Do you read or write contemporary fiction? What keeps some stories from coming across as ‘ho-hum’?

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Friday Findings…

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Another week concludes, bringing us closer to the end of summer. I haven’t taken a significant blogging hiatus yet this year, but after helping one part of our family with their house-hunting and then their moving experience this month, and getting ready to help another move in two weeks, I think a little break is in order during the continuing chaos. I’ll try to pop in occasionally with some photography posts, but you may not hear much from me here over the next little while.

But whether it’s here or somewhere else, you can always count on lots happening around the internet and blogosphere. For instance, here are some of today’s findings that I found interesting…

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With his sixth novel, HEART FAILURE, soon to be released, there’s a Facebook announcement from Richard Mabry that his first medical mystery, CODE BLUE, is free today on Kindle, http://tinyurl.com/jwe8be6, Nook, http://tinyurl.com/kovls2a, and ebook, http://tinyurl.com/k943z5d. What a perfect time to get introduced to his “Prescription for Trouble” series. Even if you’re reading this too late to get it free, I think you’d enjoy picking up his ‘medical suspense with heart’ books.

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Valerie Comer and Angela Breidenbach use an engaging way to announce the contract signings for their September 2014 release of their two novellas in CHRISTMAS TIARA, that mixes “tiara talk with farm lit and Christmas” — check out their video here.

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Here’s an earlier-this-week blog post from Laura Best with the final cover reveal for her next novel, FLYING WITH A BROKEN WING, which will be releasing at the end of September.

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From Sue Harrison, a post reflecting on her week of virtual book touring, which celebrated the recent release of her six Alaska books in eBook format. There’s also a brand new video introduction to Sue that I’m sure you’d enjoy. You’ll find it here.

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Also found a couple FB posts by Sheila Seiler Lagrand alluding to an upcoming Christmas collection called THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. “Kathi Macias is our ringleader,” says Sheila. “We each will contribute a story in which all the action takes place on a single one of the twelve days leading up to Christmas. Each of the twelve stories will be released individually as an e-book.” Keep your eyes open for this one.

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Denise Jaden’s “Friday Four” post today presented the cover for her February 2014 release, FAST FICTION:

“Fast Fiction is a quick, inspirational, step-by-step and day-by-day guide to writing a structurally sound and engaging first draft in the shortest amount of time possible. It provides a great starting point for writers as they ditch time-wasters, detour frustration, and overcome self-doubt, and it helps them decide where to go with their story and how to get there quickly, with results. Told in the empathetic and accessible voice of an author who can provide an insider’s look at her own craft and publishing experiences, Fast Fiction provides readers with their own writing coach as they embark on a quick, fun, and challenging 30 days to a first draft.”

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Take a break to listen to this hand-clapping, toe-tapping music video via a link posted by Donna Pyle, founder of Artesian Ministries. She says, “Such a cool, original way to make traditional music fresh for the next generation.”

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I’m told C.J. Box’s just released mystery, THE HIGHWAY, is a goosebump-raising change of pace from his Joe Pickett series. I’ve been a fan of his mystery stories right from the beginning. Now I’m not sure which to read first, THE HIGHWAY or BREAKING POINT, his latest Joe Pickett book.

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And for my fellow pet owners, a FB link via Sandra Heska King, with news of a dog and cat food recall:

Both Iams and Eukanuba brand dry dog and cat food are being recalled. Both have the “best by” dates within the first two weeks of November 2014 and could be tainted with Salmonella.

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There! With all that shared, hubby, dog and I are back to helping fill and empty packing boxes while enjoying the company of children and grandchildren. What are YOU up to this weekend?

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In which some things get turned upside down!

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Upside down (trailing) Calibrachoa ‘Sweet Bells’

We had an election in British Columbia yesterday. I’m not one to follow politics doggedly, but I do take the responsibility of voting seriously. I voted, then through the evening watched television coverage of the incoming results.

Going into this election the provincial Liberals were expected to lose. In the end, although it appears she lost in her own riding by a narrow margin, Premier Christy Clark led her party to a resounding win. From the National Post online:
“The Liberals defied common wisdom and months of abysmal polling numbers to win British Columbia’s election Tuesday, a shocking turnaround for a party and a premier who entered the campaign with many observers writing the government’s obituary…B.C.’s Liberal party defied prognosticators and pundits Tuesday to win a fourth consecutive election, an upset that will confound so-called experts for months.”

In his election night speech, defeated NDP leader Adrian Dix said, “Elections belong to the voters, and the voters decided.”

Nobody could have predicted this election’s outcome, although in retrospect there were indications that people hesitated to risk a repeat of the economic downturns experienced during the NDP’s past terms in power. Christy Clark’s persuasive focus on our need for a strong economy carried her party past Dix’s promises of generous spending, to an inevitable conclusion. For whatever reason, nobody saw it coming.

Of course there’s a writing application here. (You knew there would be, didn’t you?) Public reaction to this political upset makes me think of reading suspense novels, mysteries or thrillers, with their unpredictable endings. I love being surprised by an ending, as long as the author has dropped subtle clues along the way. The plot may turn the characters’ lives upside down, but when I flip back to earlier scenes I need to find the logic behind the story’s resolution.

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Are you the kind of reader who likes to peek at the last few pages first, to find out how a story ends? Or do you prefer to be surprised? On the other topic, do you vote in your province’s, state’s or country’s elections?

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Taking a risk; making a start

Climbing StairsYou know the feeling. That breathless, gasping ache for air as you force one foot ahead of the other, climbing one more step, and one more, and one more… desperate to reach the top.

It may have been a challenge, a climb, a race, a chase. Or maybe you were recovering from surgery and pushing yourself just one more step was part of your therapy.  Whatever the case, the first step had to be taken, then another. Without making a start, there was no way to reach the top.

Yesterday I came across this poster on Facebook* and was reminded of how often we don’t make progress because we never quite muster the momentum that’s needed. We never succeed because we can’t accept the risk of failure. We never finish because we don’t start.

Taking small steps

Writers face this every day. There are those who would like to write a novel but aren’t sure they can create 90,000 consecutive words. Or they have too many ideas and don’t know how to round them up into a cohesive story. Others have written their stories but aren’t able to share them with editors or agents, or even other writers, for fear they aren’t good enough. Some published authors fear their initial success is a fluke and whatever else they write won’t measure up, so they don’t try again.

I’ll bet you can think of times you’ve hesitated, turned aside from pursuing a goal or a dream for what seemed like a very legitimate reason. Did you ever return to it… eventually make the effort… or did you accept it wasn’t meant to be?

It’s never too late to try again. If the original dream is beyond reach, you can always modify the goal.

“Tip toe if you must, but take the step.”

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“I don’t so much mind looking back on having lost the election,
or having been denied a role in the play, or having had my novel repeatedly rejected,
or having been turned down for a date,
or recalling laughter at my expense when I attempted some silly challenge.
Those things simply prove that I lived life.
What I do mind, however, is looking back on the lost opportunities
where imagined concerns kept me from even trying, lose or win.
I’ve learned that there is no regret in a brave attempt. Only in cowering to fear.”

Richelle E. Goodrich

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“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us –
yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Psalm 90:17 – NIV

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“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished
by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

Dale Carnegie
Quotes and Fantasy

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Seen in passing…

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April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.

William Shakespeare

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Why is it that everything looks good on a sunny day? Yesterday DH and I travelled across the Lower Mainland for a family visit, and while he drove, I pointed my camera at anything that caught my attention. And almost everything did. In this mini-travelogue I’m sharing the many sights that made me smile and count blessings.

The approach to Golden Ears Bridge over the Fraser River was heralded on both sides with massive eagle sculptures…

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Four smaller golden eagle sculptures adorned both ends of the bridge…

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On the other side, masses of daffodils lined the roadway for several kilometres…

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… and  fresh new greens graced the views in every direction…

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Oh, and then there were those mountains…

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Many things were seen in passing today, but the best view of all was the reason for our trip… seeing our favourite aunt, home from hospital once again…

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Nothing could brighten the day quite as much as her wonderful smile! Thanks for the visit, Aunt Norma! You are a blessing in our lives.

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But for those who honor the Lord, his love lasts forever,
and his goodness endures for all generations

Psalm 103:17 – GNT

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Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed.

Proverbs 31:25-28a – RSV

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Doing Research… and lovin’ it!

History was never my strong subject in school and I’d be embarrassed if you asked me how many history books are on my ‘recently read’ book list. If it’s a story about pioneering in the Yukon or northern BC, I’ve probably read it, but other places don’t usually interest me unless I’ve travelled there and have some personal time invested in the locale. I know, I know… I’m missing a lot.

So last fall I surprised myself by agreeing when I was asked if I would become our church’s historian. It’s not meant to be a big job — a history was compiled seventeen years ago, so the groundwork has been done — but there were no photographs included in it. The request is “to document the many events, milestones and accomplishments … in our ministry to each other and to the community around us,” and to do that, photographs are imperative.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Haney, BC

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and Manse – Haney, BC (circa 1907-1910) *

People have been contributing, I’ve been scrounging, scanning and sifting through everything I’ve collected. And I’m loving it! Who knew dry old church history could be so fascinating?

Those of you who write historical fiction, with all the research it entails, have probably known this all along.

What do you enjoy most (or least) about researching material for your writing?

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* Photo  via Maple Ridge Historical Society archives

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Welcoming a Debut Author

If you aren’t a writer you may not understand the strange passion that storytellers experience when they create with words. Spending time with fictional characters may seem like a frivolous pursuit… just as frivolous as splashing paint on a canvas or producing a series of musical sounds. Trivial stuff that any child can do, right?

But for the artist who struggles to express his creativity, the passion is a byproduct of talent stirred by emotion. I’ve always believed there is a subtle difference between talent and ability, talent being an aptitude or gift and ability being more of an acquired skill.  I’m beginning to think perhaps it’s just a matter of different semantics.

Norma McGuireMy aunt, Norma McGuire, has been heard to say, “My husband was the artist; I paint.” Well, in addition to being an artist, he was a storyteller. Years ago he created a cast of characters for a series of bedtime stories that entertained his sons and later his grandsons.

After his death eight years ago, Norma began transcribing his stories, embellishing them and adding her watercolour sketches to produce a chapter book for young readers. Her goal? “I would like [the manuscript] published as my gift to all children.”

With two friends assisting her in the editing process, she went through nine drafts before beginning to approach agents and publishers. All authors know how long the querying process can take. Finding an agent who will represent you can sometimes take years, and then finding an interested publisher can take the agent many more months.

Steve Laube, president and founder of The Steve Laube Agency, and a 30 year veteran of the bookselling industry, provided this rough guide to the average length of time it takes to get a book published.

  • “From idea to book proposal to your literary agent: 1-3 months;
  • “from agent to editor and book contract offer: 2-5 months;
  • “from contract offer to first paycheck: 2-3 months;
  • “from contract to delivery of manuscript to editor: 3-9 months (sometimes longer);
  • “from delivery of manuscript to editor actually working on it: 2-5 months;
  • “from editor to publication: 9-12 months.
  • Total time from idea to print: approximately 2 years.”

My aunt will be ninety this spring, and her family wanted to make her dream happen sooner rather than waiting for an indefinite later. So… we had it self-published as a surprise Christmas gift for her.

(All photos courtesy of Ra McGuire)

(All photos courtesy of Ra McGuire)

Now that she has had time to recover from the surprise and decide on marketing details, THE ADVENTURES OF JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICKS is available to order. Information is on her blog, ‘Nonie Grace’ and also on the book’s website here.

I hope you’ll stop by to welcome this very special and talented debut author to the writers’ community and check out her new release.

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Will Christmas cards become obsolete?

WooHoo!!! I’m done! Yes, I’m smirking. Every year about this time I begin to panic as I face the inevitable postal deadline for mailing out Christmas cards. It’s not like the middle of December doesn’t always arrive in the middle of December. It’s just that the date always sneaks up on me.

But not this year. With the help of my hubby, our little stack has been written, sealed, stamped and is ready to drop into the postbox today… before the middle of the month. How’s that for efficiency? (I don’t want an answer from those of you who amazingly mailed yours off on December 1st.)

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I like this annual tradition. I don’t like to be rushed with the selecting, composing and remembering as I write.

I know there are people who have given up on Christmas cards, finding them a chore, or preferring to save the cost of purchase and postage and avoid writer’s cramp in favour of sending an e-mailed greeting, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I send the occasional Hallmark e-card myself. However, on the receiving end, unless I print out those messages, I can’t sit down with a coffee at my convenience and enjoy browsing through the cards multiple times, admiring the different designs and re-reading the messages from family members and friends old and new. I’m one of those oddities who savours Christmas newsletters, loves to catch up on the year’s happenings and study photos of everyone’s grandchildren.

Communication has seen a major overhaul in the past couple decades. I treasure Skype and iChat visits with my family, and adore the e-mailed digital photos taken one minute and delivered to my inbox the next. Instant text messages by the hundreds have replaced many conversations, reducing personal interaction, and yet I see how convenient they are.

I wouldn’t want our current technology to disappear, but neither would I like ‘the old ways’ to be discarded. Like print books and eBooks, I think there is justification for both methods to complement each other – times when each can meet a personal need.

When I mail these envelopes later today it will be with the hope that each recipient will share the same pleasure from the greeting that I get out of writing it – the same pleasure that I do when theirs arrives here. It is a cherished tradition, this age-old form of communicating our good will at Christmas.

(Did you notice that communication has ‘commune’ as its root?)

Do you think writers might enjoy this form of communication more than non-writers? Do you still send out traditional Christmas cards? Do you think they will eventually become obsolete?

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Does nostalgia fuel your writing?

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“Simple things entertain childish minds.”

Some fifty-odd years ago one of my treats at Christmastime was visiting the street in front of the old Woodward’s Department Store in downtown Vancouver to admire their whimsical Christmas window displays. The animatronic creations in each storefront window were “portals of Christmases past” and intrigued me.

They’ve become part of Vancouver’s history now, and when the Woodward’s store was finally closed in 1993 the figures and sets were purchased by Canada Place. They’ve been restored and are once again on display there and at various other venues around the city, bringing delight to a new generation.

I’ve also admired the heritage village displays that make their appearance at this time of year – those tiny porcelain Victorian village collectibles, each miniature building nestled in make believe snow, with lights winking from their windows and inch-high people frozen in their busy everydayness.

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For all my delight in such things, I’ve never had a set. At least, I hadn’t until last year when a set of three tiny buildings and their accessories appeared at our church’s silent auction. I bid… and I upped my bid a few times, knowing that my frugal nature wouldn’t allow me to indulge myself if the price went very high. I think the other bidders took pity on me as I hovered anxiously near the auction table when closing time neared.

Not only did I end up with the set last year, but when a fourth piece appeared at this year’s auction, I claimed that one as well. I’m not sure how I explain my fascination with these pieces. I don’t even write historical fiction, but there’s a nostalgia connected to the endless stories my imagination concocts for them.

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The main character in my most recent novel couldn’t resist their appeal either. With her home recently vandalized, and her husband in hospital, her Christmas is filled with uncertainty. The petite Dickens’ village scene she discovers in a store window sets off a yearning for the security of a bygone time and plays a significant part in the story.

No, I’m not going to tell you what happens, but I’ll ask if any of your own longings find their way into your stories. Have you ever let your characters have possessions that you’ve wished for?

This is a post with no real purpose, other than to try to justify my totally unnecessary acquisitions. My mother was probably right and I’m indulging my childish whims. I enjoyed setting these little porcelain pieces in place yesterday and will continue to be enthralled by them throughout the Christmas season… guilt free. So there!

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‘The Next Big Thing’ Meme


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There’s this Meme going around, called The Next Big Thing. Folks have been sharing details of their current writing and up-and-coming projects. My DD, Shari Green, was tagged and I was happily reading her post when, wham! I came across my name. So I’ve been tagged now, too.

The idea is to answer the questions and then pass them along to another writer. It’s a great way to learn about each other’s work and to do a little self-promotion. Here are my answers:

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What is the working title of your book?

Since I don’t have a working title for my current w.i.p. yet, I’ll use the previous manuscript, and its title is UNLIKELY SHOWDOWN.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve been involved with the world of purebred dogs and dog shows for more than thirty years, and have seen some bizarre situations and behaviour. I heard of dogs being killed by obsessive competitors and that got me thinking about what might drive a competitor to murder someone.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s fallen all over the place, from cosy mystery to romance to inspirational romantic suspense! The revision I’m currently querying is simply a romantic suspense.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

If it wouldn’t be considered too arrogant I would love to see Meryl Streep as the MC and David Strathairn as her husband. On stage they both display the strong, independent personalities that cause so much conflict in this story.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

UNLIKELY SHOWDOWN is the story of what happens when one woman’s addiction to purebred dogs and the competitive world of dog shows speeds out of control and turns deadly.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have friends who have very successfully self-published so I know it’s possible, but it’s not for me. I can’t imagine myself venturing into today’s tough publishing scene without the guidance of a knowledgeable agent and the help of an experienced editorial team. Does that make me a wuss?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

If I said ‘forever’, I’ll bet other writers would understand. Much of it was written during last year’s NaNoWriMo month, but I continued to work on it right through the spring. I guess that means about nine months for the first draft, but I was still rewriting  parts of it earlier this fall, and am continually tweaking it now… especially since attending a recent workshop by Donald Maass on the topic of Writing Twenty-first Century Fiction.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I left this question until last, but even now I can’t really pinpoint perfect titles. I’d like to say a movie match-up would be combining the quirkiness of BEST IN SHOW with the out-of-control adventure of THE RIVER WILD, but that’s not exactly right either. Let’s just move on, shall we?

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think my earlier answer covers this. The plot reveals an aspect of the dog show world few people know about, and should. Once the idea germinated, the story pretty much blossomed on its own.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Everyone loves a dog story, but this one is more about the people who love dogs. There are many wonderful people involved in the dog show world, but also many eccentric ones. I was the official consultant for the filming of ‘Best In Show’ and if you’ve seen it, you’ll remember how passionate some people are about winning at any cost. There might be “eight million stories in the Naked City”, but there are a whole lot of them lurking behind the scenes at dog shows, too.

There! Now you have it. And now that I’ve done my share, I’m to tag others and invite them to participate. So, in alphabetical order…

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Laura BestFirst victim:  Laura Best

Laura’s first novel was an historical YA story, although I think I recall hearing her hint that there’s a non-fiction project somewhere in the works, too. She can be a little kooky at times (yes, you have to read her claim to the Booker Award) but when she talks about her little Miss Charlotte, you know she has her priorities straight.

KeliGwyn-V4-SmallSecond victim:  Keli Gwyn

Keli writes inspirational historical romance. Long before she was published herself, she interviewed me on her Romance Writers on the Journey blog. There is nobody with a heart like Keli’s when it comes to supporting and encouraging her fellow writers.

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 Third victim:  Ruth Logan Herne.

Ruthy is a multi-published inspirational romance author, a dog breeder, and an out-of-this-world cook, plus she has an outrageous sense of humour. I met her on Seekerville, but she has multiple websites for her books and a couple personal sites as well.

Katherine WagnerFourth victim:   Katherine Wagner

Katherine writes Gothic horror, but I like her anyway. Anyone who has attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference more times than I have has to be on the right track. She’s the co-facilitator of my writing critique group, Golden Ears Writers, so I have to be nice to her and her red pen.

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If you’re tagged and don’t have time to take part, or would prefer not to, it’s okay to decline… although since I’m dying to hear more about your “next big thing”, I’m going to be very curious about your answers to this meme, so I hope everyone will choose to participate. :)

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