Author Spotlight: DIANA DUFF

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The genius of Diana Duff’s writing is its elegant simplicity. “It seems such a strange thing to be doing, I thought, however ordinary the surroundings: waiting in a coffee shop in Oxford Street with the London traffic roaring outside, for my mother, whom I would not recognize when she finally arrived.”

With a path that led her from South Africa to Ireland, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, Ms. Duff’s page-turner memoir, Leaves from the Fig Tree reads more like an adventure novel, submerging us in the vastly different worlds she has known with a story of isolation, travel, rebellion, love, and freedom.

At age 2, she was transported from South Africa to her family’s historic estate in rural Ireland, County Cork, in a Victorian estate called Annesgrove (originally Ballyhimmock), built in the 1700s.

A descendant of the brother of the Earl of Annesley, Diana’s pedigree isolated her as a child within the rigid confines of Victorian life in rural Ireland, with no siblings or other companions except a series of ill-equipped governesses, juxtaposed with the expansive freedom and wild magic of the Africa that called to her again and again.

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I talked with Diana from her home in Johannesburg about her story and her writing path:

You were quite the globe-trotter! You went to Kenya from Ireland at age 18, then stayed in Kenya and Tanzania until you were 30, when you went to South Africa. What do you remember most about Africa in your early days there? There was a freedom there that allowed people to live an eccentric way of life doing their own thing. During that time, it was not a very structured society, and it was a fantastic place to live. People were really individuals, they didn’t try to fit into any social system or way of behavior, and they didn’t need to. Kenya was my freedom.

How did living in the midst of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya impact your view of the world? I was so young, I didn’t really appreciate the dangers. But we certainly lived in the middle of it all.

In thinking about writing mechanics, is there one thing that you consistently see writers getting wrong? Nowadays there is a tendency to overdo the shock tactics, and maybe that’s required the way the world is now. It seems that authors feel pressured to write about sensationalist topics rather than writing what they feel strongly about, what moves them. And those books aren’t like art and it’s less of a pleasure to read them. In Isak Dineson’s Out of Africa, for example, you can really see the people, you can feel them.

Which is your preference for the books you read – fiction or nonfiction? What are you reading currently? Though I read mostly fiction now, I’m also reading Heat by Ranulph Fiennes and The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner.

Since you’ve seen so much of our world, what do you think is most different about it now compared with when you were younger? Politics, power and money seem to be the ruling factors today. A drive towards material wealth takes all the color out of life  and is not at all appealing. But there are still magical places in the world. Where I work, we have a lovely Moonlight Market – an evening, outdoor organic market with organic foods and lots of gems and minerals, which attract amazing people with amazing stories. Stories are the common thread for me, for everyone.

Everybody’s interesting. Every single

person has got a story to tell.

At age 85, Diana still works – at Bryanston Organic Natural Market, an organic outdoor market and gem and mineral store, where she meets fascinating people every day. “Today I met a man who’s building a life center on Green Island (Queensland), I met two Americans, someone who’d gone to Malaysia on a canoe trip, and someone who’d been gored by a hippo.” And she has written another story (fiction this time), which takes place in Tanzania.

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Diana’s book, Leaves from the Fig Tree is published by Rebel e Publishers in Kindle, paperback, and other digital formats and can be purchased on Amazon.

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Thank you for reading! If you’ve enjoyed this post, please Like or Share it with other readers and writers 🙂

Author Spotlight: J.H. BOGRAN

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picture1Author J.L. Bogran is a novelist and screenwriter born and raised in Honduras. The son of a journalist, the writing craft is clearly in his blood as evidenced by his media success and list of prolific projects. His debut novel, Treasure Hunt, was selected among Preditors and Editors’ Top Ten in a reader’s poll. Today we’re talking with him about Poisoned Tears – his forthcoming third novel, his writing process, and his other passion: screenwriting.

You’re bilingual in Spanish and English. How did you learn English and how do you decide which language to write in?

Just as practice will get you to Carnegie Hall, the same goes for learning English. I started with basic grammar and conversation practice at a local school, but later my jobs required me to speak English for extended periods of time. First as a front-desk clerk at a hotel, then working in the garment manufacturing industry, where I had to work with people from all over the world. And although I’m a professional translator, I don’t like to work on my own stuff, so the first thing I decide is the language to write the piece. That clears the path for all the decisions that follow.

Do you read in Spanish or English?

I read books, newspapers and almost anything in both languages.

Where did your inventive idea for Poisoned Tears come from?

My wife likes to watch animal shows on TV. One show listed the top ten most dangerous animals. That triggered the idea of “what if somebody used an animal to hide a murder?” I developed the idea further, and it later became an outline of the book. Part of my research took me to New Orleans. I had the notion that my character hated the city but wasn´t clear on why…until I saw a game in the Superdome and thought losing a pro-football career there would make the person hate the venue, and the city by extension.

What does Knox, your protagonist, struggle with the most? And what does he have in common with Sebastian Martin, the main character in your novel Firefall?

Alan struggles a lot, first with his own hatred of the city, then the police rejecting his theory on a serial killer prowling the city. Later he partners with a journalist, only to discover that he doesn’t like the opportunistic writer. Although not directly mentioned in the book, Alan Knox has a younger brother named Bill, who happens to be Sebastian Martin’s boss. So the connection is slim. In terms of what they have in common, they’re both tortured souls, both widowers, and reluctant heroes.

How did you get started writing screenplays?

That can only be attributed to serendipity. A few years ago I ran a video store, and one night a customer dropped by asking if I had any old Buster Keaton movies. Surprised that I even knew who Mr. Keaton was, we started talking about movies, and he told me he was working on a TV project. I volunteered, and first he gave me this look of “Oh, damn, not another guy who thinks he’s better looking than George Clooney!” But when I confessed that my passion was for writing, he told me he was down one writer on his team and offered me a job on the spot. So far, I’ve been a writer for two motion picture scripts, and co-writer for three TV serials. Most recently, I wrote the script for the movie 11 Cipotes (11 Kids), which was considered a contender for the 2015 Oscars in the Foreign Film category. The movie is about a bunch of kids driving everybody crazy in a small town in Honduras. A man studying to become a priest takes the kids to form a soccer team, and then they are invited to a championship in the big city. It’s the adventure of their lives. You can see the trailer here.

Are you disciplined about writing? Do deadlines bring out your best or worst writing?

I wish I were more disciplined. It’s funny how my own creations take a lot of time to finish, but if I do work-for-hire, like a screenplay, I’ll wrap everything up before a deadline. I once finished a first draft of a movie in just four weeks.

Do you write on a computer, sitting properly at a desk, or longhand on coffee-stained napkins in a noisy cafe?

A combination of all of the above, actually. And it depends on the job at hand. For a screenplay, I’d have to sit and type it because of the formatting. However, for novels or short stories, I would write chapters in a notebook, then take a picture of each page and save it to my Dropbox just in case I lose the notebook. Typing them into a computer gives me the extra benefit of doing a first round of edits simultaneously.

What’s your next project?

This is a tricky question to answer, and one I usually avoid. A couple of times my actual next project turns out to be different from the one I described in a previous interview. I’ll compromise and say I’m working on a couple of projects; a sequel to Firefall, a joint project with marvelous British writer Steven Saville, and I’m currently in negotiations to take on another script. So which one will see the light first? Only God knows!

Any favorites in your choice of pens?

Ballpoint I guess. Now, for signing books there’s nothing better than a classical fountain pen!

About Poisoned Tears, forthcoming on March 15, 2017:

Retired Dallas private investigator Alan Knox dislikes New Orleans so much he won’t even drink Abita, the local beer. It all goes back to the day his knee and his promising pro football career were wrecked in a Superdome game with the Saints. But when his estranged son calls and asks for help finding a missing fianceé, the guilt-ridden Texan heads for the Big Easy where he soon finds himself in trouble up to the tops of his snakeskin boots. What starts off as a missing person case turns into a hunt for a serial killer who uses exotic poisonous animals to dispatch his victims. Painfully aware he can’t go it alone, Knox joins forces with an over-the-hill journalist and an unfriendly police detective as he navigates the dark streets and seedy bars in search of his prey. Great plot, colorful descriptions of NOLA and well-drawn characters. Poisoned Tears is full of so many twists and turns that it will make your head spin long before you get to the heart-thumping surprise ending. –Paul Kemprecos

J.H.’s books are published by Rebel ePublishers.

For more information about J.H. BOGRAN, check out www.jhbogran.com, and follow him on these sites:

Thanks for tuning in today, and now…countdown till March 15th!

Author Spotlight: MARILYN MEREDITH

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For this month’s Author Spotlight, I’m happy to introduce you to longtime teacher, speaker, and award-winning crime novelist, MARILYN MEREDITH.

Marilyn has written over 30 novels in two ongoing mystery series – her Deputy Crabtree series and her Rocky Bluffs P.D. series (written under the name of F.M. Meredith0. As one of the earliest adopters of ePublishing, all of Marilyn’s books are available via Kindle. But we’ll get to more of that at the end of this post. For now, let’s hear directly from Marilyn about her books, her characters, and her writing process.

Of your many activities and contributions to our literary world, which brings you the most happiness and fulfillment? (writing fiction, writing nonfiction, teaching, speaking) Though I certainly love writing, I truly enjoy teaching and speaking about writing, and talking to young people about writing is particularly satisfying.

Of the writers you’ve admired in your life, who had the biggest impact on your writing career? One of the first published writers I became friends with was Willma Gore, who was in the critique group I joined. She taught me more about writing than anyone else or any of the writing classes I attended over the years.

Where did your idea for the character Tempe Crabtree come from? Is she based on you, or someone you know personally? Tempe is actually a combination of three women: A Tule River Indian I met who grew up on the reservation and is the one I see as Tempe, a resident deputy who told me about her problems as the only female, and a police officer who was a single mother who I did a ride-along with. All three have strong personalities.

What has Tempe Crabtree taught you over the years you have been writing her stories? If someone is in danger, Tempe will rush in to help regardless of her own safety. I’m afraid I’m not that brave—though in my younger years I did much of the same.

Did you plan your Tempe Crabtree and Rocky Bluff series’ ahead of time, or did you write a standalone novel and thereafter decide to bring back the same character for another book? (and another, etc.) With both series, I didn’t know that I would continue on when I wrote the first books. I fell in love with my characters, and the only way to find out what would happen to them next was to write another book, and on and on.

What advice would you give to new writers about how to navigate the publishing world? Things keep changing. You have to find out what is going on and what path would be the best for you to take. Though I have been published by one of the New York publishers at the beginning of my career, I’ve gone through several small publishers with both series. If self-publishing the way it is today had been available, I might have gone that direction. For those thinking about doing that, it is most important that a professional editor goes over your novel before you publish.

Do you maintain a strict writing process, and can you share some details of how you stay motivated and on track with your writing goals and publishing schedules? I wish I did have a strict writing process—but life often interferes, as do other writing jobs. I do try to write at least a few hours five days a week, but I’m not always able to do so. I’m a great list writer—I keep track of what I need to do each day, writing and everything else. I also keep a calendar that I check each morning so I don’t forget anything important.

What is your forthcoming book about? I’m almost finished with a first draft of an as-yet untitled Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. In this one, two of the characters are named after two people who tied in a contest to have a character named after them. It’s been fun, because I do know these folks and their characters are nothing like either one. The plot is about the murder of two people—the mayor, and an old lady.

About Marilyn’s Latest Book: Seldom Traveled, which was released in August 2016:

The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three. Tempe Crabtree is a female resident deputy in the mountain area surrounding Bear Creek which is located in the Southern Sierra. She is also an Indian (she like, others in the Tule River tribe prefer Indian to Native American) and at times she receives spiritual insights. Seldom Traveled is the latest in the series and was inspired by the fact that a fugitive on the run disappeared in our area, a spark of a story about a murder in a mountain community, and the fact that the area is prone to forest fires.

Available in Paper, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and from the publisher, http://mundania.com/

Marilyn’s website and blog: http://fictionforyou.com/ and http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/

Please post any questions or comments, and thank you for reading!

Always keep the writer vibe alive…

 

Fiction Ignition

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Ever have an idea for a new crime novel or short story but don’t know how to start? Here’s an idea that I often use to help me generate the right opening for a particular story idea. I go to my personal library and open 10 or 20 random books and read the first sentence. For this exercise, I focused on suspense/thrillers published within the past year and from familiar voices in the genre.

Note: These are all Chapter 1 openings, meaning I skipped the prologues. Why? That’s what I do – skip prologues. Cruel, I know, not to mention hypocritical as I often find myself writing them! But just this week I read two more scathing blog rants from literary agents about how prologues are passé and show that an author is too lazy to properly weave these details into the fabric of their story. So, here we go.

 

Jeffrey Deaver, from The Kill Room

“The flash of light troubled him.”

 

Tom Clancy, Command Authority

“The black Bronco shot through the storm, its tires kicking up mud and water and grit as it raced along the gravel road, and rain pelted the windshield faster than the wipers could clear it.”

 

David Baldacci, King and Maxwell

“Forty eight hundred pounds. That was roughly how much the cargo in the crate weighed.

 

Michael Connelly, The Gods of Guilt

“I approached the witness stand with a warm and welcoming smile. This of course belied my true intent, which was to destroy the woman who sat there with her eyes fixed on me.”

 

John Grisham, Sycamore  Row

“They found Seth Hubbard in the general area where he had promised to be, though not exactly in the condition expected. He was at the end of a rope, six feet off the ground and twisting slightly in the wind.”

 

Patricia Cornwell, Dust

“The clangor of the phone violates the relentless roll of rain beating the roof like drumsticks.”

 

James Patterson, Cross My Heart

“I trudged aimlessly through the dark, empty streets of Washington, haunted by the memory of my son Ali telling me that the only way to kill a zombie was to destroy its brain.”

 

Clive  Cussler, Mirage

“It was the landscape of another world.”

 

John Sandford, Storm Front

“His bags were packed and sitting by the door.”

 

Lee Child, Never Go Back

“Eventually they put Reacher in a car and drove him to a motel a mile away, where the night clerk gave him a room, which had all the features Reacher expected, because he had seen such rooms a thousand times before.”

 

Scott Turow, Identical

“Many years from now, whenever he thinks back to Dita Kronon’s murder, Paul Gianis’s memories will always return to the start of the day.”

 

Lisa Scottoline, Accused

“Congratulations! read the banner, but Mary DiNunzio still couldn’t believe she’d made partner, even at her own party.”

 

Nelson DeMille, The Quest

“The elderly Italian priest crouched in the corner of his cell and covered himself with his straw pallet.”

 

Dan Brown, Inferno

“The memories materialized slowly…like bubbles surfacing from the darkness of a bottomless well.”

 

Iris Johansen, Eve

“Dead. Eve was dead. The words kept drumming in Catherine Ling’s mind as she walked up the gateway to the terminal.”

 

Harlan Coben, Six Years

“I sat in the back pew and watched the only woman I would ever love marry another man.”

 

Walter Mosely, Parishoner

“There is a stone chapel on the outskirts of Seabreeze City, a small town that is situated between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.”

 

What do you notice about most of these beginnings? They thrust you into the middle of a story, or place you somewhere that you don’t recognize leaving you with a hundred questions. Deaver: What flash? A gun? Baldacci: 4800 pounds…what’s IN that crate? And questions are good! They create tension and will keep you turning the pages to find the answer you want.

What else do you notice? They’re the complete opposite of the image at the top of this page. “Once upon a time” is a classic, timeless story opening that sets the stage for a linear execution – starting properly at the very beginning and progressing step by step to the ultimate conclusion. Why wouldn’t this opening work now? Because linear is not what we are anymore, as a civilization, as writers, readers, learners. Some generalizations: people are more capable of technological sophistication than we were before. We are smart, quick-thinking, quick-judging, impatient, and no longer willing to complete 10 (or 2) preliminary steps to perform a task. We skip right to step 10 and do our best with it. The world moves faster than it used to, as do our brain processes. As such, so does our patience for details.

Check this out: “When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance from his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

What’s wrong with this opening passage from Thomas Hardy’s awesome classic, Far From the Madding Crowd? Nothing, when you consider it was originally written around 1847. (And how I love that word countenance!) But for modern standards, the passage wouldn’t work because it’s an entire paragraph about the features on a man’s face.  It’s not about either correct or incorrect – it’s about what people want to read and what they will buy. This must, at least in some small way, influence how and what we write.

 Another variation is to pick 10 books from all different genres (SyFy, romance, biography) and compare those opening sentences. You can get a much wider sampling that way, and it can generate even more ideas that lead you to your perfect first sentence.

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