Welcome Reviewer Extraordinaire, John Valeri!

Wicked Cozy Authors

Hey friends, Liz here. Today I have the pleasure of introducing one of my favorite pals – and hardcore book reviewer – John Valeri. John and I met the first time I attended the Seascape Writer’s Retreat (jeez, was that in 2007? How can that be??) and I was immediately captivated by his love for books, his contagious laugh and his obsession with everything Scream. Today, John has made quite a name for himself in the world of book reviews – a name that no doubt will continue to grow in popularity as he moves into a proverbial new chapter. He’s here today to tell us all about that chapter. 

Take it away, John!

John ValeriOn June 25th, my Hartford Books Examiner (HBE) Facebook page reached its 1,000th like.

On the 28th, I was at R.J. Julia—Connecticut’s illustrious indie bookstore—when a patron shared with me that her attendance at three recent…

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Myth #1: Only Writers Know Writing

February 29, 2016 Leave a comment

Simple Definition of expertise : special skill or knowledge : the skill or knowledge an expert has Simple Definition of writer : someone whose work is to write books, poems, stories, etc. : someone…

Source: Myth #1: Only Writers Know Writing

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My Posse

November 2, 2015 Leave a comment

(Originally published at http://mysteristas.wordpress.com)

Happy Fall/Winter Holiday Rush!

In our family, we’ve survived Halloween (a favorite holiday, but also the start of the competitive gymnastics season), and we’re now speeding toward the rest of the stacked fall/winter holidays. In our family’s case, that means my birthday, my paternal grandmother’s birthday, Thanksgiving, my maternal grandmother’s birthday, my brother-in-law’s birthday, Christmas, my niece’s birthday, and New Year’s Eve/Day. We’ll then speed into my hubby’s birthday as we enter January, followed quickly by several more.

Usually, at this point I’m feeling a little overwhelmed, but also excited. I love birthdays, and it’s so much fun to gather with our families. This holiday season, however, is my first once since my father died in June. So, our family is hitting the firsts: my first birthday without my dad, the first Thanksgiving without him (dad was an amazing cook, and had developed a gift for baking), and our first family Christmas without him (he picked out wonderful gifts for all of us). So far, I’ve chosen to deal with all of this by not dealing with it at all. I very deliberately choose not to let myself think about it, and distract myself accordingly. As an only child, this is somewhat more easily done by focusing on what my mother needs right now. My husband, who has lost his mother, father, and stepfather, stands back and, I suspect, is waiting for me to finally let it all sink in. At some point, I’ll be ready to feel all the feelings, and even perhaps channel it all into some creative output. Not yet.

But, this is not a post about sadness, but rather that sadness creates an opportunity to appreciate your personal community; I call mine my posse, although technically, I have several. I bet most people do, even if you don’t realize it! My mother has them, too. People she hasn’t really seen in years are suddenly asking her to brunch every other weekend.  Her sister, with whom she’s close, is making sure she stays busy, is home safely from the late meetings she often has after school, and that she actually goes grocery shopping. Her neighbor, the most delightful retired college professor, has organized the two of them into a weekly dinner date where they take turns cooking the meal. She’s reconnected with friends from high school, and they’ve met up a few times for fun outings. One of my dad’s closest friends is both keeping an eye on mom’s heating and plumbing, his area of expertise, but has also taken on finishing the installation of our new furnace, a project dad began but couldn’t finish.

My posses have surrounded me, too. A group of friends gave me a lovely gift certificate to purchase a tree to plant in memory of dad, an incredibly thoughtful gift that shows their understanding of my love of gardening and nature, as well as the need to have a long-lasting memorial to him. My family on my husband’s side, people who have seen more than their fair share of loss, reached out in sweet, kind ways. And then, there is perhaps my largest posse, my writer community.

Writers are, as a group, some of the most thoughtful, kind, warm, and humble folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Readers, too, are quite delightful. My Mysteristas’ sisters are so much fun, and I enjoy all of our interactions; the amusing part is that I’ve never met any of them! And yet, I truly adore them, worry and care about each and every one; we support each other through trials and tribulations large and small, and the connection is sincere. The larger writer community of which I feel privileged to be a part, shows me daily how easy it is to be kind, and how meaningful a simple gesture can be. I’ve watched some of the street teams I’m part of reach out en mass to support a writer going through the loss of a parent-in-law and another a serious illness. I’ve seen readers and writers alike provide messages, stories, and memories to the grieving family of a beloved writer, Joyce Lavene. She was one of those people who could create a rich, meaningful connection with people, even through Facebook! The online memorials and remembrances continue to pour in, and I hope that each and every one brings healing to her dear husband and children.

So, as we enter the crazy season and the month of thankfulness and gratitude, I encourage everyone to acknowledge their own amazing communities (or posse(s)!); I can’t wait to see how much we have to say about them this month. Personally, I’m embracing the NaNoWriMo and Sisters in Crime New England (SinC-NE) communities this month. I managed 1800 words today, day one of NaNo (visit here if you’re not familiar with NaNo), and Friday is the beginning of Crimebake, the annual mystery conference for readers and writers.  I submitted a portion of my manuscript for feedback, and I’m quite nervous. But, I’m also so excited to surround myself in the energy and creativity of these fantastic communities!

What’s your community?

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Shadow Artists

November 2, 2015 Leave a comment

(Originally published at http://mysteristas.wordpress.com)

Deftly wielded, the artist’s charcoal adds depth and breadth, softness and hard edges, gentle blending and abrupt transitions. The drawing moves from lying flat on the page to leaping into the lap of the viewer, the difference only a few bold strokes added or removed, changing the position, the expanse of the shadows on the page. The writer, too, must wield her tools, in order to provide the reader with characters and settings that do more than lie flat; instead, they must gently tug the reader into the story, bowl him over with intensity, or simply invite the reader in–doing so by adding important shadows to contrast the light, darkness to balance the bright.

Some characters step boldly off the page, their darkness seeping, dripping out of them into puddles of hissing ooze that make a reader shudder, recoil, and then. . .read on, caught in the delicious knowledge that these character aren’t real, and that following this character’s journey is relatively safe. The overwhelming evil serves as foil, balance to another character’s goodness. Some characters carry only hints of darkness, their shadows hidden, peeking out occasionally, slyly clinging to the edges of the character in places where only the careful reader spots them. Subtle yet important, these shadows provide the reader with important clues as to the character’s possible journey, likely decisions, and ultimate outcomes.

A character’s shadows can also provide shade to another character. Shade, with it’s cooling darkness, provides a break from the sometimes overwhelming heat of a brightly lit character, one with an unrelenting intensity or goodness that can exhaust the reader. Much like when a sunbather takes a moment to dip into the shade of an umbrella, the reader’s eyes can widen, the mind can clear, when introduced to the character with a stronger shadow.  A story without shadows would lack the necessary depth to sustain reader interest; the drawing would remain flat on the page.

There’s a definition of shadow, a less common one, that represents a critical tool in the writer’s toolbox: “a slight suggestion; a trace” (dictionary.com). Isn’t that lovely? Much like the drawing with nothing but harsh lines and sharp corners, or nothing but smudges, a story without shadows would be boring. Writers layer in depth and dimension by creating both bold shadows and mere traces of shadow; balancing, to a certain degree, darkness and light. The juicy part is realizing that darkness is not all bad, any more than light is all good. Shade provides welcome respite from heat, while unrelenting sun can result in a sunburn. Shadows can hide the madman, or provide shelter for the heroine escaping the madman’s chase; the charismatic cult leader who shines ever so brightly does not provide safety to his flock, while the detective whose light comes from within and keeps her constantly moving forward, can provide a beacon to those whose belief in justice is flagging.

The skillful writers whose stories, both characters and settings, demonstrate a deft application of shadow and shade to balance the light, whose subtle application of smudges and harsh lines keep the reader wondering, “who is good? bad? what will happen next?” are true masters of the craft.

Readers, what’s your favorite shadow-filled story? Any favorite shadow artists? Let us know in the comments!

Pamela A Oberg | @stonecreekwrite

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Releasing My Writer’s Expectations

November 2, 2015 Leave a comment

(Originally published at http://mysteristas.wordpress.com)

Staring at the blank page on the screen in front of me, I flex my fingers over the keyboard. Pause. I wiggle and stretch each finger, one at a time. Pause. I tap my nails on the keys, at first randomly, and then in a series of varying rhythms. The noise begins to annoy me, and I stop. Finally, I type a few words, a sentence. Then I delete them all and stare at the blinking cursor, its consistent, moderate pace mesmerizing in its dull predictability.

I consider banging my head against the desk, but the keyboard is in the way. Although. . .no, I won’t abuse my keyboard (yet). Eventually, I remind myself that written garbage is writing, and bad writing leads to good writing. It’s just so darn hard to allow garbage to appear on the page, even if just for a little while. Somewhere in the cobweb-filled, dusty,  rarely visited back corner of my mind, there’s this irrational fear that somehow the garbage writing will become anchored to the pages, and other people will read it.

I don’t claim this makes sense, mind you.

Every writer has a process, and I think I’ve mentioned that mine requires writing my way into or out of any project. I just have to write, and write, and write, and somewhere along the way the story begins to flow and the pieces fall into place. Later, the story flow slows to a trickle, and I know I’m done for a bit. Repeat, until the story is done becoming a first draft. I learn a lot about my characters and their stories by doing this, and I have a fat file of snippets for potential future use (having deleted the garbage from the beginnings and endings of current projects, and realizing some of it’s not bad, occasionally even quite good–just not for the current project). My novel had seven first chapters before I finally wrote the one that was right. Some of the others moved to different positions, some are in the fat snippet file, hoping to see the light of day again in the future.

The point of release makes all the difference. It’s that magical, unpredictable point when I give up on having the perfect sentence or paragraph or page planned, and I begin to write, anything, nothing, something. I release my expectations for that particular writing opportunity, close my eyes (seriously, I begin typing with my eyes closed), and get on with it.

Few things feel quite as good as reaching that point. For this borderline Type A/Scorpio/risk-averse girl, giving up control of the outcome (in the form of those limiting expectations) can be overwhelming, terrifying, even paralyzing. But when I finally release the expectations? Better than dark chocolate truffles, and that’s a bold statement, indeed.

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Mysterista Summer Reading Bonanza: Author Word Search!

Week 2 fun at the Mysteristas Summer Reading Bonanza!

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Fatal Reservations, A Key West Food Critic Mystery (A review)

In “Fatal Reservations,” Lucy Burdette’s latest, fast-paced addition to the Key West Food Critic Mysteries, Hayley Snow is preparing another tasty restaurant review. But when her tarot card-reading friend Lorenzo finds himself accused of murder, Hayley must find a way to prove his innocence, and fast.

Scrappy food critic for local publication Key Zest, Hayley is struggling to make her romantic relationship succeed, prove her worth to the new boss, and keep dear Miss Gloria out of trouble. As Hayley works to prove Lorenzo’s innocence—and avoid becoming the real murderer’s the next victim!—readers are treated to delicious descriptions of local cuisine, a fresh-off-the-boat plot, and a full plate of colorful characters.

“Fatal Reservations” is the best Key West Food Critic Mystery yet, and each is amazing. Burdette provides another heaping helping of Key West color woven expertly into a menu of bitter rivalries, tangled relationships, and murder. Witty, tightly written, and deliciously twisted, “Fatal Reservations” will leave readers completely satisfied. (Release date: July 7, 2015)

Originally posted to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1327098198

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