A Writer’s Stab at the Red/Lizzie Blacklist Mystery

Given that, as a writer, I like to tinker with violent and creepy plot lines and character motivations, I couldn’t help resist doing my own backstory for The Blacklist. Here we go, and hold on tight.

During Red’s days as a naval officer, he discovered a highly criminal operation taking place under the auspices of the federal government. In trying to decide how to whistleblow, he reveals this information to a sole, trusted friend from the Naval Academy who is now working inside the concerned agency. Even their families are friends (which would be how Red knows about Lizzie’s music box). Could he be her godfather, even?

When Red returns home late on Christmas, he finds his whole family stabbed to death. His trusted friend has either committed the act or informed to someone that ordered the massacre (hence why Red has no friends now and counts only loyalty as worthy). In retribution, Red sets fire to his former friend’s home, but hears the little girl screaming. Having lost his own little girl (swan lake program), he can’t bear to have the blood of an innocent on his hands, so he goes in to rescue her. The fire flashes on the way out, burning his back.

He entrusts Lizzie to Sam, a man Red has known from before his time at the Academy. Red keeps close tabs on her for her entire life to make sure the powers that killed his family do not track her down.

After his family dies, Red tries to recreate it by marrying Carol (Naomi) who already has a daughter, Jennifer, who is about his own dead daughter’s age. Perhaps Jennifer resents how Red keeps trying, even subconsciously, to mold her into his dead daughter. When the marriage fails to mend Red’s heart, he begins to look deeper and deeper into who killed his family…and that journey leads him into the depths of the criminal world. Here, he operates without error because that one error, of coming home late for Christmas and not having the presents, cost him his family. A mistake can cost you everything. Carol/Naomi and Jennifer drift from the center of his life’ and they grow tired that his new goals put them in the same jeopardy as his first family.

When Red finds that Elizabeth is in the FBI, he decides that perhaps the betrayal that fractured his life so long ago can be healed. Lizzy will learn the value of loyalty, and make amends for her father. Together, they will fight that original evil and expose it for what it is. With Lizzie, he is giving true friendship one last chance.

Now, who is #1 on the Blacklist?

Off-Kilter Friday with J.K. O’Hanlon

Today’s above average person being subjected to below average questions is J.K. O’Hanlon. J.K. combines her background as a lawyer with her unfailing sense of humor to writes smart, sassy and sexy stories about women who balance exciting careers with their passionate desire for love. In between penning steamy sex scenes, J.K. mixes and writes about cocktails as The Thirsty Jane. She lives in the Kansas City area, but spends as much time as possible at her second home in Puerto Rico. Find out more about J.K. and her books at www.jkohanlon.com and www.thirstyjane.com. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thirstyjane and on Twitter @thirstyjane. Be sure to check out the rafflecopter at bottom for a chance to win one of JK’s three books. Click the arrow to be greedy and enter them all.

Anna: This is the one standard OKF question. Who is your hottest dead guy and why? This isn’t necrophilia-kinky—just who from the past fascinates you?

J.K: T.J. a/k/a Thomas Jefferson. I was a revolutionary war history buff as a small child (what’s the nerd-o-meter reading on that?) and coincidentally ended up at the University of Virginia for college so T.J. (as330px-Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale_1805_cropped we UVA Wahoo’s call him) tops my list. First, in a land and time of smaller statured men, T.J. was tall and striking. But, probably his intellect and renaissance-man eclectic tendencies make him most attractive to me. I’ve always found his choice for his grave stone fascinating: Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia. Like most, he was not a perfect man, but I am grateful for his contribution to our country.

330px-US_Navy_031029-N-6236G-001_A_painting_of_President_John_Adams_(1735-1826),_2nd_president_of_the_United_States,_by_Asher_B._Durand_(1767-1845)-crop

Anna: John Adams has no chance for a steamy love triangle, I take it. Also TJ is also Thirsty Jane. Coincidence?

Anna: If you could only have one more booze drink, what would it be? And if it is a cocktail, share the recipe.

J.K: For someone who is a self-proclaimed equal opportunity boozer, that’s pretty much a Sophie’s Choice question. I’ve always loved me some beer. And, nothing beats a glass of bourbon (one ice cube) if I’m chillaxing at night with my guy watching sports. But, I’d have to go with a martini for my last drink, even though I don’t drink them that often. For me, good gin has it all – mixability, versatility, and a boozy aromatic finish. My martini goes as follows: 2 ½ ounces gin (Plymouth is my favorite), ½ ounce dry Vermouth (I like Doulin or Noilly Prat), and as many olives as you can fit on a toothpick. I prefer my martinis shaken, although cocktail purists would say that because all of the ingredients are spirits, you should stir. To hell with the purists.

Anna: Anyone who shakes OR stirs spirits is probably going to hell…or at least would need an exorcist after the fourth cocktail–five for people of, ah-hem–slavic origins.

Anna: Who is the most famous person you’ve met?

J.K: Cuba Gooding, Jr. In a hotel elevator in Atlanta. We talked about the swimming pool. He has the most gorgeous dark chocolate eyes fringed in unbelievable lashes.

Anna: Which one of you was in the bathrobe?

Anna: Here’s the second standard OFK question. What song do you want to get stuck in people’s heads?

J.K: I can’t answer that because it will be stuck in my head.

Anna: That’s a loser answer. You’re not running for the Senate. Cough one up.

J.K with epic Bon Jovi hair: Shot through the heart / And you’re to blame / You give love a bad name

Anna with off-key backing vocals: Bad name

Anna: Who plays you in the movie about your life? Any ideas about supporting characters?

J.K: The consensus on this one is Sela Ward, although I’ve always loved the idea of Jacklyn Smith, Charlie’s Angels style because my hair could never ever look that awesome. My guy is Ed Harris. My pets are Dumb (the dog) and Dumber (the cat).

Anna: Well, Jacklyn Smith could wear a wig, but not the Bon Jovi one.That idea is now property of my website.

Anna: Tell me about your creative projects.

J.K: Does raking up mulch and treating for grubs in preparation for sodding an area of the back yard count? If not, then I’m constantly creating new drink recipes, editing my WIP, and designing t-shirts for girls gone wild vacations. Then, there’s always adding stickers to the minivan. I’m somewhere around 255. You’ll know me when you see me.

vanAnna: You mean this vehicle? The one that caused the Google spy car to self-destruct and burn down a Dairy Queen?

Anna: A bit of your WIP?

J.K: In my dreams it’s Stephanie Plum, minus the slapstick and mystery, plus hot sex and drink recipes. I’ve fictionalized the “Thirsty Jane,” the logo/brand of my cocktail books, creating a Portland, Oregon based bartender named Jane Murphy who navigates a sizzling love triangle and scheming colleague while trying to capture a bartending prize.

Anna: Will TJ or JA score in the love triangle!?*

*That had to be worst way to bring an interview full-circle. But I warned you about the below-average thing.
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Off-Kilter Friday with Johannah Siragusa

Welcome to Off-Kilter Friday where I ask above-average people below-average questions.

Today’s guest is author/artist/saloon keeper Johannah Siragusa.

Anna: Who is your favorite dead guy and why? I’m not talking necrophilia…just who was hot when he was alive.
Johannah440px-Young_Nelson: Horatio Nelson. He was the quintessential romantic hero. Truly brave, marred physically and emotionally, worthy of salvation. His life was a romance novel.
Anna: And he’s hot. He’s Horatio to you and Vice-Admiral, The Right Honourable , The Viscount Nelson KB to the rest of us.

Anna: Do all pets, some pets, or no pets go to heaven?
Johannah: I think of Heaven as the seat of God’s love and all creatures return there, eventually. There are plenty of animals that will precede some humans.
Anna: Just not my cat Frisky, right? I think he landed a sweet job filling in for Cerberus when he goes on coffee breaks.

Anna: If you could have a role in any TV show, past or present, which one would it be and what kind of character would you play?
Johannah: I would be Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke, but I would demand scripts that were updated. Matt would not sleep at the station. I’d be a strong broad and I’d entertain bandits and cowboy poets alike. I’ve suspected from an early age that I’d be a great saloon keeper.
Anna: You’d be most smitten by the bandit poet, though. I sense a love triangle with Matt having to forsake sleeping at the station so that the bandit poet can’t steal Miss Kitty’s heart and booze.

Anna: What song are you going to get stuck in people’s heads?
Johannah: “It’s a Wonderful World” – Louie Armstrong’s version. “I see skies of blue, clouds of white, the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night. It’s one of my favorite prayers of thanks.
Anna: Look how nice you are! You pick a great, inspirational song. I would have picked something awful just so I could torture people.

Anna: Tell us about one of your current creative projects.
Johannah: I’m writing a book – fiction. I spend my days functioning in what would be identified as reality, but my consciousness is often elsewhere, somewhere on an old farmstead east of Madison, GA. My husband, a home brewer, and I are also engaged in a competition to see who can develop the best homemade hops bitters. I, of course, anticipate victory. We are six weeks out from judging.
Anna: I think there is a secret saloon in your basement. Since we can’t sample the brew over the internet—Google, get to work on that pronto—how about a taste of the novel?

Patrick rose from the table, his gaze betraying his disappointment. “I’ll make myself scarce. Naturally, I prefer your company, but I’ll respect your wishes, Clara. It was more difficult just after Augusta passed. Of late, I’ve become accustomed to spending more time alone.”

He turned his back to her and crossed to the window. “In my more natural state, you can see me as freely as you might notice a passing bird. But I can, with effort, remain unseen, even by you. It’s one of the tricks I’ve acquired over the years.” As he spoke these last words, he faded without a trace.

Claire felt her chest tighten. It was as if she’d been conversing with air.

Excerpt from Back Home by Johannah Siragusa

Anna: I’m hooked. Get me the rest of it. Now.

You, dear readers, feel free to ask Miss Kitty a question or give your own answer to the off-kilter questions. One randomly unlucky commenter gets a Solace e-trilogy.

The Challenges and Rewards of Small Press Fantasy

So, you want to write a fantasy novel. Bigger is better, right? I mean, look at GoT and WoT. 600-800 pages at least.

books-64

Good luck on that unless you are the one-in-a million talent that a publisher is willing to play the lottery on. Not scratch-off. Mega Millions. Those are the odds.

Here’s the deal. Those big books, even in mass market, are expensive to print. Unless the publisher anticipates a huge run that commands a substantial quantity discount, there is no way to competitively price a book that size. Who is going to pay $25 for a mass market or trade paper? I’ll take GRRM at $7.99 and spend the savings on ice cream sandwiches and a six pack of Terrapin Hopsecutioner.

You’re going to get lots of grimaces at even 120K from editors and agents.

100K is more like it. That’s a sweet spot for a new author. Get some stellar sales numbers on your backlist, like C.L. Wilson, and you can put out The Winter King, her first really long book.

How do I know this?

I joined a professional writers’ group and pitched to some of the top editors and agents. That was good.

I was shopping a 180K behemoth. That was bad.

180K = A leper whale.

Luckily, there are whale veterinarians.

Whale veterinarians=small presses.

evenSO said, “You have this book divided into three sections. Let’s publish it as three books. The books will be on the short side, but perfect for ebook readers, and we can do competitively priced trade paperbacks through our distributor.” Readers prefer ebooks that are around 60K–it takes slightly longer to read an ebook than a print book. Plus, readers tend to get a bit discouraged when they see their percentage read isn’t getting smaller as fast as they think it should. Psychology, people.

What a brilliant idea! It wouldn’t have worked for just any old book, though. You can’t just chop a book up and sell it in smaller bits. Each section has to answer a part of the story/character arc, but end on a question that propels the reader to the next book. My manuscript mostly did those things, but the editor had great suggestions. As a result, I was published. I’ve had print runs ordered by Amazon and Books-a-Million and will be an Amazon newsletter featured author.

The downside?

There are readers who will complain that each book isn’t 600-800 pages long. I’m going to be snarky here and ask who their right mind would sell a 180K ebook for $3.03 on Amazon?

You can’t please everyone.

You don’t want to please everyone.

Power-Up Worlding Building through Point of View — From Romance University

The original post is on Romance University.

“The author has crafted an intricate and believable fantasy world filled with complex heroes and heroines who are fated to battle a horrific evil.” Victoria Vane, award-winning author

Let me just say that I’ve had the honor of meeting Pharaoh, and Kelsey, of course. To now be on RU is the chocolate in this writer’s croissant. Ha. Your mouth will be watering for the rest of this post. Fantasy chocolate croissants. I’m mean like that.

So, let’s think about pastries, fantasy, and point of view in world building. You can do it. Writers push to the next sentence, the next page, to the end of the chapter—to get to a food break. Chocolate croissants are the best because they combine buttery goodness with chocolate. You need to write a whole chapter to earn one.

One of the things I most admire about romance writers is their skill at using point of view for world building. I recall being at a RWA workshop that demonstrated expert POV with a Nora Roberts excerpt. A woman, looking at a ruined garden, was imagining what it could transform into with her care. In a paragraph, I understood not just the setting, but the heroine’s tastes and aspirations. I wanted to write like that because the one thing that bothers me most about fantasy is the overuse of narrator world building, especially at the start of the novel.

Someone is going to give me grief for what I write next because there are probably great books that do start this way, but each time I open a fantasy that begins with the narrator first describing the woods and then zeroing in on the healer gathering herbs in her weathered basket, I throw up a little.

That ruins my longing to savor a croissant while I read.

Why didn’t the writer bother to put me in the healer’s head so I’d be with her stamping through the grass, swatting flies from her tattered frock, and grousing to herself that she’s pissed at having to gather liverwort for a prince she’d just as soon see die? Because that writer didn’t study romance craft. I’d get the same info—we’re in a pastoral world with non-traditional medicine—but I’d also know my healer isn’t necessarily a stereotypical good-hearted herbalist and some aspects of nature annoy the crud out of her.

Inspired by the romance craft, I open Solace Arisen, the third book of the Solace series, this way:

Pale light crept into the bottoms of the gathering room’s east windows and into Superior Madra Cassandra’s consciousness. It would be a fine day for travel. In a moment of amused reflection before calling the sisters sitting behind her from their meditation, she noted that the high windows were designed to let in light but not the distractions of the courtyard outside. They did little, however, to deter inward distractions. But today, perhaps, it was allowable to be distracted. Last night was Princess Lerouge’s Coming of Age Ceremony and today Musette and Arvana would be coming home. The duty with the relic was over. Hera Arvana’s letter, announcing she’d made Lerouge champion, had come two days ago. What a mercy that Hera Arvana had fulfilled the Founder’s duty within the time allotted and before the draeden made any show of force.

Madra Cassandra lifted the small bell that rested on the wide arm of the Prioress’s Seat, a heavy chair whose back was to the assembly so that she, as the other sisters, could face the Founder’s icon during meditation. She rang the bell once, and it chimed so pure and clear in the confines of the room’s stone walls. The sound would be lost in the wider world. So was the case with her soul. It had found within these walls its place to sound most pure and clear.

Hopefully, you see a bit of the room, understand that the scene is taking place inside a cloister not only by the words superior and sisters, but also by the inward word choice of the POV character. You know that she is devout and is eager for our heroine Arvana to return. There’s something about draeden. They don’t sound good. And it is fantasy because of the few odd terms thrown in.

Not bad. But, why stop there?

What is especially powerful about using POV for world building and character development is how you can exploit it for dramatic irony. The reader, coming off the previous book, knows that Arvana is returning, but everything is the opposite of what the superior is hoping and thinking. There is no champion. The heroine has broken her vows by falling in love. Her heart soul wouldn’t sound most pure and clear within the walls. Plus, she’s been sucked into Hell and will stay there if the hero doesn’t get her to the cloister in time for the superior to recall her soul. Dramatic irony takes reader engagement to a new level. The reader is the knower of secrets that burden the spirit.

I could have opened Solace Arisen with a description of ancient buildings and how the sound of the sisters chanting drifts from the windows into the fine morning sky. Heck, I did that in a draft.

But it wasn’t croissant worthy—certainly not chocolate croissant worthy.

Release Day — on Reddit

http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/2f6415/anna_steffl_author_of_epic_fantasy_with_romantic/

I’m Anna Steffl and I write fantasy. That is the* kind of thing* that should only be spoken in a group of peers who understand your problem. If you announce this* kind of thing* at say, a random non-cool party, there is a fair chance the person will look at you like you’re holding a steaming pile of dog doo and then announce that they mostly read Booker Prize novels. La-de-da. Well, I have an MA in English Literature with seminars in Jane Austen and Willa Cather studies. And I just found out from my distributor that Amazon picked up *Seeking Solace* to be featured in their science fiction and fantasy newsletter. So there.

This happened to me on Friday.

I’m glad to be here.

Today is the release of *Solace Arisen*, the third book of my Solace Trilogy. You can find it everywhere online and in BAM stores. I’m not going to give you the link for it because you have to start at the beginning with *Seeking Solace.* [Here is the Amazon link] (http://www.amazon.com/Seeking-Solace-Book-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00I7IVYE8/ref=sr_1_1/180-7757958-1547510?ie=UTF8&qid=1409577815&sr=8-1&keywords=seeking+solace) for it. Excuse me for showing the Zon extra love, but they’re asking to hold my hand.

The Solace Trilogy is low fantasy—anything not found usually in our real world is a cause for panic. When someone brings back the draeden, the creatures of the Reckoning, it is bad. But if you have blessed swords and a Blue Eye, maybe—just maybe—you can be a hero just for one day. Who is going to be the hero, though? That’s the question the books are about. What is heroism? Where does it come from? Is it in the body, soul, or wishful thinking?

I’d also say the other broad theme the book is about is, to quote Anaïs Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” All the characters are guilty of this. Perhaps guilty is the wrong word. It is downright near impossible to escape our point of view. It often takes a volcanic eruption to blow a different reality into our skulls.

Happy Labor Day and AMA except to teach you to play the accordion. Everyone wants to be Lawrence Welk good in five seconds and it ain’t happening.

New Pickles

pickles

In the first paragraph of Seeking Solace, Juvenot–a minion of the villain–is remembering the taste of new pickles. If you’ve never enjoyed a new pickle, I pity you. Go to any real delicatessen in NYC and you’ll have some with your pastrami. Ted’s Montana grill also serves them. They’re cucumbers that have been left to sour for only a short time and haven’t been heated. They are crunchy, fresh, sour and tangy. A villain isn’t a villain unless he appreciates some of the finer things in life.

Anna’s Blog with Suzanne Johnson about Dragons

Dragons and Characters’ Inner Conflicts with Anna Steffl and Giveaway!

Posted by Stephen Jones on June 17, 2014 in Blog, Featured

There Be Draeden

I’d wager a thousand gold crowns that dragons have lurked in the caves of the human imagination as long as humans have had imaginations. Every major culture brings them to life through every form of art. Chinese dragon dance, anyone? They are big creatures and embody big ideas like evil, power, control of the elements, and luck.

But I like my dragons in books because though they still are big idea beasts,solace photo no matter how detailed the writer’s description, they are still subject to my imagination. And any author with half a wit uses the dragon as symbolism of a hero’s interior conflict. In books, dragons are personal. They are the ones who most closely resemble the first imagined dragons, beings built inside a single mind to answer a soul’s question. Why do storms rage and flood my house? Why did a fire destroy my crops? Why is the emperor so much more powerful than I am? Why is my neighbor luckier than I am? Where do the ugly and frightful things come from? How do I explain the things beyond my control?

I write dragons, but call them draeden because that’s how the fantasy thing rolls. While developing the two dragons in my Solace trilogy, they seemed to spring out of nowhere, but now looking at how the novels works, at my characters’ (and my own) internal and external challenges, I can clearly see how these beasts came to be more than monsters to be slain. Continue reading

A Who’s Who of Solace

The People, Places and Things of Solace

Solacians

Superior Madra Cassandra—head of the Solacian order

Hera Arvana Nazar (Hera Solace)—tasked with finding a champion to wield the Blue Eye

Hera Musette—spiritual advisor to Lady Martise in Acadia

Heran Kieran—a Solacian brother

Sarapostans

Prince Gregory Fassal—heir of Sarapost

Captain Myronan Degarius—leader of the Frontiersmen who carries Assaea, a blessed sword

Sergeant Jamis Micah

Corporal Salim

Corporal Nat

Chancellor Degarius—Degarius’s father

Lina—Degarius’s deceased grandmother

Stellan—Degarius’s deceased grandfather

Acadians

King Dontyre Lerouge

Prince Chane Lerouge—by inheritance carries Artell, a blessed sword

Princess Jesquin Lerouge—Hera Arvana’s student

Lady Martise—widow of the king’s brother, hostess to Solacians in Acadia

Attaché Honor Keithan—assistant to the prince

Lord Sebastion—an impoverished nobleman

Miss Gallivere—a friend of the princess

Gherians

Sovereign Alenius

Breena—the sovereign’s beloved

General Sibelian Aleniusson—adopted son of the sovereign

Cleric Nils—the sovereign’s former advisor

Cleric Rorke—chief cleric of the Worship Hall

Captain Juvenot—keeper of Seraph

The asher—a newly made eunuch

Captain Berlsen—of the Fortress Guard

Creatures

The Scyon—a spirit recalled from Hell

Seraph—the poison draeden

Megreth—the fire draeden

Ancient Heroes

Lukis—ended Reckoning with the blessed sword Artell

Paulus—ended Reckoning with the Blue Eye and the sword Assaea

Mariel—founder of Solace

Relics

Assaea—a blessed sword thought lost

Artell—a blessed sword kept by the Acadians

The Beckoner—a device that resurrects dead spirits into a new body

The Blue Eye—a device that can kill by drawing souls into Hell