Indie Spotlight Picture Book Writer MJ Belko – I Don’t Read Mysteries

Today’s indie author is MJ Belko. In her article she discusses the irony of not being a mystery reader and yet having written a mystery picture book for kids. Take it away, MJ.

I Don’t Read Mysteries

I don’t read mysteries.  I know, a pox upon me.  I don’t mind watching them, but I never felt compelled to read one.  I’m more of a nonfiction reader.  As a writer, picture books are my wheelhouse.  So, how did I end up writing Winthrop Risk, Detective—The Mystery of the Missing Hamster, an early reader with a nine-year-old detective who sounds like he just stepped out of a Raymond Chandler novel?

I certainly don’t have any disdain for the mystery genre.  I’m a rabid fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as a modern version of Sherlock Holmes.  I loved Derek Jacobi as Cadfael on PBS.  But write one?  Not on your life.  Plot twists and red herrings just aren’t my thing.

Picture books have always been my first love and I’ve written several, though I haven’t found a publisher for them.  I can only say that I stumbled upon my little detective.  He emerged out of an unfocused daydream, his character fully formed in my mind.

Winthrop Risk is a boy of about nine.  He’s smaller than his classmates and is considered by them to be something of a dork and an oddity.  Winthrop, however, has no doubts as to his skills.  He’s a first-rate gumshoe, and he knows it.  The school bully has it in for him and could easily beat the snot out of him, but Winthrop never runs from him.  He stands his ground.  Without fuss.  Without yelling.  Without threatening to tell the teacher.  Winthrop isn’t a boy on a journey of self-discovery (*gag*)—he knows damn well who he is.  I like that about him.

My inspiration came from a Steve Martin movie from years ago, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s brilliant.  Steve Martin plays a hard-boiled detective in the Philip Marlowe mold.  The movie was filmed in black and white, with scenes from old detective films spliced in to create a story.  It’s all there—the wisecracking detective, the beautiful dame, and the usual suspects; but I still didn’t have the framework for writing a mystery.

I began to watch more mysteries on TV.  I gorged on episodes of Murder, She Wrote and some of the more current “cozy” mysteries.  There’s a definite pattern to these stories.  An ordinary citizen, usually female, has a fascination with mysteries and routinely finds herself knee deep in corpses.  Because Winthrop was to be the hard-boiled detective type, I picked up a couple of Raymond Chandler novels and dove in.  Chandler had a fascinating way with the English language.  Before I had the plot fully worked out, I had a great deal of Winthrop’s witty repertoire written.  I formed the story around that.  The thing I found to be most interesting about the TV mystery shows and books is that the mystery itself is never really that baffling.  In fact, I’ve played games of Clue that were tougher to solve.  So what’s the selling point?  It’s the main character and the backdrop of the story.  The sleuth in these stories is always a keen observer, usually with no police training or experience.  In fact, of the mystery shows I’ve watched, the main characters include a Crusader-era friar, a baker, a librarian, a writer, a general contractor, a bookstore owner, and an antiques dealer.  Somehow, they end up stumbling over dead bodies at every turn.  The backdrop is usually some cozy little town straight off a postcard.

Naturally, I had to tone down the plot for my young audience, so there will be no dead bodies in the Winthrop Risk series.  Winthrop’s first adventure has him trying to find out what happened to the class pet, a hamster.  He’s hired by a classmate out of sheer desperation.  Over the four chapters of the book, Winthrop proves himself to be more than capable of solving the mystery, earning the grudging respect of his peers.  He’s funny, smart, confident, and has a definite way with words.  I think Philip Marlowe would like him.

With a bit of research and observation, I think I accomplished what I set out to do.  I have an interesting and relatable main character with witty dialogue, a missing pet, a class bully, and a “like” interest (that’s as heated as it gets for a nine-year-old).   The trick with the sequel is to let the characters grow just a little bit, without outgrowing the elementary school backdrop.  The sequel will involve slightly more risky circumstances—a gang of thieves stealing from Winthrop’s school.  We’ll learn more about Winthrop’s home life and why he never talks about his dad.  We’ll learn about the school ghost and what’s really going on at the local railroad yard.

Writing Winthrop Risk was a huge step outside of my comfort zone, but I love how it turned out.  Don’t be afraid to take some risks of your own with your writing.  That path you’ve wandered down a few times could lead to something terrific.

Write on.

MJ Belko (O’Leary) was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1963 to an Irish family of cops, firemen, and the occasional priest. She is a US Army veteran of the Cold War era and spent about seven years as a lieutenant on her city’s Community Emergency Response Team. After working for an arson investigator, a private investigator, homeschooling two sons, and spending years as a medical transcriptionist editing medical reports, she finally decided to pursue her dream of being a writer. She released her first children’s book, “Winthrop Risk, Detective”, on Amazon in 2016. MJ currently resides in Michigan with her husband of more than 30 years.

If you’d like to learn more about MJ, you can visit her website.

Indie Spotlight – Christian & YA Author Patricia Bell – How bullying led me to become a writer

Today, we welcome Christian and YA author Patricia Bell who discusses her experiences with bullying and how it led her to become a writer and advocate for young people.

And the gods of coincidence have shined down on us today because “From House to Home,” the first book in the Karina Journey series, is FREE on Kindle from August 14th – August 18th. Update: this is a more direct link to the free Kindle version.

For fifteen-year-old Karina Murberry, Life is about to change. When her drug dealing mother lands in jail, she finds herself sleeping on a park bench. What’s a girl to do? Just as she’s resolved herself to the idea of entering a group home full of bully’s and cockroaches, her principal discovers a mysterious emergency contact in her file.

 

How being bullied led me to become a writer

Growing up, I was not the prettiest or the most popular. As a matter of fact, I didn’t fit well into any group. I wasn’t athletic or particularly smart. I wasn’t a stoner or a nerd. I was mostly out of place. I had very little self-esteem and was picked on, sometimes relentlessly. It took a long time, to realize that I was loved by at least someone. God the creator. If only someone had been there to encourage me as a child.

It’s funny, really, now that I think about it. The way other children can get under your skin, and make you feel worthless. If the same thing were happening now, I’d probably let it roll off my back or at least pretend it did, and then go home and cry where no one can see.

But as a child, and being the youngest of seven, I was an emotional basket case. Kids would call me names and I’d cry. They would befriend me only to treat me badly. And somehow, I never learned. Then of course I would go home, and my brothers and sisters would pick on me some more. “Stop being a baby.” They’d tell me.  It was always the same thing. My mother would say. “Don’t you cry. That’s what they want.”  I’m sure that was true, but when you wear your heart on your sleeve, crying isn’t an option, it’s a heartfelt reaction. It cannot be shut off like a leaky faucet.

I think if just once, I’d have been given a hug instead of a lecture, I may have grown up with more confidence in myself and my abilities.

At the age of seventeen, I wanted to be a writer. I would write stories and poetry. I was artistic and loved all kinds of creativity. After entering a poetry contest and being told that I would never be a good writer because my poetry rhymed, I put the pen away and didn’t pick it up again until I was in my thirties.

To those who feel less than adequate, or did so as a child and still suffer with it as I sometimes do, I want to be a help. To be an encourager. A lover. And I want to show the love of God, in everything I do.

As a Christian author, and one who has a heart for children and teens who struggle, I wrote the Karina’s Journey stories to engage the hearts of those who are either teenagers who are going through a similar situation, adults who are as passionate about saving our youth as I am, and those who just want a nice, feel good story.

The Karina’s Journey series  is about a teenage girl who struggles with her identity. Like many teenagers, she wants to know who she is. But unlike the average teenager, Karina’s entire life is made up from lies. Throughout her journey, she finds love and friendships in the most unlikely places.

Patricia Bell is an Arizonian, who has traveled much of the world. Growing up a military brat and joining the Navy herself, at the age of eighteen, has allowed her to see many places and experience the world. She’s also served on Mission trips to Uganda, Africa, which has greatly changed her perspective on life and living.

She has since settled down and now writes YA and Mystery Novels. She is an Avid reader of Christian fiction of any kind, and sometimes dabbles into the unknown world of Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and John Grisham.

She’s married to the love of her life and has three children who are now grown and facing the world on their own. Years of raising her teenagers has given her plenty of experience in the YA realm. As a matter of fact, if you read her stories, you may glimpse some of their characteristics within.

INDIE SPOTLIGHT – YA AUTHOR MELODY DELGADO: PERSEVERANCE PAYS OFF

Today we welcome Melody Delgado, an accomplished YA author whose new book, Royally Entitled (link below), has just come out and looks like great summer read. Melody discusses the value of persistence and perseverance in your writing/publishing goals. Take it away, Melody.

Many writers grow up wanting to be authors. While being an author wasn’t something I first considered, I did want to be work the arts. And I did just that. I was a vocalist for many years as well as a music educator and loved being able to work in a creative field.

In order to stay certified as a music teacher, I had to continue taking college level courses. After enrolling and sitting through music courses on topics I already knew backwards and forwards because I was teaching them, it became clear I needed to take courses that would be of interest. Courses where I could actually learn new information. I enrolled in a writing course, wrote a short story, had it published in a magazine and I was hooked on writing ever since.

As most writers know, however, writing a short story and writing a book are two entirely different animals. While several of my other stories were published in anthologies or magazines and I was also lucky enough have two picture books published, again, writing and publishing a longer work is a different kind of battle. Not necessarily harder, but different.

It took me years to write my first novel. It’s a humorous novel for young readers called OOPS-A-DAISY and it is coming to print, audio and digital platforms on September 5th. (I actually got interested in children’s stories while reading with my own children.) Even though OOPS-A-DAISY is only about 40,000 words or 160 pages long, it still was a bear to write because of having to  make sure my writing would still be readable by children in third or fourth grade.

Once my middle-grade novel was completed, I set out to write a novel for teens. I’d always been interested in European history and loved medieval stories featuring knights and princes. Since I didn’t want to be bound by actual historical events I created my own country, the nation of Brevalia. My protagonist had to be someone many people could relate to, so I made her a farmer’s daughter. That’s how ROYALLY ENTITLED came to be. It was released in May of this year and is available on all digital platforms.

What does all of this have to do with perseverance? Well, I started writing novels when my daughter was a toddler. She is now in college. I didn’t land my agent until 2016 and did not sign a contract for a novel until 2017. By the end of this year, I will not only have released two novels, but will be working on sequels of each novel, because my agent got me a contract for a three-book series for both The Brides of Brevalia, with ROYALLY ENTITLED as book one, and The De La Cruz diaries, with OOPS-A-DAISY as book one. Sounds like a lot, and it is. (Especially typing wise!) But none of this would have happened if I’d given up or allowed myself to become discouraged.

Many of us, writers and readers alike, will go through tough times or have to travel on long journeys in order to reach our goals. But if we give up, we won’t get to see where the journey may take us. Both of my main characters had to deal with adversity. Both Anika Pembrie, only 17, and Daisy De La Cruz, only 12, had to become fighters in order to beat the odds and strive for their goals. I won’t ruin the stories by telling you if they reached them or not. But I will tell you that both of them persevered and gave it their best shot. And in the end, that’s all that any of us can do.

Melody Delgado has been a published writer since 2000.  Her short stories have appeared in national magazines such as AIM (America’s Intercultural Magazine), VISTA, and CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE LATINO SOUL.

 She has published two picture books. TEN ROARING DINOSAURS was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and DO YOU KNOW HOW I GOT MY NAME? was recently published by Little Debbie/McKee Foods.

Her inspirational, historical romance for women and teens, ROYALLY ENTITLED, was released digitally by Clean Reads in May, 2017. It is the first in a three-book series called The Brides of Brevalia. A humorous children’s novel, OOPS-A-DAISY, is coming to print on September 5th of this year and is also the first in a children’s series, The De La Cruz Diaries. It will also be published by Clean Reads.

 

Review: Be the Gateway by Dan Blank

This book changed me

When I first heard about Be the Gateway I was immediately interested. I have always believed that promoting your books or artistic work should be more organic than I had seen others doing. And many of the ‘best practices’ in book promotion turned me off. It seemed too cold and distant to me. And counter intuitive to what we’re all trying to do, which is share our art with the world.

And yet this book is so hard to describe. It’s part philosophy, part advice, part brain-stormer. The basic concept is that when you make connections with individuals, one on one, and one by one (rather than some nebulous generality known as audience) that you will bring people through the gateway of your artistic work. And that generosity, empathy, and real connections trump all.

Frankly, I agree.

Dan has many steps that he suggests you take in achieving this and frankly there were times in reading them, I was completely overwhelmed just wondering how I would do these things. But I kept reading feeling that if I got one or two things that I could do to get my work into the hands of those it was meant for, that it would be worth it.  I’m glad I did.

Something wonderfully strange happened as I kept reading the book. New opportunities just magically appeared. New peers, colleagues, friendships – so many things. Very subtle in some ways and very big in others. It was almost like magic. Then it dawned on me that those opportunities were actually always there – but until I read Dan’s book I didn’t see them. And I realized that I had slowly shifted my view from what it was before to Dan’s gateway view, without even realizing it.

I honestly don’t know if I could possibly do everything that he suggests in the book but I do know that I understand more about myself, my artistic work, and those I want to share it with so much more than I did before the book.

I know there are bagillions of books telling us the best way to promote (and I think I’ve read about a million of them) our work – but I think you would be changed in a good way if you read this book. I highly recommend it, if only to find a deeper connection with yourself and your work.

Annie

 

 

What I’m Reading This Weekend

So, I’m reading this book by Dan Blank called “Be the Gateway.” Sounds a little scifi/fantasy, right? Actually it’s about reaching out to real readers and sharing your work. I don’t really want to say marketing because that word has such a stigma attached to it.

I have to say it is not the usual stuff you see on this topic. It’s pretty unique. And a helluva lot of work from the looks of it. I think I’m up for the challenge though.

I never thought that gaming rankings, offering endless freebies or other standard tricks of the trade were the way to go. I don’t really want to trick readers. I just want to give them a story that will do something for them, right?

Anyway – do check it out. Be The Gateway is available on Amazon in print and Kindle.

Have a great holiday and don’t eat too many hotdogs, those things will kill you.  😉

Annie