Blogs, Books, and Blithering

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images-2Spring is beginning to show its tender shoots, and walking with the canine triad is becoming more enjoyable, especially  with the impressive amount of ballet and aerobics. (you are missing quite a sight.)

I just got back from a walk and it made me think about springtime as a child. Where I grew up, there was a vacant lot between our house and our grandparents. We called it images“no mans land.” Closer to the street hung an incredibly long tire swing. Some local tree surgeons hung it on the high branch of an oak tree—at least 25 feet. You can imagine how far that tire would swing. It was strong enough that two of us could ride it. Many hours were spent out there playing, exploring, or making up games.

imgresBetween that and the garages at the back, lay a large wild flower bed. There were a couple of trees, a few bushes and scads of flowers. We had lily-of-the-valley, violets, and a trillium. We spent hours playing out there in the summer, and to this day I remember the smell the flowers. Dad got us an army surplus hammock with a tent cover. Perfect!

Life was so very different back then. It sometimes makes me nostalgic thinking about the simplicity and slower pace. We rode bikes everywhere and images-1had our own skate-keys. Alas, I have no moral to this trip down memory lane. Just remembering.

What I really wanted to write about was my fourth book in the Damaged series. It’s taken a few years for me to get Zeke and Anne through the trials of Scylla and Charybdis.

Throughout, it has been a challenge and a pleasure writing about two women I’ve grown very fond of. The road has been rocky for all of us. But the takeaway lessons have been worth it. I’ve both resisted and embraced the many facets of post dramatic stress disorder, but learned a great deal in the process.

From the very start, in an unpublished story, Zeke has been a very complex character. Anne was much more linear. Because of those differences, they adapted to problems in very unique ways, which added to the fabric of the story. It was a challenge for me to switch POV’s (point of view) during some of the challenges they faced. I needed to jump from Anne’s linear, emotion-laced logic to Zeke’s compartmentalized rigidity. So when I got to book 4, I was able to discover and reveal what Zeke was like before the trauma that started with the serial killings in Chicago.

I won’t give it away, but I’m very pleased by the direction these two women chose. I think you will be too. I know there are many readers reluctant to start a series until all the books are published. For those special people– you won’t have to wait long. The book is finished and in the hands of my beta readers. As soon as I finish their reviewing their notes, it will be off to the editor. In the meantime I do have a brand spanking new cover to reveal. Once again Ann McMan and Tree House Studio have put the icing on the cake.

deliverusfromevil_lg Many thanks to all of you who have followed the series providing me with inspiration and support.

The next project is forming out of the mist and I’ve begun the research.

Stay tuned and have a happy spring.

My sabbatical is over

Time to get back to business. I’ve been away researching, revising, and resting. Yes, sometimes I over do and need to pull back and recharge.

I just finished a guest blog for a friend who requested this topic, I decided to share it here. Since I am currently wrapping up the revisions on Book 4–“Deliver Us From Evil” (for release this summer) this is a good time to think about the Damaged Series. Next blog, I’ll provide an excerpt and the new cover!

For now…

V__5431Barrett’s Eye View of PTSD
“PTSD is a tawdry, insidious, undiscerning little bitch.

She doesn’t care who you are or how finely tuned your sense of logic or emotional balance is. It doesn’t matter to her if you’ve survived a war zone, walked away from a car crash, been physically or sexually assaulted, faced a devastating illness, said goodbye to a lover, friend, child, or parent, or even if you tried like hell to keep someone else’s business from going up in flames.

She’s a trickster for sure. She knows how to find your secret backdoor, piggybacks her way into your internal control room, then resets all your psychological, rational, and coping DIP switches until up is down, right is wrong, and haywire is your new steady state.

You can’t sleep, but you’re exhausted. You’re angry about things that have never bothered you before. Your heart races, your head throbs, your hands shake, and your left eye twitches wildly with any sudden noise. Parts of your body suddenly start hurting, and nothing makes them feel better. You isolate yourself from family and friends, and it takes all day to screw up the courage to dial a phone or write an email. Maybe even, you’re afraid to drive over a patched pothole on your street, or you order your groceries over the Internet because the dairy section is too much commitment for any given Sunday. Some days are definitely better than others. Then again, some days are worse, much worse.

Yeah, she’s a sadistic bitch – the stronger you are, the harder you fall. Just the way she likes it.”

— From the review by Salem West    –The Rainbow Reader. October 2011 


While it’s not exactly a ‘sexy’ topic, Samantha asked if I would discuss PTSD, since that was the running theme of my first series. (However, one of the unusual symptoms demonstrated was a hyper-sexuality used to compensate for the inability to express feelings. It also helped provide a connection and sense of being “present.”)

My intention was to tell a story about a damaged FBI agent visiting New Mexico for a little R & R. As often happens, my research took me much deeper, and the storyline began to mirror my character with increasingly frustrating symptoms. The horrific case she worked undercover in Chicago (involving serial murders with decapitated victims) primed her with the nightmares, headaches, and anxiety. A closed head injury compounded her symptoms and mandated some time off. The character moved to a strange city with no connections, and enough cognitive impairment to create more opportunity for accident and injuries. And the character suffered more head trauma.

 Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is brought on by witnessing a terrifying, usually life-threatening, event. Severe anxiety, flashbacks, uncontrollable thoughts, and nightmares are common symptoms of the illness. These symptoms can worsen and last for years, so it is best to seek treatment for PTSD as soon as possible.” –Elements Behavioral Health

The constellation of symptoms, which included: anxiety, sleeplessness, impaired cognition, flashbacks, poor appetite, headaches, and depression, was carefully concealed from friends and coworkers at a great cost. Each of her interpersonal relationships revealed only one facet of her true self. Because of her experience and skill, she never appeared impaired.

In the fourth book, Deliver Us From Evil, a panic attack sparks a confrontation, and the serene affect is blown. She elects treatment through an equine-based therapy program. The delay in finding help, however, threatens her job, her relationship, and her safety. Of course, it’s a romance, so we know eventually it will end with a “happily ever after.”

In the initial appearance of the protagonist, she appeared as a smart, capable woman working in a male-dominated profession during the mid 90s. She followed a strict, self-imposed set of standards. Not unlike military standards, which created a convenient comparison. However, the deeper I delved into the character and the subject, the more difficult it became. I began to feel as if I was the one impaired. Any scenes in which I featured other characters were much easier to write, especially the dialogue.

Throughout the process of writing these four books, I found this particular character difficult to write because of her compartmentalized personality.

After I rewrote the first two books (for a new publisher), I needed to take a break and write something different. I just couldn’t be in her head any more.

However, what I learned from writing about this difficult topic has helped me grow as a writer. The more completely I put myself into the shoes of my character, the more authentic my words will be. Seeing the world through the eyes of someone as damaged as my character was, at times, exhausting. I also gained tremendous empathy for her and the other characters that dealt with her.

The enlightenment was a gift, a tool to unlock the depth and breadth of fictional characters. Additionally, it’s provided me insight into the difficulties faced by many of our public servants including police, fire, rescue, medical, safety, military, and security personnel. Every day these individuals leave home not knowing whether they will return or be seriously injured. That alone can create symptoms of PTSD.

For jumping in the deep end with my character, I’ve been rewarded with wonderful notes and comments from readers, thanking me for discussing post-traumatic stress disorder. Its victims are often invisible, because they lack visual evidence of their trauma. The experience has encouraged me and obliged me to provide stories to readers with as much authenticity as possible, for enjoyment and for insight.

Many thanks for stopping by.

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Amanda Kyle Williams is in the House!


We have our winners! So, will Sheila Pearsons, Sandra DeHelen, and Beth (metalbeth) please PM me your selected format and where you want it sent. Thank you all for participating, and thank YOU, Amanda Kyle Williams!  



“An explosive read . . . Amanda Kyle Williams sets the classic private eye                   novel on fire.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child.

Photo credit Kaylynn Gilstrap Photography

Photo credit Kaylynn Gilstrap Photography

jpeg Last October I had to good fortune to meet Amanda in Palm Springs, and had the opportunity to spend some time talking with her. I knew she wrote thrillers, (her first “The Stranger You Seek”) but I was rather self-absorbed with my own writing and hadn’t read her work.


jpeg-1That all changed after spending some time getting to know more about her. I bought her second book (“A Stranger in the Room”) at the airport on the way home and found what I had been missing. It taught me some lessons, which I shared in a review A Cautionary Tale.



I happily looked forward to her third book in the Keye Street series,“Don’t Talk to Strangers” which, debuts–TODAY–July 1, 2014. [*you may win one of 3 free copies to this new release from names drawn randomly from commenters.]

Now, here’s why I’m blogging about this. Due to health concerns, Amanda was unable to attend the numerous promotional events throughout the country. So getting the word out about her book by personal appearances was curtailed.  I offered her a short interview as a way to reach a few more people. And she graciously accepted. If you knew Amanda, you’d know she’d do the same, should the need arise.

Without further ado, let’s chat with Amanda Kyle Williams: Gourmand, Creator of Savage serial killers, and Patron Saint of Animals.  

Your success is inspiring and well deserved. I have followed Patricia Cornwell for a long time and I’m happy to have another strong, unique female protagonist on the scene. -As a newbie writer, I am curious about process, craft, and balancing writing (the part we love) and the part where we have to market the books…

AKW: The promotion stuff can get in the way of writing when there’s a new release. It took me a little while to find the balance. Now I plan for it. I know it’s just part of getting a new book out there in a sea of other new books. You’re not finished when you type the end. I really enjoy the entire process now. I love the prerelease jitters, the early reviews from media and from reader’s sites like Goodreads and Library Thing. And once the book drops, being able to talk to readers is a blast, fan mail, social media, conferences, Skype and Google Hangouts, indie bookstore appearances, book clubs, media—it’s all a big rush, and the exact opposite of the writer’s real life, which is to sit alone in a room with a keyboard and maybe some animals.

When the first book in the series, The Stranger You Seek, launched to great reviews and landed on a couple of shortlists for literary awards, I was both ecstatic and utterly terrified. I was writing the 2nd book on a deadline. I was writing fulltime for the first time, and I didn’t have the discipline yet or the confidence. I was convinced the first book was some sort of fairy-dusted fluke. So, I had to force myself into my chair every day. But then, as always, when I spend enough time building the framework, however awkwardly at first, the ideas begin to pop. That’s when inspiration hits for me, a few hours into the excruciating process of hammering out a foundation word-by-word. Of course, the foundation is full of holes and my 1st drafts are flat out awful, but I’m a lot calmer now about the process. I build the shell, I go back, refine, expand on ideas, discard others, and then I start putting meat on those bones—details, a timeline that makes sense, adding tone, adding place and setting to the dialogue I’ve roughed out so my readers can see what my characters are seeing and feeling, what it looks like, smells like, feels like on their skin. This is where the magic happens for me and where I get the most enjoyment and satisfaction from writing—in the revision process.

-So, Book 3 in the Keye Street thriller series, “Don’t Talk to Strangers” will be released July 1st—Whoot! Are you excited? I know your readers are, and early reviews have been great.

AKW: Really exciting time for me. I love the fanfare around a release. I mean, come on, this is the payoff. The reviewers have been good to me this year. The librarians have been great. They embraced Keye from the beginning of the series. This time around the support has been amazing—buzz on social media and in ALA publications like Booklist, which starred the review of Don’t Talk To Strangers. I’m so grateful to them, to the book bloggers who have taken me under their wing, and to the readers that have been patiently waiting for the 3rd installment. Great reviews in major publications are huge. But there’s nothing like one reader, or one bookstore owner, or one librarian, recommending the book to someone.

-Would you describe the “birth” of a new story, or your process? i.e. Do outline extensively? Or Do you start by creating the mystery? Badguy? And just rough out the story?

AKW: I outline as much as I’m forced to outline. My contract requires me to submit an outline for approval. So I do that. It’s barebones. But I think my editor has come to trust that things will open up for me during the writing process. If I veer off too far from the original idea, I let her know, we brainstorm. And let me tell you something, there’s nothing like brainstorming with the great Kate Miciak. I dedicated the book to her. She’s brilliant. As for where I start, I get a working title first. The glimmer of an idea usually follows.  I rough out a first scene, then a final scene, because I need to decide early on where I want it to end in terms of tone even if I haven’t plotted it yet—where my character is emotionally at the end, and how I need to write that final scene so that readers feel what she feels when they close the book. And then, it’s about the 120 thousand words in between. Easy, right?

-I was intrigued by this quote:  “It takes time and work to find that unique voice as a writer, and for that voice to reach pitch.” Would you please say more about how you did this and what you mean by pitch?

AKW: By pitch I mean, you’ve found your voice as a writer. You’ve found a way to get something authentic and honest out of your neurotic, insecure, scrambled writer’s brain. I like to think of it as tuning a guitar. You’re finally in the right key, you know? Took me a long time to find my voice as a writer. Not that I feel my voice has reached its zenith. I just finally found the right slot and the right character to help me begin to develop my craft. And your question was how did I do that. I know that it was years before I could put a character on the page who’s struggling, questioning, wrestling down the little demons on her shoulder—selfishness, self-indulgence, jealousy, envy, self-pity, heartbreak, addiction, the petty and heroic deeds humans commit every day.  I think as new writers we tend to be self-conscious. We desperately want to be liked, to impress. It took me a minute, oh wait, it took twenty-five years, to get real, to be willing to strip a character down to their flesh and bones. And there’s still so much to learn. You never stop growing as a writer. You’re always a student.

-By now, you have some regular characters, a familiar locale, and a strong protagonist. Was book 3 any easier since you have developed the framework for the series?  

AKW: Well, I wanted to shake it up a little in this book and step away from the formula. I didn’t want to rely on that cast of characters I’ve developed for Keye to bounce off of. I didn’t want to depend on Atlanta, which is an important character in the series. I wanted to take my protagonist away from the city, her lover, her family and coworkers, all the characters we’ve gotten to know in books 1 and 2. I wanted to pull the safety net out from under us both. I wanted to see if Keye was strong enough to carry a private eye novel without the props I set up in the first two novels. And I wanted to surprise readers. The book was a confidence builder for me. I don’t mean a pound-on-my-chest, I’m-so-great kind of confidence. I mean confidence in the writing process. I know now that I can write the story, whatever it is, if I just sit down, get still, shut off the noise in my head and start, one word at a time.

-Have you started the next book and how is that going? 

AKW: Book 4 is currently under construction. Working title, A Complete Stranger. I’m excited about this one. It’s terribly creepy. And it’s going verrrry slowly. I’m a terribly slow writer, anyway. I haven’t delivered a book on time yet, though I try. I want to be considerate of my editor and publisher’s time. I’m just not one of those whistle-while-you-work people who spit out ten thousand words a day.

This year has been challenging for me, as you well know.  I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in March. I had surgery, and now I’m in follow-up treatment. On the bright side, I haven’t had drugs this good since I was 25. Downside-I can’t go on tour to promote Don’t Talk To Strangers because of immune system issues. My publicist and publisher have been fantastic. We’ve arranged some Skype events with libraries and living room book clubs. On July 8th I’ll be live steaming at 7PM ET on BookTalk Nation via Google Hangouts. We are finding ways, thanks to the Internet, to promote, and it’s a way for me to interact with readers, which I absolutely love doing.

Friends on social media sites have been helping to get the word out, too, sharing book links and book trailers and reviews. Cancer challenges you on so many levels—physically, emotionally, and financially—that it takes a lot of what I’d be pouring into my book right now. It doesn’t leave you much some days. But it does force you to find some interior calm. When you’re first diagnosed, it’s like stepping into a hurricane. Your life, your schedule, it’s not yours anymore. You’re just a passenger on this crazy, swirling ride. But eventually, you dig down deep and you take the wheel again, take control of your emotions and thoughts and life and healthcare, and decide this is temporary and you’re going to climb out of this hole. I can’t wait to be on the other side of this. And I want to thank everyone for the support.

-You have a huge social media presence, which I think has greatly added to your popularity. I’m envious! How hard is it to maintain that consistently and are you coached or monitored by your publisher? Do they help with your promotion?  

AKW: Random House marketing is the admin on my Facebook author page and they are a huge help with creating giveaways and posts that build excitement and attract attention when it’s time for a new release. On pub day, they’ve planned a great giveaway package of all three Keye Street books. They write the posts, install the buttons, pick the winner, and handle fulfillment. It’s fantastic. But that’s only around publication of a hardcover or paperback. I write 99% of the posts myself. I like interacting with readers and friends. And yes, I’m loosely monitored. Big Brother is watching on all my pages, my personal page included, but this is a good thing. I’ve had a couple of gentle notes in the last few years just reminding me to always put my best foot forward.

Sometimes I’ll share something before it’s approved—artwork, a book cover, a review before it’s released—and I have to pull it back. It’s good to have someone nudge you from time-to-time and reel you in. In terms of a presence, my numbers aren’t where I want them but engagement is huge. What I learned about social media early on is that you have to develop relationships. It can’t just be about promotion. You have to be sincere (not boring) and you have to put yourself out there (with your filters on), let people see your heart. That’s when people want to know you and your work, and they will forgive you for the occasional self-promotion. They will help you promote and support your career when they’re invested in you as a person. I try to make all my pages accessible, public, fun, funny, non-political, and I don’t talk about who I’m pissed at or who’s bickering or who said what. Never, ever hang your dirty laundry on Facebook or Twitter. You may not lose followers in numbers, but they’ll check out. You’ve lost their respect.

Biggest rule for a happy social media experience, don’t be a negative, gossipy jerk. People are attracted to positivity, to success, and to humor. I try to give my social media family a place to land that makes them happy.

-You’ve said that you’re happy with the Keye Street series; do you ever get uninvited ideas for something completely different? Would you consider writing something like comedy, historic, dystopian, or dinosaur porn?  

AKW: I don’t know a damn thing about dinosaurs, Jeanne. How about just porn porn? Seriously, Keye is the voice in my head right now. I’m sticking with her as long as the voice is still strong and fresh. Right now, with the third book about to drop and the fan base still building, it doesn’t feel like the time to make a change.

-What’s the best thing about reaching the level of “successful author”?  

AKW: Being able to be a full time writer and buy the groceries.  

-Thanks, AK Barrett's phone_20131011_01720131013104933   Thanks for joining us, and Please leave a comment for Amanda for a chance to be entered in the drawing.You may choose the format. We’ll pick 3 winners Friday afternoon!

Meet My Character Blog Tour starring Silke Dyson

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A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by the award-winning author, Jae, and invited to participate in a character blog tour. I was flattered and a little intrigued.

If you are not familiar with Jae’s (Amazon) incredible books: Backwards to Oregon, Second Nature,  Something in the Wine, Conflict of Interest, Next of Kin and Hidden Truths–you might check them out.

Jae is also a generous mentor and teacher.  She will be joining us soon at the 2014 GCLS

On with the questions….

What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

I just wrote a rather lengthy blog on the Damaged Series—Book 3 will be released in a couple of weeks)—I’d like to focus on one of the characters from my last novel, 19140588“Balefire.”

Silke Dyson is a fictional contemporary character from Wisconsin. Average height, strawberry blond hair, green eyes, and the body of a swimmer. Silke’s a free spirit with an eye for beauty.The other main character is Kirin Foster, a travel writer with a romantic heart.

When and where is the story set?

 The story starts out on a turbulent flight to Belize, where a significant part of the story is set up. They meet there and fall under it’s spell. As they navigate the initial awkwardness, they discover similar roots in Wisconsin.

 What should we know about him/her?

Silke is an artist/professor in an unhappy relationship with a charismatic narcissist.

 What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

 A bitter argument got physical resulting in Silke’s traumatic tunnel vision. She becomes dependent, distrustful, and trapped.

 What is the personal goal of the character?

 Silke wants to achieve enough independence to support herself and her career, without falling victim to outside forces.

 Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

 There were several working titles, but it was published seven months ago as “Balefire”  along with a follow-up novella, “Flights of Fancy.”

When can we expect the book to be published?

 When Jae, invited me to do this blog, I was going to talk about the enigmatic Zeke Cabot, star of my Damaged series, and her new release, “Dispatched with Cause,” but something made me choose Silke and that set me to wondering whether I was finished with that story. Who knows? There may be another story…

Meanwhile, I’ve passed the torch to two of my favorites: Critically acclaimed novelist, Ann McMan–Famous Author, mother of the Jericho series, Co-author of Lambda Finalist “Hoosier Daddy” with her dear wife Salem West, and the Neon Prairie Chicken, Sandra Moran. Her Edmund White Finalist, “Letter Never Sent”, “Nudge” and soon the fabled “Addendum.” Their answers will appear next Monday July 7th on their blogs.

Thanks for joining me, please check with Ann and Sandra next week.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

**But… that’s not all, because I’ve been a lazy blogger, I’m going to give you a super special treat–

TOMORROW! With great pleasure, I will present a personal interview with the remarkable Amanda Kyle Williams, critically acclaimed author of the Keye Street thrillers. Her third book “Don’t Talk to Strangers” will be released tomorrow! **

Don’t miss this one.