Choosing the Right Book Cover and Title


At a recent gathering, a woman I’d just met, joked – ‘I’m not decent enough to read A DECENT WOMAN.’ A couple of weeks later, another person said the same thing. While I understood they were joking, I started thinking about the importance of a great title and awesome book covers.

As a reader, I love asking authors how they came up with their titles and book covers. My recent experiences with the jokes prompted a conversation with my best friend who suggested I write a blog post about how I came up with the title of my historical novel, and why I selected an image of a bare-breasted black woman for the book cover. Thanks for the great suggestion, K!

During the writing and editing of a novel, a writer is very close to their story, so much so, they may forget readers are from every part of the world, speaking dozens of languages, and have entirely different life experiences to ours. Reader’s interpretation of book titles, book covers, and stories will be as varied as grains of sand on the ocean floor. Now, while an author can’t control how their title, book cover image, and their story are received and interpreted by a reader, she can write blog posts about how I came up with my title and book cover image!

The title, A DECENT WOMAN, and the image on my book cover are perfect for my historical novel.


I chose to use a portion of an image of the painting, Portrait d’une Negresse by Marie-Guillemine Benoist because I fell in love with the painting during one of my many visits to Paris. Years after I finished my manuscript, I discovered the symbolism this painting inspired when it was exhibited at the Salon in Paris in 1880 – the emancipation of women, the abolishment of slavery, and the rights of black people. I was thrilled. The protagonist of A DECENT WOMAN, freed slave, Ana Belén, is a single midwife living in 1900 Puerto Rico who fights society and male medical doctors as they enter the birthing room. Perfect.

I sent my ideas along with a copy of the vintage-inspired font to the cover designer I’m working on for this project, Greg Simanson, and he put together the awesome cover. I’m sure Greg will do as great a job on the back cover, as well. I leave that to the cover designer pros!


The original manuscript of A DECENT WOMAN was called, ‘The House on Luna Street’. My Puerto Rican grandparents lived on Luna Street in Ponce, Puerto Rico before they moved from the city center to the suburbs. I later discovered Rosario Ferré’s novel, ‘The House on the Lagoon’ and the novel, ‘House on Mango Street’ by Sandra Cisneros. Too close for my comfort. After much deliberation, I scrapped the title and filed the photograph I’d taken of an old front door painted light aqua with a half-moon cut out for a future book. Now, I’m very happy I didn’t use that title– it no longer fits the novel that evolved after rewrites and a bit more research.

Through my research of turn of the century Puerto Rico, I realized the themes of my story were decency and indecency, and the dark side of our personality that often comes out when we are abused, lost, desperate, struggling, and poor. I explored how easily good people can fall into indecent situations that lead them to the dark side. I continued exploring themes and the word ‘decent’ kept popping up, but I still couldn’t come up with a title.  Sometimes the simplest and amazing titles are the ones right under our noses!

The character of Ana Belén, a hard-working woman who struggles to lead a decent, honest life, is plagued by a crime she committed as a slave in Cuba. Her dark past must remain a secret if she is to continue working as a midwife in Puerto Rico. When a second crime is committed, this time on Ana’s behalf, the themes of light, forgiveness, and redemption enter the last half of the book.  You will have to read my book to see what, why, where and how Ana deals with all that!  The title fit and stuck.

A DECENT WOMAN is a story of betrayal and choices, sacrifice and love. The combustive backdrop of 1900 Puerto Rico after the United States invasion of the island offers a provocative look into the complex lives of women of that era.




Author Interview – Ally Bishop

ally bishop pic


I’m very pleased to have the multi-talented, Ally Bishop, with us today!

Ally is a freelance editor and writing coach, Podcast interviewer extraordinaire, writer, and an Editor at Booktrope.  I’ve enjoyed getting to know Ally and have already learned so much about good writing from her. I’m sure you will enjoy learning more about her in this interview!

Welcome, Ally!

What is your book’s genre/category?

So…I’m actually a freelance editor and writing coach for fiction and nonfiction writers. We eradicate writer’s block and create awesomeness for authors. 🙂 But I also have a novel dying to be written – several actually. And I have a mystery novel I’m currently working on called CHASING MERCY.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Eddie Keen is a washed up musician-turned-private investigator, on the brink of bankruptcy, when she takes on one last case. A local church is embarking on their own reality television show, based on the faith healings of their members, but one member is calling them on fraud. When Eddie digs deeper, she finds that fraud isn’t their biggest sin. As church members start dying, Eddie is drawn into a web of confusion and lies, loyalty and secrecy, and no one is quite what they seem. With fame on the chopping block and Eddie getting closer to the answers, her own death might be the only testimony she leaves behind.

How did you come up with the title?

Oh, grief – it was tough. I’ve never been good at titling my own work. The original title was Blood in Gilead, which was a twist on a hymn. But the story has morphed and changed, and now the focus is different than the vision that inspired that title. Chasing Mercy is a direct comment on Eddie’s personal development, as well as the tale itself.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I’ve been writing since I was 8. I’ve completed three books that will never see the light of day. This originally started as a project for my MA in creative writing, and it had a vampire and a felon in it. I really wanted to write a paranormal mystery, but my program had so many literary minds in it, I was embarrassed to say that I wanted to write anything in the fantasy realm.

So I figured mystery was safe and “normal.” Ah, foolish me… Nonetheless, I removed all fantasy elements, wrote a straight up mystery (think Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series), and thus, Eddie Keen and Chasing Mercy was born. It’s had probably 11 rewrites (at least), and three major face lifts. It was originally much more snarky, but also, much longer. But now it’s tighter and more focused on Eddie and the story.

What is your favorite part of writing?

My favorite part(s) of writing are the initial idea phase, where the excitement insists you get it down on paper. You write from muse and inspiration, and the words don’t stop. LOVE, love, love that time. My next favorite is when you are finished your first draft, and it’s time to dig into the rewrite process. I love to crunch words, move concepts, shape and polish the story so it sparkles. (My inner editor can’t wait to come out and play).

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Honestly, finding time to invest in it. We live in such a harried, distracting world. I’m a social media maven. I’m curious. I have adult ADHD. Sitting down and getting that focus can be tough. The only way I know how to combat it is to have scheduled time to write, that no one and nothing intrudes on. And right now, with a freelance business that is booming and some wonderful opportunities on the horizon, it is critical that I schedule that time and don’t budge from it!

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have favorite writers, and then I have favorite storytellers. When I read, it is in my nature to be critical – that is what makes me a good editor. So when I read for pleasure, I read storyteller’s works that are engaging and non-stop but at times, irritate my inner critic. But when I read for the purpose of improving my own abilities, I go to writers who I feel have a writing style that is top notch and something I aspire to.

My favorite writers are people like Ellen Miller (Like Being Killed), Gillian Flynn (Sharp Objects), and James Lee Burke (the Dave Robicheaux series). Amazing wordsmiths that can turn a phrase that will make your heart pound and your brain melt.

When it comes to storytellers, I adore Jim Butcher (the Harry Dresden series), Diana Gabaldon (the Outlander series), and classics like Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep). 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

My English Composition professor Nkanyisu Mpofu: he believed in me and my writing, and no one ever had before. He made me hungry to go after that approval. Since then, I’ve been wildly influenced by everything I read. Diana Gabaldon was the first book series that I read as an adult that made me realize the power of characters. Despite the fantasy elements of her series, the characters feel so real. It’s hard to believe they don’t really exist.

Jim Butcher taught me the importance of an evolving character. Harry goes so dark and almost evil at one point in the series – he’s barely recognizable as the wizard you fell in love with. But he’s on a journey in the books, and that makes you want to keep reading, keep finding out what his next step is going to be. It also ensures that you can’t guess what’s going to happen.

Every movie, every book, every magazine with short stories towards the back has taught me about what words can do and create in our imaginations. People often say, “But they’re just words.” I want to respond, “Yes, they are just words. And words are what define and unite us as humans!” They matter, and as writers, we know that.

Favorite place to write?

Coffee shops. Headphones, laptop with uber-long battery (thank you, Apple!), and some sort of hot beverage. When I can, I set myself up in NYC, in a different coffee shop each time, and I always do some of my best writing there.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I’ve worked in a large prison, I’ve been on a high-speed car chase, and when I’m not writing, I am gaming. I love Guild Wars 2.

 Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

I completed my internship for my MFA with a small press, and now I am an editor for Booktrope, in addition to my freelancing business. I think we’ve built a mystique around publishing that is simply not accurate. Publishing is a business. If you have a platform and people will buy your book, someone will publish it. But in so saying, you can also do it all yourself – many readers do not care whose stamp is inside the cover. So whether you self-publish or get picked up by the “big 5” publishers, if you have a good story, people will read it.

The really cool thing is that our new social-media-focused world allows for opportunities like Booktrope, where you can get your book published in a more traditional way (with no money out of pocket), have an amazing team of people supporting you (editors, book managers, cover designers, etc.), and not have the headache of self-publishing. Booktrope has such a forward-thinking model for authors, and I daresay, this is only the beginning. In five to ten years, I think we are going to see more unique approaches to publishing that will ensure writers get their stories into readers’ hands.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

I wrote through the awful. Awful writing, awful inspiration, awful plot line. I had never written a mystery before, so understanding how it flows was difficult for me. I kept trying to write to the formula (all genres have formulas, and mysteries have a very set-in-stone formula), rather than trust the process. Once I started to trust the process, the formula just showed up, rather than me trying to force it.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Write. I know, I know, it seems obvious. But often, we get hung up on the frustrations of publishing, and we forget to keep writing.

Find a good support system. Chances are, it may not be the people that you love. So find people that love writing. They may be on Facebook, Twitter, through, or even your neighbor! Check in with a group at your library or local bookshop. You need somewhere to go and connect with people who get it.

And create your platform now. Get a free blog. Open a Twitter account. Get social media savvy. Gone are the days where we can put our heads down and leave it up to the publishers to advertise for us. And I know some complain about it, but really, you’ve never had more control over your creative identity than you do, right now. You get to choose how big it is, how slick it is, how serious it is. Some people embrace that. If you are someone who wants to but isn’t sure how…contact me!


Where can we find your book?

It’s up on Wattpad ( J

What’s next for you?

Currently, I’m working on some amazing projects that will be published late summer/early fall, and I’m finishing up my final draft of CHASING MERCY. Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@upgradestory) to hear the latest!

Thanks for a great interview, Ally! Good luck with everything!



Images. Always, images.

Growing up, I dreamed of being an archaeologist and a painter. I couldn’t imagine doing any else in life and when I failed Earth Science with the dour widow, Mrs. Papandreou, in seventh grade, I was crushed. She burst my bubble of traveling to archaeological digs in exotic locales, and discovering buried treasures and lost civilizations. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why learning about dirt and soil was important. Nevertheless, she failed me and called me ‘insolent’ when I complained about my failing grade. I lived in Athens, Greece with my family in the seventh, eighth and ninth grade, so my love and passion for ancient history, the classic myths, and the Aegean were fueled and well-fed despite the failing grade.

In high school, I discovered fashion design and spent hours drawing fashion models in beautiful clothing. I soon tired of that as I hated sewing and Home Economics, and went on to drawing faces which led to painting portraits. In college, I studied business and hated every minute. You just can’t put a round peg into a square hole, but my father insisted I learn about business so I could get a job out of college. I still painted during that time of my life, but the pieces ended up in a box I kept under the bed in my dorm room. I created drawings for friend’s poetry and ‘book cover’s which fed me artistically, but…it wasn’t enough.

As a mother of young children, I remember looking forward to our summer and winter vacations. We lived in Belgium where we’d remain for thirteen years, so exotic travel was again a part of my life. My kids drew, painted, we visited European museums, art galleries, and had wonderful adventures with boxes, sheets and kitchen chairs at home. We made up stories and I helped my kids put together their beautiful little books. My children, who were talented artists as children, are amazing writers. They are the first readers of my writing today.

It was during their high school days that I began to think about an art career.After a few painting workshops, I was encouraged to exhibit my work and from there, I went from one exhibit to another, garnering awards as I went. I was one of the happiest people on the planet because I was doing what I loved and was passionate about. Then, I discovered Julia Cameron’s seminal book, The Artist’s Way.

I’d kept a little diary as a young girl and another in high school, but I became a journaling devotee after reading ‘The Artist’s Way’ and ‘Vein of Gold’. Every morning, I wrote three pages long-hand, and discovered writing. Julia either put the kabosh on my art career or jump started my writing career! I’m not sure what happened, but I began to look at my paintings with different eyes. The pieces didn’t feel or look finished to me. I didn’t understand it. They weren’t ‘saying’ all I wanted to express and had inside of me.

The images of the paintings of cedar and cypress trees are three of seven pieces from a series I did for a show in Brussels, Belgium. I was obsessed with these trees. I couldn’t wait to begin painting. My talented artist/writer friend, Sandy, was renting an old barn for the fall and winter months and asked me to join her. We froze in that cold barn, and I finished the series, but again, they didn’t feel finished. Sandy suggested I write thoughts on each piece in pencil with my left hand (I’m right-handed). Brilliant! They finally ‘spoke’ to me.  If you look closely, you might be able to make out the disjointed writing on the three pieces.

This series was the crossroad for me and the birth of my writing career. Our brains are amazing. My life has taken a zigzag route, up and down, and sometimes I’ve lost the plot for a brief period of time, but when I look back with CREATIVE eyes…I was absolutely led to writing books.

I still draw and paint a bit on the weekends, but not much. For now, I’m happy to paint the walls of my old house, the old cafe chairs in the patio, and doodle in my journal. I’ve found words have replaced my paint brush and I’m happy. As the fall launch date of my historical novel, A Decent Woman, approaches, I find myself a bit nostalgic for the days when I was an artist, a life I know well. Maybe I needed self-soothing in anticipation of launching my debut book which is a real unknown.

Yesterday, I shared images of my paintings on my Facebook author page. Family, friends and new friends left wonderful comments for me. One of my favorite authors and an amazing writing teacher, Jack Remick, wrote, “the painter in you will insist on writing scenes–verbal into visual. Images.”

Wow, it made perfect sense to me. He added a quote:

” L‘oeuvre existe dans ses images.”— Diderot. The work exists in its images. Thank you, Jack. So true, so true.

cedar and cypress series 005 cedar and cypress series 001 cedar and cypress series 003

The Indomitable Miss Jeannie ‘Smith’

When we speed through our days, small gifts of heart-warming moments and meaningful life experiences can easily slip through our fingers. I was blessed with such a moment at my neighborhood Staples store this week. The Universe conspired with the Heavens the day I met the indomitable, eighty-plus year old, Miss Jeannie. I’m very glad I had nowhere to rush to that day.

I was waiting at the counter for my printing order when an elderly black woman approached. I was immediately drawn to her. She wore a short-sleeved floral blouse with a safety pin attached to one button, and a plaid skirt that hugged her calves. I noticed another safety pin holding her skirt together at the waist.

The young man helping me waved at her and asked if she had a little time to wait as he was working on my order. She smiled warmly and said, “I have all the time in the world,” to which he replied, “You’re the best, Miss Jeannie! Be with you just as soon as I can.”

“I come in here once a week,” she told me. I loved her warm energy. She told me she speaks at her church about health and wellness. I was impressed. I introduced myself and thanked the diminutive Miss Jeannie for her patience, adding I didn’t think it would take much longer for my order.

“No problem, honey,” she said with a beautiful smile. She inched over and placed a well-worn 8×12 collage on the counter. “I only need one enlarged copy and don’t mind waiting. What else do I have to do today? Nothing on my agenda!”

What a doll, I thought. She smoothed back her short gray hair with an elegant hand and asked my opinion about removing a specific photo she’d taped to the collage. I said the poster looked great and congratulated her on her artistic eye which made her giggle. Then, her dark eyes twinkled as if in anticipation of a big secret. “Watcha waitin’ on?”

“Oh! I’m waiting for a poster of my book cover, 500 postcards, and 500 business cards to hand out at a book festival I’m participating in on Saturday. I want to be prepared, Miss Jeannie!” She agreed and I immediately felt bad about having such a large order ahead of her.  I told the young man to wait on Miss Jeannie and I’d return before the store’s closing time to pick up my stuff. I surely didn’t want her leave on my account.

She held up her hand. “No, I will wait my turn. Tell me what your book.”

Now, I’ve written dozens of query letters regarding my book and I’ve blogged about my book for years. Do you, dear reader, think I could give this kind lady a brief synopsis about my book? Negative. Nothing and everything came to mind! In my urge to include everything, I came up with nothing. Why was I so nervous? So, I read her the short synopsis of my historical novel, A Decent Woman, as it was printed on the sample postcard:

‘At the turn of the century, male-dominated Puerto Rico was a chaotic, uncertain, and hard place for a woman to survive; especially one with a secretive past, which if discovered, threatens her future. With twenty years of slavery behind her, Afro-Cuban Ana Belén, is a midwife who reverently fuses Catholicism with her vivid ancestral Yoruba traditions. Ana forms an unlikely friendship with a Puerto Rican socialite that sustains them through years of parallel tragedies and the betrayals of men who want to rule them.

Spell-binding and insightful, A Decent Woman is a story of fate, choices, sacrifice and love. The combustive backdrop of 1900 Puerto Rico after the United States invasion of the island offers a provocative look into the complex lives of women of that era.’

“May I see the postcard?” I handed it to her. As she read, I wondered if she was surprised or confused by something I’d said. I didn’t know why I felt a bit anxious, but I did.

“You wrote this book?” I nodded. “Well, now.  A black heroine.” I nodded and she looked up at me with curious eyes. “Why did you write this story?” Despite her gentle and kind tone of voice, my throat seemed to close a bit.

“Well, I was born in Puerto Rico and the character of the midwife Ana was based on my Puerto Rican grandmother’s midwife who delivered my mother and her siblings.” I then showed her the image of the book cover from my cell phone. It all seemed to come together for her. Well, that Miss Jeannie lowered her reading glasses, looked at me intently and said, “Young lady, I’m going to buy this book of yours and can’t wait to tell the church ladies about it!” The church ladies! Oh, oh. My story has crime, punishment, love, sex, murder, abuse…

I moved in closer and said in a low voice, “Now Miss Jeannie, this book is kinda raw. It’s not a love story, okay?”

“Yes, I already gathered that,” she said, holding up the postcard, laughing. We shared a good laugh and I greatly relieved she might not hand the postcard back to me before leaving the store.

“The lives of  women in 1900 Puerto Rico were difficult and challenging, and the lives of Afro-Caribbean women were nearly impossible. Sometimes they got caught up in less than desirable situations because of what life threw at them.”

Miss Jeannie was thoughtful and then nodded. “Oh, I understand that. My girl, you were chosen to write this story and you tell the TRUTH, you hear?”

“I’ve told the truth, Miss Jeannie,” I answered with tears forming in the corners of my eyes. Why was I so emotional? “I’ve done a lot of research and spoken to many women with good memories, but it’s also a work of fiction.”

“I get it. You are giving a voice to the women who didn’t have a voice back then.” I agreed with her. I answered her questions about slavery in the West Indies and about African influences in Puerto Rican language, food, music and culture. Miss Jeannie seemed pleased with what she heard and then, we spoke about Puerto Rico which had been on her bucket list for years. “I’ll never get there, you know. I don’t have a passport anymore, so I’ll read your book and feel like I’ve just taken a trip to the islands!” Well, I wanted to adopt Miss Jeannie right then and there.

Through our conversation, I learned she’d worked as a nurse at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC for  over twenty-five years. We discovered we’re both ex-pats in our adopted state of West Virginia. She has three children, nine grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. She beamed as she gave me the names and ages of every single one.  Miss Jeannie is sharp as a tack and a pure joy to know.

Minutes later, the young man handed me a box containing my postcards and business cards, and the poster of my book cover. I paid, thanked him for his super work, and hugged Miss Jeannie. I offered her twenty postcards to give out to her church ladies! She asked me to autograph a postcard for her which made me smile. When I turned to leave, I heard her say, “You know, I’ve changed my mind about enlarging this poster. I’ll see you next week, young man.”

Driving home, I smiled at how nervous I’d been giving her the synopsis, of receiving her feedback, and possibly of an early negative review from her! I think she enjoyed our conversation as much as I did. I will never forget Miss Jeannie. When my book comes out in the fall, I will return to Staples with an autographed copy of A Decent Woman for her as I didn’t think to ask for her contact information before I left. I hope I see her again.

Miss Jeannie was on my mind today and I wanted to share this story with you before the weekend gets away from me. Let’s remember to take the time to sit and visit with our elderly relatives, friends and neighbors. They have much to teach us. This kind lady tested me as a writer, a Latina, and as a woman. Thanks to her and the great experience I had at the Berkeley Springs WV Book Festival, I now have the short synopsis of my book memorized!

Thanks, Miss Jeannie! God bless you. XO







The Most Well-traveled Manuscript in the World

footsteps in sand pr


I doubt many 300-page novel manuscripts have physically traveled as far as the original manuscript of my historical novel, A Decent Woman. See if you agree with me.

I began writing A Decent Woman in the Belgian town of Wezembeek-Oppem, a suburb of Brussels, where I lived with my husband and our young children. I traveled with my bound manuscript on several family vacations to Spain, Italy, Greece, and a ski trip to France. In our 13th year of living in that great Belgian house, I finished the manuscript and found myself separated from my husband.

The manuscript was boxed up en route the tiny Provençal village of Uchaux in the south of France, where I lived in the house that was meant to be our dream retirement home. Retiring in France wasn’t in the cards at that time. I was heartbroken to close the doors of our house and say goodbye to my French friends.

So, the manuscript was again boxed up to travel with my belongings across the Atlantic Ocean to Syracuse, New York. I’d accepted a job as a pilgrimage coordinator for pilgrims looking to visit and volunteer at the Sanctuary of Lourdes in France where I’d volunteered for ten years. As a pilgrimage leader, I traveled from New York to France four times, always with my manuscript in my carry-on. Despite loving the job and the great perks of traveling to France, the harsh, long winters in New York forced me to move south after eight months. I also missed my children who were in colleges in Washington, DC, and Virginia. I’d never been separated from them.

From Syracuse, I moved to Frederick, Maryland where I worked at a residential treatment center for kids and went back to school. My kids were still in college and after I graduated, I felt the need to move closer to the DC area where long-time friends lived. I would miss the children I worked with at the center who still hold a special place in my heart, but I had to go.

I moved to a two-bedroom condo in Alexandria, Virginia where my parents had retired in the ’80s and where I’d been a college student and a single woman. When my divorce came through, I was once again, a single woman in the DC area. I took a year off to clear my head and finally took  A Decent Woman out of the box. I enjoyed the DC area and being close to old and new friends, but my heart wasn’t at peace in a huge city with so much traffic, noise, and air pollution. I couldn’t focus in that environment and felt out of place. I longed for solitude, nature and a big change.

The following year, I moved myself and my boxed manuscript down the road to Falls Church, VA where I lived in a large townhouse and worked as a Spanish language Family Support Worker. The urge to write full time plagued me every day. I just had to finish my novel but was exhausted at the end of the day after driving to my client’s homes every single day for two years. I’d come home and try to write, but I didn’t have the emotional and physical stamina for it. I was able to do a large portion of my research, however, which served me well. Nothing we experience is a mistake.

A week after my 50th birthday, I decided to change my life completely. That personal milestone propelled me to fulfill my dream of living a creative life.  I found a house for sale in Berkeley County, West Virginia, only an hour and a half from my children who now lived and worked in Northern Virginia. I packed up my manuscript along with cassette tapes with many hours of interviews, loose pages of historical research, and a stack of non-fiction books I devoured for the novel and I moved West.

A lot of sacrifices were made, lots of lessons learned, and in this Federal-style, 107-year old house, I finished my novel.

I am now a full-time writer and I love it. This morning, I gazed at the four manuscript versions sitting on my dining room floor.  I am amazed at the hundreds, probably thousands of hours I’ve spent sitting at my laptop, sometimes from sunup to sundown. Definitely a labor of love. I can honestly say I’ve never tired of reading A Decent Woman and my characters are more dear to my heart than when I started.

I then walked up the attic steps and retrieved the box that holds my original manuscript. I was quite nostalgic when I opened the box. That manuscript takes me back to a very happy and difficult chapter of my life. I read the first few chapters and smiled as you would smile at a child during an important event in their lives. I’ve done everything necessary to prepare my historical novel for the world. It’s time. I am excited for the book launch of A Decent Woman in Fall 2014. I’m ready to share my book with the world.

My WIP, historical fiction, Finding Gracia, is well on its way and I am certain the book will be published during my time in this old house. I hope to see my second novel published in 2015. The sequel of A Decent Woman, Mistress of Coffee, will also be written and published while I continue to live in West Virginia, hopefully in 2016.

Although I doubt West Virginia is my forever home, for the moment…I’m not moving! My dream of returning to live and write in the South of France isn’t far from my mind, however. That is still my #1 dream.


Interview with Ina Zajac, author of Please, Pretty Lights

Please, Pretty Lights



It is my pleasure to welcome Ina Zajac, author of Gritty Contemporary Fiction, Please, Pretty Lights.

Several of Ina’s childhood math teachers had something in common. They all seemed to think she should be a writer. She followed their advice, but didn’t initially consider fiction writing. Instead, Ina earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in psychology from Western Washington University. Later she earned a master’s degree in mass communication from Arizona State University.

Ina’s first gig out of college was as a newspaper reporter. She has a broad range of communications experience including media relations, event promotion, and crisis communications. A few years ago, she decided to pursue fiction writing full time.

Welcome, Ina!

What is your book’s genre/category?

Literary Fiction/Gritty Contemporary Fiction

Please describe what the story/book is about.

It’s September when good girl Via Sorenson stumbles into a Seattle strip club, drunk and alone on her twenty-first birthday. Matt and Nick—best friends, band mates, and bouncers—do their best to shield her from their sadistic cocaine-trafficking boss, Carlos. They don’t realize her daddy issues come with a forty-million-dollar trust fund and a legacy she would do anything to escape.

She is actually Violetta Rabbotino, who had been all over the news ten years earlier when her father, an acclaimed abstract artist, came home in a rage, murdered her mother, then turned the gun on himself. Young Violetta was spared, hidden behind the family Christmas tree, veiled by the mysticism of its pretty lights whose unadulterated love captivated and calmed her.

Now, desperate to shed her role as orphaned victim, Via stage dives into a one-hundred-day adventure with Matt and Nick, the bassist and drummer of popular nineties cover band Obliviot. The rock-and-roll lifestyle is the perfect distraction—until she is rattled by true love. As Christmas looms closer, her notorious past becomes undeniable. How will she ever untangle herself from her twisted string of pretty lights?

How did you come up with the title?

The main character Via says, “please, pretty lights” in the opening scene. For her, the pretty lights are charged with emotional and spiritual symbolism. Nick and Matt are musicians who perform on stage under their own kind of pretty lights. Nick gets off on the limelight, but Matt would rather hang back in the shadows.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

I have been a writer for many years. I started out as a newspaper reporter and then transitioned into public relations. I have always wanted to write a novel, but the timing never seemed right. Then a few years ago, I started obsessing about a character (Via). I would daydream about her. It may sound crazy, but it’s true. At the time I wasn’t working full time, and so I turned my attention toward fiction writing. It has been the most emotionally rewarding work of my life.

What is your favorite part of writing?

There are days when I’ll wake up, get a cup of coffee and sit down to write. I’ll start typing away, and all of a sudden I will look up and four or so hours have gone by. I describe it as “when time turns itself inside out” because that’s what it feels like. I’ll look down to find a cold cup of coffee. I’ll have written several thousand words. Of course, these words aren’t necessarily perfectly strung together. Tweaking and re-tweaking is a must. Still, it’s a rush.

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

There are other times when I get outside of my head by stressing or doubting the process. That doesn’t feel good. Too much attention to social media can mess with my mind. Reading “You Must Do these 10 things Right Now” blogs, for example. Also, the revision process can be grueling. It’s work. It’s rewarding, uplifting even, but it is still work.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I have so many. First, I want to say that I respect all writers. All musicians. All artists. It doesn’t matter whether I personally connect with their work or not. Being a creator can be emotionally, spiritually, financially and physically taxing. It can be a lonely business. It can be scary putting your heart into something not knowing what the world will think about it. Vulnerability can be terrifying. Sometimes I think we forget that.

Growing up I read everyone from Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume to C.S. Lewis and Frank Herbert. I admire the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. I’ve read Anna Karenina a dozen times.

Since signing with Booktrope in January, I started reading more and more Booktrope authors. Wow, so many super talented writers. Some favorites include: Mary Rowen, Ruth Mancini, Arleen Williams and Tiffany Ems Pitts.

I recently read Marni Mann’s “Pulled Beneath” and just loved it. Mann’s vibe is dark and sultry, yet understated. I often talk about my love of “quirk and contrast” and her work offers both. As a reader, I connect with emotionally damaged characters. I want a hero who is more than a little messed up. I need the villain to have some soft spots.

Tess Thompson an exceptional storyteller. I get lost in her prose and forget myself. Last week I finished “Bill Purgatory: I Am the Devil Bird” by Jesse James Freeman. I had heard it was awesome. My expectations were high and it still wowed. It is wildly creative and clever. I haven’t read Jennifer Hotes yet, but she’s next on my list. Shari Ryan, Allie Burke and Eleanor Parker, as well. 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

I’d love to mention my late grandmother, Louise Daney Roberts. The woman radiated pure love, so much so that I still feel it today though she’s been gone almost 20 years. I was so lucky to have had her in my life. I have based a character (Grandma Daney) on her. My grandmother was – and still is — such a part of me that I couldn’t help but include her in the book.

Favorite place to write?

I work from home and have dedicated office space, but like to mix it up. Sometimes I’ll sit at the dining room table or on the couch. When the weather is decent, I’ll write from the deck. I also like to write at my neighborhood bookstore, Third Place Books.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I would write whether anyone paid me to or not. While I would love praise and piles of money, writing is ultimately something I do for myself. I love it that much. Also, I often read my work aloud so I can listen for cadence. My dog Leland comes over and flops down next to me and listens. Maybe he’s just worried about me. I talk to my dog way too much.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

I used to be a people pleaser. This is something I have dealt with my whole life. Be nice. Be a good girl. Make sure everyone around you is comfortable. It’s actually a theme I explore in Please, Pretty Lights. This past year I have become better at making myself happy first. Last year I sent an early out to seven beta readers. Two loved, four really liked. One did not. Initially, I was heartbroken. While I did consider her opinions, I didn’t change my story for her. I realized I could not keep all seven beta readers happy, so I revised as best I could. I stood my ground because it felt right at the time. Looking back, I’m so happy I did.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

I turned off my phone, got off Facebook, and wrote my story. Of course, it wasn’t that simplistic, but I made writing a priority. Social media can kill precious writing time. For me, posting and tweeting and liking are pointless pursuits unless I’m doing the real work of writing.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

Don’t spend too much time getting advice from people who aren’t you. What works for one writer may not work for another. Learn to trust your instincts. It’s so easy to get caught up in what trends are sweeping the industry. Write what you want. What do you think about when you’re zoning out in traffic or standing in line at the grocery store? Write about that. Then revise and write some more. Make it the best it can possibly be. Take a break from it and read some books on craft. Attend a writing conference or a seminar. Connect with other writers. Read people who you think are better than you are. Pick and choose the techniques that speak to you. Then get back to your book and make it even better. Repeat this process several times. Then send it out and let the chips fall where they may.


Where can we find your book?

I know you can bookshelf it now on Goodreads. It will be released mid July on amazon, b&, nook, hobo and carried in indie bookstores.

What’s next for you?

I have a few writing conferences this summer that I am super excited about: The Chuckanut Writers Conference in Bellingham, Wash June 27-29th, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference July 17-20h.

The Please, Pretty Lights launch party is at 7 p.m. Aug. 27th at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Wash. We’ll have food, live music and door prizes. It will be a good time. I am extremely fortunate to have a fabulous editorial team and an ultra supportive group of friends and family. I’m looking forward to thanking them all properly.

I am now working on the sequel to Please, Pretty Lights to be released by Booktrope in 2015.

Follow me on twitter @InaZajac

Thanks, Ina! I enjoyed your interview, thanks for the mention, and best of luck with Please, Pretty Lights!


Interview with Mary Rowen, Author of Leaving the Beach



Today, I am very pleased to host Mary Rowen, author of women’s fiction, Leaving the Beach. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Mary since I joined Booktrope, and admire her continued support and encouragement of other authors and writers. She is an awesome woman.

Mary Rowen is a Boston area mom with a wonderful family that allows her time to write stories. Rock music has always been a driving force in her life, and she was a functioning bulimic for over fifteen years. Therefore, although Leaving the Beach is pure fiction, it also draws on some personal experience. Mary hopes it might encourage some people with eating disorders to seek help.

Welcome Mary!

What is your book’s genre/category?

It’s women’s fiction.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Leaving the Beach is a story about a lonely bulimic woman named Erin Reardon who truly believes she’s fated to become the soul mate of a rock icon. At first, she thinks she’s destined to be with Jim Morrison, then David Bowie, then Bruce Springsteen, then Elvis Costello, and she goes to great lengths to get close to them. But when she actually meets a grunge star named Lenny Weir, things really get interesting.

How did you come up with the title?

Leaving the Beach was originally called Grunge. And I really liked that, not only because the story dealt with grunge music, but because Erin’s life is, well, grungy. Dark, muddled, uncertain, all that. But my publisher, Booktrope, was wise enough to realize that many people would think a book called Grunge would be set in Seattle. Whereas, Leaving the Beach is set in the Boston area. It took me a while to change gears mentally, but I now think Leaving the Beach is a better title. The main character lives in a Massachusetts beach town (Winthrop) and the beach plays a significant—but ever-changing—role in the story.

What is the reason you wrote this book?

Well, since I was bulimic for about 15 years, I wanted to write a story with a bulimic main character.

The music part’s a little more interesting. First of all, I should note that I’m a huge Nirvana fan. So two weeks after Kurt Cobain’s suicide, I was at a party, and around midnight, I turned on the TV, because Saturday Night Live was repeating one of the episodes on which Nirvana had performed. But when I sat down on the couch to watch, a nice guy I’d met earlier in the evening came and sat with me, because he also loved Nirvana. So we watched together, and it was just heartbreaking. Kurt looked so alive, and I found myself wondering if there was any possibility that he might still be on this earth. Like, maybe he’d faked his death or something. The guy I was sitting with talked with me a bit about that possibility, and convinced me that there was little hope of that. But I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind, and began trying to incorporate a rock star who fakes his death into the bulimia story in my head.

There’s a happy ending too, because I married the guy a few years later. And although the story went through about a hundred incarnations, it’s now Leaving the Beach.

What is your favorite part of writing?

Losing myself in it. It’s not always easy to do, with all the daily distractions, but when I can totally tune out and spend a few hours just writing, it feels so great. 

What is the most challenging aspect of writing?

Life! I’m a mom of two teens, a wife, and full-time house manager. So I do all the cleaning, cooking and animal care, which involves a LOT of dog walking. I’m also in charge of medical appointments, teacher interactions, kid transportation, and pretty much everything else that goes with that territory. So when things get rough in any area, writing takes a back seat or gets tossed up on the roof!

Who are some of your favorite authors?

My very favorite is John Irving, because I love the way he spins a story. But there are so many others. Zadie Smith is brilliant, as is Ann Patchett, Annie Lamott, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, and Tina Fey. And of course, the phenomenal Maya Angelou. 

What authors or person(s) have influenced you?

Hmm. Well, all of the authors I mentioned above, but also my family and friends. My father was a wonderful storyteller. And I seriously doubt that I’d be writing anything now if it weren’t for a college English professor who encouraged me to write creatively. Her name is Jane Lunin Perel, she’s a poet, and I need to send her a copy of Leaving the Beach immediately and let her know about the impact she had on my life. I did write her an email a number of years ago, but have good reason to believe she never received it. So I’m going to try again. 

Favorite place to write?

In my living room, with my dog and cats, when it’s quiet.

Any surprises or learning experiences with the publishing process?

Like so many writers, I tried querying agents and going to conferences for a while. And when that didn’t work out, I self-published a book. Which was fun and very rewarding, but I wanted to get the word out to more people that the book was available. So when I met my agent—April Eberhardt—at a publishing conference and she offered to submit my book to Booktrope, I said, “OK.” At that point, I’d never heard of Booktrope, but I’m so happy with them. They’re a wonderful little publisher.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you with this book?

Writing it, taking a break, rewriting, taking a break, having trusted friends and family read it, listening to their advice, going to workshops, rewriting, taking a break, rewriting. Oh and then rewriting again.

Any advice for writers looking to get published?

See my answer above. Never turn a first draft into anyone. Writing is like wine—it needs to age and it takes a lot of work.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I was extremely shy as a kid. Extremely.


Where can we find your book?

Everywhere books are sold. Here’s the link for Amazon

What’s next for you?

My first novel (the one I self published) is being republished by Booktrope. That one’s called Living by Ear, but it’s really different than Leaving the Beach. (Despite the fact that the titles sound similar!) And I’m working on a third book, which I hope to publish in 2015.

Thanks for a wonderful interview, Mary! Good luck with both your books!