A new year. An opportunity to shift gears, to try something new, to create new stories, new characters, new conflicts. I’m considering adding more events to the calendar this year. It’s a matter of timing and geography to see if it all works. Meanwhile, there’s no stopping the news. Here’s my latest take on writing, my latest work in progress and an author interview to get things going. Let’s roll.
Authors will tell you that writing is a solitary effort, unless you’re collaborating on a project. One of the best moments for a writer is the when you get feedback from readers. Sometimes that comes in the form of a review. Others it can be face to face, or through a message or email. If you’re a member of a writing group, feedback can come after reading a segment of your work.
Many times I’ve been approached by people wanting feedback on their stories. I explain at the beginning that my thoughts and comments are strictly my own, and that I don’t know everything. I’m a proponent of constructive criticism. It’s not my role to slam someone or crush their hopes and dreams. If I can offer a suggestion, I’ll do so. Then it’s up to the writer to decide whether or not my thoughts are worth consideration.
Two examples come to mind. One was from a recent writer’s workshop that I facilitate. The participant read five pages of his sci-fi story. When he was done, I asked a few questions, related to what year the story was set. That led to a quick discussion with the others about things that may no longer exist fifty years from now, like business cards and smartphones. The writer was delighted with the reactions from everyone, jotted multiple notes and used this feedback to make improvements on his story.
The second one was from a stranger. This guy found me on social media and dropped the name of Donald Levin, a good friend who also writes mysteries. He wanted me to read his ‘thriller novel’ and give him some reactions. I offered to try it.
Sadly, I couldn’t get past twenty pages. The writing was dull, the characters did nothing to get me interested and there was no hook to pull me into the story. Here’s a line that I remember, only because it was terrible. ‘He looked at me like I was an idiot. “Are you an idiot?” he asked.’
I sent the story back, with a note that it wasn’t for me. I encouraged him to take some creative writing classes or find a local writer’s group. The response was a simple ‘okay’.
Afterwards I checked in with Don. He explained that out of the goodness of his heart (which proves he’s a much nicer guy than I am) Don read the entire book and sent the man pages of notes and suggestions. The guy’s response was ‘sorry you didn’t like my book.’
Feedback. It’s important.
What you do with it as a writer is just as important.
Work In Progress:
Work on my crime novel continues, with 14,000 words written in the first draft. Ideas for new scenes crop up and demand my attention. The cast of characters is growing. Another possible conflict is peeking around the corner of my imagination as well. One of the challenges is that the story is set in 1992, so that requires more research about what was going on in Detroit 30 years ago.
I’m working in a couple of flashbacks, which would occur in the mid to late 1970s. The idea is that these will help give more background on Leo and his relationships. All of this will help readers understand his motivations and actions in ’92.
I’m still waiting for the inspiration for a title to arrive, but that’s not unusual. More than half of “The Wayward Path” was written before I hit on the title. Two thirds of “Chasing Favors” the new Jamie Richmond novel, was written before that title came to me.
Virtual Book Festival:
My good friend Diana K. Plopa has arranged a fantastic event for February. This will be a month-long event, centered around “The Case of the Missing Manuscript”. Participants will have an opportunity to win prizes, while trying to follow the clues, interview the suspects and solve the crime. Along the way, you can hear excerpts from me and more than a dozen authors involved in the event. Click on the link to register and learn more about the ‘case’.
A couple of months ago I participated in an author event at a local independent bookstore. They wisely limited it to five authors in the shop, so we weren’t constantly bumping into each other. During the event, I met Cecilia Garcia. We talked for a bit about her series and I invited her to stop by for a visit.
Tell something about yourself and how you became an author.
My pen name is Cecilia A. Garcia. Cecilia was my confirmation name in high school, and I always thought it would be fun to be able to use it life. I have always been a writer, ever since I was young. But I didn’t take it seriously until a few years ago. While I was deployed to Iraq in 2004, the concept for the Always Forward series came to me. But it would take me close to 17 years before I would find the courage to begin writing the story. 2020 was the perfect time to get started. Since then, I have written and published three novellas in the series.
Do you ever imagine one of your novels being made into a movie or television series?
Yes! I have always envisioned the series being a series on Netflix or Hulu. The format of my chapters sets it up to be like episodes, where each chapter focuses on a different character. Many readers have also mentioned that they can see Always Forward as a show.
Any favorite actors you’d cast in the lead roles?
Josh Sanders- Sean Patrick Flannery
Emily Sanders- Elizabeth Moss
Rodriguez- Vincent Vargas
Rosita- Jenna Ortega
Tara Sanders- Saoirse Ronan (maybe)
What is your writing process? Do you do an outline first? Do you write the chapters in sequence?
I consider myself a little unconventional. I do start off with a rough outline, at least to keep me focused. But I let the characters lead me where they want the story to unfold. I may write a few chapters in sequence, but if another character is screaming at me, then I will write what they tell me to write. I then go back and reread everything, and focus on where the gaps are, and make the choppy parts flow better.
Tell us a little bit about the characters in your latest book.
Since my books are a series, the main characters do not change. Emily Sanders is a Sergeant in the US Army. She is deployed to Iraq in 2004. Her convoy is ambushed, and the Humvee she is in is hit by an IED and flips over. Emily and Grant, another soldier are knocked out, and ultimately, get left behind. When her unit goes back to retrieve any bodies, she and Grant are missing. For fifteen years, she is a prisoner of war. Meanwhile, her husband, MSG Josh Sanders, is forced to bury an empty casket when the remains of Grant are found and Emily is presumed dead. Josh goes on to raise their two daughters, Tara and Alicia. Tara, the oldest, never gives up hope that her mother is alive. She refuses to believe Emily is dead since there was no proof.
The series follows Emily, Josh, Tara, Alicia, and Roddie- Emily’s best friend, through the years after Emily goes missing. War impacts everyone, not just the soldier, and Always Forward highlights this in many facets.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I always knew Emily, Josh, and Tara. But the rest have come to me as I write. I try to incorporate people close to me in real life, either by using their names, or aspects of the characters. (I always get permission to use names.) For example, Rodriguez’s character is based off my husband. His first name in the book is Camillo, which is my husband’s first name.
What is your latest book about?
“Carry On” is book 3 in the series: Emily Sanders was a prisoner of war for over fifteen years. After her rescue, she has to recover from multiple surgeries. But the physical recovery is only part of the new battle she is facing. Sanders also must learn how to face her traumas and cope with not only those she has been through, but also with survivor's guilt. She was essentially brought back from the dead, yet two of her buddies are gone forever. Can she cope with this guilt? And will she be able to carry on?
Here's an excerpt from “Carry On”. Chapter Six- Rodriguez:
“Sanders, Sanders, do you copy Sanders?” Rodriguez wakes up to the radio going off, but how can that be? The earpiece was in Sanders’ ear. His head is pounding, and he feels pressure on his neck. He tries to open his eyes, but his eyelids are so heavy. He finally gets his eyes to open, but everything is a blur. Why the hell is everything upside down? Rodriguez thinks to himself. He licks his lips, but his mouth is parched.
Rodriguez slowly turns his head to the right when everything comes back to him. There was an IED attack, and their truck had flipped over. He looks all around him, and there is shit everywhere. He tries to scream out for Sanders but can’t get the words out. After a couple of tries, he finally gets a few words out. “Sanders! Grant! Simmons! What the fuck?”
He is having difficulty breathing, and it is clear that he needs to get himself out of the Humvee. No responses come from him calling the rest of the crew’s names. Rodriguez determines he has to get out of the vehicle. With all the pressure on his neck and shoulders, he somehow manages to unbuckle his seat belt. He works on finding the door handle, which proves to be more difficult than he anticipated. Being upside-down poses an extra level of complications to getting out. Suddenly, a burst of small arms fire begins to go off outside the Humvee, which gives him the last push he needs to find the handle and get out of the vehicle. The door opens, and Rodriguez falls out on the dirt road. “FUCK!” He yells as he lands on his left side. He lies there for a second, but the gunfire keeps him moving quickly. He rolls over onto his belly and begins to low crawl to the back of the flipped-over Humvee. He stays low to the ground, and as he approaches the back of the vehicle, he understands where the insurgents are shooting from behind a building. Simmons is sitting with his back to the Humvee, and the M-915 truck behind him is parked precariously close to their blown-up truck.
What’s the next project you’ll be working on?
I am currently working on Book 4- Left Behind. It will be released (tentatively) on 5/25/23. I will also be writing and publishing Book 5- Not My Mother’s Daughter later this year. Both books are part of the Always Forward series but focus more on the other characters and how Emily’s imprisonment impacted them.
You can learn more about Cecilia on the links below.
Gladys Knight’s music has entertained generations. Known as the ‘Empress of Soul’ the singer songwriter has been performing for more than sixty years. Gladys rocketed to fame as the lead of Gladys Knight and The Pips. Following a number of top hits and 3 Grammy awards, she launched a solo career that earned her 4 more Grammys. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
Rolling Stone Magazine named Gladys as one of the 100 greatest singers of all time. In 2022 Gladys was recognized at The Kennedy Center honors.
Here are my top five favorites.
Midnight Train to Georgia: https://youtu.be/HwbmufPphP0
Neither One of Us: https://youtu.be/uSw7vulUfME
You Are the Best Thing: https://youtu.be/8FT5QF4JZUA
Heard it Through the Grapevine: https://youtu.be/WWvwP72FuVg
End of the Road: https://youtu.be/th_Xndt96Hs