Interview with authors Mark Todd & Kym O’Connell Todd

Todds - Copy

I am so excited to have these two authors, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, as my guests today. They are both really great people and our conversations are always interesting, to say the least. Although I’ve never met Kym in person, Mark was my professor and mentor, and later my co-worker at Western State Colorado University. They also were a part of one of my 2018 “Ask the Authors” blog series and will be featured authors in the anthology of the same name, which is taken from that series and is planned for release in 2020.

You’ve heard of those couples who have been married so long and know each other so well that they can finish each other’s sentences? Well, these two really do that, both in speech and in writing, and they have co-authored several books together. We’re going to talk today about their nonfiction collaboration, Wild West Ghosts, which documents their paranormal research, (which was of course, carried out as a team). Let’s welcome them now and see what they have to share with us today.


Kaye: You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. What are some of the major differences that you see between the two types of writing?

Kym-n-Mark: We both began as journalists, so we cut our eyeteeth writing nonfiction. Lots and lots of straight news stories.

Kym: For years my job as a newspaper features editor gave me plenty of practice at bringing out the lives of interviewees to readers by applying creative writing techniques such as scene dramatization, dialogue, setting, and “character” description.

Mark: This may sound flippant, but my favorite description of the difference is this: nonfiction is writing that pretends it’s true while fiction is writing that pretends it isn’t! Okay, that even sounds flippant to me. But I think there’s a kernel of truth in there.


smallghostsKaye: In Wild West Ghosts, although the material is nonfiction, describing ghost hunts that you have been on, the historical characters which inhabited the locations in the past were very real and they had lives. How did you help those characters come to life for your readers?

Kym-n-Mark: We did a lot of research for each hotel and often found first-hand historical accounts either by the people we wrote about or about those folks by others from the time. During and after our paranormal investigations, we tried to be mindful the entitles we seemed to contact were once real people and respectful when we told the stories they had to share – or at least our encounters with them.


Kaye: What is the most unusual ghost hunt you’ve ever been on? Why?

Kym-n-Mark: We’d have to say the Norwood Hotel really stands out for all the things that happened. A cup flew off a table in front of us, we encountered a cold spot, and multiple pieces of equipment reported the same readings. In one room, there seemed to be a pathetic presence who identified herself as “Leah” who asked us to help her, and when we reviewed out digital recorder later asked us to remember her. In another room at the hotel, all our equipment red-lined and then shut down at the same time. We decided it was time to go.


Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?

Kym-n-Mark: Ha! As journalists we learned to write to deadline, so any time is good. But we also pick whatever time we’re both free to write together.


Kaye: You’ve been a college professor and Kym is a graphic designer, in addition to being authors. If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

Kym-n-Mark: Probably what we’re doing right now. We write because we enjoy it. Besides, we’ve turned a number of hobbies into businesses through the years, and it somehow kills the joy. We’d never want that to happen to our writing if that’s all we had to do.


Kaye: What is the biggest challenge when writing with a co-author?

Kym-n-Mark: For us it’s never been a challenge. But we’ve talked to other authors who found it hard. Most use “over the transom” writing, where each writes drafts and passes it to the other  to revise back and forth. But all a matter of compatibility – in writing style, in work ethic, and in commitment.

Kym: Writing style and values are important. If either one of us had large egos, we’d either stop writing together or else we’d be divorced.

Mark: Yes, dear.


Kaye: What is the best part of writing with a co-author?

Kym-n-Mark: We’re sure there are others out there who do it like we do, but we can’t name anyone.

Kym: I start a sentence…

Mark: …and I finish it.

Kym: Or vice versa. Then before we finish a session, we reread and rewrite until –

Mark: — until we can’t tell who wrote what.

Kym: You’d think were married or something. Oh wait, we are!


Kaye: What is your favorite channel for book promotion?

Kym-n-Mark: That’s a toughie. We’ve tried most of them, and we ended up taking the sage advice to focus on just a handful that seemed to fit us best. Like you, Kaye, we like blogging, and have had a fair amount of success with that channel when cross-promoting with FB and Twitter.


Kaye: What’s the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?

Mark: I’ve always liked Natalie Goldberg’s advice from her book, “Writing Down the Bones: “Always give yourself permission to fail.”

Kym: I’ve always liked this: “Just start writing. If you don’t like it, that’s what the delete button is for.”


Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Kym: Don’t quit your day job. Until you make it, the electricity still needs to be paid.

Mark: I agree. I usually takes time to break in to publishing. Don’t put the pressure on yourself or your family. You’ll either find yourself blocked or you’ll crank out something that’s a waste of your time and your readers.


Kaye: Are there more books in the future for Mark and Kym Todd? What are you currently working on?

Mark: We’ve both really gotten into genealogy – we even have a blog dedicated to the more interesting skeletons we’ve each discovered in our closets. I’ve also always wanted to finish a memoir  (one of those drafts-in-a drawer kinds of thing) about growing up in in a family mortuary business. A comedy, of course.

Kym: Our last book about ghosts happened because we were celebrating with our publisher the publication of our the third book in the Silverville trilogy. I never drink but had two Cape Cods that night. When our publisher asked us what was next, I blurted out a book about haunted hotels. Two days later, he called us and said he’d publish the ghost book. Maybe we’ll plan the next one when I get drunk again.


I want to thank Kym & Mark for joining us here and sharing today. As always when talking with them, the conversation was unique and entertaining, as well as being informative. I, for one, can’t wait to learn what that next book will be about, so I think Mark should take Kym out more often. You can learn more about Mark & Kym and their books on Mark’s Amazon Author page or on his Goodreads author page. To learn more about their paranormal investigations, visit their blog, Write in the Thick of Things.


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“Missing: Murder Suspected”: True Crime Stories Brought to Life

Missing. Murder Suspected

Missing: Murder Suspected is a true crime trilogy written by Austin Stone, compiled and edited by his son, Edmund J.A. Stone after his father’s death. In his investigative style of writing, similar to that of Truman Capote, Austin Stone has managed to bring the characters of each story to life in the reader’s mind in grisly detail.

A chicken farmer who buries a love struck woman beneath one of his chicken coops. A surgeon prone to fits of rage kills his wife and nanny, dismembering their bodies and concocting elaborate stories to account for their absence from his home. A firefighter kills his abusive wife in the heat of a moment, disposing of her body in a shroud of burlap sacks. These are murders which took place in the early 1900’s, and Stone offers a glimpse into the lives and motivations of the people involved through his telling.

If you like cold case type of stories, you will find these stories intriguing. There was too much telling and not enough showing for my own tastes, but giving the journalistic style, I don’t see how this could have been avoided. I give Missing: Murder Suspected three quills.

Three Quills

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Missing-Murder-Suspected-Austin-Stone-ebook/dp/B075H2F1XM/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=Missing%3A+Murder+Suspected&qid=1578591806&sr=8-2 


Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.

 


Delving Into Creative Nonfiction in January

Creative nonfiction

Nonfiction is the stuff texts books are made of, the straight-out boring stuff that puts you to sleep, right? Not necessarily. Texts books don’t have to be boring. Nonfiction that is written creatively can capture the reader’s interest or immerse them into true life stories. From memoir, to self-help and how-to books, and yes, even text books can be highly entertaining.

True life circumstances and facts determine the story in nonfiction, yet nonfiction authors are faced with the same challenges as fiction authors to bring the characters and setting to life in the readers mind, or portray the information they wish to relate in a manner which readers can relate to. Both fiction and nonfiction authors strive to grab readers attention, now, in this digital age more so than ever before. But there are differences, as well.

To start off 2020, we’re going to delve into creative nonfiction in January. We have a pretty good sampling on the different forms that creative nonfiction might take. My author guest on “Chatting with the Pros” is bestselling author and memoirist, Diana Raab, who believes in the healing powers of writing. I will also be interviewing an author team, Mark Todd and Kym O’Connell Todd, who wrote Wild West Ghosts, one of the most informative and entertaining how-to books I’ve read. I will also be reviewing a true crime book, Missing: Murder Suspected, by Austin Stone, edited by his son Ed after his father’s passing, and a book on writing, On Being a Dictator, by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin Shoemaker. I do hope you will join us and help get Writing to be Read off to a good start for the year ahead.


For additional samplings of creative nonfiction see the following interviews and reviews:

Chatting with the Pros: Interview with Nonfiction Author Mark Shaw

Interview with author Mark Shaw

Interview with author B.Lynn Goodwin

Review: How I Sold 80,000 Books: Book Marketing for Authors by Alinka Rowkowski

Interview with multi-genre author Brenda Mohammed

Interview with nature author Susan J. Tweit

Review: How to Become a Published Author, by Mark Shaw

Review: The Well-Fed Writer, by Peter Bowerman

Review: Stress: How Stress Affects Your Life and How to Manage It, by Dr. Christine Rose

Review: Hack Your Reader’s Brain, by Jeff Gerke

Review: Horror 101: The Way Forward (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Review: Hollywood Game Plan, by Caro;e Kirschner

Review: Simplified Writing 101, by Erin Brown Conroy

Review: The Road Has Eyes, by Art Rosch

Review: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, by Mark Shaw

Review: Denial of Justice, by Mark Shaw

Review: Courage in the Face of Evil, by Mark Shaw

Review: Letters of May, edited by Julie Alcin


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A Farewell Tribute to Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture

Last week, we lost a dear friend of mine and a member of the Writing to be Read author family, Tom Johnson. Tom was a multi-genre writer for most of his life, mostly pulp fiction in the traditions of the classics, but in recent years, he dedicated himself to children’s fiction, with the intentions of creating stories for today’s children which reflect old fashioned values and morals in the traditions of the stories his mother read to him as a child. Tom took part in Round 2 of my “Ask the Authors” blog series, (which will become a published book by WordCrafter Press soon), and I interviewed Tom about his children’s stories back in 2018. He had some great things to say about writing for children that may be relevant here, since the Writing to be Read theme for November is young adult and children’s fiction. With that in mind, I’m reprinting that interview in part here, (you can read the full interview here), as we remember our friend and fellow author. Tom may be gone, but his wisdom lives on. This is what writing for children meant to him.


Kaye: Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.

Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.

Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?

Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.

Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?

Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.

Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?

Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.

Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?

Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.

Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.

Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”

Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?

Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.

Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?

Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.


The stories that we hear and read in childhood often stick with us into our later years. Even though Tom wrote other fiction through the years, as he grew older, it was the stories that his mother read to him as a child that inspired him. That’s what writing children’s fiction is all about.

Tom Johnson Books

Tom’s other works included pulp, crime and science fiction stories right up there with the best, and many may be familiar with his promotions for them on Facebook. His covers seem to reach out and grab your attention.  He published over eighty books during the span of his career. In that previous interview, Tom claimed that Alien Skies was born from his most unusual inspiration and the Guns of the Black Ghost was written as a homage to Walter Gibson’s The Shadow radio drama. You can read my review of Pangaea: Eden’s Planet here.

Tom Johnson and wife Ginger

Writing was a big part of Tom’s life. It was important to him. But, Tom was more than just a talented and dedicated writer. He was also a loved life partner to his lovely wife Ginger. She was supportive of his writing, and I believe she edited some, or perhaps all of his work. With Ginger at his side, Tom lived a life doing what he loved – bringing his characters to life.

Tom, farewell. You will live on through the plethora of books and stories you’ve left us with, but you will still be greatly missed.


Are you a Tom Johnson fan? If so, feel free to leave a few words in the comments telling us what Tom meant to you, or share a memory, or just tell me which of his books is your favorite.  Thank you all for joining me in saying good-bye.

 


“Hack Your Reader’s Brain”: Using the science of brain chemistry to create bestsellers

Hack Your Reader's Brain

We’ve all seen the eBooks and courses out there that claim they can show you how to make your book a best seller. Many of them aren’t about writing at all, but rather about playing tricks with Amazon algorithms, padding the front and back mater of your book with promotional materials. Hack Your Reader’s Brain, by Jeff Gerke takes a different approach to making your book a bestseller. Gerke suggest that you write a good story that people will actually want to read, rather than relying on gimmicks to propel your book into a brief moment at the top.

Now, I can hear you saying, “Ugh! Not another grammar tutorial.” And you’re right. Books on proper grammar can put you to sleep before you know it. They are not exactly engaging reading. But, Gerke says that grammar isn’t what’s important. Poorly written books become bestsellers all the time. He asks how many Amazon reviews list good or bad grammatical practices as the reason for their rating. All I could think was that while many of my own book reviews may be based on the quality of the craftsmanship, most reviews that I’ve read are not. They are based on how the book made the reader ‘feel’, and how engaged they were with the story.

Hack Your Reader’s Brain shows you how to craft your story so that it delivers what your readers want – to be swept away into the world of your story and the lives of your characters temporarily. This is the one thing all readers want, whether because of a desire to escape our own world or one to seek entertainment, we all want to be engaged by the story. It’s why we picked up a book in the first place.

Jeff Gerke provides quality writing advice on crafting a novel with the potential to be a bestseller, and he does it in a laid back manner that feels authentic, putting you at ease and makes you want to listen. I give Hack Your Reader’s Brain five quills.

five-quills3

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Author Update: The Making of a Memoir On Hold Indefinitely

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I’m sorry to say that the obstacles and road blocks I mentioned in my April post have brought my memoir writing process to a screeching halt before it had truly begun, and thus, this bi-monthly blog series must come to a halt, as well, until I can find answers to the problems related to writing about real people and organizations which is necessary to telling my son Michael’s story, as well as my own. Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief  has been shelved, at least for a while due to legalities. This book project is based from my personal experience and is dear to my heart, and it great saddness that I make this decision, but I’m not ready to face the trials that forging ahead with it would require.

Delilah promo1

On the other hand, there are exciting things on the horizon. My efforts for the near future will turn to working on the issue of re-issuing Delilah, which Dusty Saddle Publishing has so graciously offered to do. Once this is completed, I plan to pick up where I left off on the drafting of the second book, Delilah: The Homecoming. I just got Delilah back on track in this story with considerable revisions and I’m a little sad to have to delay the completion of this book, but also confident that the story will be better for it.  

WordCrafter Logo

I will be getting the WordCrafter website up and running and ready for launch.  Get ready folks, because WordCrafter Writer & Author Services is coming soon. Services will include Editing and Copywriting services, online courses, and WordCrafter Press.

I’ll also be compiling and publishing the two great anthologies to be released by WordCrafter Press. The Ask the Authors anthology will feature the collaborative interviews from the 2018 “Ask the Authors” blog series right here on Writing to be Read. This book will be filled with writing tips and advice from authors who are out there doing it, a valuable writing reference for authors in all stages of the publishing journey.

WordCrafter Paranormal Anthology - smallThe other anthology, Whispers in the Dark, will be a short story collection harvested from the WordCrafter Paranormal Short Story Contest held at the beginning of 2019. It will feature several of the submissions from the contest, including the winning entry, “A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Had”, by Jeff Bowles. These anthologies are still in the preliminary stages, but I plan to have them both out by the end of the year. I have cover ideas for each one, but only Whispers has a final version at this time. I plan to release it in October.

 

 

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The Making of a Memoir: Obstacles and Roadblocks

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Losing Michael: Teen Suicide and a Mother’s Grief

 

“The Making of a Memoir” is a bi-monthly blog series which explores the stages of writing a memoir as I write the story of losing my nineteen year old son, Michael, to suicide, through his story and the tale of a life without him and the grief I experience every day, even after he’s been gone for a decade. Some progress has been made toward the actual writing of the book since the last segment. I made a final decision on the title above for the book, and work on the cover is in progress with Art Rosch at Starrts Creative. Although there is still a lot of material still to sort through and compile what I want to include, I managed to work through a considerable amount. The going is slow, as I knew it would be, due to the emotional nature of the material and the memories some of it awakens.

In the last segment, “Stage 1: Prewriting Tasks“, I said I expected this book to be the most difficult story I have ever attempted to write, and that has proven to be true. In fact, it has proven to be difficult in more ways than I had imagined. This segment was supposed to be titled “Stage 2: Selling the Story”, but alas, unexpected “Obstacles and Roadblocks” has become a more appropriate title. Over the past two months, I run into several and I’m still trying to find a way around, over or through one huge one in particular – legalities.

Memoir can and should be a work of creative nonfiction. It is a true story told creatively, so as to capture and hold the readers’ attention. What memoir is not, is a work of fiction, with fictitional characters and places. You are telling a true story, something that actually happened, something in which other real people played different roles, and to tell the story, their parts must be told as well, even if the tale doesn’t portray all of them in a positive light. A good memoir must be told with honesty, from the heart.

As I sorted through the plethora of material I have gathered and saved since my son’s death: his poetry, writings and artwork; my poetry and writings; and oh so many photos, I couldn’t help but think about the other people involved, directly or indirectly with the story of the events leading up to Mike’s death and also the events that came after, and I realized that there were more than a few, people associated with Mike, and law enforcement officers, who might not want this story to come out because of the manner in which they might be viewed for their parts in his death.

It normally wouldn’t be a problem at all. I’m writing the story of events as they happened to the best of my knowledge. Many facts surrounding Mike’s death were suspicious, and for a time I believed that Mike might have been murdered. Things didn’t add up, but the proof to back up what I know to be true was withheld from me by local law enforcement. I no longer entertain the idea that Mike’s death was anything other than suicide, without the proof that the events happened the way I claim they did, I could be open to liable in telling this story.

The individuals involved wouldn’t really be a problem. The obvious solution is to change the names. Even in a true story, real people can have fictitious names, without damaging author credibility. Authors do this all the time; you just state that some names have been changed and readers won’t feel cheated.

The law enforcement agency and certain individual agents present a bigger problem. Do I change the names of the law enforcement agents? Do I change the name of the area they represent? How much can be changed before a true story becomes a work of fiction? The proof I lack wouldn’t portray the local law in a positive way and they know it, so they aren’t likely to have a change of heart about sharing it with me for the book. They play major roles in the events leading up to Mike’s death, and the story really can’t be told without their inclusion.

Although this issue has presented a roadblock that appears it might be unsurpassable, I have a couple of ideas on how I might be able to get around it. I need to let it play out and see. If not, I’ll look for a way to go over, or under if I have to. This is a story that must be told, and I’m determined to tell it.  By the next segment, in June, I should be moving forward once more. I’ll let you know how it gets resolved. I do hope you’ll join me then.


Join me in my writing journey through “The Making of a Memoir” the second Monday every other month on Writing to be Read: February, April, June, August, October and December. To be sure not to miss one segment, subscribe to email or follow on WordPress for notification of new content.