Friday, January 27, 2023

Writing Twentieth Century Fiction - A guest post by Joanne Easley

I'm delighted today to share a guest post by a local author, Joanne Easley.  I went to an author event in the fall of 2021 where Joanne spoke and also saw her at the writer's conference that I mentioned in late August, 2022.  Please enjoy 'hearing' about Joanne's journey 'writing twentieth century fiction'.  Thank you, Joanne!!


My tagline is “fiction about complicated, 20th Century women.” I yearn for simpler times when instant communication didn’t exist. Young people today will never know the agony of waiting for their sibling to end a long conversation so they could make a call on the wall-mounted rotary-dial phone. They won’t know the thrill of pulling that twenty-five-foot-long cord down the hall to seek a little privacy. How many people remember waiting to receive a hand-written letter from a pen pal or a loved one overseas serving their country? Those days are gone, and unless a writer commemorates those experiences, they will be forgotten.

Because I lived through most of the latter half of the twentieth century, I have personal experience to draw on, although research is also needed for historical accuracy.

And I do like to be accurate. Researching can send me down a rabbit hole, but I never consider the time spent doing it as lost.

Here are my three favorite quotes about research:

“The man is most original who can adapt from the greatest number of resources.” - Thomas Carlyle

“I am a part of all I have read.” -  John Kieran

“The more research you do, the more at ease you are in the world you’re writing about. It doesn’t encumber you; it makes you free.” - A.S. Byatt

My multi-award-winning debut novel, Sweet Jane, begins in 1957 Odessa, Texas. In my research, I was lucky enough to find a blog about life there in the 1950s. I met face-to-face with the blogger and learned a great deal about the setting. For this book, I also had to study the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, life in the Haight in the late 60s, and Austin in the 70s and 80s. Although I lived in Austin in the 90s, I wanted to make certain the details of the earlier Austin timeline were correct. For example, I planned to use the name of my favorite bakery in Sweet Jane but learned it hadn’t opened until a few years after the timeline in the book. That research saved me from an error.

Just One Look, my second novel, takes place in the neighborhood where I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. While the plot is fiction, the setting is historically true. For all my novels, I want the referenced historic events to be precise. The Vietnam war, the 1968 Democrat Convention, and the 27 club—the deaths of iconic rock stars at that age—are just a few of the topics I spent some time investigating. Fashion and music are also themes in my books. One of my favorite fashion sources for this novel is the Sears  Roebuck catalog. As I scrolled through the online version, memories of ordering clothing over the phone, painstakingly reading the lengthy catalog number to the clerk, resurfaced. I even found several outfits I wore back in the day.

While my first two published books are primarily set in the 60s and 70s, I expanded the timeline in I’ll Be Seeing You to 1938-1985. The extra time spent on learning details about life in the thirties, forties, and fifties, both in Texas and Manhattan, was well worth it. As I reviewed World War II history, I came to understand how much I’d forgotten. Several prominent battles in both the European and Pacific theaters had a great impact on the characters in my novel, so it was imperative for me to know the details of those engagements.

The character is the driving force behind my writing. My novels begin with the idea for a protagonist. Novelists are often put into two camps—pantsers and plotters. I am a pantser, which means I allow the character free rein, and the plot emerges from her actions, some of which surprise me. I want my complicated, 20th Century women to have depth, so I must learn everything I can about them. Appearance, quirks, habits, family life, friends, and personality gradually come into focus, and only then can I begin writing about their trying circumstances. My novels deal with real-life problems and cover tough topics such as alcoholism, suicide, and miscarriage.

My talented niece designs my beautiful book covers and brings my characters to life. I am grateful to her.

While I was published with a small press for my first two novels, I did not renew my contracts. This year, I applied the knowledge I gained over the past years and self-published my third novel and re-released my first two under my imprint Red Boots Press, named for Sweet Jane’s love of red cowboy boots. My novels are widely available in eBook and paperback.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Another update from the land of pollen and dust and not much reading...ha!

Hey everyone!  Just thought I would do a quick update here - not that I have too much to talk about at all.

I did want to start out by saying that I will have an author guest post this Friday.  This is a local author that I've seen at a couple of events and she very graciously agreed to share a bit about her writing process.  Her name is Joanne Easley and I invite you all back to 'hear' about her books and 'Writing Twentieth Century Fiction'.

Our floor replacement/renovation is about 60-65% finished.  It will hopefully be completed in the next week or so.  The guys started and did about half the house, but as we are still living here, the other part had to wait until our master bath was finished (which it is except for the mirror).  We had been sleeping/living in the guest room/guest bath area.  Now we are in the other side and, of course, the floor guys had to go do another job in between.  Such is life and job schedules these days.  Also, between the seriously awful cedar pollen (normal in Texas at this time) and the renovation dust, etc., my sinuses are very unhappy.  This too shall pass, but it's been no fun trying to decide if we are having allergies or actually sick with something.  Lots going around.  

My reading has again suffered, but I will hopefully be finished soon with the book that I have kind of stalled on.  I'm progressing, but so, so slowly.  It's Lisa Unger's newest, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six.  This is an author that I have loved so much.  Her books set in The Hollows of  upstate New York are all so, so good.  Lately, she's been writing standalone books and I haven't read all of them.  This one just hasn't been what I expected.  I'm going to finish, but this is likely all I'll say about my reading experience with it.  Maybe you've read it and loved it.  I know that not every single of my favorite authors will write books that are perfect for me.  Anyway, I'm casting about to find what I might pick up next.  Give me a suggestion or two if you like.  Otherwise, I'll be back soon.

Take care of yourselves and have a good week!     

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

First book of the year, first in-person book group of the year, other updates...

Hello fellow readers!  I'm stopping by for a just a bit to share an update on 2023 in 'kay's world' so far.  Hope all of you have had a good start to the year.  I've finished two books and am trying to decide on my next read, I've attended an in-person book group and sent my thoughts to my 'out-of-town' mystery group on their first read of 2023 and I'm still trying to 'survive' house renovations.  Ha!

My first book this year was The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.  It was also the book selected for the January meeting of the 'Historical Fiction' Book Group I attend here.  I really, really liked it.  I'm determined to read more of this author's books.  I do have several on my Kindle or I can get them at the library.  The book group was pleased with the book and we had a great discussion.  I think everyone liked it and some, like me, loved it.  We talked about Bletchley Park and also about other aspects of 1940's England and wartime that are included in it.  There are three main characters and each woman, Osla, Beth, and Mab, have a different approach to life, but they all get assigned to Bletchley Park and share their gifts in helping out their country during the war.  I believe they were all based on real women and it was clear that Kate Quinn had done a huge amount of research for her story.  If you haven't read this book, I recommend it.  If you have, what did you think?  The 'Historical Fiction' group will read The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi for February.  Looking forward to it!  

The 'Mystery Book Group - Austin' that I attended for so many years is also one that I am planning to read along with.  We had several members who moved from Austin to other places and several kept up with our reading and sent their thoughts each month.  That is my plan as well.  The January book read was The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz.  I read it at the end of 2022 and gave Gayle (the new leader) my reactions to share.  I liked it OK-ish.  The protagonist and his inner thoughts got on my nerves a bit.  He seemed more 'well-balanced' than he actually was.  In this book, Jacob Finch Bonner is an author that teaches creative writing for a MFA program.  One of his students shares a bit about a book he is working on and informs Jacob that he doesn't need his help as a teacher.  After a few years, Jacob hears that the student has died and the book apparently was never published.  Jacob decides to tweak the plot a bit and write that story himself.  It goes great and Jacob is famous and then he gets a message 'You are a thief'.  Gayle wrote a blog post about the group meeting and discussion here - take a look and see what you think.  The 'Mystery Book Group - Austin' is reading The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb for February.  I'm looking forward to it!  

I also recently finished Stacy Willingham's new book, All The Dangerous Things.  It came out officially yesterday, but I had an early release copy from Book Of The Month and enjoyed reading it as my second book of 2023.  I liked her debut book, A Flicker In The Dark, last year.  The author had a lot of praise for that first effort and I think people will like this second one too.  Isabelle Drake's son, Mason, was taken from his bed in the night a year ago and has not been found.  She doesn't sleep at all or not much.  She can't.  She needs to find her son.  The police investigation has stalled and Isabelle is invited to be on a true crime podcast to share her story.  Who can Isabelle trust?  Anyone?  I'll be watching to see if others read this one and what their thoughts are.


Lastly, regular life is progressing.  By that I mean, home renovations are still progressing.  Slowly.  Slowly.  The guys that are replacing all the floors have been here this week and gotten started on that aspect.  Most other things are finished or close to being finished.  One day, I'll check in here and say that all is done.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  Ha!!  Have a good week, everyone!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Happy New Year! Can you believe it's 2023?


Wishing all my book friends a very Happy New Year!  My hope is that your days will be full of joy and peace and contentment and love.  And books - can't forget the books!  Let's have some great reading this year, OK?  I intend to try.  Oh, and my 'word' for 2023 is JOY!  That was my word for 2016 and I've decided to try to focus on that one again.  Here's a bit about what I wrote that year regarding my JOY quest...


The definition of JOY according to Merriam-Webster is this:

1.  the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune
2.  a state of happiness or felicity
3.  a source or cause of delight

Well, no offense to Merriam-Webster, but I don't think happiness or a constant state of that is required to experience JOY.  I also think that JOY can be something that comes in short bursts or even pin pricks.  And I think that sometimes, it must be searched for, sought out, almost tripped over.  That is how it has been for me, especially in those times where it was hard to find - those darker days.

I want to share two quotes that come from books written by Louise Penny, a favorite author of mine.  The first illustrates how I feel that JOY comes to us.  It's from her book, How The Light Gets In, and is a quote that was originally written by Leonard Cohen.  He graciously gave Louise permission to use it.

There is a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in.

I think of JOY as that light.  And all of us have 'cracks' in our lives, our personalities, our ways of doing things.  In order to appreciate JOY best, we need those cracks - those life experiences that may not be the most pleasant - that indeed may be filled with grief and sorrow.

The second phrase comes from The Long Way Home and it is repeated over and over in that book:


Surprised by joy...

My goal for 2023 - to search for JOY every single day.  No matter what life brings me.  And to consciously attempt to share this elusive thing with others.  Every single day.  So that they might recognize that we can all be 'surprised by joy'.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all - a little early!!

Hello everyone and first I want to wish each of you a wonderful holiday season to come!  Hope each of you have a Merry Christmas and enjoy time with loved ones, family and friends.

I'm sharing a couple of pictures below that I have shared in previous years.  I think I've said before that I love snowmen and have a bunch of holiday decorations that include 'Frosty' and friends.  Sadly, both my snowmen cookie jars (the one with the red hat and the one with the black hat below) didn't make it after being packed and stored and shifted and moved, etc.  Both cracked and broke.  I was very sad.  However, I'll just have to look for new ones in upcoming days.  This year, our house is not decorated at all.  It's still got renovations going on and dust, etc.  We decided that since we were going to have to buy a new tree anyway, we'd just wait.  As I said, the dust is ongoing and unavoidable.  I just keep telling myself - next year, next year!   

We did have a nice Thanksgiving with family in Austin and our daughter and son-in-law will be coming to be with us on Christmas.  It's been quite a while since they have seen the house and she said they were looking forward to seeing the progress.  The rest of the extended family will be getting together in the Houston area where we have a nephew that is hosting.  It's his first time and he needs to stay home as he is 'on call' for the weekend - he's doing a residency at a Houston hospital.  Here's hoping that he doesn't get 'called in' and his wife doesn't have to manage all the duties.  We're hoping, as I said, to take over again next year with the Christmas Day event.  

My life here has remained quite busy, but I'm hoping that 2023 will allow more 'me' time and predictability.  My reading has resumed to a certain extent and I'm also hoping for more 'normal' in that area.  There are lots of good books on my shelves, on my Kindle, and to be published in upcoming days.  

Hoping to resume regular blogging in January.  Until then, may each of you have much 'joy', 'peace', and 'love' for this wonderful season!

Sunday, November 13, 2022

A little update...yes, I'm still around, but busy....so, early Happy Thanksgiving!


Yes, I do know that Thanksgiving is not until next week - ha!  Although as busy as I've been, it's entirely possible that I've missed a week or miscalculated!  However, I decided that I just better go ahead and post a small update and wish everyone a happy holiday next week.  

All is well in our lives, but I have had a lot going on.  Our house renovations are continuing and progressing very nicely.  We're very pleased with what's been accomplished and we hope we might be finished with them by the end of this year.  Possibly.  One great thing is that my kitchen is finished and unpacked - only thing left there is the floor replacement.  That will be the last thing done and it's a whole house thing.  We are doing that vinyl wood flooring and it can be installed right on top of the tile that is currently all over the house.  We have our guest bathroom almost done and are using it now and we've moved out of the master bedroom area to the guest room so that work can be done on our master bath.  Crossing fingers for a new look almost everywhere in 2023.

Life otherwise has been quite full with lots of stuff.  I am still trying to volunteer at the library, but my time there has been limited and also my time attending book groups.  I have still been involved with our 'Friends of the Library' group and our little bookstore.  And I've agreed to take a part-time position with our new church helping out with the finance portion of things.  There's a learning curve with that job, but I'm getting things sorted out.  

My reading has suffered greatly.  I have been quite distracted in so many ways and have found myself having a hard time concentrating on books at all, even ones that I've been excited about reading.  It happens now and then with me and it always eventually goes away and I dive headfirst into reading again.  Hoping that time is coming soon.  I'm not quite 'right' when I'm not reading much.  

I did attend the writer's conference that I wrote about in an earlier August post.  It was very nice and I have a couple of authors that will do a guest post here on the blog at some point.  Actually, it will likely be 2023 before that comes, but we'll see.  I just wanted everyone to know that I am still around.  All is well.  I will likely only be posting once or twice in December and then hoping that January, 2023, will be a 'fresh new start'.  I do plan to start being more regular about reading and commenting on all of your blogs.  Think I can do that.  I've missed 'chatting' with everyone.  

Take care and enjoy the rest of November!  Hope you get a little turkey and a little pie next week!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

RIP XVII Challenge - September 1 through October 31, 2022

I love the fall season and the 'spooky'/Gothic reading that I usually do at that time of year.  And the RIP Challenge is the only one that I still participate in.  This year is #17 and, though I'm a little late posting about it, I'm going to try to read a few books for the challenge.  Life is a bit (or more than a bit) hectic right now.  However, I'll be using this post as a list for the books I can complete.  Let's have some good fun.  Thanks to Diane and Diana for the info regarding the challenge.  


*Grab your spooky books, because it’s the best time of year again!

*To join the R.I.P. Challenge, just read as many mystery, suspense, thriller, horror, dark fantasy, supernatural, or Gothic books as you’d like September 1st – October 31st, and post/discuss them on your blog, Instagram, or Twitter. The group is also on Discord!

*Use #RIPXVII to connect with other challenge participants.

*Check out this link for all of the challenge details: https://linktr.ee/perilreaders

1. Parting Glass by Lissa Marie Redmond

2. Catch Your Death by Lissa Marie Redmond

3. The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith

Monday, August 29, 2022

Writer's Conference at Kerrville's Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library - September 24, 2022

Even though I'm on a sort of break, I wanted to share this information about an event planned for my area, Kerrville, TX, in late September.  The Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library is my local 'happy' place and it's where I volunteer and attend book groups and help out with the 'Friends of the Library'.  The patron services librarian, Rachael, has been planning this conference for many months and I'm going to be excited to attend.  Please take a look and, if you're from the Central Texas area and are available, stop by and see us!  I've met several of the authors that will be speaking and I'm hoping to get more to share guest posts here in upcoming weeks.  


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

The renovations begin....plus a new Kelley Armstrong book I'll be excited to read next year...

Hello book friends!  I've been away a bit and am going to continue to be on a break for a while.  The lovely news is that our renovations have begun on our house here in Kerrville.  We've been waiting for several months and anticipating the work to be done.  Our contractor began with our guest bath and today was 'rip-out' day for my kitchen.  It is complicated to have major things done while one is still living in the house, but we've done it before.  Happily, things are moving along.  Most of the cabinets are done, ready to be set so the countertops can be measured and the guest shower has been tiled.  Progress!  All the appliances are in and sitting around in boxes.  My current fridge is in the family room.  We'll manage.  Ha!

So, as I said, I'm taking a break for a few weeks.  I did want to mention a book that I'm going to be excited about reading next spring.  I've enjoyed Kelley Armstrong's Rockton series - all 7 books so far.  It was apparent in the last book that many things would be changing for Casey Duncan and her town.  The next book featuring Casey will be Murder At Haven's Rock and it will be available in late Februrary, 2023.  Here's the cover and the blurb below.  I'm so happy that Casey will continue as a character!  And I'll be around in a few weeks to update on what's going on with me and my reading.  Take care, everyone!

Murder At Haven's Rock by Kelley Armstrong - Available February 21, 2023

Haven’s Rock, Yukon. Population: 0

Deep in the Yukon wilderness, a town is being built. A place for people to disappear, a fresh start from a life on the run. Haven’s Rock isn’t the first town of this kind, something detective Casey Duncan and her husband, Sheriff Eric Dalton, know first-hand. They met in the original town of Rockton. But greed and deception led the couple to financing a new refuge for those in need. This time around, they get to decide which applicants are approved for residency.

There’s only one rule in Haven’s Rock: stay out of the forest. When two of the town's construction crew members break it and go missing, Casey and Eric are called in ahead of schedule to track them down. When a body is discovered, well-hidden with evidence of foul play, Casey and Eric must find out what happened to the dead woman, and locate those still missing. The longer Casey and Eric don’t know what happened, the more danger everyone is in.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Award-Winning Novels of Madness, War and Magic - A guest post by J.G. Schwartz

Today, I have a guest post by author J.G. Schwartz.  Joyce did an event recently at our local library here in Kerrville and she talked about 'Madness, War and Magic' and how she included these topics in her books.  Thanks so much, Joyce, for stopping by and tell us about your writing journey and your books.  Enjoy, everyone.  


I truly believe that everyone who loves to tell stories or write stories loves to have stories told to them.

One of my favorite childhood memories was when one of my parents would tuck me into bed and then read a story—usually one from Grimms’ Fairy Tales--Hansel and Gretel—how scary the hot oven must have looked! Snow White—how sweet was that red apple? Little Red Riding Hood—could she really not recognize that it was a wolf instead of her grandmother?? Although I listened intently to the same stories told to me hundreds of times, they always seemed exciting and new.

I soon realized how wonderful it was to sit down and write a story. For some strange reason, I am able to just sit at my desk, listen to what my characters are saying, and then place their words on a page. I have been extremely fortunate in that each of my novels has won national awards.

Writers decide just how they want to tell their story – some brave souls, often those who have experienced great trauma, leave their own story on a page by writing a memoir. 

Others write of the life they longed to have. But all writers, especially those who write fiction, tell stories from their own points of view, from their own experiences – their thoughts and imagination.

It is our story, even if it is fictionalized. Every author leaves themselves on the page – even if they don’t write a tell-all memoir.

I have always enjoyed intertwining history with fiction in my novels—plus, I usually add a murder or two.

I try very hard to write books that I would enjoy reading, filled with characters that I would like to have as next-door neighbors.

My first novel, Inventing Madness, is filled with murder and mystery. In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison is a serial killer. How else do you think he acquired two thousand patents? Although I intertwined fact with fiction in this novel, the actual deeds committed by Edison were far worse than anything I could have imagined.

My second novel, The Pearl Harbor Conspiracy, was influenced by my father. He was one of the few survivors of the Bataan Death March which occurred at the beginning of World War II. He spent four years in a Japanese Prison Camp. The novel involves Ethel Rosenberg, who attempts to draw isolationist America into the European war to stop the Jewish genocide. The novel is a harrowing tale of female resistance and camaraderie. 

My latest book, The Curious Spell of Madam Genova, begins with a fortune-teller explaining to her client that she must purchase a scarf that was used to commit a murder.

And why write about a fortune-teller?

Well, as a young girl of about 12 or 13, I went with my girlfriend and her family to a rodeo that was held at the Joe Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio. I paid a fortune-teller twenty-five cents to tell my future. She was amazingly accurate, and since that time I have been fascinated with fortune-tellers and the magic that surrounds them…even as a pathologist, I know I should base my beliefs solely on scientific research.

So, whether you read a novel or listen to your characters and write their stories, I hope both will bring you joy.


Joyce G. Schwartz, M.D., is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin where she received a Master of Arts degree with high honors. She then attended The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio where she obtained her Medical Degree. She currently works as a pathologist in San Antonio, Texas.