Sunday, July 31, 2016

Write what you know--or don't.

Write what you know. That’s the big advice aspiring writers are always given.  And there’s some truth to that. It is, after all, the easiest way to make your writing realistic.

I’m a former prosecutor. A Catholic school girl.  White. Middle-class.  Spoiled by my daddy. So guess what my protagonist looks like? If you guessed a younger, thinner, cuter version of me, you’d be right.

But there’s also something to be said for expanding your bag of tricks. Unless I only want to write one book series, or make everything I write from the perspective of the same character–me–I have to write about things I don’t know.

One thing I have found that helps is having someone who is similar to my character read that portion of what I’m writing to check my authenticity. I also read a lot of transcripts in my current job as an appellate attorney.  I pay attention to things like expressions and vernacular used by people of various income brackets, whether it’s doctors testifying as experts, reluctant witnesses, or mothers of murder victims, people very different from me. I also eavesdrop on conversations wherever I go--Walmart is a particularly good place to pick up on some interesting conversations.

Finally, I do a lot of research specifically so I can write about things I don’t know, as well as the numerous things I used to know that I’ve forgotten. With the internet, an answer is just a click away.

I never copy anything verbatim and never borrow anyone’s conclusions or ideas. I also only use information if it appears on enough websites to consider it public or common knowledge, for instance the street name of a drug, the capital of a country, etc., so I’m not violating anyone’s copyright. If I could call someone and get the same answer to the question, it should be safe to use.

Holli Castillo

Friday, July 29, 2016

Weekly Roundup: July 29, 2016

Welcome again to the Oak Tree Press Weekly Roundup! This week, Stephen L. Brayton (ALPHA) blogged on the OTP blog about communication skills and how to converse—and lisen—in social settings. We've got a full summer of author guest posts scheduled, so don't forget to check for them through the week.

OTP publishes compelling stand-alone mysteries and mystery series, thrillers, romances, police procedurals, westerns, memoirs, and children's bookseven some paranormal storiesmany of which have been acknowledged as prizewinners or finalists for regional and national book awards. Browse through our bookstore to get your hands on these widely recognized stories! 

Thank you for stopping by for the roundup this week. Here as always, for your reading pleasure, we have the week's news, book signings, events, reviews, blogs, and more from our authors to share with you.

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Richard Marranca was interviewed recently in an article that appeared on the regional news website In the interview, Jacqueline Cutler of NJ Advance Media asks Richard about his writing style and goals and prompts him to share advice with aspiring writers.

"What's the goal with writing for you?

I suppose if I were to boil it down to two. I just love Allen Ginsberg; being a typical beat he said you write to find your consciousness, you write to find yourself. And I like that and I think that the ultimate thing is if you can astonish the reader that is really good. The notion is to educate and entertain. For myself it is writing to find myself. That's my Allen Ginsburg answer and then to educate and entertain."

You can read the full interview here.

Richard is the author of Dragon Sutra and The New Romantics: Ten Stories of Mystery, Passion, Travel and Vampires. The latter, a collection of short stories, was recently recognized by the East Texas Writer's Guild for its outstanding first chapter. 

"Reading Richard's stories always touch something deep inside me, a longing for the mystical in the ordinary, for a deeper meaning in our everyday lives. If you're ready to embrace the unknown, these stories will take you on a fantastic ride!" --Xenia Melzer, Author of the Gods of War series, published by DreamSpinner Press


Denise Weeks was featured on the Venture Galleries blog this week in recognition of her selection as a finalist in the romance category of in the East Texas Writers Guild's First Chapters contest. The post features the first chapter of her selected entry, Love Is the Bridge.

Paige Campbell slammed the cash register drawer and grabbed for the store’s incessantly ringing phone.

She’d been expecting Uncle Hans to check up on her, because even after three months he still didn’t trust her to close the store alone. Amused, she lifted the receiver and recited the prescribed greeting. “Hans’ Music Haus, this is Paige, how can I help you?”

A steel-cranked synthesized voice rasped, “Stop asking questions or you’re dead.”

“What?” Paige blinked. “Excuse me? You’ve got the wrong number. Hello?”

Silence echoed on the line.

Only a stupid prank call. Still, it had shaken her. She tossed her hair back as if to tell herself she was being silly and settled the handset back in place. When the bells on the shop door jingled to signal a customer, she jumped.

“Boo!” said her best friend Anndréa, who’d apparently headed over the moment her shift ended at Joanie’s Scraps next door. “Scaredy-cat. What’s wrong with you? Customers don’t bite outside of Twilight.” Then she looked closer and cocked her head, sending her short black-cherry hair swinging. “Wait, there is something wrong. You’re as pale as a ghost floating in skim milk.”

Paige managed a weak smile. “Crank caller shook me up. I guess that’s a milestone–my first.”

“How romantic.” Andi clasped her hands. “Better make a scrapbook page. We have embellishments on sale.” She checked her watch. “Ready to roll?”

“Just about.” It was three minutes past official closing time. She circled around behind Andi, threw the double front deadbolts, and flipped the sign in the front window to CLOSED. “I can’t stay long, though. I’ve got a gig. Paying.”

“All right!” Andi shot her a high-five. “What kind of gig?”

“Just a jingle.” Returning behind the counter, Paige zipped the blue vinyl cash pouch closed and secured the register. “For a radio commercial.”

“Wow. Your first pro spot.”

“Don’t get excited.” Paige checked the security system keypad and verified all sensors were green-lighted. “Just picking up extra money for next semester’s books and fees–you know, what my fellowship doesn’t cover. This was a random referral from the dean’s office, when this studio called the conservatory to ask for a mezzo-soprano.”

“But still. You should play some of your own songs. I’ll bet they’d offer you a recording contract.”

“They’re not that kind of studio.” She tied her hair back in a ponytail and checked her makeup in the magnetic locker mirror she’d stuck on the side of one of her uncle’s file cabinets. “Let’s see how this goes. They probably have a stable of regulars.”

“And you’re going to be one of them.” Andi sounded so confident. It was sweet, although Paige knew Andi was just naïve about the music business. “Your voice is so amazing, better than GaGa or Britney or any of the pop-tarts. It’s as good as Celine Dion’s or even . . . La Streisand’s.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere.” Paige doused the main lights. “But you know I don’t want to get sucked into advertising and commercials. This is a one-time deal.” Keying in the code to arm the security system, she headed for the back door, clutching the cash pouch close to her chest. “Hurry, we only have ninety seconds.”

Andi rushed to catch up. “Everything that isn’t opera is not a sellout.”

“I’m not exclusively opera. I sing folk and jazz. Ballads.”

“And jingles.”

“And jingles. For now, anyway.”

As they scooted out the door, the phone started ringing.

Before Anndréa could say anything, Paige shook her head. “If that’s Uncle Hans, he’ll try my cell next. Otherwise, let them call tomorrow to ask whether we have the sheet music for some new hip-hop song. I’m off the clock at five.”

A valid excuse, but not the only reason she didn’t want to answer the call. . . . 

You can read the full chapter here.

Denise is the author of Nice Work. In the novel, Jacquidon Carroll has problems. She's diagnosed with diabetes and laid off from her job the same week, but that's nothing compared to being a suspect in the murder of her ex-boss. Jacquidon is convinced her replacement—a young woman recruited from an Internet sex site—is the real killer. To clear herself, Jacquidon steals information from the boss’s computer and the young woman's diary. The clues lead through a network of local sex clubs and the seamy underside of the BDSM (S & M) lifestyle. By the time Jacquidon gathers her evidence, the murderer is on the same page—and intends to stop her.



Children’s book author and artist Beryl Reichenberg will continue her paper craft and pop-out card classes for children with the Paso Robles Recreation Services on Wednesday, August 3 from 1 to 2. August 3 from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Centennial Park White Oak Room.

She says, “This week I met the children for the first time and we did pop-out mouth and pop-out butterfly cards. There were five kids ages 5 to 8. A couple of the older ones were talented and produced cards that were first class. Next week we will continue with another version of the pop-out cards, and if there is time, I’ll introduce them to making a paper bag book. As usual, I had my books for sale."  

Parents can sign up their children for the class here

Beryl will also have her books available for sale. She is the author of Ants on a Log, Butterfly Girls, Camouflage, The Mysterious Case of the Missing Birthday Cake, When Caterpillars Dream, and Clowning Around.

Clowning Around is the story of Charlie, a young clown fish who delights in performing antics for the children who come to the aquarium to watch the action in the fish tank.


Eileen Obser will be at the Riverhead Free Library in Riverhead, New York, on Wednesday, August 3 to speak on memoir writing. Her talk, titled "Writing Memoirs: Your Life Matters" will talk cover various aspects of memoir writing: the need for discipline and motivation, dealing with the fears, and then going ahead and doing it -- getting your stories down on paper.

Eileen will also discuss craft and inspiration and read excerpts from her memoir, Only You. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Only You relates Eileen Obser’s personal experience growing up in Queens, New York—her doomed-to-fail marriage at eighteen to a nineteen-year-old boy from their candy store crowd. Eileen shows how two naïve, uninformed teenagers were influenced by social and religious pressures, to disastrous consequences.


C. Ed Traylor will be promoting his novel At the Crossing at the Sandwich Public Library in Sandwich, Illinois, on Thursday, August 4, from 3 to 7 p.m.

In At the Crossing, a routine traffic stop in the Illinois heartland uncovers a sinister secret – a sweeping terrorist plot endangering the lives of thousands of Americans. The Crossing focuses on Racheed Ul-Bashar, a Pakistani whose grandfather and sister are killed in an American drone strike in Pakistan. Driven by revenge against the United States, the obsessive Racheed develops a minutely detailed plot, a synchronized attack that will hit three American cities on the anniversary of September 11. He obtains contact information of Juan Rodrequs, a violent, ruthless drug cartel leader in Juarez, Mexico, who agrees – for a price ― to move terrorists across the border and supply all materials needed for the attacks.

All goes well until Diego Garcia, a trusted ally and confidant of the cartel leader, is stopped for a speeding violation in Illinois.  There, 400 kilograms of cocaine are discovered, concealed in his vehicle, and he is facing significant prison time.  To save himself, Garcia, becomes an informant for agents of the FBI Anti-Terrorism Task Force.
Unbeknownst to the other terrorists, the informant, or the FBI Task Force, Racheed and his partner change plans at the last minute and enter the U.S. at a different location. This unexpected move forces the FBI Task Force to scramble. Will they be able to eliminate the threat to some of America’s largest cities and most cherished attractions?


Mary Montague Sikes will be on the panel “The Word’s the Thing” at the Virginia Writers Club's 2016 Symposium on August 6 at the Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event begins at 8:30 a.m.

Mary's most recent novel is Evening of the Dragonfly. Threatening telephone calls and strange cars with dark-tinted windows plague artist/teacher Farrah Ferand. Recovering from the tragic loss of her mother, Farrah is trying to adapt to the life of a small-town art teacher when she encounters Dirk Lawrence, a mysterious stranger. Her attraction to him is immediate and electric until Farrah discovers Dirk is part of the Lawrence and Pendesky investment firm that led to her mother's downfall a few years earlier.

 Farrah's not too perfect dating relationship with Tom Douglas, the town favorite football coach, worsens. An unexpected encounter leads to dates with Dirk and his help with the construction of a dream art studio in her rented house. But trouble looms with Tom who believes he and Farrah are engaged, and the entire town appears to be drawn in. Haunting dreams and lost memories overwhelm Farrah as she creates paintings for a one-person art show. Will shadows of the past ruin all hope for Farrah and Dirk? 



Eileen Obser attended a luncheon/reunion at a private home in Manorville, New York (Long Island) on Tuesday, July 26, where she met with about 15 women who graduated from Catholic high school with her. The Dominican Commercial High School in Queens, New York, is mentioned many times in Eileen's memoir, Only You.


Mary Montague Sikes gave a presentation on July 27 at the Mathews Country Galleria in Mathews, Virginia. In the presentation, she demonstrated her journey into the world of meditation, where she captures words and color for individuals as she intuitively gathers a vision for them. As an artistic image forms and words grow into a poem, she creates "Soul Songs." The art and the writing become personal focal points for inspired meditation. For many years, Mary has been drawn to the metaphysical experience. The development of her unique Soul Songs creations combines that interest with her artistic talents.

The gallery also featured a selection of original paintings inspired by her technique. Mary is the author of more than a dozen novels and the nonfiction Hotels to Remember series published by OTP. Her most recent novel is Evening of the Dragonfly and she will soon publish a children's book, Animal Alphabet.


Lorna Collins updated her blog this week with a post about dialogue tags. She writes, "As an editor, one of my biggest annoyances is the use of unnecessary dialogue tags. What I mean is the obsessive use of 'he said' and 'she said.'

"A friend insists on tagging every instance of dialogue with one of these. For me, this habit is like fingernails on the blackboard. His excuse is he took a writing class years ago where the instructor insisted the word “said” is invisible. I told him I found it annoying, so obviously it wasn’t invisible. He continues to write tagging every instance with 'said,' and I refuse to read his books.

"So, if you don’t use these tags, how do you let the reader know who is speaking?"

You can read the full post here

Lorna is the author if Ghost Writer.


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