Are Writers Made Or Born?

Earl StaggsEarl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novels Memory of a Murder and  Justified Action and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year.  He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.  Email: Website:

Visit my homesite at where you can:

. . .read Chapter 1 of JUSTIFIED ACTION

. . .read Chapter 1 of MEMORY OF A MURDER

. . .read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer,” a short story some say is the funniest one I’ve ever written,

and more.

Remember those “Paint by Numbers” kits from years ago? Anyone could pick up a brush, put the right color in the right little space, and produce something called a painting. But would it be a true work of art? Not likely.

It’s the same with writing.  Anyone can learn the basic mechanics of the writing craft and string words together to tell a story.  But does that mean they can become great writers?  Not likely.

Many wannabe writers learn the basics and, more or less, write by the numbers. They may take one writing class after another, try one genre after another, one formula after another, but never reach a point where they can produce truly great writing.

RescueWhy is that?

Spencer Tracy, legendary actor with a wry sense of humor, used to say when asked how to be an actor, “Learn your lines. When the director yells ‘Action,’ say them, and don’t bump into the furniture.”

Anyone can do that and be an actor.  And let’s be honest. Many of the people we see on the screen act by the numbers. There’s no mistaking, however, those actors with genuine and immense talent. Once in a great while, for example, a Meryl Streep comes along.

For her, the furniture moves out of the way.

I think it’s the same with writing. Anyone can learn what it takes be a writer. But for your words to impact readers with feelings and emotions exactly as you intended, to carry readers vicariously from wherever they are to a place you created for them, to make them care about your characters as if they were real and intimate friends, you have to have a special something.

Justified ActionThis is not to say, however, that writers with less than great talent cannot be successful.  There are many examples of average writers coming up with a terrific story which appealed to and interested a great number of readers.  Result:  many books sold.  Those books and those writers can become faint memories when their few days on the bestseller list come to an end.

A book from a great writer, on the other hand, will stay on the shelves to be remembered and reread through the years and become a classic.  When truly gifted writers sit down to write, the best words, characters and plots come calling.

And no one bumps into the furniture.

Call it a gift.  You have to be born with it.  It comes in your DNA, and you either have it or you don’t.

That’s only my opinion, of course, and occasionally I’m reminded that the rest of the world ***gasp*** doesn’t always agree with me.  What’s your opinion?

Spotlight on The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie—and a Giveaway!

The Sound of Broken Glass

Indie Next Pick “Now in  Paperback”!


Title: The Sound of Broken Glass
Series: Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James #15
Author: Deborah Crombie

Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 25, 2014


Making a smashing debut within the Top Ten of the New York Times Bestseller
list last year, Deborah Crombie’s THE SOUND OF BROKEN GLASS
(William Morrow; February 25, 2014; ISBN: 9780061990649; $13.99) is now
available in trade paperback, and has already been named an Indie Next Pick for March.


In the past. . .home to the tragically destroyed Great Exhibition, a solitary
thirteen-year-old boy meets his next-door neighbor, a recently widowed
young teacher hoping to make a new start in the tight-knit South London
community. Drawn together by loneliness, the unlikely pair forms a
deep connection that ends in a shattering act of betrayal.

In the present. . .On a cold January morning in London, Detective Inspector
Gemma James is back on the job while her husband, Detective Superintendent
Duncan Kincaid, is at home caring for their three-year-old foster daughter.
Assigned to lead a Murder Investigation Team in South London, she’s assisted
by her trusted colleague, newly promoted Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot.
first case: a crime scene at a seedy hotel in Crystal Palace. The victim: a
well-respected barrister, found naked, trussed, and apparently strangled. Is it an
unsavory accident or murder? In either case, he was not alone, and Gemma’s
team must find his companion—a search that takes them into unexpected
corners and forces them to contemplate unsettling truths about the weaknesses
and passions that lead to murder. Ultimately, they will question everything
they think they know about their world and those they trust most.



Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button        Amazon Buy Button        Indiebound Button.jpg

 “Crombie is very talented at putting together a richly atmospheric
whodunit…. [A]s a creator, she energetically inhabits the many
strange worlds she shows her readers….”
  — Washington Post

“Ms. Crombie again has turned out a gripping and nicely tailored
mystery and added another chapter to her chronicle of Kincaid and Jones.”
 — Washington Times

“…Deborah Crombie never falters. Her novels are a delight, and with
The Sound of Broken Glass, she keeps her impressive creative streak intact.”
— Miami Herald

“With a multilayered plotline, deft characterizations in which even
the minor players are fully realized and endless compassion for
everyone in the cast, Crombie creates another worthy installment
in her distinguished body of work.”
   — Richmond Times-Dispatch


About the Author

Deborah CrombieDeborah Crombie is a New York Times Notable author and has been nominated for and won many awards including the New York Times Book of the Year. She is a native Texan who has lived in both England and Scotland. She lives in McKinney, Texas, sharing a house that is more than one hundred years old with her husband, three cats, and two German shepherds.

Author Links:

Website Button        Twitter Button        Facebook Button


To enter the drawing for a paperback copy of
The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie,
leave a comment below. The five winning names will
be drawn Sunday evening, March 2nd.
This drawing is open to residents of the US.

Book Review: Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Openly StraightOpenly Straight
Bill Konigsberg
Arthur A. Levine Books, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-50989-3

I have been thinking about labels…..a lot.  Sometimes, a label seems superfluous (the White girl), while other times it seems to be used as an “explanation” (the Blonde girl).  On the other hand, the lack of a label could be seen as misleading (oh, you didn’t say he was a Jock).  When, if ever, are labels genuinely applicable?

Openly Straight allows the main character, teen-aged Rafe, to search for an answer to this question.  See, Rafe has an opportunity for a do-over.  Because he is openly Gay, he believes that he knows the perception and stigma that can accompany that label.  He desperately wishes to know if he would be viewed differently without it.  Will he find an answer, or will he find himself with even more complicated questions and fewer answers than he started with?  Either way, it is a fabulously interesting journey on which we embark, as we accompany Rafe through his year of going from openly gay to slipping back into the closet….well, sort-of.

Even in a relatively controlled experiment, all things won’t be equal.  Rafe was The Gay Boy with no adverse affects in his charmingly indulgent Colorado town.  He begins to question the wisdom of coming out.  His acceptance into an East Coast boarding school seems to be the perfect opportunity for a fresh start.  There is simply no way he could have anticipated the devastation that can accompany a perceived secret.

Mr. Konigsberg tackles this somewhat sensitive topic head-on, honestly, and well…..openly.   The characters are realistically flawed.  They make mistakes, and don’t necessarily learn from them.  The dialogues, relationships and rivalries are quintessential teen behaviors; while Rafe’s parents are affably atypical.  Rafe’s story is certainly plausible; making his experiences feel very real to this reader.  I had a vested interest in the outcome of his “experiment”.

This book is amazingly written.  Mr. Konigsberg brings up points that, despite my mulling, I had never considered.  The most important thing that I learned from reading this book is that my issue isn’t with labels, it is with the stereo-typing that often accompanies the labels.  I believe that this story translates well for any label, but I am afraid that the audience may be limited simply because the label in Rafe’s life is Gay, rather than Jock, or Geek.  This is one time that I certainly hope I am mistaken, because this is a book that I believe any reader would enjoy.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013.

On Writing Conflict

James R. CallanAfter a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.

Amazon Author page:
Twitter:            @jamesrcallan

A Ton of Gold, (Oak Tree Press, 2013)
On Amazon
On Barnes & Noble

How to Write Great Dialog, (Oak Tree Press, 2014)
On Amazon in paperback:  : 

A common bit of writing advice for novelists is, “Add more conflict.”  For most novels, the author sets up some major conflict. This may be conflict between two characters in the book, or between two different aspects of a single character.  The conflict might be between a book character and some non-human factor.  For instance, the non-human element could be the weather, man-made elements such as computers, beings or objects from space, and so on.  We have lots of ways to put this major conflict into a book.

But the recommendation is not talking about the major conflict.  It is not suggesting you pick a bigger conflict.  The real idea being promoted is to put in smaller conflicts throughout the book.  Many are of the opinion there should be conflict on every page.

Whoa. Every page? That sounds like an impossible task.

Let’s suppose we want to try to meet this goal for conflict.  Keep in mind, all of these instances of conflict don’t have to be major. In fact, you don’t want them all to be of a similar level. You want to vary them.  Still, how can we get conflict in so often?

How to Write Great DialogDialog is an excellent place.

“You sound different today.”
“No I don’t.”

There’s conflict, in seven words.  How much?  As much as you want.  It could be as simple as, “Oh, I don’t think so.”  Or you can make it much stronger when the second person is hiding something. Whom that affects, and how it affects him or her, can determine the degree of conflict.  Or, suppose the first person pursues this, “Yes, you do.” Do you see how you can ratchet up the conflict?

We’ve set it up in just seven words of dialog. Powerful stuff, this dialog.

In my book How to Write Great Dialog (Oak Tree Press, 2014) I devote a chapter to adding conflict through dialog. You decide what level of conflict or tension you want. Dialog can supply it. Here’s an example from the book.

“That was a great movie.”
“No it wasn’t. It was terrible. I can’t believe you liked it.” (Conflict)
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to push my opinion off on you.”
“Stop it. Don’t be so wish-washy on everything. You liked it. I didn’t. That’s it.” (Conflict again)
“Don’t say you’re sorry. There nothing to be sorry about. We disagree.” (Conflict still)

They will still remain friends, but we’ve added conflict through dialog. And we’ve enhanced the reader’s understanding of the characters.

A Ton of GoldIn one of my suspense books, A Ton of Gold, I put this into practice.
“I shouldn’t have done that, Crissie.”
“My name is Crystal.”
Conflict. Small, but it shows tension between the two.

“No. He did not dump me.”    Minor, but conflict.

“I’ll go ask if she wants to see you.”
“Mr. O’Malley, I’ve known Crystal a lot longer than you have. I probably understand her and her feelings better, too. I’m going to offer my sympathy. And you can stay here.”  We’ve established real tension between these two men, through dialog.

So, first, heed the advice to add more conflict or tension to your book.  And second, use dialog to do it.  That way, you can increase the instances of conflict, you can set whatever level of tension you want, you will keep the reader interested, and you have a better book.

Book Review: Peaceful Genocide by J.A. Reynolds

Peaceful Genocide Tour Banner


Title: Peaceful Genocide
Author: J.A. Reynolds
Publication date: November 25th 2013
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller, Young Adult



Purchase Link:

Amazon Buy Button


Peaceful GenocidePeaceful Genocide
J.A. Reynolds
CreateSpace, November 2013
ISBN 978-1481820288
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Seventeen-year-old Mitzi and Deuce can recall how many drops of water were on a leaf from a rainstorm five years ago and conversations from last week, month, or year. They have the ability to remember every second of everyday—since birth.

This gift has blessed Mitzi with a history of being sexually assaulted by researchers and abused by her own parents. She trusts no one. Likes no one. Deuce, however, is a high school standout. His gift has made him a superstar on the football field and his memory promises him endless opportunities.

When they both end up at an Alzheimer’s research facility under false proviso, they quickly realize this place isn’t what it seems to be. They endure crazy military-style tests, are forcefully drugged, and complete real-life simulations that haunt them.

Mitzi and Deuce have no idea what the researchers want to do with them or their memories. But one thing is clear: the researchers will go to any lengths to get what they want.


The cruelty that one human can do to another in the name of the common good is at the center of Peaceful Genocide and is built upon the cruelty that one human can do to another in the name of greed. In this story, one seems horrific in the extreme but is the smaller crime perhaps even more destructive to the spirit?

Strong, appealing characters bring this tale to life and I found myself wanting to hug three of the four children who are at the mercy of a nebulous authority. The very likeable Deuce seems to be a fairly well put-together teen, although he shows a bit of vulnerability late in the story, while Mitzi and the two younger children, Paisley and Ralph, are clearly victims of abnormal childhoods. Mitzi, in particular, is severely damaged and the cocoon she has built around her emotions is completely understandable. She’s supremely intelligent, though, and doesn’t let her personal fears get in the way of figuring out what’s going on in this hellhole of a research facility. Mitzi is one of the most evocative characters I’ve come across in quite some time.

On the downside, the construction of this book is somewhat flawed, particularly in the second half. There are fairly numerous instances of incorrect words and typos but the most significant issue is inappropriate use of contractions, of all things. As an example, the sentence, “She would’ve to take her chances with Deuce coming in on her”, clearly is written incorrectly. This sort of thing happens far too often to be just a simple error and is a stylistic oddity that I found grating and distracting.

That issue aside, a believable and exciting plot along with well-developed characters win out and Peaceful Genocide is an intriguing tale that kept me up through the night.  I’m really looking forward to the sequel coming sometime in 2015.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2014.


About the Author

JA Reynolds lives in the Midwest with a normal family, raising a normal daughter, with some abnormal pets. It’s extraordinarily ordinary.

Author Links:

Blog  //  Twitter  //  Facebook  //  Goodreads


Follow the tour here.


Xpresso Book Tours Button

Book Review: An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

An Officer and a SpyAn Officer and a Spy
Robert Harris
Alfred A. Knopf, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-34958-1

You could say that this is the story of Alfred Dreyfus who was convicted for treason in Paris in 1895. But, oh, this historical thriller is also much more than that.

The story is told from the point of view of Colonel Georges Picquart, head of counterespionage, who finds himself re-investigating the case after Dreyfus’ imprisonment. I found Picquart to be a very interesting guy. He’s been in the military most of his life, doesn’t have much of a personal life, is an ambitious man out of sync with those around him. He doesn’t buy their “If I’m told to shoot someone, I shoot” mentality. Picquart questions things. He investigates. He puts his career and even himself in great jeopardy.

You won’t need to know anything about the Dreyfus affair or 19th century France to enjoy this book. I waited to read more about the actual case until after I had finished the book so I wouldn’t know what was going to happen. Even if you tend not to like historical fiction, you may very well like this book. It could be classified in several genres: a mystery, a thriller, espionage, conspiracy. What I found most fascinating about it is that it makes sense of how a situation can evolve into a conspiracy without anyone ever planning one in the first place.

There are many characters involved here but it’s never a problem remembering them all. There’s a list of characters at the beginning of the book. And the author is very good about reminding the reader who each character is each time he brings them back into the story.

My favorite quote: “If I pull back now… I’d be obliged to spend the rest of my life with the knowledge that when the moment came, I couldn’t rise to it. It would destroy me – I’d never be able to look at a painting or read a novel or listen to music again without a creeping sense of shame.”

It’s a compelling read, written in a very engaging style with a lot of intensity and passion. It certainly made me think. My favorite kind of book.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, February 2014.

Book Blitz: RecruitZ by Karice Bolton

RecruitZ Book Blitz Banner


Title: RecruitZ
Series: Afterworld #1
Author: Karice Bolton
Publication date: December 27th 2013
Genres: New Adult, Post-Apocalyptic



Scientists are the new rock stars. The infection has been contained for nearly
three months, and the world is celebrating. But humans are still dying.
Rebekah Taylor has seen it firsthand. Her husband was killed right in front of
her by the very creatures that humans were told they no longer had to fear.

Rebekah is determined to find out who is responsible for the death of her
husband and the obvious cover-up. Fueled with revenge, she begins to
find answers that lead to one frightening conclusion. The apocalypse
might be over, but the battles are just beginning.



Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button        Kobo Buy Button        Amazon Buy Button

RecruitZ flash sale during this event! Only $.99!


An Excerpt from RecruitZ

I sat in the passenger seat horrified, but I didn’t dare drag my gaze away. The world had been told zombies no longer threatened human existence. Yet I was staring at an onslaught of them taking slow, deliberate steps toward our vehicle. We had barely pulled into our driveway when the horde descended out of nowhere.

RecruitZI managed to slide my fingers along the door to the electric lock. I didn’t know why I thought that would save us. The undead had never let a lock deter them before. I looked around our house and it looked untouched. These creatures were only in our yard, coming for us at a most vulnerable time.

Gavin attempted to take the car out of auto-drive, pressing the buttons frantically and commanding it with voice controls. The car only responded with words. We didn’t control it. The car controlled us.

“Pedestrians within minimum safe distance,” the car said, acknowledging Gavin’s attempts to drive us out of danger.

No shit! We want to run the pedestrians over.

Tiny beads of sweat began forming at my hairline as I watched Gavin repeatedly engage and disengage various controls. Nothing would let us override the car’s safety features.

Gavin’s foot pressed on the accelerator trying to override the computer system, but the car still refused to budge. His foot slid off the pedal, and he quickly replaced it.

Damn these self-driving cars!

The engine red-lined with each attempt from Gavin’s override, but the brain of the car overruled Gavin’s actions with every rev of the motor. Gavin kept shaking his head as his finger slid up and down the dashboard. He glanced at me, his green eyes connecting with mine. I didn’t want to believe what I saw behind them so I turned to look out the window.

I gripped the console as I watched the twitches and spasms of the zombies’ movements closing in on us. They were everywhere…the grass, the sidewalk, the driveway. There was no mistaking the rotting, grey flesh that exposed the muscle and bone of the undead. They were something I’d run from countless times, but this time we had nowhere to run. The undead had us trapped. They would rip us to shreds in an instant.


About the Author

Karice BoltonKarice Bolton lives in the Pacific Northwest and is a writer of Young Adult and New Adult books. She loves to read anything and everything. She also enjoys baking, skiing, and spending time with her wonderful husband and two English bulldogs.

Books currently available:
*Beyond Love Series: Beyond Control (Book 1) Beyond Doubt (Book 2) Beyond Reason (Book 3) – Feb. 28th
*Afterworld Series: RecruitZ (Book 1)
*The Witch Avenue Series: Lonely Souls (Book 1), Altered Souls (Book 2), Released Souls (Book 3) Shattered Souls (Book 4)
*The Watchers Trilogy: Awakening (Book 1), Legions (Book 2), Cataclysm (Book 3), Taken Novella (Watchers Prequel)
*The Camp

Karice would love if you stopped by her blog or FB page to find out the latest news on giveaways and upcoming releases, or you can just send her an email. She loves hearing from her readers and responds as soon as she can.

Author Links:

Website Button     Twitter Button     Facebook Button     Goodreads Button 2


Xpresso Book Tours Button