April meeting: Book Brush demo

Ever heard of Book Brush?

Book Brush is the easiest way to create professional ads and social media images for your books. 

EDIT: The recording of this meeting can be found here.

Join Kathleen Sweeney from Book Brush on Saturday, April 17 for a fun live walk-through of the Book Brush tools. Get ready to embrace the marketing side of writing and see why authors say Book Brush saves them both time and money! Learn how easy it is to use Book Brush to create your own eye-catching marketing images, design book covers and all things social media. Plus explore video effects, box set images, animation and more! Kathleen will share handy tips & tricks along the way and have time for Q & A, too.

Here’s a sample of what Book Brush (and you) can do: 

Many Easy to Use Options

Everything you need takes just a few clicks.

Kathleen is the manager of marketing and customer service at Book Brush. She has over 19 years of client service and business assurance experience. She thoroughly enjoys working with authors and helping them create eye-catching images. She lives in central Illinois with her husband and three busy boys. Her hobbies include reading and turning socks right side out.

Member book release: Alicia Anthony’s Fractals

Interview by Kandy Williams

Alicia, Congratulations on the release of FRACTALS. It’s your fourth book but is a stand-alone. Can you tell us a bit about the story?

Of course, and thanks to Buckeye Crime Writers for having me. You’re an amazing group and I’m so happy to be a part of it. So, what can I say about Fractals? On the surface, this is the story of a teenager destroyed by life’s circumstances and sold to pay off her father’s debts, and her teacher, scarred by life in his own way, who tries to save her. But on a deeper level it’s a tale of good versus evil – a reflection on trauma, poverty, addiction, and abuse as experienced by these two main characters.

Readers may find that FRACTALS is a bit different from your Blood Secrets Saga. Since I snagged an ARC (thank you, btw!), I thought it was darker than your series and dealt with a timely yet difficult subject matter. How might you prepare readers for this deep-dive into the harrowing, complicated life of Carly Dalton?

Fractals centers around human trafficking, so readers should definitely expect to be uncomfortable. Although I never really shied away from the darker parts of life in my Blood Secrets series, Fractals is far grittier and more disturbing. I’d tell readers to be ready for raw and real characters so impacted by trauma that they don’t always make the “right” decisions.

The goal, for me, was to peel that scab back and shine a light on some dark subjects that most of us tend to ignore.

Both your main characters, Carly and Asher, have physical and emotional traumas to overcome. Do you think readers, who might identify with some of their situations, can find hope in your story? Was that a motivation for you while writing this book?

I definitely think there’s hope in Fractals. Carly and Asher are incredibly strong characters. They are put through a lot, but they are survivors and I think that comes through in the novel. As for motivation, it was certainly my goal to shine a light into the darkness that surrounds human trafficking and the failure of the system as a whole. The statistics are truly staggering, and I think many of us feel like trafficking is a problem that resides on the outskirts of our communities. But unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. I was motivated by the idea that the story of this young girl and her teacher could bring the horror of that trauma to life in a way that readers could empathize with, and I hope I’ve been able to accomplish that in Fractals.

FRACTALS explores perhaps a lesser-recognized form of sex trafficking. Do you think there are real solutions for ending this abuse?

I think the first step is acknowledgement. I don’t think the general public is aware of the industry that exists within our own communities. There are so many different forms of trafficking and Carly’s story is just a tiny slice of that activity. Strangers aren’t the only danger, and I wanted to shed some light on that fact and help people think about their own communities and ways they might be able to make situations better for those who are most at risk. Of course, there are organizations out there that do some great work in this area. The Polaris Project (http://www.polarisproject.org) is one I mention in the author’s note. I don’t know what the solution is to the problem of human trafficking. Frankly, as long as there’s a need, criminals will find a way to profit from it, but I think examining our own preconceived notions and supporting the organizations that help the victims of this abuse is a great way to start.

As a teacher, you’ve worked with students from various backgrounds. Do you often feel that you’re helping to equip them to make good life choices, and in general, do you feel that responsibility has grown over the years?

By day I’m an elementary school reading specialist, so my main duty is helping kids learn strategies to make them better readers, but that’s not really what it’s all about for me. I want my students feel seen and heard. And although I’m their teacher, I’d also like them to think of me as a friend, someone to bounce ideas off of and who would have their back if the going got tough. I teach reading, but more than that, I want them to know just how valuable they are, to take pride in themselves and understand that they are more than test scores and reading levels. I think if I can play some small part in that, then I’ve done my job. Better reading is just a byproduct of greater self-worth. And I absolutely think that responsibility has grown since I started teaching eighteen years ago. Our society is so much different today, but deep down the kids are the same. They still need love, understanding, and someone to cheer them on and point them in the right direction when things are rough. They still need to know we care.

Care to share about your writing process? Tell us how this story came to life for you and the journey to getting it published. 

Fractals was an interesting journey. I read an article years ago about an artist who explored the nature of tears in some of her work. She found that different types of tears have different qualities dependent on the origin of the emotion. I know, crazy, right? Anyway, her work was published in a book called the Topography of Tears and that idea really stayed with me. I think somewhere deep in my psyche I was looking for a character that could help me explore that idea on my own, and I found her while watching a student sketch an eye one day after school. She did an amazing job and something about that sketch brought that abstract idea of different types of tears full circle, and Carly Dalton was born. Of course, the novel went through various stages. I submitted it to several agents and publishing houses early on, and it was recognized as a Claymore Award Finalist along the way. But in the end, I think I knew it was too dark to be picked up traditionally. Besides, after dipping my toes into the lake of indie publishing with my Blood Secrets series, I was more than game to do the same with Fractals.

What’s next for you?  

The million dollar question! Fractals took a lot out of me, creatively and emotionally, so right now I’m taking a much-needed pause. I am prepping to teach a spring session for my alma mater, Spalding University’s Low-Residency MFA program, and I’m looking forward to that experience. Of course, my daughter graduates from high school this year, so that is eating up some …well, let’s face it, almost all of my mental and emotional energy. But once summer hits, I’ll be jumping back into the writing trenches with my next project, another twisty, but not nearly so dark, psychological thriller. In the meantime, I’m enjoying time spent with my daughter and all her senior year “lasts.”

Interview with Ellen Byron

by Connie Berry (March 2021)

Will we ever attend writers’ and fans’ conferences again? I sure hope so. Conferences and workshops are a wonderful way to meet fellow writers, make friends, and learn about the craft of writing and the mysterious world of publishing.

Ellen Byron

I met Ellen Byron in the spring of 2016 when we shared a car from Reagan International Airport to our hotel in Bethesda, MD, for Malice Domestic, the annual conference of mystery writers and fans. I was an unpublished author at the time. Ellen’s first novel in the Cajun Country series, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. To say I was impressed would be like saying Elizabeth Bennet didn’t hate Pemberley. Since then, Ellen has given me great advice, and I’ve loved watching her success. She’s funny, smart, kind, energetic, talented, and completely genuine. My favorite memory is sitting at her table at the Malice banquet when the third book in her series, Marti Gras Murder, won the Agatha for Best Contemporary Mystery. She was ecstatic — and completely shocked.

Since Ellen has been something of a mentor to me, I thought others might like hearing her story.

CONNIE: Ellen, thank so much for agreeing to let us in on the secret of your success. TALENT, of course. But you come from a successful career as a TV writer. Can you tell us a little about that and why you decided to transition to novel-writing?

ELLEN: It wasn’t a conscious choice. I had a big lull between TV projects. A friend started a writers’ group for four of us, and I decided to challenge myself to write what I loved to read — mysteries. I wrote my first book during that lull (otherwise known as unemployment!), and it won a William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished writers. It never sold, but it landed me a book agent. After a nine-month search, and while it was on submission, I wrote Plantation Shudders, which became the first book in my Cajun Country Mystery series. Which leads to a piece of advice: if you’re lucky enough to have a book out on sub to publishers, spend the time you’re waiting to hear from them writing another book.

CONNIE: Great advice, Ellen, because when you’re under contract, the book and the necessary marketing/publicity become a black hole of time. I was a non-fiction writer first and found the transition to fiction challenging. How did your background in television help you or hinder you in writing cozy mysteries?

ELLEN: I think it helped me. I’m a plotter. I need to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there. I think this is a holdover from TV, where you cannot move to script until layers of execs and showrunners sign off on your outline. In commercial IV, you have to end a scene before a commercial break with a beat that will guarantee viewers don’t change the channel. Because I’m trained to do this, it’s instinctual for me to do it with my chapter breaks. Also, I learned all about ways to add humor to a manuscript.

CONNIE: You’ve been an advocate for the “cozy mystery.” Could you give us a brief description and tell us why you choose that sub-genre? Have you ever thought about writing suspense or another genre?

ELLEN: I actually have a mystery/suspense I’m in the final stages of writing. As for cozies, the most common description is: mysteries with an amateur sleuth where there’s little bad language, sex, and no graphic violence. And justice is served. In addition to the usual Agatha Christie diet, I read a lot of historical and traditional mysteries. I didn’t know what a cozy was until after I’d written one! I think I gravitate in general to the “justice is served” angle. Reading is an escape for me. I don’t want to be haunted and upset by what I read. It’s comfort food. I made the mistake of reading a suspense book/thriller where teen girls were brutally tortured and murdered. I was trying to broaden my mystery reading to other genres. Big mistake. I still can’t get those images out of my head. Life can be dark and stressful enough. I don’t need that in my reading material.

CONNIE: I agree. I remember reading a series one summer about a female medical examiner/forensic pathologist until I got to one (forgot the title) that was so horrific it literally freaked me out. My husband was out of town at the time, so I locked all the doors and windows, even my bedroom door, and lay awake for hours in the stifling heat. Nope — not going to put myself through that again. Let’s turn to a happier topic! You’ve won multiple awards for your humor. Can humor be learned, or do you have to be naturally funny to pull it off?

ELLEN: I’ve learned watching actors without comic timing kill my scripts, so I’d say people either have a comic instinct or they don’t. BUT people started asking me if I could do a workshop where I teach comedy techniques. My first thought was you can’t teach people how to be funny. Then I started thinking about it in more depth, and I realized you can teach people simple ways to find and mine humor — quick hack; end a sentence on a funny word (don’t bury it in the middle) — and look for opportunities to add humor to their work.

CONNIE: Based on your own journey to publication, what advice would you give to pre-published crime writers?

ELLEN: Become part of the mystery community, which everyone here is already doing by joining your local SinC chapter. Find a couple of people you respect and trust them to be your beta readers. Learn how to apply feedback in the best way for your work, which may mean not taking a direct note but addressing the heart of it. Be patient. Keep learning. Keep writing.

CONNIE: Thanks again, Ellen, for sharing your experiences. Best of luck in the future!

BIO: Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. She writes the Catering Hall Mystery series, which are inspired by her real life, under the name Maria DiRico. Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart.

Long Island Iced Tina


Facebook: Ellen Byron, Catering Hall Mysteries