Friday, April 20, 2018

5 Books That Taught Me Everything I Know About Writing

Okay, not really. It took more than five books. And everything I know about writing didn't solely come from reading--a huge part of it came from working with editors through the years, starting with Jacqui Bianchi back at Mills & Boon  (!?).

But a lot of what I've learned did come simply through reading.

Here are five of what I consider my "break-thru" books.

SUBTEXT - The Hollow by Agatha Christie 

What the hell are these people talking about??!!! That was my initial reaction reading The Hollow. I was in high school and I was on a mission to read every book written by Christie. The Hollow turned out to be one of my all time favorites by her, but when I started reading it I was confused by the fact that the Angkatells were clearly speaking in code to each other. Even the servants were speaking in code to the Angkatells! So much of the conversation was verbal shorthand. In fact, most of the key communication was unspoken or delivered in the personal, private language of families.

This was the first time I understood what was meant by subtext and saw how very effective it could be in, amongst other things, illustrating relationship dynamics.

 BACKSTORY - Weep and Know Why by Elizabeth Ogilvie 

Did I miss something? This was another book I read in high school, and a lot of it takes place in flashback, which I was a little confused by. Not because I hadn't read stories with flashbacks before, but because the flashbacks were woven so subtly, so craftily throughout the text. No asterisks, no double spaces, no time stamp. Just the memories of Mirabell as she's working her way through some pretty terrifying events.

Not just that, it was clear that all the characters had complicated histories and relationships, i.e., backstory and Ogilvie did not painstakingly explain them all in convenient info dumps for the slower kids in the class. I had to read the whole book to understand both past and present--which is how it's supposed to be, though that didn't dawn on me until this very book.

SETTING - The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

I read The Moonspinners in junior high school. I'd seen the movie and I was a little taken aback at how very different the book was--but in the end was won over entirely. It was wonderful, and one of the most wonderful parts about it was how vivid the descriptions were of...well, everything. Everywhere. Every single place the heroine went...from the goat-scented interior of a gassy, groaning bus to the chilly dank interior of a tomb... it was all so real.

In fact, the writing was so evocative, I didn't skim past all "The Description" as I usually did with the generic settings in so many novels. This was the book where I realized that setting was a key element of making the story world come to life.

DIALOG - The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

Okay, this--possibly my all-time favorite of Heyer's work--is a beautiful illustration of how to handle subtext, backstory, and setting, but what really made Heyer stand out for my junior high school self was the dialog. It wasn't just what Heyer's characters said--though my God, she was funny--no, witty--it was their delivery too. The timing! The expressions! The tone! It was a revelation to see how someone who understood how to use descriptive tags could enhance already really strong dialog.

Even as a very inexperienced aspiring writer I couldn't help noticing that every single conversation was either amusing in its own right or served to advance the story. There was no filler, no babble, no turning pages to get to the action because there was plenty of entertaining action in the dialog itself.

METAPHOR - The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

I didn't get around to reading Chandler until I was in college, and had it not been part of the course curriculum I probably wouldn't have read it then (which means...holy moly! I might not have ended up marrying the SO--because it was at least partly our love of hard-boiled fiction and Chandler that
brought us together)! Anyway, until college I assumed Chandler, Hammett, Macdonald were all on a par with Mike Hammer and The Executioner. :-D So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across lines like:

“He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.”

“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.”

“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”

Coming from the world of He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree, this was enlightenment. Until that moment my use of metaphor had been constrained to similes.

BREVITY - Fadeout by Joseph Hansen

Ironically, Hansen was a writer who knew his way around a metaphor or two--as evidenced by his work as James Colton--but part of what set him apart from his contemporaries, was his sparing, occasionally spartan, use of language. Less is more was the lesson I learned from Hansen--and it was a lesson that came long after college and after I had published my own first novel. Quality over quantity. Cut, cut, cut down the bone. Brevity, may or may not be the soul of wit, but the tighter the prose, the sharper the point.

Any books change the way you write or even the way you read? Share them below!

Friday, April 6, 2018


I'm going to be honest here and admit this playlist is completely self-indulgent. I threw in some of my favorite Gaelic songs and a few odd things from my misspent past--they don't really have ANYTHING to do with this kooky, quirky cozy mystery about murder stalking a busload of tourists visiting the haunts and habitats of their favorite Scottish mystery author Dame Vanessa Rayburn. And yet they do.

Anyway, this music seems perfect for this book, for a number of reasons--which I hope will be clear once you've read the book. :-)  It comes out April 23rd from Carina Press.

Saturday, March 31, 2018


Yes, it's live!

Sort of. Kind of.

It's live on Amazon. I'm leaving it at the $4.99 preorder price for one week.

So that's the good news.

Unfortunately, for the first time Smashwords was unable to release early when requested. That's beyond frustrating and the result is I won't be doing my Kobo or B&N preorders through Smashwords.  In all honesty, I shouldn't be going through Smashwords for Kobo and B&N anyway, but it's easier and sometimes I just get lazy.

So ironically, if you preordered, you're getting the book after everyone else. Which is... not that funny really. But it's a holiday weekend, so a lot of you wouldn't have time to ready anyway, right?

Worst case scenario is the book will be live on Monday, which is still better than the 9th of April.

Originally, I was going to do a trilogy like the All's Fair series, but I really, really enjoy writing Sam and Jason --and people really seem to enjoy reading them. So the series does not end with book three, as you will see when you read the last chapter. ;-)

So it's a midpoint book and the various story arcs reflect that. Which is all I want to say because SPOILERS. I will say it's very much a relationship book.

YES, IT IS A KISSING BOOK. I admit it. But plenty of people die too!

Anyway, there you have it.

Abracadabra, Alakazam, and Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Kale Williams on THE ART OF MURDER series

The story of how Kale Williams came to narrate the Art of Murder series is kind of an interesting one. I originally contracted Chris Patton to do The Mermaid Murders, but some things came up in Chris's life and, to make a long story short, I started hunting around for a brand new voice for this (then) brand new series. I asked Facebook readers who they were listening to and one of the books mentioned was a title from Tara Lain's Pennymaker series. I believe Tara's was the only M/M title Kale had done at the time, but when I heard his voice, I was all Hey there, Jason West! ;-)

And the rest is history.

I've since used Kale for a number of projects and I really love the fact that he's as professional as he is talented.

So without further adieu, meet Kale Williams!

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in narrating audio books? How many audio books have you narrated?
I started my narration work recording textbooks for the blind & dyslexic. Most of my work at the time was as a theatre actor and I was traveling a lot for jobs. It was nice side work that I could take with me wherever I went. Leading up to my wedding about 5 years ago, I was looking for more work I could do from home, so I built a home studio and fell in love with narrating audiobooks. Since then, I’ve recorded over 100 titles, and I work not only with independent authors, but also big publishers like Penguin Random House and Audible Studios. 

How much acting is involved in narrating a story?
Most of the work I’m doing while narrating is acting work, but there’s also a good amount of directing that goes into it as well. I need a good sense of the overall arc of the story, and the shifting moods of each chapter and section, to really escort the listener along on the journey. And on top of that, I’m basically playing every character, so I need to understand each of their points of view and major character traits as well. It’s exciting as an actor to do so because I get to bring to life characters I would never ever play on stage or on camera. 

What kind of prep do you do before you start a project? How much thought goes into choosing the types of voices you use for different characters?

My first step in prepping a book is consulting with the author, if possible, to get any strong ideas they have on their story and characters, be that an overall mood or specific accents or character traits they deem important. Then I read the manuscript to get my own sense of the story and characters as a reader. Hopefully the two views coincide, if not we find a happy medium together. 

In terms of voices, it really depends on the genre as to how far I go with characterizations. Usually I try to err on the more subtle side, and focus on the predominant character traits to bring out the voice of a character. Then I layer on any extrinsic aspects that are mentioned in the text, be they accent or timbre or rate of speech. That said, these processes take place more subconsciously for me nowadays. The writers I work with often draw such vivid characters that, once I read the book, I have a solid picture in my head of each character and know how they sound to me. 
You’ve narrated a number of titles for me including standalones and the Art of Murder series. How is narrating a series different from narrating a standalone book? I guess what I’m getting at is as the author of an ongoing series, I’ve got to show character growth and a progression in the characters’ relationship in each book. Is there a similar challenge for you as the narrator?

Series narration has its own unique challenges and benefits. The benefit is, I get to know the main characters so intimately that the prep work is usually quicker for each subsequent book. That said, if it’s months or years between books, I may have forgotten my original pictures of these characters, or those mental pictures may have changed. I often narrate 2-5 books per month, so there are many more characters living in my brain after that time has passed. Plus, if a character takes a dramatic turn further on in a series, I need to marry those changes with the original character I created. This can be a big challenge if there are dramatic shifts that occur. 
One of the projects you took on for me was narrating So This is Christmas, the final installment of the Adrien English
series. How difficult was it to pick up where another highly regarded narrator left off?

This was one of the biggest narrating challenges I’ve faced so far. With five audiobooks already recorded by someone else, and a fan base very loyal to this series, it’s inevitably jarring to the listener to hear a new voice for this world. But as there have been many actors playing characters like Batman or James Bond, there will inevitably be comparisons, but each lives in his own world of interpretation. I tried to stay true to the characters as they read to me, and hoped to convey the author’s story in the clearest way possible. At the end of the day, that’s always my job. 
I think you did a terrific job, so thank you for taking that one on. ;-)  Anyway, The Art of Murder’s BAU Chief Sam Kennedy has been described as “cold, ruthless and a hard-ass.” How do you make that kind of character likable? (Personally, I think you give a very nuanced narration of Kennedy).

I love complex characters like Kennedy, or playing well-drawn antagonists and villains. I try to understand why they are the way they are. Why does Kennedy distance himself from intimate relationships? What in his past made him this way? And what is his ultimate goal with his behavior? He can be incredibly selfless in his pursuit of truth and justice. That may not always manifest itself in kindness and warmth, but I think to him the ends may justify the means. And if we see glimpses of his true self along the way, hopefully those shine brighter when we understand him on a deeper level. 
I hope the same! Readers tend to be #TeamSam or #TeamJason. Which are you? Or is a narrator allowed to take sides? :-D

HAHAHAHAHHA. Very diplomatic. Which character is most fun to narrate? Sam or Jason? Why?

I can’t really separate each of them from the story. They provide a yin and yang element for me. I get to bring out more humor and wryness with Jason, and leave it all out there, especially since we see this world through his eyes. We don’t get that inner voice with Sam, so there’s more to layer and reveal just through his dialogue. And he has his own very dry wit, though maybe not as intentionally as Jason. I love them both. 
Which character is the most difficult to narrate? Sam or Jason? Why?

Probably Sam, for the reason just stated. We are seeing him through Jason’s eyes, so we really only see the pieces of him that Jason allows himself to see (and that he allows Jason to see). POV is always an interesting aspect to keep in mind when I narrate. 

Is there a particular scene in either of the first two books you think you read especially well? Or that you particularly enjoyed reading?

One scene that stands out for me is when Jason is trapped in the mausoleum in The Monet Murders. There is so much mystery happening at that point, and the listener/reader really has no idea who could have locked him in there. The mood is so heightened and dangerous at that moment. Plus I love the description of the Tiffany windows and the mental gymnastics Jason goes through in assessing his situation and surroundings, admiring the art, and struggling with his temptation to break them to escape, but unable to conceive of a situation where he could justify doing so. The complexity of that moment remains vivid in my mind. 
You’re doing a lot of M/M Romance these days, which means you've read a LOT of sex scenes. How awkward is it to read erotic scenes aloud?

LOL yes I have! It’s not so much awkward anymore. Sometimes it makes me laugh because every author has a different set of colorful language used to describe anatomy and erotic acts, and it can be so creative and evocative that it sometimes catches me by surprise. 
Aside from getting paid in timely fashion 😉 what’s the most satisfying or rewarding part of narrating/producing an audio book?

The best moments are when I get so engrossed in narrating the book that I stop consciously thinking. I know the characters well enough that I don’t have to think about their voice or mental state, the writing just clicks, and I am able to trust both the author and myself to simply let the story flow through me. 
Does it make the process easier if you enjoy the stories you narrate or is the process fairly detached?

I’ve experienced both. Sometimes I love a book or story so much that I create this mental pressure on myself not to screw it up. I want so badly for it to be perfect. But I’m usually able to just trust and let it flow. And usually if a story is well-written, it sits more easily in my mouth and the process flows more readily. Those are the best moments. But I’m usually able to find something to love about each book I do, so I try to latch on to that or to think about what I want the listeners to fall in love with. 
What’s next for you? Where can readers/listeners find out more about you and your work?
 I’m working on a couple of projects at Audible Studios at the moment which have been fun to bring to life. I just wrapped Last Call from Felice Stevens & Christina Lee, which should be available within a couple of weeks. I’m continuing the Baytown Boys series with Maryann Jordan. And I can’t wait to start in on The Magician Murders this spring. Listeners can follow me on Twitter (@kalewilliamsvo) or Facebook (@kalewilliamsvoice) to catch the latest from me. 

Plus, I’ll be attending my first GRL this fall as a featured narrator, so I can’t wait to meet all the fans and authors down in Virginia! See you there!!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What I Did on My Winter Vacay

MOSTLY what I did was write. Sloowwwwly but suuuuurely The Magician Murders is taking shape. But while I was on Catalina Island (which is where I go for vacations) I also walked, slept, ate (too much) and drank...a bit.

By accident I discovered something called Caramel Appletinis and I'm determined to master them.

However, it turns out there are a lot of different recipes and they don't bear a lot of resemblance to each other.

This one from allrecipes is the right color, so I'm thinking I'll try it first.


white sugar
1 fluid ounce vanilla-flavored vodka
1 ounce sour apple schnapps (such as DeKuyper® Sour Apple Pucker)
1 fluid ounce butterscotch schnapps (such as DeKuyper® Buttershots®)
1 maraschino cherry

NOTE TO SELF: The version I drank skipped the cherry (just as well, since we don't like them) but drizzled caramel syrup artistically along the sides of the glass. ER, WHY ARE WE REFERRING TO OURSELVES AS "WE," PRECIOUS?



Pour sugar onto a small, shallow plate. Moisten the rim of a martini glass with water and dip the moistened glass into sugar. CHECK!

Fill a shaker with ice. CHECK!

Pour in vanilla vodka, sour apple schnapps, and butterscotch schnapps. CHEK/

Cover the shaker and shake until chilled; strain cocktail into prepared martini glass. CH--hmm... GULP!

Garnish with maraschino cherry. (STILL GULPING)

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Magician Murders - Playlist

In the initial stages of writing, I usually listen to a Pandora channel my nephews refer to as the "Funeral Channel" or the "Death Channel". (Outside my family circle it's actually known as "Meditation by the Sea".) Sometimes I listen to the "Wind Chimes channel," which the nephews assure me is indistinguishable from the "Funeral Channel," though I beg to differ. Sometimes I listen to classical music. Basically I listen to stuff that does not have words.

But eventually I always hit a point where I am longing for something a bit peppy--and emotional. I go back to One Republic and Lifehouse and Muse and start to develop a playlist that keeps me in the right mood for each phase of the story. I'm at that point in the creative phase of The Magician Murders. The point where I am driving the SO and Marlowe the Mutt crazy playing the same songs over and over. ;-)

I like this phase though because it means the story is becoming real to me and I'm thinking less about the order of words and more about how the characters feel about each other and all the dreadful things happening to them.

Anyway, here's the official unveiling of The Magician Murders playlist.