Marilyn and Chicago Suburbs

Q&A with


Author = Marilyn Brant:

Mirabelle Harbor is a fictional suburb of Chicago. Why did you choose a made up venue?

Because I love having complete control!! Seriously, it’s because I wanted to be able to create the layout of the town—with all of its shops, restaurants, and buildings—from the ground up. 

I had a few northern Chicago suburbs in mind when I came up with Mirabelle Harbor’s downtown, so there were real Illinois cities that influenced the design, but I also had very specific areas I wanted to block off for community events and particular characters’ apartments/houses. 

I wouldn’t have been able to plan things out quite so exactly or have certain establishments located within an easy walking distance from the lake if I didn’t do this myself. And, it turns out, I discovered I loved city planning, LOL. I drew out a full map on a huge sheet of paper, labeled all of the streets (even ones that haven’t yet been mentioned in the stories), came up with names for all sorts of stores and diners and parks. It was really a fun process.

All of your novels all have a playlist of sorts. Is music a big part of your life?

It is, yes. Music is my favorite of the creative arts. It always has been. And my books definitely have built-in playlists or “Soundtracks of the Story.” 

I think we all have certain senses that we rely upon more heavily than others and through which we filter our experiences. I’m both very visual and very auditory. The sound of something, the tone of someone’s voice...these are things I notice. And distinctive melodies, like Led Zepplin’s “Stairway to Heaven” in The Road to You or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Changes Everything” in A Summer in Europe, can become almost an anthem for a novel—one that underscores the story with subtext. 

So, the music I use in any one of my books always has an added meaning. Somebody could read the book and get the general message just from the song titles, but for readers who also know the lyrics, there’s an extra layer hidden there for them as well.

Do you choose the playlist for your novels or as you’re writing does the novel choose the music?

I think the novel chooses the music. 

Or, rather, the characters in the novel—as I come to know them and they develop real personalities in my mind—choose the songs that most resonate for them. 

In the Mirabelle Harbor series, every book title also references a specific song, which was intentional. This was particularly relevant for You Give Love a Bad Name because Blake is a radio DJ for a station named “LOVE FM,” and “The Eighties” as a decade is part of the theme for the big Homecoming dance in the story. 

There is a lot of music in this novel, and I even got to make up a recording artist and write part of a song for him! (Such fun!!) As for the earlier books in the series, when I was writing The One That I Want, I’d find myself thinking things like, “Which song would Julia really love? Which one would make her cry? Or laugh?” 

With the first book, Take a Chance on Me, there are musical references specific to Chance & Nia. Occasionally there would be a place in that story where I’d try to slip in an allusion to a particular song, but it just didn’t work for those main characters. I needed to find ones that really fit each of them. (On my website, I include referenced songs on the book pages for each individual novel. This is the page for You Give Love a Bad Name—just scroll to the bottom and you can see many of the songs that are included in the story:

Do you use your own experiences in your writing?

Absolutely. There are a few of my real-life experiences peppered throughout all of my novels. 

However, I use far fewer of my own experiences than I do my own emotions. It’s not very important, in my opinion, that a writer live through any particular situation in order to write about it. She should be familiar with some of the corresponding feelings a person in that situation might have, though. 

For instance, I never went to our prom in high school. But I did go to other high-school dances, and I was asked to be the date of someone on the Homecoming Court when I was in college. What I really know about the prom experience is less about event-specific details (I can make those up!) than about the emotional state of a girl who might’ve felt disconnected and marginal at an event full of pomp and pretension. I think anyone who’s ever been in a room full of people and felt unbelievably alone, but still had to pretend to be having a great time, could channel those feelings and write a scene from that emotional place.

 Did you pretty much have the stories in this series mapped out before you began writing them?

Oh, yes. 

This was my first time plotting out a major series,and if I wanted a shot at making sure the plotlines of the later books would come together and dovetail as seamlessly as possible with the first couple of stories, 

I need to map out not just one book in advance but ALL of them. So, the first three stories in the series (Take a Chance on Me, The One That I Want & You Give Love a Bad Name) are finished and now published, and I have the fourth novel (Stranger on the Shore) already plotted and half written. The fifth story (Going for It) is loosely plotted, too. It’s a crossover Mirabelle Harbor novella that takes place in my friend Erin Nicholas’s wonderful Sapphire Falls town—part of the Kindle World launch for her series. I’m really excited about being part of that! 

And there are at least two other novels that take place entirely in Mirabelle Harbor for which I have the basic structure/plot already worked out. Certain very specific plot details for those later books had to be embedded in the earlier ones, so I needed be a little more organized than usual, LOL. It’s been a fabulously exciting, long-range puzzle of characters and connections to come up with in advance but, for me, there are still plenty of surprises that I know will appear when I get down to the actual writing.

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Giveaway Info:
One ebook copy per blog of TAKE A CHANCE ON ME, the first book in the Mirabelle Harbor series. Available in mobi, epub, or pdf.

Story Excerpt: Vicky’s tale

My friends and I settled our bill and stepped outside of The Lounge just as a ruckus was getting started next door at Max’s Pub.
“You asshole!” this dopey, burly, drunk guy screamed, ineffectively swinging at another drunk guy.
“You witless dickhead!” slurred the second guy. But that didn’t mask his identity. As soon as he spoke, I knew who it was. Everyone did.
“Isn’t that Blake Michaelsen?” Janet whispered.
“Yep,” I whispered back. I’d only seen him in person once before—at a big event at the radio station this summer—and it was, literally, across a crowded room. But Blake’s voice on 102.5 LOVE FM was one of the sexiest I’d ever heard. I listened to him on the radio all the time. And he was my friend Sharlene’s older brother, so I knew a few additional facts about him than I might have otherwise.
Like that he was impulsive.
And loud.
And kind of a manwhore.
Then again, he had a rep in town, so most women knew these things, too. It was just that Shar had actually confirmed them for me.
Blake landed a decent punch and sent the other guy stumbling. But Dopey Dude got back up.
Oh, boy.
Shar was going to be so pissed when she heard about this. And she would. Probably within three minutes or less. Gossip traveled at the speed of sound in Mirabelle Harbor.
There was more yelling between the men, along with a bunch of shouts from the sports-bar crowd surrounding them. It reminded me of the stupid hall fights I’d had the misfortune to have to try to break up at the high school. Dumb boy behavior at its finest. Guys who fought each other because they couldn’t rationally reason their way through a discussion. So foolish and immature. And, worse, so painful to the people who actually cared about these cretins.
Dopey Dude landed a crushing blow to Blake’s abdomen. He doubled over and fell to the pavement. Then the other guy started to seriously pummel Blake while the crowd alternately jeered, taunted, and screamed their encouragement.
I winced. Blake’s dark hair was matted against his forehead with sweat and, also, with some fresh blood. He had a gash across his cheekbones, dirt on his face and neck, and more blood dripping from the corner of his mouth.
And he was devastatingly handsome, even then.
Although, with the angry eyes and the snarl on his lips, he looked like the poster child for one the French revolutionary insurgents in Les Misérables. If he decided to build a barricade, storm the Bastille, or lead the crowd in the first verse of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” I wouldn’t dare to stand in his way.
The fact that I couldn’t guess whether he’d be more like a hero or a terrorist in any uprising made me immediately uncomfortable, though. I hadn’t known he’d be like this. His sister could get a little fiery sometimes, but Shar had a marshmallow heart. Blake, by contrast, looked both self-destructive and vicious. Like he could quite effectively kill someone.
Finally, an officer came on the scene and broke up the fight. He ordered us all to leave, but I was rooted to the spot. I couldn’t take my eyes off Blake’s cut-up face. So many bruises, and he was even spitting blood.
Lisa nudged me. “Let’s go, Vicky.”
Before I could make my feet move, Blake looked up at me and our gazes collided. I kept imagining the shock Shar would feel if she saw her brother in this horribly battered, sweaty, and drunken state. She was very protective of her family. But nothing was going to protect Blake from the wrath of one massive hangover and the need for some serious first aid.
His eyes turned even darker and they narrowed dangerously as he continued to stare at me.
Christine tugged me away.
“They were like a couple of wasted jocks after a football game,” she observed on the drive home.
“I know. I was thinking the same thing. Like those boys that get into fights in the school cafeteria. With them, it’s all crazy levels of testosterone and impaired judgment, leading to damage of property and reckless endangerment of themselves and others. Imagine someone acting that way after being out of high school for fifteen years? It’s like they never got all the way through adolescence.”
Christine nodded. “Although I can’t say being a mature grownup all the time is a barrel of laughs.”
I smiled. “True. But anything is better than being forever seventeen.”
I remembered myself at seventeen and suppressed a shudder. That was one time of my life I’d never want to relive, and I had daily witness as to why in my classroom.
Though, if forced to be completely honest with myself, one of the main reasons I’d been drawn to teaching was to see if I could make high school a better experience for kids like me. For those quirky, quiet, culture-loving, rule-following bookworms who really wanted to learn. Not that I was so different now, really. It was just that, back then, I’d felt so alone. I hadn’t realized there might be others like me out there.
I said goodnight to Christine, went inside my apartment, and leaned against the door with a deep sigh. I should go to sleep, but I just couldn’t. All I’d be able to see behind my closed eyes would be Blake Michaelsen’s bloodied, infuriated face.

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Why Katrina Reads

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

by Katrina Bivald

  1. Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? What appealed to you about it? Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?
     One of the few things that reading has made be certain about is that there is nothing really unique out there. Everything has been done before, which is generally a good thing, because if we like something, we want more of it.
     In fact, when I set out to try to write a novel, I decided to fill it with all the things I myself have loved in other books, and I love small American towns, quirky characters, unexpected friendships, love – and books, of course.
  2. How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?
  3. For this book, I didn’t really decide on anything. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just went right ahead and did it, figuring things out along the way (slowly, very slowly, after much trial and even more error).
     For the other projects I work on, topic is both a part of the first idea (“I want to write a book about a person who…” or “what if this and that happened…”) and a part of the general theme or feeling of the book, which for me generally comes much later. I never know exactly what story I’m telling until after I’ve written the first draft.
  4. How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
  5. For this book, I researched as I went along, sometimes after I’d already written something. For the book I’m writing at the moment, I’ve lingered in the research phase for months, being very reluctant to start the actual planning of the book, let alone start writing it. I think between the two lies a happy middle ground I’m yet to experience.
  6. What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?
    I Google, a lot. Images, maps, articles. And I order an obscene amount of books, any books, any topic even vaguely related to my writing. I don’t always read them, but I buy them, thinking perhaps that that in itself will be enough (sort of like some people approach studying, I imagine). Right now I’m reading books about Oregon and grief, an interesting combination.
  7. How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience?
  8. I’ve only approached authorities for research once; a Swedish police officer working with traffic accidents (I won’t really be able to use it, because afterwards I re-located my story to the US). But I found him incredibly helpful, which I think is the experience of many authors, at least in Sweden. People are generally glad to help if they can.
  9. How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?
  10. I’m not really sure, I think I lost count after ten or twelve. But it is fair to say that The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend has been rejected by every large, small and middle sized publisher in Sweden, sometimes more than once. It was even rejected by the publisher that eventually published it.
     It was difficult at the time, of course, but it was necessary: the book needed to improve. It’s an advice I gladly give to new writers: get rejected. It will improve your story to rewrite it.
  11. Did you need to self-publish on e-books before a publisher took you up?
  12. No, and I’m not sure I could have; I lack the mentality to be able to sell it myself.
  13. Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?
  14. In Sweden, I wouldn’t recommend self-publishing before approaching a publisher. Why not at least try getting paid for it first? And if you self-publish, be sure to spend some money on an editor: your story deserve it.
    Regardless, you will have to build an audience of course, and for some writers, self-publishing works great. I think it depends on what kind of person you are. But I still think you shouldn’t been in too much of a hurry to get published. It will happen, one day, if you keep writing, and you’ll be able to use everything you’ve learned before it.
  15. Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?
  16. It does for me now, but I think that’s still unusual. The majority of writers in Sweden can’t live on it, at least not full-time. For many, it’s a constant struggle between having time to write and no money or money and no time to write. I wrote for years while working, was published, and then my agent sold my book to some 25 countries, and then I could live on my writing.
    Which means, of course, that I know have to write full time, which is not as easy as it sounds. I’m not sure if it makes my writing any better.
  17. In fact, the only thing that really changed was that all my plants died: having more time to write, I found myself wandering around in my apartment, “thinking”, and then I felt sort of silly just pacing around, so I picked up the watering can to have something to do. And apparently, if you water your plants three or four times a day, they die.
  18. What is the funniest thing that happened to you on a book tour?
     To market my book in the UK, I once spent five hours and thirty seven minutes reading in a bookstore window, to re-enact the scene in the book. A passer by looked at me sitting there reading and said loudly: “that’s a good job if you can get it.”
     Although I cheated. I allowed myself a short break in the middle to step outside (I have the unhealthy habit of smoking) and while doing so a little girl, perhaps five years old, who had stood beside me and watch me read boldly stepped into the window, sat down in the chair, and picked up my book, like she’d seen me doing.
     She was much cuter than me.
 The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katrina Bivald 
(9781492623441; January 19, 2016; $16.99; Trade Paper Original)
 #1 INDIE NEXT GREAT READ January 2016 
#2 LibraryReads Picks


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The very hot Holly

Interview with Holly S. Roberts
 Can you tell your readers something about why you chose this particular topic to write about? 
What appealed to you about it? 
Why do you think it is different and your approach is unique?
 Heat is very different for me. I spent over ten years in law enforcement and this book is about the bad guys being the good guys. The idea for Heat has been forming for years. The #1 TV show watched by cops was Sons of Anarchy. Even cops love a good villain.
 How long do you think about a topic before deciding to write about it? Do you have a set of notes or a note book where you write down topics that appeal before making a decision as to which topic this time?
 I build stories in my head. That process goes into overdrive about a month before I put anything on paper. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and build more of the story. I rarely write anything down until I’m ready to create. When I do take notes, it’s usually the title, character names, etc.
 How long does it take to research a topic before you write? And for this book?
 In most cases, I research while I write. The internet is a wondrous tool. Also, write what you know works very well for me. 

Then I had one of my romance books (not this one) where the hero played rugby. I knew nothing about rugby. Months before I began writing the book, I immersed myself in televised games, learning the rules, and reading online rugby boards. I never wrote a word until I was in love with the sport and could talk about it like a pro.
 What resources do you use? In general and for the last book that you wrote?
 My story takes place in Phoenix, AZ, USA. I lived there for twenty-five years but still needed a map (I love you MapQuest). 

I also researched female Mexican artists on the internet and became fascinated with Frida Kahlo. She’s a small mention in the book but I put hours and hours of investigation into her life because I fell in love with her story.
 How helpful do you find authority figures such as the police when you say you want to write about them? Is there a good way to approach them in your experience?
 Because I worked sex crimes and homicide as a detective, and was lead investigator on high profile cases, I have an extensive collection of business cards from the FBI to secret service. I call, tell them I’m retired and that I’m now writing, we talk a little about the case we worked together, and I ask my questions. 

The secret service handles counterfeit money and I will be using some of this gathered knowledge in a future book. For the average civilian author, call your local police department. They will gladly hook you up with someone to answer your questions. Walking up to an officer on the street is not the best idea because they are in high alert mode. 

A handshake and thank you for your service, yes, but contact the police department directly to set up a meeting. You’ll be happy you did.
 How many times have you been rejected before your first novel was accepted or before this book was accepted?
 I consider myself self-published. 

Four Carat Press is co-owned by me and three other authors. We are successfully pooling our fan-base. 

I also have a wonderful agent who represents my romance work though he hasn’t yet sold the novel he’s excited about. These things take time and I’m good with that. 

I sold my life-rights to Rocklin and Faust Productions in 2014 and anything connected to Hollywood takes a very long time. My literary agent, who has offices in New York and Hollywood, will represent me if the project gets off the ground. Until then, I will happily remain self-published.
 Did you need to self-publish e-books before a publisher took you up?
 In today’s market, most authors need a good self-publishing track record to land a contract with a major publisher. 

As an indie author, I’ve hit the USA Today best-seller list three times and at last garnered interest in my writing. The first step, as always, is finding a good agent. I was able to do that in 2015. I’ve been writing since 2011. 

I’ve worked hard to get where I am and love self-publishing. I have an awesome editing team and graphic artist that I work with regularly to produce a polished product (besides writing a good book, this is the top strategy to successfully self-publishing).  

I’m always open to new ideas and ways to take my writing career to the next level. 2016 will be big for me. I can feel it.
 Would you recommend self-publishing and building an audience before approaching a publisher? If so, what benefits do you see that it might have for the aspiring novelist?
 YES, absolutely. Work the kinks out, learn from your mistakes, and begin building that fan-base. 

My agent took the next step by requesting the first three chapters of my book because of my track record in self-publishing. Building a successful author portfolio was hard work but that’s what enticed my agent. Polished work got me a contract.
 Does writing provide sufficient income to live on? And how long did it take before this happened?
 I have singly supported my family for more than a year. 

My husband retired completely at the age of fifty three and takes care of me while I write. Believe me it’s a full-time job. We were also able to buy our dream home high in the mountains. It’s beautiful. 

We both worked fulltime the first three years I was writing. It was year two that I first made more money than I ever dreamed possible. Taking the plunge and leaving two wonderful careers was intimidating but we’ve done it and couldn’t be happier.
 What is the funniest thing that happened to you on a book tour?
 At a book signing in Las Vegas, a woman walked up to have one of my books signed. She said, “Gosh, you look familiar.” I recognized her immediately and had arrested her during a traffic stop years before because she had an active warrant. 

I told her I was a police detective and also the city and state I was from. She couldn’t leave fast enough. 

An author sitting beside me asked, “What just happened?” I picked up my pink handcuffs which travel with me to display with my books, and answered, “She didn’t like these.” While an officer, I was known for my pink handcuffs. As an author, they are a great conversation tool. Murderers and sex offenders have been taken into custody with my pinks many times.

The woman who approached me was a minor case but it’s important to remember the faces of those you came in contact with even when you visit another state and least expect to see them. It’s a very small world and really her expression was priceless.

Find out more about Holly at:

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The Consequences pile up

A Banquet of Consequences


Elizabeth George

A NetGalley (honest) review
For me, this one of her best novels so far...
A complex story with a multitude of who dunnit and why?
Lots of, ‘Just what was the relevance of that?’ too which all meant that you had better have your memory caps on when you read this story or you might forget the relationships and potential rationales each one had for murders and more.
This book was set in a part of the countryside of which I am quite familiar so I decided to do some online exploration to see just what I could show visitors to this webpage who had not been there what it was like.
It’s hard to choose as the small towns – YetminsterYetminster – SherborneSherborne_the_green - in this part of the SouthWest of England are very cute and beautifully built in local stone which is golden in colour. And the coast has sandy beaches and high – very crumbly – cliffs – Golden Cap Golden Cap overlooking Lyme Bay– over Lyme Bay.
The area was noted for its wool trade and the grass is kept well clipped by the sheep that wander there and their wool is used in carpets.
And then there is Spitalfields in London which still has the houses that the silk weavers used with the high windowed lofts Spitalfieldsin which they spun and wove their cloth, and of course our famous Petticoat Lane market petticoat-lane-wentworth-street-market-london-east-end-e1-england-A845FMof the East End which sells colourful, often ethnic, clothing at reasonable prices.
The other parts of this book which interested me was the concept of anyone training a cat to walk on a leash! I have heard about this but still... but I found a great article about this with good photos and videos.
We have never attempted this, but we did used to have a cat which went on walks with us – of her own accord. Never too far, but round the block or two.
And finally the great psychological assistance dog – the Havanese. Not a breed I was familiar with – Havanese but looks really cute.
Havanese are good for this purpose as they are known as a ‘velcro’ dog. A dog that stays glued to your side and the breed has been also been used in the circus and for dog sports as well as for handicap assistance.
When I looked the reed up, there was a long list of dog attributes to look for in any dog which relate to its purpose and the ones that make Havanese so useful for handicap work are:
  1. It adapts well to apartment living;
  2. It is good for novice owners;
  3. It has good sensitivity;
  4. It is friendly;
  5. And good with a family;
  6. As well as other dogs;
  7. And strangers;
  8. It is easy to train;
  9. Doesn’t need masses of exercise;
  10. And is a good companion and playful.
I didn’t guess who was the real murderer until they were revealed in the very final chapter, which is unusual for me and which is one of the reasons I am awarding this novel a 5 star.
I have read just about all of George’s novels but found myself getting bogged down in one or two, and others had such terrible story lines (in the issues that befell their characters), that you wondered if you could stomach reading on as they were so emotionally harrowing.
That was not the case here. This was a more traditional tale of murder where the means were explicit but who they were intended for, when they could have been administered, by whom and so on were really far from explicit and as the story progressed an alternative explanation and more alternatives were explained and explored as each new piece of data was revealed.

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Follow that dog!

irish setterAn Irish Setter. Beautiful to look at!
Ah – just when you thought you were safe – you really should never own property with your ex-husband (Stu)  – and when he owns the other half of your duplex – (semi-detached) then you are in trouble.
And then there is the dog Carrie ends up getting asked to babysit- dogsit – by Ryan - the person renting her husband’s duplex -not a very well trained dog at that but then Irish Setters are:  Lively, Playful, Energetic, Companionable, Affectionate, Independent and can be 32k in weight as a male and 27inches high. Not really giant but certainly large enough.
They are a very active and alert dog, and enjoy long daily walks and runs. Due to their highly trainable nature, they are usually good off the lead, provided you have trained them with a reliable recall. 

This of course may vary according to the dogs personality as some Irish Setters are so playful they may develop selective hearing when called back to go home!
This is a breed of dog which does not relish being alone for long periods of time and inactivity may lead to separation anxiety, boredom and destructive behaviour. www.pets4homes and Riley also howled...
So we see all of this behaviour in the story - and of course, this is what causes the ‘problems’ with Riley – the dog- and Ryan who was asked by his sister to dogsit Riley, but fails to realise all of the above about Irish Setters, 

And then of course his neighbour Carrie who is the unexpected recipient of Riley’s boredom behaviours. Carrie who lives in the other half of the duplex and wants to get on with her painting in peace and quiet and not be bothered with her ex-husband's tenants. Or her ex-husband for that matter.
Other than the above the story line is not unusual but it is good fun reading. Light, bubbly and well paced. And the dog is delightful.
4 stars mainly for the dog! An honest review for NetGalley.

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