Author Archives: gswguest

About gswguest

The Gem State Writers would like to thank our guest blogger. We appreciate your contributions to our community of fiction writers and readers.

Guest Kelly Jones

kelly-resized“Shoot from the rooftop,” my husband says, pointing to the Grand Hotel Praha, “and you can drop the Senator beneath the clock tower with a single shot.”

We’re in Prague and the square is bustling with noisy tourists, crammed beneath the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square, jostling for the best spots, waiting for the show to begin.  We blend in, completely unnoticed.  We could be plotting a real murder.

I raise my iPad, click on video, and do a 360 to get in the entire square.  A mime dressed all in white (hmmm . . . sometimes ideas just pop into the scene!), waves into the camera.  I’m aware now that people are watching, but I doubt they suspect I’m gathering information for a book.

Often I’m asked, “When you’re writing a novel, at what point do you visit the site?”  I’ve learned that it is best, at least for me, to wait until I’ve got a good first draft.  I’m not an outliner, so it’s important to be aware of the exact places I want to visit before setting out to explore.  I often discover aspects of a scene that are not at all what I’d imagined.  The Grand Hotel Praha, for instance, is not as grand as I’d expected.  I had the killer taking a shot from an upper floor but, as it turns out, the hotel is a mere three stories.  Even with the information available to writers online (including a web cam on the hotel’s website), I’d pictured it differently.

We visit a church on Karmelitska where the world-famous Infant of Prague resides.  I’m a little nervous when I realize we are sitting in full view of what may or may not be a surveillance camera as we whisper back and forth, attempting to determine if  climbing over the communion rail for a better view will, as the sign warns, really set off an alarm.

We spend the next several days roaming, crossing back and forth over the vendor-lined Charles Bridge, photographing the spires and towers of Prague, visiting the Letna Park, where a pivotal scene in my “work in progress” takes place.  We peer into shop windows and photograph myriad marionettes.  One or two of these will appear in the story, though I hadn’t realized there might be so many choices—witches, clowns, skeletons, mermaids, devils, angels, Charley Chaplin, Don Giovanni.

Another question I’m sometimes asked:  “If you are writing about real places and historical events, how obligated do you feel to stick to the facts and when do you fictionalize?”

I always attempt to get it right.  I stick with the facts, but use my novelist’s creative license with the unknowns.  When I wrote about the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries in Paris for my first novel, THE SEVENTH UNICORN, I was delighted to discover the designer of the tapestries remains unnamed.  When I wrote about Renaissance art in Florence for THE LOST MADONNA, I didn’t invent artists, but I did invent a painting lost in a flood.  Hanna, my fictitious character in THE WOMAN WHO HEARD COLOR, becomes involved in authentic historical events in pre-World War II Munich and Berlin.

Good fiction, I believe, will convince the reader it’s real. Authentic setting, even if the author invents it, is essential to a successful novel.  I enjoy writing stories set in real places and feel fortunate to be able to visit these cities.  I’d love to take you along on a journey to Prague.

“Like” Kelly Jones on facebook:

For more information, visit:


Posted by on December 14, 2012 in Guest Blog, research, writers, writing craft



Is there anything in the world more wonderful than the written word?

By Craig Carter, Guest

Done well, the written word has rhythm and music. For instance, because he knew more people would read his speeches than hear them, Abraham Lincoln purposely wrote speeches to be read. His incredible grasp of literary music and rhythm is found in the at once tragic and hopeful tune of his Second Inaugural, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of the other men’s faces, but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”  Spoken, Lincoln’s speeches are powerful, but when read, Lincoln’s speeches rival Mozart’s concertos and Beethoven’s sonatas.

The written word also perpetuates undeniable truth.   There’s Jesus: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  And Buddha: “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”  Hence, the written word isn’t just noble, it’s absolutely necessary.

That’s why I always try to remind myself of the ponderously broad shoulders on which I stand when I write. I love to make readers smile at least, but I depend on inspiration from the likes of Dorothy Parker. “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.” And as a political commentator,  I depend heavily on the influences of Will Rogers, “I am just like a politician – the less I know about anything, the more I can say, “ And Mark Twain:  “The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter.  They are an entire banquet.”

World renowned comedian and actor Groucho Marx often said he was most proud that his letters were in the Library of Congress.  War hero, Congressman, Senator and President John Kennedy often spoke of how proud he was to win the Pulitzer Prize for “Profiles in Courage.” And though my paltry talent pales in comparison, after almost 15 years of writing my column, I still get giddy when I see my words in published print.

I recently experienced the true magic of this craft while writing a column about how proud I was to exchange e- mails with a physicist at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.  In my first draft, I jokingly commented it was like Albert Einstein chowin’ vittles and discussin’ the energy/mass equation with the Clampetts. I liked the line, but just as I was about to submit the column, something (my muse, I suspect, who, interestingly enough, bears a remarkable resemblance to Selma Hayek,) inspired me to  delete it and write it was like Stephen Hawking discussing the ever expanding universe with Honey Boo-Boo. When I read the original line to my wife at first draft, she giggled. When I read the edited line upon publication, she gasped, and said, “That’s perfect.”

Could anything in the world be so wonderful?


Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Idaho


Family Obligations

Barbara Barrett can’t help being a bit schizo when it comes to her lifestyle, since she lives half the year in Florida (guess which season) and the other half in her home state of Iowa. She believes she has the best of both worlds, with visits to the Mouse in winter and her six grandchildren in summer. Although she has been writing romance fiction for several years, her debut novel, The Sleepover Clause, was just released this September by Crimson Romance. While she has refined her craft, she has also been active in RWA, particularly the Kiss of Death chapter (someday she’s going to start that cozy mystery series), chairing their annual conference planning committee for two years, including New York City. Her next book, And He Cooks Too, is coming out in the next several months with The Wild Rose Press.Visit her website at:www.

Family obligation is a frequently occurring theme in literature, because it provides strong character motivation. Characters to do and say things they might never consider otherwise due to the pressure of obligation to family. This theme also serves as the obstacle that prevents characters from readily obtaining their goals.

Sometimes one family member will outwardly exert their influence over another family member. (Though this is an example from television and not literature, Marie Barone of “Everybody Loves Raymond” comes to mind.) That type of situation generates one type of story.

In other instances, something within the character’s emotional make-up sets them up to feel obligated rather than just grateful. In the case of Mitch McKenna, the hero of my debut romance novel, The Sleepover Clause, for Crimson Romance, it’s the belief that his brothers will fail if he’s not there to help them. That character flaw provides rich territory for exploration and development of Mitch and his story.

A few years back, Mitch put the career he was meant to follow, practicing law, on hold in order to customize luxury motor coaches with his two older brothers. Though miserable ever since with that decision, he refuses to let his brothers know. If they find out, they’ll throw him off the team, and that will jeopardize their success. Or so Mitch believes.

Mitch feels obligated to his brothers because they paid his school bills and made it possible for him to go to law school. The irony of how his sacrifice negates theirs eludes him.

But there’s more to it than that. Even though he’s the youngest sibling, he sees himself as the smart one, the successful one – the “savior,” if you will. That drive and intelligence make him a perfect candidate as an attorney. That ego also prompts him to see his brothers in a less positive light than himself. One left a boring job before he was fired. The other developed a serious medical condition. In Mitch’s mind, they both “need” him. Which is true, up to a point. Yes, they can use his assistance. But they are both quite talented and resourceful in their own right and probably could make a success of the business without his help.

Even though Mitch hates the idea that the heroine, Aubrey, tries to “fix” everyone else’s lives,  he is doing the same for brothers. He can’t move on until he recognizes that paradox. The journey to that realization is one of the story’s major underlying themes.

Resolution of family obligation comes in many forms –  self-discovery, confrontation, game-changing circumstances, to name a few.  Something out of the ordinary must occur for the character to see the obligation for what it is and take action to get past it. Therein lies the foundation of a solid story.

I’ve portrayed “obligation” in a pretty negative light in this post. Are there any times when obligation is positive?


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Idaho


Guest Blogger Leigh Duncan

Romance author Leigh Duncan spent years moving about the country, but now calls Central Florida’s east coast her home.  Rancher’s Son, her fourth book for Harlequin American Romance is a December release.  Rodeo Daughter, was an RT Magazine Top Pick! for June 2012 and will be re-released in a Larger Print edition for the sight-impaired on November 1st.  Leigh is a long-time member of Romance Writers of America and serves as the published author (PAN) liaison for the Space Coast Authors of Romance (Florida STAR).  She belongs to several other RWA chapters, including the Washington Romance Writers, and is a charter member of the Romance Writers of America on-line women’s fiction chapter.  To learn more about her, visit

Where Did You Come From?

It’s fall in Florida, but you’d never know it from looking at the thermometer.  At our house, the air conditioner runs full time.  In fact, an influx of migratory birds is the only sure sign that summer is on the wane.  Yesterday, an enormous hawk landed in our front yard.  The day before, a flock of red-headed woodpeckers took over the trees.  Within the next week or two, this year’s robins and butterbutts will fill my back yard.  They make the most delightful racket.

With all these visitors, I’ve been asking, “Where did you come from?”  But I’m not always talking about the birds.  Most often, I’m talking about heroes and heroines.

Where do they come from?

Every writer must figure out what drives their books.  Some authors are plot-driven.  Others, action-driven.  My stories begin and ends with the characters so I’m fairly safe in saying they are character-driven.  And because I write romance, I usually “see” the hero or the heroine first.

How does that happen?

When I least expect it.  I’ll be shopping, cleaning, cooking—whatever—and realize I’ve been thinking about, or even having a conversation with, someone I’ve never “seen” before.

That’s how Rancher’s Son came to me.  I looked up from my computer to catch a mental image of a cowboy moseying along on horseback behind a herd of cattle.  At the time, I was knee deep in edits for another book, so I just gave him a nod and went back to work.  For the next couple of weeks, though, he kept popping in.  Each time, he revealed a little bit more about himself.

I learned he was strong, opinionated, ruggedly handsome.  That his ranch had been in his family for four generations.  Okay, so now I was really starting to like this guy.  But then he said his ranch was in Florida. 

I have to admit, I was skeptical.

It took some digging, but I learned that Ponce de Leon brought the first cattle to Florida—seven head of Andalusians.  Despite mosquitoes and floods and heat, people have been ranching here ever since.  Today, Florida is home to over a million head of cattle.  It’s the third-largest beef-producing state east of the Mississippi.

Okay, so back to my hero.  Finding just the right girl for him and making him work hard to earn her love, that became my job.  But I didn’t go easy on him. He had to prove he was strong enough, honorable enough, to have his heart’s desire.

Did he pass the test?

You’ll have to answer that question for yourself.

As for me, lately someone else has snagged my attention.  A baseball player, a pitcher.  But I think there’s a lot more he needs to reveal about himself before I can sit down and write his story.

I hope he does.  I think I’ll like him, too.


Tags: , , ,

Welcome Guest Blogger, Liz Flaherty

On September 28, 1935, my parents went to a minister’s house and got married. My dad wore a double-breasted suit and my mom had on a hat. They stayed married through the rest of the Great Depression and three wars, through the births of six children and the death of one at the age of three, through failing health and the loss of all their parents and some of my father’s siblings. Dad died in 1981, Mom in 1982. They were still married.

From the viewpoint of their youngest child, who was born in their early 40s when they thought they were finished with all that, it was the marriage from hell. I never saw them as a loving couple, never saw them laugh together or show affection or even hold hands. They didn’t buy each other gifts, sit on the couch together, or bring each other cups of coffee. The only thing I was sure they shared was that—unlike my husband and me—they didn’t cancel out each other’s vote on Election Day.

“Why on earth,” I asked my sister once, “did they stay together all those years? Mom could have gone home to her family, even if she did have to take a whole litter of kids. Heaven knows Dad could have.” (He was the adored youngest son and brother—he could do no wrong.)

Nancy gave me the look all youngest siblings know, the one that says, “Are you stupid?” When you’re grown up, it replaces the look that says, “You’re a nasty little brat.” But I regress.

“Don’t you get it?” my sister asked. Her blue eyes softened. So did her voice. “They loved each other. Always. They just didn’t do it the way you wanted them to.”


I remembered then. When they stopped for ice cream because Mom loved ice cream. How they sat the kitchen table across from each other drinking coffee. How thin my dad got during Mom’s long illness because “I can’t eat if she can’t.” When they watched Lawrence Welk reruns together and loud because—although neither would admit it—their hearing was seriously compromised.

And the letters. The account of their courtship. We found them after Mom’s death, kept in neat stacks. They wrote each other, in those days of multiple daily mail deliveries, at least once a day and sometimes twice. When I read those letters, I cried because I’d never known the people who wrote them.

I have to admit, my parents’ lives had nothing to do with why I chose to write romantic fiction. I got my staunch belief in Happily Ever After from my own marriage, not theirs. But how you feel about things and what you know—those change over the years.

As much as I hated my parents’ marriage—and I truly did hate it—I admire how they stuck with it. I’ve never appreciated the love they had for each other, but I’ve come to understand that it never ended. I still feel sorry sometimes for the little girl I was, whose childhood was so far from storybook that she wrote her own, but I’m so grateful to have become the adult I am. The one who still writes her own stories.

But—and this is the good part—these are the things I know.

Saying “I love you” doesn’t always require words. Sometimes it’s being unable to eat because someone else isn’t. Sometimes it’s stopping for ice cream. Sometimes—and I realized this the other day when my husband and I were bellowing “Footloose” in the car—it’s hearing music the same way, regardless of how it sounds to anyone else.

Marriage is different for different people. So is love. So is Happily Ever After.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Liz Flaherty is retired from the post office, she writes fulltime, and is having an astonishingly good time. She also makes quilts and talks her husband into traveling a lot more than he really wants to. She writes for Carina Press and Harbourlight Books. Visit her website at



Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Guest Blog, Idaho, romance


Tags: , ,


Thank you for having me on your blog.

I typically write westerns both contemporary and historical, with a paranormal twist tossed in sometimes. My latest writing adventure is an action adventure with romantic elements that came about while riding back and forth to a writers retreat. My friend Julie who writes suspense with romantic elements and I were hashing over some books we’d read and I commented on how I was disappointed in a book touted to have a female Indiana Jones. I’d read the book with expectations that the book would be set outside the U.S. only to find  a chapter in the beginning and one at the end were set outside the United States.  And I hadn’t found the action all that adventuresome.

This is the discussion between Julie and I.

Julie: Why don’t you write one?

Me: I can’t write action adventure and I’ve worked hard at branding myself. I write western or Native American.

Julie: So make the heroine have something to do with Native American studies.

Me: I guess that would work. (here my brain started kicking into overdrive)

Julie: Where would you set this story?

Me: South or Central America.

Julie: Why?

Me: I could use the heroine’s studies of Native American Indians as her reason for traveling to countries with drug problems.

Julie: Why?

Me: Because the hero would be with the DEA

And that is how Secrets of a Mayan Moon became a kernel of an idea in my head and is now the first of a three book series about Doctor Isabella Mumphrey a woman with a genius IQ who finished her doctorate in anthropology at the age of twenty-two. She is passionate about her studies because she feels the quarter Hopi blood in her veins is pushing her to discover all she can about the people who inhabited the Americas before it was discovered by Europeans. 


Child prodigy and now Doctor of Anthropology, Isabella Mumphrey, is about to lose her job at the university. In the world of publish or perish, her mentor’s request for her assistance on a dig is just the opportunity she’s been seeking. If she can decipher an ancient stone table—and she can—she’ll keep her department. She heads to Guatemala, but drug trafficking bad guys, artifact thieves, and her infatuation for her handsome guide wreak havoc on her scholarly intentions.

DEA agent Tino Kosta, is out to avenge the deaths of his family. He’s deep undercover as a jaguar tracker and sometimes jungle guide, but the appearance of a beautiful, brainy anthropologist heats his Latin blood taking him on a dangerous detour that could leave them both casualties of the jungle.


She deposited her backpack on the floor at her feet. The horn handle of a twelve inch Guatemalan blade protruded from the side pocket. Tino’s curiosity spiked another notch.

“I have a reservation. Dr. Isabella Mumphrey.”

Tino snapped the paper down and stared even harder at the woman. This was the frumpy, old anthropologist he was to guide? His gaze scanned the length of her one more time while tuning in the conversation.

“Ahh, Dr. Mumphrey, Dr. Martin said you were to get the finest room, no?” The clerk acted like a simpering fool giving the doctor her key and expounding on all the wonders of the hotel.

Gracias. May I borrow a paper and pencil? I need to make a list for the taxi driver.”

The clerk handed her the items. She stepped to the side of the counter and began writing.

Why would she make a list for a taxi driver? Curious, Tino folded the paper and strolled to a spot beside her. So intent on her list, she didn’t even acknowledge his presence as he leaned, reading the items. Army knife, candle, braided fishing line, hooks, swivels, 24 gauge snare wire…

“You are planning a trip into the jungle, no?”

She started at his voice. Deep green eyes rimmed in gold stared at him from behind wire-rimmed lenses. She blinked, focused on him, and narrowed her eyes.

“Didn’t your mother teach you manners? You don’t look over people’s shoulders to see what they’re doing.” She picked up her list and held it to her damp shirt.

Mi mamá did teach me manners, no? I am Tino Kosta, your guide to the dig at Ch’ujuña.” He held out his hand waiting for her to shake.

Her gaze traveled from his extended hand up his arm to his face. She squinted her eyes and glared at him.

“You’re not of Mesoamerican descent, so you can’t possibly be my guide. Are you in cahoots with the disgusting little man who stole my property?” She bent toward her backpack, giving him a good view down the front of her blouse.

Si, she didn’t wear a bra. The nipples peaking through her clingy shirt sat atop a palm-sized mound. Now, being a man who liked his hands filled to overflowing when it came to handling a woman—

¡Carajo!” The pointed end of the large knife that had been tucked in the doctor’s backpack waved inches from his nose. “What is this about?” A woman who ran around without undergarments shouldn’t be offended by a man viewing her body.

Secrets of a Mayan Moon is available at Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords.


Tags: , , , , ,

Guest Blogger Diana Cosby

Diana Cosby is an international bestselling author of Scottish medieval romantic suspense.  Her award-winning books are available in five languages.  Diana has appeared in Woman’s Day, on USA Today’s romance blog, “Happily Ever After,”, and in Texoma Living Magazine.

After retiring as a Navy Chief, AGC(AW), Diana dove into her passion – writing romance novels. With 33 moves behind her, she was anxious to create characters who reflected the amazing cultures and people she’s met throughout the world.   Diana is currently working on the sixth book in the award-winning MacGruder brother’s series, and is preparing for the release of her story in the anthology, “Born To Bite,” with Hannah Howell and Erica Ridley.  Diana looks forward to the years of writing ahead and meeting the amazing people who will share this journey.

Diana Cosby, International Bestselling Author

Editing For Impact
By Diana Cosby ©2012

Editing is the writer’s opportunity to tighten their manuscript to ensure each word works, each sentence counts, and that each chapter supports their story and propels it forward. The following are not hard and fast rules. Like anything else in writing, the below can be bent, twisted, and ignored. The important thing is that you use what works best for your story.  As I’m a visual learner, I prefer giving examples of how each topic is used.

F A S [Feeling→Action→Speech]: The natural progression in how we react is by feeling, action, then speech.
Anger flared in his eyes, then he turned away. “You’ll finish before we go out,” he stated and set the plate upon the small table.
Anger flared in his eyes, then he turned away. He shoved the plate on the small table. “You’ll finish before we go out.”
*Not only did this align the sentence into a natural sequence, but it eliminated the dialogue tag as well.

The last word and its impact: You help create calm, suspense, drama, intrigue and so on simply by the word you choose to end each sentence. I consider this one of my more important writing tools. Remember, the last read is most remembered.

Example: For a moment she could only stare, mesmerized.
Mesmerized, for a moment she could only stare.
*Do you see how by simply switching around the words the entire sentence changes? Stare is a stronger word and ends the sentence in a strong tone.

Focus and impact at the end of the sentence: If you wish to achieve a more powerful ending, keep the focus of your sentence on one thought.  You can do this by removing the word and.
He jumped down to the ground and ran.
He jumped down to the ground, then ran.

Be specific: the more specific you are, the easier it is for the reader to visualize what you’re trying to create. It’s important to ensure you don’t dwell on the unimportant, but rather weave your description within the story.
It seemed like forever since he’d shown her a magic trick like that, when it’d only been a week.
It seemed like forever since he’d shown her a magic trick that made her smile, when it’d only been a week.

Use a variance of words: We all have our favorite words. When you repeat the same word over and over again, unless for a brief, specific reason, it weakens the story.

Use of odd or unfamiliar words: Use of odd or unfamiliar words will draw attention away from the story. Unless the word is needed for a specific reason, use words that the reader will easily understand.

The use of three: To give a story point more impact, choose three words which accent the moment and drive the story forward. It’s like a story breath or pause, which does anything but stall the story. In fact, it’s like a moment of poetry to your prose:
The river churned like a silken ribbon under the moonlight, a light wind rippled across the field of rye in a slow caress, and beyond that stood a cluster of elm and oak where he’d hidden and secured his mount.

Less is more: The more concise you can keep your words, the greater the impact.

Solid motivation: Ensure that each scene or action is motivated and has purpose. Otherwise, the scene or action superficial and will slow the story down.

Author intrusion: When we’re in the viewpoint of a character, we know they are thinking. In my opinion, it’s unnecessary to put, he thought.
I must get inside, he thought! Becomes→I must get inside!

Pace: Longer sentences slow the story down and bring a softness to your scene. Short sentences pick up the pace and create tension.
“Get out. Now.”
She glanced back.
“I said now!”

Sunlight slipped between the edge of the cave and the wall of water to entwine in a spectacular prism. Encased within the mist of colors along the floor’s border grew green stalks, which arched toward the sun, each stem tipped with a slender white flower.

Writing to the positive: For stronger sentences, write them with a positive spin.
“If you hadn’t of tried to escape before, I would not have given a second thought to allowing you free rein within my home.”
“If you hadn’t of tried to escape before, I would have given you free rein within my home.”

Transition to and out of past memories: Use the key word, object, or thought to transition to the past. At the end of the reflection, use the same key word, object or thought to bring the reader back to current story time.

The little things, use of the senses: Using the senses allows the reader to evoke strong images. It’s the little things you insert in your manuscript, the intimate touch, the attention to detail, that creates a visual picture in your reader’s mind and emotionally moves them. A hole in a sock? A tear in the screen? How about a field filled with butterflies? The smell of apple pie on a hot summer day?

Active words versus was: There are times in every story to use the word was, but often, we can find active words that will work as well and increase story impact.

New paragraph for impact/stand alone lines – White space: Gives reader a split second to absorb, a shifting of gears.

Show don’t tell:
Before: He was angry.
After: He shoved away from the table and stood. His eyes narrowed as he scanned the hall in search of one. Where are you! He’d find them, then they would pay.

Dialogue tags: When feasible and the communication within the scene is clear, omit dialogue tags. If you can incorporate an action verb versus he or she said, do it. Your story will move faster.
Before: “I don’t know,” John said. He stood and paced the room
After: “I don’t know.” John stood and paced the room.

Contrasting words: To enhance a moment in a scene, you can use contrasting words or opposing words. This unique blend enhances the scene moment.
Silence clattered between them.
The crowd fell into a frantic calm.

I hope these examples of writing for impact have helped.  What are some techniques you feel have given your writing impact?

Thank you so much for stopping by, and I wish you the very best!


Diana Cosby


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Guest Blog, Idaho, writers, writing craft


Tags: , ,