Lady Justice has a long memory as FBI analyst Jake Bernstein investigates a suspected Nazi spy wanted for war crimes.
A BODYGUARD OF LIES is a riveting blend of romantic thriller, mystery and WWII espionage. A Jewish-American FBI analyst, Jake Bernstein, is recruited by MI-5 to go undercover and investigate a naturalized American grandmother. The elderly woman is suspected by MI-5 of being a notorious Nazi spy wanted for war crimes. Jake Bernstein runs into a series of complications: This spy knows a secret that could endanger the British royal family; his attraction to the old woman’s beautiful granddaughter; an Irish, neo-Nazi group tries to kill him; and all the while, a clever, cagey old woman stands in the way of justice.
My pen name is Donna Del Oro and I live in Northern California near the Sierra Nevada foothills and Folsom Lake. After retiring from high school teaching, I decided life was too short to waste. Thus, began a journey doing what I'd been wanting to do for many years--write fiction. I sold my first novel, OPERATION FAMILIA, right away and this book went on to win an award for the Best 2010 Latino Books into Movies Award. Following that first sale, I published three more women's fiction books, then branched out into writing my first love, romantic thrillers. This year, 2012, saw the launch of A BODYGUARD OF LIES and THE DELPHI BLOODLINE, both ebooks and available on Kindle, Nook, Apple, and elsewhere. If you have read any of my books, I welcome your input. Leave me a review on Amazon and your name goes into a pile for a $50 gift card at B&N, my favorite bookstore. You can email me: email@example.com. Thanks for dropping by!"
Do I plan all my characters out before I start to write? Yes! If I didn't, I wouldn't know where the story was going or how to get there. Characters are everything in a story. They motivate, push, pull and determine the outcome whether the story's a romance, mystery or thriller. I plan the lead characters, their motivations and goals, their shortcomings and strengths--then put them in situations that test them. I don't put pen to paper until it's all planned all in my head. The chapter details, I leave until I arrive at that point in the story.
I love mysteries and thrillers, especially spy thrillers. Authors like Daniel Silva, Brad Thor, Lisa Gardner--I simply devour their books. How I wish I could write like them! I'm working on it...
Writing has always been a catharsis, a way of working out ideas, emotions, personal problems. I was creating my own comic books in junior high school and wrote my first novel in high school. I showed them to my sisters and friends and had no clue how to go about getting published. Then life intervened, I worked my way through college and began teaching. Then began a family...well, the rest is history. Is it still a catharsis? Yes, in many ways although now it's more of a cerebral exercise. Gotta stave off that Alzheimer's, y'know. Seriously, my grandmother lived a full life and was mentally sharp until she died at 100. I'm hoping to follow in Grandma Eva's path.
I never have writer's block but I never force myself to come up with an idea. Waiting patiently and keeping busy doing other things helps the internal, creative percolating process. Eventually, the ideas come along with the motivation to put it all down "on paper". Only now, it's sitting time at the word processor.
The research part is the most fun for me. I love doing research! For my first women's fiction novel, a dramedy with a Hispanic heroine, I needed to research the Mexican drug cartels. For that and a couple of climax scenes, my sister, Gloria, and I drove from East Texas to San Antonio, then on down to Laredo, Texas. With more than a little trepidation, we crossed into Nuevo Laredo, two "gringitas" going shopping in this little sleepy bordertown. That was seven years ago--thank God! Now, this bordertown is overrun and terrorized by the Zetas, the paramilitary arm of one of the Mexican drug cartels. Then, it was bad enough but not yet too dangerous. While riding around in a taxi, we saw a pickup loaded with men carrying assault rifles--and they weren't federales, either. They were Los Zetas and had they known I was doing research on them, I'd now be buried in an unmarked grave in the desert somewhere. Truly scary! And stupid! Now I'm a little more cautious about my research, where and how I do it. For the second novel in my BORN TO SING series, SCHEMING AND DREAMING IN LOS ANGELES, I went down to So Cal and did a bit of city hopping (there are over 70 small cities in the greater Los Angeles area) and got a feel for a couple of them. Each one is distinct with its own flavor, socio and economic identity and ethnic makeup. I studied the freeway maps, got a feel for the terrain and the costs of each neighborhood, and talked to people who live down there. I'll be doing the same thing with the sequel to SCHEMING, ALIVE IN NEW YORK CITY. For me, the research is fun but the writing is challenging!
A necessary part of the writing cycle are good critique partners. I am blessed with two wonderful women who bring a vital, critical eye to my work and are not afraid to tell me what's wrong as well as what's right. I return the favor, our pact being "Be brutally honest but diplomatic."
Because I love to read mysteries and thrillers, I've branched out and written one romantic mystery and one romantic thriller. A BODYGUARD OF LIES and THE DELPHI BLOODLINE, I'm confident, will be coming out in the next two years. These two were especially challenging to write and I've revised them numerous times until I think they're about ready for public consumption. Wish me luck!
Writing & Publishing Tips
"The Importance of a Good Critique Partner"
Once a fledgling writer passes the 'what am I doing?' stage, you need to find a good critique partner. This person should be an astute writer and sophisticated reader. This is important because your partner needs to be able to read your work with an objective, critical eye. He or she needs to be able to proofread your spelling, grammar and sentence structure but also be able to check the overall story. For instance, scene construction, relevant dialogue, pacing, the balance of showing and telling and other fiction writing elements so vital to a good story. Your critique partner can detect VOICE when, in some cases, the writer cannot. He/she can detect the constancy of POINT OF VIEW and the need for its change in a multiple POV story.
Also, he/she must love the entire process of creative writing and must be willing to sacrifice hours helping you improve your manuscript. All this in return for an occasional Starbucks drink or free lunch. There are professional proofreaders and critiquers who will charge you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for this service. However, a friend who happens to embody all of the above qualities--which I have been fortunate enough to find--is worth a treasure chest of gold!
Good luck in finding your own critique partner and don't be discouraged if you have to try out a few before you find a partner that fits your own personality well. Alway, always be willing to provide the same service in return. And never, never take his/her criticisms of your work personally. Believe me, you'd rather hear it from your critique partner than get another form rejection letter in the mail from an agent or editor!
Interview with Cathy B Stucker, Selling Books
What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it. My third book is a contemporary romance, titled Born to Sing, the 25-year love story of two opera singers.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m half Latina, so my first two books were reflections of my Hispanic background. Operation Familia and Hasta La Vista, Baby! are romantic comedies about latinas, their singular values, strengths and flaws. They’re more women’s fiction novels because they deal with serious issues but in a humorous way.
What inspired you to write this book?
I had some issues of my own to work out, and this was the only constructive, creative way I could do it.
How did you choose the title?
My third novel’s title, BORN TO SING, grew naturally from the story, itself. I researched grand opera, an entertainment medium that I love, and its famous singers and their lives. Then I felt compelled to tell the story of two gifted people, whose drive to succeed in the ruthlessly competitive world of grand opera causes them to make difficult personal choices.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
No American publisher wanted a story about opera singers, but a Canadian publisher did: Devine Destinies, headquartered in British Colombia.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
After 34 years of teaching high school English, I was more than ready to be creative, rather than a people manager.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Every morning I do my emails first, then my stock portfolio. Only then do I slip into my “other world”.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
From people I know, books I’ve read, fiction characters from all over.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
Ebook publishing is the future. Even the big NY publishers are moving to this route.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Never give an agent an exclusive. It’s a waste of time.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
I read all kinds of commercial fiction, but I’m especially fond of thrillers and literary historicals.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
The second in the BORN TO SING series, about a professional R & B singer in Los Angeles, who also has to make a difficult choice. It’ll be called: BORN TO SING: SCHEMING AND DREAMING IN LOS ANGELES.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Forget agents and look at all the eBook publishers. Choose the best.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
My two critique partners, Diane and Phylis. They’re tough scrutinizers but ALWAYS give great advice.
Writing seriously for publication? Since 2003, when I retired from high school teaching. Before that, my writing was just for fun and my own gratification. The first novel was truly in need of lengthy revisions, which I did and just recently sold. It’s a love story between two opera singers, titled BORN TO SING. I just sold it to a Canadian eBooks/print publisher called Devine Destinies. It’s an all-women’s run and owned publishing house. I’m very impressed with how organized they are.
PAL: What made you start writing? Did anyone inspire or encourage you to write?
I’ve been storytelling since childhood and used to write and illustrate my own comic books. No one in my family read much except my father, who used to devour books. When you have a passion for books, I think the writing is a natural evolution of that.
PAL: How long did it take, or how many manuscripts did you finish before you sold?
I sold my second ms. First, OPERATION FAMILIA, to a latino-based publisher, Floricanto Press. Then my third, HASTA LA VISTA, BABY, both romantic comedies with women’s fiction themes. My first one, BORN TO SING, was the difficult one to sell. No one in the States wanted a story about opera singers but the Canadians did! They loved it! Now they want me to do a series about professional singers, something I know about, since a couple of my friends used to be professional singers/musicians. I sing in public, but only as a hobby. I’m a member of the Auburn-based Sierra Gold Chorus, a Sweet Adelines chapter.
PAL: Please share you “Call Story” with us.
Floricanto called in late 2008and said they loved OPERATION FAMILIA, and wanted to buy it. It came out in 2009 and won the Latino Books into Movies Award in 2010.
PAL: Plotter? Pantser? Or something in between?
I don’t start to write until I have a good handle on the main characters, their conflicts and their goals. I need to know, also, how the story will end before I put pen to paper. This is all done mentally and at some point, the creative drive kicks in and I start chapter one. I usually research as I go along. The one exception was my psychic thriller, which is with an agent now. I had spent years researching psychic phenomena, since one of my latino cousins had a thriving full-time business doing psychic readings. Her accuracy was amazing and she consulted with several police departments. Her “gift” made me curious and it became a hobby/obsession of mine to find out more about psychic phenomena. Is it real or just a clever sham? It took me over twenty years of investigating to find the answer.
PAL: Advice you’d like to share with unpublished or recently published writers?
Don’t get started UNLESS you are willing to devote TONS OF TIME and lots of emotional and mental energy. You have to be exceptionally tenacious and be the kind of person who NEVER gives up. Also, with the world abounding in eBooks publishers, this is a good place to start. Sell to them and keep improving your craft.
PAL: Please tell us about your current release/project. What’s next for you?
With Devine Destinies, I’ll probably do the BORN TO SING series of romances, mainly because it’ll be fun and give me an excuse to travel to various venues where these stories take place. I’ve just begun BORN TO SING: LOS ANGELES, followed by BORN TO SING: LAS VEGAS and BORN TO SING: NEW ORLEANS, etc. The various cities are like important minor characters that influence the main characters and contribute to the theme of each story.
Loucinda McGary The Wild Irish Sea --- available NOW The Treasures of Venice -- FINALIST, Heart of Denver "Aspen Gold" contest The Wild Sight -- WINNER, Best First Book "More Than Magic" contest