Saturday, December 31, 2022

Happy New Year from all over the world - by Vijaya Schartz


Find Vijayas latest book
At the very end of December, after all the holiday parties, the family gatherings, the excessive eating, the drinking, and the sugar comas, we tend to reflect on why we gained five pounds… And new-year’s-eve is still ahead. But with the New Year comes new hope.

Also called St Sylvester’s night in Europe, New Year’s Eve, and New Year's day, include many traditions to ease the transition and generate good luck and prosperity.

In the US, whether you are, from the East to the West coast, you will probably have or attend a party, count the seconds to midnight, and watch the ball drop in Time Square. You will have a drink and sing Auld Lang Syne, and some will stand under the mistletoe, for a chance of a kiss at midnight.

In Canada the fireworks are magnificent. And some of the most popular New Year’s Day traditions are the Polar Bear Swim in Vancouver, and to go ice-fishing. Brrrr!

In Japan, December 31st is a national cleaning day. The houses are scrubbed from floor to ceiling and decluttered, to start the new year in a favorable setting. On New Year’s Eve, it is also the tradition to eat buckwheat noodles called Toshikoshi soba. Just before midnight, Buddhist temple bells ring out 108 times, representing the 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana and get rid of last year’s bad luck.

The enormous bell is rung with a strong pole, pulled by several people with ropes.

In Brazil, everyone wears white on New Year’s eve for good luck and peace. They also run to the beach and throw white flowers into the ocean. Of course, it’s summer and beach weather in Brazil that time of year.

In Mexico, at midnight, people drop a gold ring into their glass to bring good fortune in love and money. Then on January 1st, they go door to door, offering home-made tamales to friends and neighbors. I’ve also seen it done in Arizona as traditions migrate.

In Greece, onions are a symbol of good luck and fertility, so, on New Year's Eve, they hang bundles of onions above their doors to invite prosperity into the home. Then, on New Year's Day, parents wake up their children by gently knocking them on the head with the onions that were outside.

In Singapore, revelers let wishing spheres containing their hopes and dreams float down the river. Thousands of them on the Singapore River make for a magical sight.

In Puerto Rico, they dump a bucket of water from a window to ward off evil spirits. I hope it’s not on the pedestrians below. They also sprinkle sugar outside their houses for good luck.

In Russia, New Year's Eve revelers write a wish down on a piece of paper, burn it and add the ashes to their champagne or vodka glass. Then they drink the entire glass quickly at midnight, in less than a minute, to make their wish realize.

In France, Champagne is the drink de rigueur to ring the New Year, along with raw oysters on the shell, turkey, goose, and seafood, in an elaborate and abundant meal they call a reveillon. And in Paris, the Eiffel Tower lights up in a splendid show of lights for the occasion.

In Spain, to get good luck in the New Year, you must eat 12 grapes on the 12 rings of midnight, and keep the pace… no sweat, just don’t choke!

In Switzerland, they summon wealth, and abundance by dropping ice cream on the floor at midnight. Personally, I think it’s a waste of delicious ice-cream.

In Denmark, to celebrate the New Year, they smash old plates on the doors of family, friends, and neighbors, to ward off evil spirits. The more broken plates at your door in the morning, the more good luck in the New Year.

In India, they build an effigy of an old man and burn it at midnight, to symbolize the death of the old year with its struggles, to make room for the new and hopefully better year.

In China, they celebrate the New Year on a lunar cycle, in January or February, and the festivities last two weeks. Lots of dragons parading on the streets, food, fireworks, and the color red, for good luck.

I wish you all a fantastic New Year, with success and happiness all year long.

Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats

Monday, December 26, 2022

Frank Sinatra and the Mafia Murders - by Mike Rothmiller


Click on cover for Amazon link

Mike Rothmiller and Douglas Thompson draw on LAPD intelligence files, a cache of FBI documents, and extensive interviews with prime sources who worked with Frank Sinatra. Many of them tracked his long and fatal association with American Mafia leaders, including Sam 'Momo' Giancana, who shared a lover with President John F. Kennedy. 

Shortly after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, 19-year-old Frank Sinatra Jr. was kidnapped at gunpoint in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. A $240,000 ransom was demanded from his father. While law-enforcement agencies sprang into action, Frank secretly contacted his Mafia friends for help. The Mafia believed they could free young Frank much more quickly through their underworld connections. In the end, nine people died. 

Revealed here as never before is the extent to which Sinatra was adopted by the Mafia. They promoted his career and ‘watched his back.’ In return, Sinatra danced to their tune. The book reveals Mafia and CIA interests as well as explosive, previously secret documents. 

 Available for pre-release sales on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other outlets.

Mike Rothmiller is a New York Times Bestselling Author, nominee for the Pulitzer Prize, historian, former cop and Army medic. He's also served as a TV reporter, an award winning documentary producer and television host for ESPN, PBS and other international television markets. He's written and produced over 25 television documentaries, numerous TV and radio ads and has authored movie scripts. His nonfiction book, My Hero. Military Kids Write About Their Moms and Dads (St. Martin's Press) received international acclaim and holds the honor of being the only book in history to have forwards written by three living Presidents and General Norman Schwarzkopf. He's authored many books and his Secrets, Lies and Deception and Other Amazing Pieces of History was featured on Fox News and over 40 Television News Stations across America. Readers of his books include three Presidents, former First Lady Laura Bush, the late Charlton Heston and Queen Elizabeth II. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Books as holiday gifts, by Vijaya Schartz

Vijaya's latest release.
 Find it HERE

Whether it’s a stocking stuffer novel, a kindle gift sent to a friend faraway, or the wrapped gift of a complete paperback series, if you know the favorite genre of the avid readers among your family and friends, books make wonderful gifts.

Maybe it’s the story they talked about but never got to buy for themselves. Maybe it’s the new release in a series they started and loved. Or you can surprise them with a book you enjoyed and want to share with them. In any case, it’s becoming simpler and easier than ever to gift books.

You can do it from your laptop or phone, order online from your favorite retailer, and have it shipped or emailed. It takes little time and effort. It will be appreciated on cold, snowy, or rainy days.

Going with a reliable publisher, like BWL Publishing, will ensure it’s a quality book. Other ways to select a good book is considering the author’s track record. Award-winning authors usually deliver consistent quality reads. You can also read the ratings and reviews shared by other readers on the retail sites.

The most difficult part of this process is selecting the right genre and the right titles. Find out if you friend likes cozy mysteries, romance, action/adventure, Historical novels, fantasy, science fiction, or a mix of genres.

I write in many genres and also like to mix them. From contemporary romance to realistic Celtic legends, to space opera and science fiction, including even felines in some of my stories. But each author brings his or her personal touch to the writing, and if you like an author in one genre, chances are you will like that author’s other writings as well.

Here are some suggestions from my popular writings:

Curse of the Lost Isle series (Celtic legends – Edgy medieval)
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo

Chronicles of Kassouk series (Sci-fi romance)
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo

Azura Chronicles series (Set on another planet – includes cats - androids - romantic elements)
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo

Byzantium series (Set on a space station - cats – action - sweet romance for all ages)
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo

Archangel twin books (Aliens and angels in a contemporary setting)
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo

Romance (rated R)
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo


Happy Holidays with books!

Vijaya Schartz, award-winning author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats
amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo FB 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Back to Basics by Ashley E. Sweeney



Who is your most memorable character in literature? Jay Gatsby? Scarlett O’Hara? Sherlock Holmes? Gandalf? What is it about that particular character that has stayed with you over the years?

Scout Finch tops my list, the indomitable young girl in Harper Lee’s 1960 classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout’s naiveté, coupled with her tomboyishness and blunt honesty, creates a flawed yet fully fleshed character who’s stayed with me since I first read the novel in the early 1970s. Even when I taught a unit on TKAM every year in high school English, I never tired of Scout or her earnestness. If anything, her character grew on me.

So how do we, as authors, create memorable characters in our own works? Knowing our characters inside and out, sometimes before they hit the page, is one of our most important tasks as authors. 

Think of it like dating. You don’t marry someone you hardly know (well, not usually!) It can take weeks or months (or in my case, years) to decide if that certain someone is right for us. We assess, observe, and question our potential mate’s inner and outer characteristics as we experience shared events and situations. 

Does he/she/they have road rage? Negative political views? A nasty habit? Does he/she/they have a penchant to do good in the world? Accept others, warts and all? Love wildly? All of this factors into our decision whether to take a chance on a relationship.

The same goes for characters. Who are they? And why should readers spend time with them?

Early on in every manuscript, my (very detail-oriented) editor asks for a five-pronged character map for each of my characters. Talk about time consuming! When I’d rather be writing! But it’s proved an invaluable tool for each novel.

Here is a sample:

Character Worksheet 

Be as specific as possible 

Vital Statistics - Physical Traits - Socio/Economic Situation -  Gut Reactions
Full Name: Height: Education: Certainty vs. Change: Gender: Weight: Occupation(s):
Confusion vs. Understanding: Age: Ethnicity/Race: Income:
Defeat vs. Success: Born: Hair:
Attitude toward wealth/ poverty: Despair vs. Joy:
Now Resides: Eyes:
Jealousy vs. Acceptance: Birth Order:
Striking Features: Personality Loss vs. Gain:
Parents: Physical Flaws: Introvert/Extrovert/Other:
Love vs. Hate: Siblings: Habits: Mental Illness (if any):
Panic vs. Calm: Spouse (if any): Health: Strengths:
Worthiness vs. Unworthiness: Children (if any):
Skills: Weaknesses: Pertinent Backstory: Hobbies:
Triggers: Disabilities: Spiritual Life (if any): Speech 

After this exercise, take the five category headlines (Vital Statistics, Physical Traits, Socio-Economic Situation, Personality, Gut Reactions), winnow it down, and write a character synopsis. I repeat this exercise for every major character in the book, first the worksheet and then the paragraph.

Note that these are more detailed for primary characters than secondary characters. Tertiary characters and cameo characters are not as fleshed out (or at all).

Here’s an example of a character synopsis of the protagonist, Ruby Fortune, in my recent release, Hardland.

Ruby Fortune: protagonist; VS: Ruby Barstow Fortune, b. 1873 in Tucson, Arizona (6 years old (1879) to 34 years old (1907) in span of novel), only child of now-deceased George “Big Burl” Burlingame Barstow, widowed, mother of five boys (one deceased), resides in Jericho, A.T. north of Tucson, kills husband, Willie Fortune, in self-defense, swindles co-mine owners for claim of Silver Tip Mine outside Jericho, A.T. 

PT: Short, blonde, thin, flat-chested, weathered face, fit, attractive, low voice

S-E: Eighth-grade education, "Girl Wonder" (sharpshooter in her father’s Triple B Traveling Carnival and Wild West Show), now owner/proprietor of Jericho Inn/The Miracle.

P: Extrovert, outspoken, hard worker. Character Strengths: willful, loyal. Character Weaknesses: details, men. Triggered by nightmares of past abuse. Admits mistakes. In awe of nature.

GR: Difficulty working through change. If taken once by someone, vows not to be taken again (exception: Willie Fortune). Accepts everyone at face value, although not without judgment; slow to alter first impression, but does, when warranted (for good or evil). She-bear about sons; puts them first at her own expense. Struggles with relationship to God. At times, hot-tempered and foul-mouthed; at other times, reflective and soulful. Often own worst enemy. Makes mistakes in relationships. Works to manage pain and panic. Questions whether she is worthy. 

You’d be surprised how many times I returned to this synopsis while writing. When Ruby is hot-tempered, her mouth runs ahead of her thoughts. Check. I’m being consistent. When she’s reflective, she goes somewhere deep, into a place reserved for interior dialogue. Check, again. Consistency to character is paramount.

If it sounds like a lot of work to create characters through devices such as worksheets and synopses, it is. I contend you’ll be more satisfied with your characters, though, and so will your editors and readers.

But wait, there’s more!


After getting to know my characters, my editor then assigns a chap-by-chap plot summary worksheet, using the following classic plot template:


Opening: Falling Action: Inciting Incident: Denouement: Rising Action: Ending: Climax

My entry for the first chapter of Hardland begins this way:

September 7, 1899, Jericho, Arizona Territory


Weather detailed: windy/cloudy/dark
Locale detailed: dry/unforgiving/spare
Character detailed: stature/anxiety/bruised neck from recent abuse

Inciting Incident:

Ruby Fortune navigates steep, dangerous incline to Silver Tip Mine outside Jericho, A.T., almost falling into a crevice

Rising Action: 

Ruby Fortune arrives at Silver Tip Mine with forged will of dead husband Willie Fortune to claim ¼ of mine ownership; plans to buy a dilapidated roadhouse with funds 


Ruby confronts and pulls gun on mine owner, Jimmy Bugg

Falling Action: 

Sheriff Sheldon Sloane arrives at mine on business


Sloane arranges for Bugg to pay Ruby the next day at Jericho First National Bank


Ruby and Sloane ride back to Jericho in middle of monsoon

As a classic “pantser,” this worksheet is not nearly as detailed as outlines of classic “plotters,” but it does give structure to each chapter. And remember to end each chapter, as novelist Olivia Hawker says, with a “cymbal crash” (others call it a “cliff-hanger” or an “uh-oh” moment, something to keep your readers going and not wanting to put your book down).

In closing, there is much we can do before we even start our stories to flesh out characters and give our stories shape. Of course, authors must be flexible as writing is underway. Maybe a character develops an unforeseen ailment to deepen the plot, or we have to switch up or delete chapters for clarity. Life—in reality and in fiction—is full of surprises. Be open to them!

Until next time, Happy Writing!

Ashley E. Sweeney is the winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for her debut novel, Eliza Waite. A native New Yorker, she is a graduate of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and resides in Tucson. Answer Creek, released in May 2020, is her second novel. Her third novel, Hardland, is set in the Arizona territory at the beginning of the 20th century. It was released on September 13, 2022. Find out more about Ashley at: