After writing two books that were in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres, the last thing I expected to write next was a children's chapter book, and to co-author it with my granddaughter, Hailey. It started with an adventure in Illinois one day, as we were trying to find new and different places to explore. Our searches that day constantly included the phrase, "maybe, just maybe." Somehow it evolved into the idea of turning it into a book. Since Hailey was entering third grade that year, we thought it would be fun to create a character who had a lot of questions about this, but one who struggles with asking one at a time. Hence, Kaylee Ann Dean was born in Maybe, Just Maybe.
Since Hailey and I both love a bit of mystery, we created a rather bizarre sequence of events. Kaylee's third grade teacher begins turning greener every day, but doesn't seem to notice. The children are puzzled, and take turns coming up with possible reasons for this sudden change in their teacher.
When I surprised Hailey as the "mystery reader" for her class, I read our story up to this point. I loved the imaginative guesses her classmates made as to what was causing the teacher to turn green, and Hailey loved the attention of her peers begging for the ending of the book. Surprisingly, she refused to tell any of them!
Our dilemma with our joint venture, was how best to communicate since I live in Indiana, and Hailey lives in Illinois. In the end, we discovered there was no one right way, and trying different methods of sharing ideas actually kept us from getting stuck in a rut. We began with snail mail, which I enjoy as a keepsake. Going back and looking at her ideas on paper is priceless. Other times, we utilized Skype or Zoom, video chatted on the phone (my daughter's), texted, and emailed. There were also the occasional visits. We took our time, especially once school started (who knew third graders could be so busy?). However, we both had a desire to see our project through to the end. It was a great way to stay connected.
For me, the most difficult part was the publishing. I'd agreed, along with my daughter, that we would use KDP to keep cost down. The only problem was that this was my first experience with them. Although it was a bit of a struggle, the book finally became a reality. Hailey was flung into celebrity status among her peers at school, and of course was encouraged by her teachers and staff as well. Her grandparents and parents couldn't be prouder (myself included), and she even learned to write her name in cursive in order to autograph her books!
This adventure taught us both an extremely valuable lesson. It involves an inspirational quote we'd heard before, but now had new meaning. "You are never too old or too young to follow your dream." How true! Keep inspiring others, Hailey. I believe in you!
You can find Maybe, Just Maybe on Amazon.com
Since I started the "Reader's Chat" posts in my blog, I discovered that I can't wait to get responses to my questions. To me, it's similar to the anticipation of a mystery to be solved, and wondering if I will come anywhere close to guessing the answer. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised by readers' answers. After all, who wants to always solve the mystery, without the preferred plot twist and an element of surprise?
This interview is with Haddie, who you'll soon learn, has grown to love reading from an early age. See which of her responses reveal reading preferences similar to yours, and which ones differ.
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Me: How do you think you developed a love for reading?
Haddie: My mother used to read to my brother and I every night, great stories like the Narnia series and Tolkein. I I think because of that I was eager to learn to read and discover other magical worlds in books.
Me: Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected how often you read, or your ability to focus on a story?
Haddie: I've really been enjoying the extra time to find new, exciting books. Friends have been sharing what they are reading and I have used our LIbraries Overdrive account to check them out, as well as placing a few curbside pickup orders to support our local bookshops. Having a young child means there isn't a ton of time to sit and read my own books but I sneak in chapters here and there. Having such heavy things happening in the world also means I am drawn more to lighthearted novels for escape, rather than heavier pieces of literature. I've also been reading even more with my daughter, we're participating in the 1000 books before kindergarten program through our local library and have already surpassed that! It's also fun to revisit the classics with her like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Winnie the Pooh, I hope to pass along a love of literature to her like my mom did for me.
Me: What is your favorite time of day to read?
Haddie: Whenever I can sneak it in! If I can find a few moments in the morning before my daughter wakes up, or I sometimes stay up too late if I have a good book and can't put it down.
Me: What genre do you enjoy the most? Can you name any authors you like to follow in this genre?
Haddie: I like a wide range of genres (is that like saying you like all music?!) I enjoy biographies about unique childhoods and overcoming adversity, like Glass Castles, Educated, and Chasing Space. I also enjoy a good suspense novel, some science fiction and even the occasional young adult dystopian novel. I don't necessarily follow individual authors, but if I enjoy their writing style I will check to see what else they have written.
Me: How would you rank the following in importance when you read?
Me: How do you feel about humor in a novel?
Haddie: I love a book that can make me laugh out loud, or a character that has a great sense of humor. I am always impressed with how authors can create characters with such a great sense of humor that you would want to befriend them in real life.
Me: Is it important to you if a book is traditionally published or self-published? Why or why not?
Haddie: If I can find it and I like the writing style I will read it! I don't even normally check to see the publisher information.
Me: What is the first thing that piques your interest when browsing for a book?
Me: Since a reader is required to have purchased their book on Amazon in order to leave a review for that book, where else might you consider leaving a review?
Me: If you could play the part of a character in a book you've read, who would you choose and why?
Haddie: I never have a good answer for these types of questions! I've read so many great books I would like to dive into but they all flee my mind when asked a question like this!
Me: Is there anything you would like to add?
Haddie: When is the next M.A. Koontz novel coming out?!
Me: Thanks for asking, Haddie, and way to turn the questions back on me! How about a short story? My story, "The 20/20 Club," was published this summer in an anthology titled MURDER 20/20. It includes stories from seventeen Indiana authors, and is available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback formats.
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Thank you, Haddie, for your input on both your tastes in reading, as well as insite into how you still manage to fit reading in during these difficult times. It's not an easy task for many parents who are home with their kids 24/7. It seems to be that necessary escape, which is one of the main reasons many of us enjoy reading. It stretches our imaginations, which is my kind of exercise! Thanks again, Haddie, for your candid replies. Stay safe, and keep reading!
Once again, I have interviewed another avid reader to get her thoughts on a popular pastime, reading, of course. As both a writer and someone who loves to read, myself, I'm always excited to talk with other readers. It's always fun to find a common thread, or a surprising difference. Many thanks to Rachael for taking time out of her busy schedule to chat with me via email for this post.
Me: On average, how many books do you read each month?
Rachael: I used to read about 1-2 per month. Lately, I have not been reading as often. Especially with the library closest to me only recently re-opening due to COVID-19.
Me: Hopefully, you'll be able to select your favorite books from the library once again. Do you belong to a book club?
Rachael: No book clubs.
Me: Where's the strangest place you've read a book? Be honest!
Rachael: Nothing too crazy. I don't get motion sickness, so I always take advantage when traveling -- whether a passenger in a car or on a long flight.
Me: Where's your favorite reading spot?
Rachael: In bed, with my back pillow behind me, and a fuzzy blanket.
Me: That sounds cozy. What's your favorite genre, and why?
Rachael: Mystery novels. I like to see if I can guess the ending.
Me: Solving that who-dun-it puzzle seems to be a big draw for mystery lovers. How do you prefer to discover new books to read?
Rachael: A few ways -- mostly through Google -- looking up best summer reads, and page through different years. Or looking up books I've already read and enjoyed, and seeing what is recommended based on my choices.
Me: Or sometimes Amazon sends you recommendations, without the reader asking or looking for them. Funny thing -- the last two days Amazon recommended two books for me that I might be interested in: SHARDS OF TRUST and THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR. Hmmm . . . I think I've read those! Ha!
What do you think is the best way for authors to connect with their readers?
Rachael: Social media?
Me: As an avid reader, what advice would you give authors in your favorite genre? Any author?
Rachael: Oh man, no clue!
Me: Was that a mystery pun??? Where are you most likely to leave a book review: Goodreads, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble?
Me: How many times have you read the Harry Potter series? Is there another book or series you've read repeatedly?
Rachael: Too many to count! This summer I actually decided to re-read the series for the umpteenth time (currently on the third book).
Me: You're definitely in the company of many other fans who enjoy re-reading that series. Rachael, I truly appreciate your willingness to participate in the "Reader's Chat" portion of Mark My Words, all while social distancing. Thank you. Be well, and keep reading!
Author of SHARDS OF TRUST and THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR
Ever feel like you want to celebrate your birthday for the entire month? That's exactly how I feel this year, and I want to share a little of that excitement with my readers.
For the month of July 2020, you can get $2 off SHARDS OF TRUST and $3 off THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR in paperback. Follow the links below, then type in BDAYBONUS at checkout.
Have a wonderful month of July!
If you're one of the many readers who've been waiting for MURDER 20/20, the anthology is now available on Amazon in both print and ebook. (I'll post the links below.) With seventeen Indiana authors, myself included, the book includes stories that connect to the "2020" theme. Within these stories, you'll find a variety of futuristic, past, and current-day sleuths who try to solve puzzling crimes of murders, revenge, and malice.
This is the seventh anthology from the Speed City Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a national organization of crime writers. It was founded in 1986 by NY Times bestselling author, Sara Peretsky, to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers. I am currently a member of both the national organization and its Speed City Chapter of Indianapolis. All three editors and seventeen authors are also members.
My short story, "The 20/20 Club," is among this collection. As with my other short stories, it is written under the name Mary Ann Koontz. Follow Detective Wayne Nelson as he tries to solve a mysterious murder with an even more mysterious calling card. Here's a brief excerpt from my story:
"At first she thought he was a drunk who'd wandered into the cemetery and thought it a good place to sleep it off, undisturbed. But when her eyes traveled up his body, she knew otherwise."
I won't leave you hanging. That would be cruel. Instead, I'll provide you with the links for your choice of purchase.
Enjoy, and please leave a review when you've finished.
Readers are the ultimate necessity for authors who write to entertain them. As much as I enjoy writing, I can't imagine doing so without the readers who are willing to invest their time to cozy up to one of my stories. Because of this, I thought it would be fun to interview one of these readers and get some insight into their favorite past-time. Today, I'm chatting with Ann, who graciously volunteered for my first "reader's chat."
Me: Would you consider yourself an occasional reader or an avid reader?
Me: Do you have a favorite genre?
Ann: I love mysteries, with a little bit of love sprinkled in throughout the story line.
Me: I think you just answered my next question. When you read a mystery or thriller, what is your favorite subplot? For example, romance, personal struggles, family conflict, employment issues, etc.
Me: What time of day do you usually find time to read?
Ann: First thing in the morning, generally when the kids aren't up and asking for this or that!
Me: Since I know that you have a full time job, that's a definite commitment. Are you a fan of series or stand-alone novels?
Ann: Both, honestly. I enjoy series that are well written as such that they could be read as a stand alone novel as well.
Me: What do you crave most in a story?
Ann: Well developed characters and story lines.
Me: Do you prefer a great deal of description, action, or dialogue? Why or why not?
Ann: Description, because I feel like it allows me to imagine the scene better. I get very vested in my books, and try to picture the scene in my head.
Me: As someone who enjoys reading, what would you like to see less of in current books? More of?
Ann: Too many characters. Often a story can get lost when a writer incorporates too many characters in the story. Develop only the main characters to allow for a reader to connect at a deeper level.
Me: Do you think most readers are willing to review a book they've read? Why or why not?
Ann: Avid readers, yes. I feel like we use the reviews to help us decide if this book is one we would enjoy or not.
Me: One last question. If you were a character in my next novel, what type of character would you be, and what name would you give yourself?
Ann: I would likely be a crazy sister-in-law named Jade, haha!
Me: Love the name. Now I'm wondering if she could be the killer, or the character who gets killed? Hmmmm . . . I make no promises! Ha! Thank you, Ann, for your candid answers, and for taking precious moments out of your day to chat. Stay well, and keep reading.
Author of SHARDS OF TRUST and THE CRY BEYOND THE DOOR.
My heart goes out to the grieving family of George Floyd, following his senseless murder. The family has pushed for communication and change through peaceful methods, in hopes that there will be a solution this time. I share their hope that it can become a reality.
Unfortunately, the recent protests and unrest take me back to the seventies, and it saddens me to realize how much and how little civil rights have progressed. In my own little bubble, I've been able to convince myself from time to time that it had indeed progressed, but headlines and news insist otherwise. Past injustices of racism continue to rear its ugly head.
As a naive high school student, my first day began with riots. Inner city students had been bused to our new school with little to no say in the matter. Lock-downs were commonplace that first week of school. I had been bused the previous year and hated it, so I empathized. I knew that the long bus ride made extra-curricular activities difficult unless you had a car. But I hadn't realized that the rebellion went so much deeper.
Sitting in class one day, a fellow classmate gave a speech that I had difficulty wrapping my head around. She literally shook as she told about her uncle getting stopped for a crime he didn't commit. He was the same dark color as the assailant, and was in the vicinity of where the crime had taken place. When her uncle insisted he was innocent, he was beaten severely then held in custody without any legal counsel. He was only released when the assailant attacked again and was captured. There were no apologies or offers to cover her uncle's medical bills. Enraged family members tried to help him financially, but felt helpless going against the system that repeatedly abused its power. Even the best law enforcement were seen as threats, and back then, cameras did not exist on every street corner, place of business, or on the police officers themselves. When she finished her speech, you could hear a pin drop. That classmate is now a judge, making changes to that very system in her own way.
A year later, as I walked to class with a friend who shared the same schedule as me, we found ourselves cornered in a stairwell. I don't remember all of the insults thrown our way by a kid, who I didn't even know, but I'll never forget the words he spat at my friend, "You're nothing but an Uncle Tom." It felt as though I'd been punched in the gut, but the hit landed harder with my friend. The words had put an ugly spin on a friendship, and in a split second, had moved us from laughter to tears. We were so shocked, we couldn't speak, couldn't defend ourselves. It was as though the wind had been knocked out of us. When I later reflected on the incident, I tried to understand what had happened. I wondered if some members of the Black community were so immersed in years of anger from oppression, that they couldn't let it go , couldn't move toward change. Instead, they lashed out at those who tried.
Years later, when my children had grown, I was once again taught another lesson by my neighbor. She explained to me one day, when I'd been complaining about the difficulties of raising teenagers, that it's much more difficult for parents of black teenage boys. For example, she refused to let her son wear a hoodie for fear that he'd automatically be seen as a thug when walking down the street. She and her husband, as many black parents did, felt it necessary to drill their son on how to act if he was approached by a police officer. There was a whole list of behaviors he needed to learn from them, so they could keep him safe from those who were supposed to be protecting him. The injustice of a classmate"s uncle in the seventies still existed.
Don't get me wrong, there has been progress, but when another black man lies dead, I have to realize the progress hasn't been nearly enough. There have been many lessons this naive individual has learned about the Black community's struggle for civil rights, but I've learned those lessons only because someone was willing to teach me. It scares me, though, to know how much I still have to learn about social injustices. I can only hope that there will always be a brave individual who is willing to patiently talk with me so that I can understand.
- M.A. Koontz
To the doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, and first responders on the frontlines in the war against COVID-19:
Today I want you to know that I am praying for you. As you rush into work, not knowing what your shift or the next 24 hours will bring, know this -- today you are not alone; today I am praying for both your physical and mental well-being. Religious or not, my prayers are for you, for isn’t there a spirituality in the healing care you give to others?
As you become aware of the growing number of patients infected with the coronavirus that you’ve already encountered within that first hour on your job, please also be aware of me praying that you will not lose faith. Though you struggle to accept yet another loss of a life, I pray that you’ll feel the gratitude of others whose family member’s or friend’s lives you played some part in saving. And when you feel despair, I pray you’ll recall the fragile life of an individual who, because of your dedication, can now return home.
Today, as you go about your selfless work, I pray that your immune system will win its battle against the cough, the contaminated surface, or the feverish hand that reaches out to you. May it fight as hard against this infectious virus as you fight against each day’s growing challenges.
I also pray that the growing pain in your feet, back, hips, and legs will subside today as you stand for far too many hours caring for those who cannot stand or lift their heads. As paramount as it is for you to ease others’ pain, so it is with my prayers in asking for God to ease your pain.
And today, when your brow furrows as you start to worry how long your supplies of masks, gloves, or ventilators will last, I pray that those needs will be provided. You have enough to worry about. Let the power of God, through prayer, touch those who can fill those needs to do so expediently.
And finally, at the end of the day, when you’re feeling spent, I pray that you’ll allow the embrace of God’s strength, peace, and love to fortify you. Even if your experiences of the day leave you feeling alone with the overwhelming weight of the world on your shoulders, know that today you are not alone. You are in my prayers.
With my deepest appreciation and respect,
Anyone else out there among the #WritingCommunity ever been accused of being ADD when it comes to their writing? When the experts in publishing and writing are screaming (dramatic, I know) the importance of developing your own brand and focusing on one genre, I have found myself going against the suggested rule.
For marketing purposes, I understand it, really I do. When a writer is consistently writing in the same genre, it is easier to build a following. It makes sense, whether an author is self-published or traditionally published, the more you become known as an author of a specific genre, readers of that genre will seek out your books (hopefully). But I wonder how many of you suddenly find your creative mind veering off that set path, and then find yourself hesitating because of this suggested piece of advice: "Stay in your lane!"
Full disclosure, I am a rule follower — to a point. When an idea pops into my head, and lingers at the forefront of my thoughts, I feel compelled to write it. The excitement of delving into a new mode of writing can be exhilarating.
For example, I started writing children's stories for the children's page of a newspaper. This meant deadlines and limited word counts, but great feedback from readers. One woman even called every Koontz in the area to tell me how much she enjoyed reading the stories with her grandchildren. Maybe it was that sort of ego-boost that led me to try a new media — magazines.
One day, I noticed how much my Mom enjoyed reading the magazine Country. I thought how fun it would be to write a story with a familiar setting, her parents' barn. The motivation was the surprise on her face when she would see my story on one it's pages. With mixed emotions, however, the story was printed in another of the publisher's magazines, Country Extra. So of course, I was motivated to submit other articles and stories that were published in Country.
I'm really not clear how I decided to take the next leap toward writing a novel, but perhaps it was the desire to be challenged (or the ADD). Knowing this would be a huge learning curve, I enlisted the service of a developmental editor. Wise decision. Lauren Taylor Shute with #LTSeditorial guided me, and probably rolled her eyes at me on more than one occasion before #ShardsOfTrust was completed. Bolstered by this confidence, I flew solo on my next book, #TheCryBeyondTheDoor, which has been recently released.
But passing an old cemetery one day, once again I felt that tug of inspiration. I desperately wanted to use this to write a short story for the #SistersInCrime Indianapolis chapter's upcoming anthology. I recently learned it will be published sometime this year in a book titled Murder 20/20.
At least I stayed with suspense/mystery genre, right? Still, there was this story that my granddaughter and I had been tossing around, and who can pass up the excitement of a third grader? This time, learning site words was among the plethora of new items to tackle on yet another learning curve. And doing it all via long distance was not as difficult as I expected. It took extra time, but we developed a method for our cooperation, with ideas flowing back and forth. It was so much fun! So add a third grade chapter book to the varied list, as I begin the query letters.
Through it all, perhaps the best writing process, for me, is one that allows inspiration to lead the way. In the end, it's about writing what you love. What process works for you? I would love to hear about it. #ThursdayThoughts
— M.A. Koontz
Christmas is almost upon us, and I find myself wondering how that's possible. The last couple months at our house have been filled with ups and downs, which I'm sure many of you have experienced time and again. Although some might say, "c'est la vie," I prefer not to brush past those peaks and valleys so quickly, but rather, reflect on them. When I do, I find I'm grateful for both, because without the valleys, the peaks would be mere hills to stand on.
Life took a downhill turn near Thanksgiving, when my father-in-law passed away. He was a good man who'd led a full life, and I am grateful to have known him. Though he will be missed by his family and friends, at Thanksgiving we could all be thankful for the joy and lessons he shared by example.
At the same time, my new book, The Cry Beyond The Door, was to be released, but it was not meant to be. The timing was lousy, but some pleasant surprises have occurred this month in spite of the setbacks. Two book signings went well, and another local book store agreed to carry my books. They're also graciously planning to host a book signing for me in January. Then I was asked to speak at an event at Ft. Wayne's new Promenade Park Pavillion this summer as part of the Sundays on the Riverfront program. That could be a high and low all rolled into one!
So many people I've encountered recently have had no idea how their presence and smiles have set my course this Christmas on an upward path. From family, to friends, to complete strangers, each have given me the gift of joy. I don't know if they were experiencing peaks or valleys in their own lives, but I appreciate them for providing me with a push or tug along the way. If you were one of these people, I'd like to thank you. I sincerely hope to pass it on to others this Christmas and into the New Year.
Have a blessed Christmas, and remember to spread the gift of joy to others. It costs nothing, yet means so much, for we never know if the person we meet is in a valley, standing high on some summit, or somewhere in between.