Showing posts with label Kindle Scout. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kindle Scout. Show all posts

Monday, May 29, 2017

Well, That's Alarming!

Our guest blogger is Christina Patchell (Chris), whom I met when our books were chosen as Kindle Scout winners.

Chris Patchell is the bestselling author of In the Dark and the Indie Reader Discovery Award winning novel Deadly Lies. A former tech worker turned full-time author, Chris Patchell pens gritty suspense novels set in the Pacific Northwest.

Chris is out with her newest book. Woohoo! And, I invited her on to share some of her research.

Chris, I'm going to sit back and take notes.

Sweet Dreams – Fun Facts about Security Systems

“Protect your home with the best home security system.” That’s what one popular home security system provider claims. And the truth is that we all want to keep our families secure. How many of us have spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars installing home security systems and hundreds more on monitoring contracts every year? Once the systems are safely installed in our homes, many of us do something else that we think will act as a deterrent. We plant a sign in the middle of our flower beds outside of our houses that proudly lists the name of the security company whose equipment protects our homes, in the hopes that if a potential thief rolls down our street in the middle of the night, seeing the sign posted out front will compel them to drive on by. But is that true?

I was talking to a friend of mine about the kinds
of things I learned
while researching my latest book, Dark Harvest, and this little fun fact was one of those things that stuck in my mind long afterwards. When something goes bump in the night, the first thing I do is open my eyes and glance across the alarm to the alarm panel wondering if in my sleepy stupor, I actually managed to arm it. Through the dark I see the red light shining like a beacon, and know that it the system is armed. A deep sense of security wraps around me like a warm blanket, and I drift off to sleep once more.

But what if that little sign or sticker adhered to a window isn’t the deterrent you think it is? What if they know what I learned while I was doing my research, that there is a way to block an alarm signal from broadcasting to the monitoring station?

We’ve all heard the claim that you can find anything on the internet, right? Well, if you know where to look, you can find the frequency certain security companies use to broadcast their alerts. So, if a technologically savvy thief knows what to do, they can actually jam the frequency by blasting “white noise” to that signal, thereby preventing the alarm system from sending the alarm.

‘How is this even possible?’ you ask. Easier than you might think. There are devices, like a H.A.M. radio, to tune to the right frequency and blast a signal. A software-defined radio can also be configured onto a laptop and run from there. In essence, a software-defined radio behaves in much the same way the hardware version does, by scanning a range of radio bandwidth to detect activity on specific frequencies. Once the wireless alarm activity is found, it can be exploited by overpowering or jamming the signal issued by the alarm. Some alarms come with anti-jamming protection that can be circumvented by jamming the signal for short bursts (say 20 seconds) then turned off for a second or two, before repeating the process.

This isn’t as easy or cheap as I’m making this sound. There is a fair bit of technical know-how required to setup the system and jam a signal. Setting up a software-defined radio can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $4,000. Since some of these vulnerabilities have been exposed, companies have been hard at work putting solutions in place to stop hackers.

So, how do I keep my family safe? First, don’t make it easier for thieves by posting the sign. Let the blasting alarm be deterrent enough if they target your house in the middle of the night. Or if you really like the idea of posting a sign as a deterrent, post another alarm company’s sign in your yard and keep the bad guys guessing.

In Dark Harvest, Henry Cahill, a computer hacker with a Robin Hood complex, uses a similar technique to break into a business and search for information that will help him solve a crime. Things don’t work out for Henry quite the way he expects, but hey, that’s the kind of wrinkle that makes fiction fun.

If the ins and outs of how things works intrigues you like it does me, here are a few links if you’d like to do some reading of your own:

Hacking home alarms

Hacking alarm systems

Hacking alarm systems

In your writing, reading, and your everyday life, knowing the truth can help you stay one step ahead.

I hope you buy and enjoy Chris's newest book!
Let us know what you think!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Blind Date with Freddie Krueger and the Art of Thrill Writing with Chris Patchell


Grab a cup of something warm and let's settle in for a chat with my fellow Kindle Scout winning author, Chris Patchell.

Chris, please tell us about your background and how that brought you to writing novels.

Chris - 
I was a shy kid who didn't make friends easily. We lived way out in the country, so there were no kids nearby. I would escape into my own head for hours at a time, making up stories. Imagining I was somewhere else -- a flight attendant up in the blue sky flying to exotic places. I'd imagine shapes in the clouds. I'd act out scenes with my barbies. In the third grade, I was given my first creative writing assignment and discovered the magic of writing--of creating a new world, all of your own making.

It was awesome.

Better than friends.

I wrote on and off through high school and my early twenties and then quit. I got busy building a career in tech, and a family. 

I hit a point in my career where I was feeling burned out. My girls were little, and I remember thinking that there was no part of my life that was mine anymore. I needed a little piece of myself back. I thought about what I used to like to do, and I remembered that I used to love to write. But being type A, I didn't just sit down and open up a word processor. I researched some writing courses I could take. Found one through the University of Washington. Went to the information session. Loved what I heard and STILL, it took me a year to sign up.

My husband says to me, "did you ever sign up for that course?" Um... No...

"Why not?"

"I'd never have time to write. You know, with the job, the kids..."

He fixed me with this hard stare. "Stop making excuses. Just do it."

So I did. That was 10 years ago, and I've been writing ever since.

My analytical mind has served me well working in the tech industry. I set my first book in a tech company, and used some of my experience as a woman working in tech in building the book's main character, Jill. Little bits of tech make it into my plots.

I've managed a lot of projects from small mobile apps, to large scale, complex deployments. This experience--the ability to organize and deploy multiple projects simultaneously translates well into devising complex plots. I love weaving multiple story lines together into big bang endings.

I can remember a lot of detailed dependencies off the top of my head, which means when I make plot changes, I can go back and change all of the places in previous scenes where the info becomes relevant. It's handy.

I like the high-stakes and fast paced plot lines in suspense novels where characters struggle against external obstacles to get what they want. I also like creating their internal obstacles--the emotional baggage they carry with them that limit their actions. Fear. Anger. Rage.

The minute I started writing my first thriller, I was hooked.

I also like creating strong female characters. Jill Shannon, the anti-hero in my first book is a great example. She's smart, fierce, and a little ruthless. Not what you'd expect lurking underneath her pretty face.


Fiona - 
What do you think makes a good thriller - what components do you try to include? What are you consciously aware of as you're putting your plot together?

Chris -
It has to be high stakes. Typically life and death, or loss of freedom. Both figure prominently into my plot lines. There also has to be a personal stake in the story. What motivates your hero to conquer the obstacles in the story and risk it all? Single mother, Marissa Rooney, will stop at nothing to find her missing daughter. Then there is the element of time (pacing). Everyone knows that the first 48 hours are critical in a missing person's case, but beyond that, what provides a ticking clock--the tension that moves your characters (and your readers) through the story? The kidnapped girl in In the Dark is a type 1 diabetic. She's got her insulin pen with her, but it's not ideal (she needs 2 types of insulin and only has one) and her supply is limited. When it runs out, she dies.

It's a compelling ticking clock. It's selection wasn't random. My husband is a type 1 diabetic, so I know a little bit about what happens (high blood sugars, low blood sugars, etc.).

If your hero has a good reason to care, your readers will too.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about that pacing. I find books that are written with the gas pedal being pushed down the whole time wears me out. I appreciate a few scenes with introspection or a little more quiet so there are highs and lows. Is that something you include in your pacing or is it go go go?

Chris - 
Like you said, it can't be go go go all the time. It gets boring. It's like the never-ending car chase scene.

There are moments when your characters are alone and they're struggling with their inner demons. The action isn't high, but the emotional tension is. I also like to inject a little humor where I can into the story.

That was probably more true of my first book than my second.

You also need to let your hero win every once in a while to keep people invested. There was this t.v. show years ago, about an Irish family. Modern. T
he Black Donnelys. But everything went wrong for this family. It went from bad to worse. I watched 2 - 3 episodes then quit. It was too depressing. They took it off the air before the season finished.

Another way that you can hold the reader's attention is with complex plotting. Beyond the pantser v plotter question, how do you develop the ideas for your plots and how do you refine so it's the Three Little Bears not too twisty not too straight?

Chris - 
Yes, I'm a big fan of complex plotting. I'm definitely a plotter. I start with the seed of a story. An idea. I spend some time nodding on the idea, growing it, to see if it's big enough to support a plot. Then I write a summary 3-Act Plot. This is maybe 5 - 10 pages long. Then I start breaking it into scenes--more of a formal outline. I usually start writing. Evolve the outline as I go. Major plot twists are built into the idea of the story. Part of how do you make it interesting or surprising. For instance, In the Dark has a big reveal in the prologue. Sometimes though, you delay a reveal to build tension, or a new idea comes to you during the writing phase that makes a reveal or twist better.

Good twists are part of my original story design. They're what makes the story interesting. So, while I do outline, I use my outline as a guideline and not a blueprint, so if my characters take me in different directions (deviate off the path), I go with it. If it works, I keep it, if it doesn't, I dump it and move on.

Each of my characters have their own story lines, even the secondary characters. While they play a role in the major plot, their stories weave into the whole making it richer.

Fiona - 
Go back to the original three parts. What does that breakdown look like?

Chris - 

The first act sketches out the main character. Who are they? Why are they here? The inciting incident that puts the characters on the path. My first act usually ends with the characters gaining momentum, they reach the point of no return on their journey, which propels them deeper into the story.

The second act is the bulk of the story. The obstacles they face, setbacks in the plot. Pushing against the obstacles to learn more about the case, battle with their own demons. You know. At the end of the second act, they acquire knowledge that moves them into the third act. In In the Dark, the investigator learns the identity of the kidnapper. The climax of the story. The showdown. Do they find the missing girl? Can they save her? Slay the demon? In a romance it's usually about whether the relationship survives the crisis and how.

The end of Act 3 is the resolution. I usually tie the ends of my acts with a big reveal or twist; a moment in the action that propels you into the next phase. You up the stakes.

Fiona - 
Do you apply special choices of words or sentence structures to encourage people to read in a section in a particular way? For example how would you change between the physical action high stakes pages v. the emotion angst introspection pages to change the rhythm?

Chris - 
Sentence structure is obvious. Shorter, choppier sentences for action scenes. Longer, more complex sentences for more introspective parts. Atmosphere plays a role too; setting the scene. Because I set stories in the Northwest, I use a lot of physical scene setting (barriers like mountains and mudslides, raining, flooding, typical things we experience in Northwest winters). Word choices are important--how you describe something reflects the mood of the character. Marissa Rooney has made a lot of mistakes with men. When she thinks about these mistakes, her inner critic calls her a loser. The voice of her inner critic is probably her mother's, and she struggles against her poor self-esteem the whole book. Only at the end does she accept her mistakes and move past them. Get stronger. Those emotional moments where she's waging her own inner battle use words that reflect what her inner critic (and by extension herself) believes.

The emotional stuff is harder for me to write.

Takes longer. I have to dig pretty deep to get it out.

Fiona -
For me sex is hardest to write -- I can write emotion all day long.

Chris - 
I hear ya!

When I'm writing a sex scene, I have to block out the idea that anyone else will ever read it. If I didn't, I would never be able to write one.

Fiona - 
Amen to that one -- especially the idea of one of my kids reading it! Ha!

Chris - 
I'm in denial about my kids reading my stuff. I started to write again about the time my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. That's when I instituted the rule, you never read mommy's stuff. Eventually though, they will. Luckily we're still years away from that.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about staying motivated.

Chris -
I think the hardest thing for me is finding ways to stay motivated during the edit cycle. It always feels endless to me. Ripping a scene apart. Rewriting it, until you get it right, or as close to right as you can while not over-obsessing to the point you can never let it go. So, one of the things that helps motivate me is getting feedback from my writing group, or other sources that I trust. When I'm struggling with a scene and I think it's a piece of crap, getting feedback helps identify what's working, what's not, and provides an opportunity to brainstorm how to fix what's there. Writing is solitary. Building a community of support will help motivate you when the going gets tough.

Tracking what you do also keeps you motivated. Tracking word count in the initial draft, watching your manuscript grow. And then keeping track of where you are in the edit cycle. While it may feel like slow going, just being able to see progress helps. Remembering that there is an end in sight. I know there's a point during the edit cycle where I want to burn the manuscript, or kill myself. Or both.

Having finished several books, I know that this is part of my process. I need to keep pushing to get past it. Eventually I will and the book will be finished and I can write something else.

The promise of writing something new is the carrot at the end of the string fore me.

Fiona - 
It's time! We want a good scar story, please.

Chris - 
My favorite scar story...

Well, I've got a three-inch scar at the base of my throat. One of my coworkers asked me how I got it and this is what I said...

I was working in Vancouver, BC, in an area of the city called Yaletown. It was late. Winter. Raining. I was meeting some of my friends downtown and stopped at a bank machine to pick up some funds. Vancouver is an interesting city--parts of it are upscale, pretty. Safe. But step one or two blocks out of the "zone" and it can get a little sketchy. So there I was at the bank machine, paying no attention to what was going on around me when a man approached from behind. I felt the cold chill of metal against my throat and..."

"Whoa," he says. "Is that what really happened?"

"Uh, no. But it makes a better story."

The real truth was that I had surgery to remove a cyst. Apparently the surgeon was either drunk, or used popsicle sticks. Maybe both. 

Afterwards, I had a drainage tube and a long row of staples closing the wound. I looked like I'd gone on a blind date with Freddie Krueger. I should have been horrified when I looked in the mirror. Instead, I burst out laughing. That was 20 years ago.

Fiona - 
Ha! You got me -- I totally thought you were a crime victim. Thanks so much for coming and hanging out!

Readers, you can stay in touch with Chris:
Website -
Twitter - @chris_patchell

I hope this was helpful. As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Chat Conversation End

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Diversity: Writing Characters with Mental Health Issues with Olivia Vetrano

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon
Mental Health Awareness Ribbon
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Writers have an enormous role to play. We entertain, but we also educate. 

In the book Wired for Story, we learn that psychological tests show that humans are predisposed to live through others’ stories in order to grow and learn. Let me give you an example. I do not go to the woods to have picnics with bears. If I saw a bear while I was eating my sandwich, I would leave my food, make a great deal of noise, hold my body as big as I could, and back my way out of the situation. While I’ve never met a bear, I've learned through stories that they are dangerous. I’ve heard of others who have encountered bears where things have not gone well. Hearing their stories and knowing what could happen if I invited a bear to my picnic may be lifesaving information. 

When our brains are being told a story, the brain rewards us by sending all kinds of happy hormones into our bodies. We read for pleasure – but biologically we developed the feel-good pleasure hormones so we want stories and thus learn to stay alive. Pretty heady stuff, huh? 

And this is  a major reason that here on ThrillWriting that I preach (probably to the choir) that it is really important to get our facts straight. People are biologically predisposed to learn from our stories. They’re learning not just the caliber of bullets or the hand position on a bow and arrow, but also how to analyze situations, how to interpret interactions, and how to respond in our real every day existence. 

Today, I have invited Olivia Vetrano to chat with us. 
LINK to Olivia's Amazon Author Page

Olivia writes with such poignancy that she physically shook my world with her book Neverland. And without giving away the plot, I will tell you that there is a medical issue therein, and I had to for peace-of-mind’s sake go and research the outcomes of the medical issue, so I knew the chances for the heroine's survival. But more about her book in a moment.

We have been working on a new research tab on "inclusivity", and Olivia is here to talk about mental health and how it is portrayed in writing and how that writing influences our society. Olivia is both a writer and someone who experiences issues with her mental health.

Fiona - 
Can you start the discussion? What do yous see as mistakes in the plot framework  that include mental health as an issue or character quality?

Olivia -
You are absolutely right in that while writers are certainly here to entertain, they must also act as educators; which is a terrifying responsibility. It led me to write what I was familiar with, what I had already lived. I figured there was no way to mess that up. 

I realized, there were other people trying to tell me my own story, and they were telling it wrong. There are many aspects of society, not just books, that try to set the stage for how mental health issues should be perceived. 

When I was finally ready to take the pen and write my own narrative, I found my platform tainted, skewed and half occupied. I grew up hearing and reading things about how a person acting in a way you didn't want made them "crazy" or "unstable". And how those were perfectly justifiable excuses to leave them behind. 

Over the years I had subconsciously built up the idea that in order to be loved, in order to make people stay, you couldn't be "crazy". Authors have vivid imaginations and with that comes the ability to be open minded. So I don't think that any kind of writer should put such a versatile topic into such tight boundaries. 

Mental health issues don't fit neatly inside the lines. They tear through the do not cross tape, and if authors are willing to move with them, they might find a story truly worth telling.

Fiona -
Let's start with the biggest myth - I'm not sure what to call it -injustice maybe. 

Someone with a metal health illness could get over it if they tried hard enough - powered through it. That's like asking a person with cancer to think there way out of that diagnosis. 

You mentioned that a narrative is already in place and it doesn't reflect your truth. What other misconceptions or responses do you see that try to identify/interpret you in ways that you wish wasn't part of our communal understanding.

Olivia -
There aren't enough adjectives to describe how I feel when I hear the way too common argument that most mental health issues are just the person's inability to cope with daily life. 

First and foremost, it hurts. A lot. But it's also incredibly embarrassing. It's like saying, some people are hit by buses and survive, but you can't handle being sad. Which is a pathetic concept. Pathetic; there's another good descriptor. There's also shame, frustration, and the uncontrollable urge to placate everyone by pretending it's all in your head (no pun intended). 

There are things I have been diagnosed with that I had an entirely different perception of before being given the actual definition by a mental health professional. I think that's because writers, and others, want certain disorders to be understood in a way that best fits THEIR story. A character has a short temper and keeps changing her mind? Let's call her bi-polar. Another character throws a fit when people don't clean up after themselves? Let's say she has OCD. And what all these misidentifications have in common is that they are all negative. 

Some of the people I have met that actually have these disorders are some of the most incredible, loving, wonderful human beings I have ever had the honor of knowing. But so many books and stories turn them into demons and encourage the readers to root for their demise, or at the very least, for the protagonist to escape them. In many instances, a character with mental illness is the Loch Ness monster of the literary world. Something you can't see with your own eyes, but is clearly the villain.

Fiona - 
When a character is given a diagnosis by a writer, besides researching the parameters of that diagnosis, what ways could an author research the ins and outs and daily impact of a diagnosis so they can portray their characters in a life like 3D way and not in a damaged cookie cutter kind of way? Do you know of resources? Your blog for example.

Olivia - 
The first thing a writer needs to realize is that no two people are going to have the same experience with a mental health disorder. While there is certainly a vast common ground between people with the same disorder, what each individual does on that ground is where writers are going to find their story. 

Blogs are definitely a good place to start (and that's not just me shamelessly self-advertising). Any form of testimony from a person who's been through a mental health disorder or is currently living with one is like research gold. Writers should also go into the research process accepting of the fact that they might not understand what they learn. One of the most comforting things I ever heard from a friend was "I don't understand what you're going through, but I want to try".

What should we writers understand that I didn't ask you?

Olivia - 
I'm insanely grateful to be part of a generation that is working so hard to erase the stigma attached to mental illness. But erasing that stigma means addressing it. And I think that's half the battle.

Mental illness is far from black and white, and there are no comfortable grey questions. I'm not sure what I would have liked to have been asked, but I do know what I'd like to say: Be flexible. Be open. Be understanding. There are so many people out there fighting invisible enemies until they're bruised and broken just to feel like a real person. There are so many people who don't feel valid; don't feel human. If writers give them the room to define themselves, they may be surprised to discover characters worthy of the leading role.

I love this interview - I think it will touch writers' hearts and make them more aware. Thank you.

This is my review of Neverland:
Read It Now LINK

It has been a long time since I have read a novel that physically affected me. Two days after I finished NEVERLAND, I can still feel the story painting over my skin. As I read Vetrano's last few words, I found myself physically shaking. I was right there in that last poignant moment of the story. As a mother, I had lived through a similar experience, and Vetrano's words brought all of those sensations vividly back to me nine years later when I thought they had been buried. After finishing this novel, I needed a long walk and some bourbon.

This book is a rose that takes time to unfold, so be patient. As it spreads its petals, the fragrance and beauty become so heady that you get to go to that magic place where reality isn't, and you just get to experience - and in this case what you get to experience is desperate hope. I found myself crossing my fingers and holding my breath. This is one of those novels that you want all of your friends to read too, so you can share the experience

Thank you Olivia.

Keep up with Olivia here:
Keep up with Olivia here:

Keep up with Olivia here:
Twitter: @oliviavetrano
instagram: @oliviarosevetrano

BLOG - The Disordered Dreamer

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sorbet for Your Writing - Making Videos with Jina Bacarr

Sorbet for your writing OR yes, another way to procrastinate today's 2k words ;)

Amazon Author Page

Fiona - 
ThrillWriting welcomes author Jina Bacarr to talk about the many ways that an author is called on to express their creativity. While we all know it takes excellent words on a page, in our now publishing/marketing climate an author needs more tools in their toolbox. Jina is here to share some information about videos in the hopes that we can excite more readers and encourage them to read our work. Jina, how do you use videos in your marketing and publicity?

Jina - 
We live in a world of instant gratification -- breaking news, Instagram photos, texting. It's a total sensory experience. I like to use video to enhance the reading experience. Show the reader the "movie in my mind" with photos, music, and words from my stories. Give the reader a peek into the colors and textures of what I see and feel when I'm writing the story. 


For example, for my Civil War time travel romance, LOVE ME FOREVER, I want to take the reader back to 1862 and put on that hoop skirt. But see that world in color and taste it, smell it. Video gives me that opportunity. And, yes, I'm a ham. Southern style, of course, and I enjoy doing the voice-over and bringing the characters to life.

Fiona - 
How can an author get started with pulling out the least amount of hair, and shedding the fewest tears.

Jina -
Think of video as a story...there are many different ways to tell that story. POV, tense, novella vs novel. Same with video. You can make short videos or long ones, though I don't recommend anything over 2 minutes. Best for promotion is 30 seconds (we'll get more into that later). I've done some long vids 6-11 minutes that I'm proud of, but for
promotional purposes, let's say you start with 30 seconds. 

First up--a video editing program. Windows Movie Maker should be on your system as a starter tool (Windows 10 DOES NOT support this system). If you don't have WMM, your best bet is to download a free 30-day trial of a program such as Cyberlink Power Director 14 (latest) or Photoshop Premiere. 

I use Power Director and enjoy the added special effects available to enhance your project. Once you have the video editing program, next decide what visuals you want to use: Royalty Free photo stock or RF video, video you shoot yourself, photos you shoot yourself--I've done it all! The most important thing is to have fun. Don't try to be a Hollywood production--let your imagination guide you. 

And like writing, editing your video is so important to making the final product the best it can be. 

Fiona - 
Now that I have Windows 10, I went to Premiere, and I really like it. It was part of the process when I created this video:

Jina, is there a site to get free video footage?
(I found this blog article with a quick Google search.)

Jina - 
To be honest, I'm leery of anything "free" when it comes to videos or photo stock. My favorite site is They have RF photos and videos. 

Your best bet is their subscription service (you can subscribe to one month rather than ongoing). They run periodic sales and since Black Friday is coming up, I wouldn't be surprised if they run a great sale where you can get pick up video and photos for a great price. You have to download the photos/videos on a consistent basis to get the most from the subscription, so I recommend creating "lightboxes" where you pick out the videos/photos you want and have them at your fingertips when you subscribe. 

A sidenote: always check the license for a photo/video before you use it. There's usually no problem using a video/photo you purchase for a book trailer, website. book cover. A commercial license is different. There are other photo sites that are popular as well: iStockphoto and Shutterstock, to name two.

The bottom line is, it takes time and the desire to do it. Like writing...videos tap into your creative psyche and are time consuming. That doesn't mean you can't do it. Making videos can be the sorbet to clear your mind. Give you a chance to get away from the written page and yet still make your creative self happy.

Fiona - 
Can you drive the bus here Jina? What's the next things we need to know?

Jina - 
Okay, now for that bus ride. What you need: 

  1.  a video editing program
  2. RF stock/videos or photos/vids you take yourself 
  3. music -- RF (I like or Creative Commons License (e.g.
  4. your imagination. That magical fountain that ebbs and flows with ideas, hopes, and dreams. You'd be surprised what you can come up with if you give yourself the chance. 

Fiona - Video's made - Woohoo! Now, how do we use them?

Jina - 
Video is the new's everywhere. You can use it on your blog, website, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Facebook. Again, 30 seconds is great -- Twitter only allows 30 seconds, e.g. I find Twitter videos are great for promotion.

Fiona - 
ThrillWriters, Jina made this special video with us. Not only can you see some dynamic video techniques, but she tells us about the audio portion of the video and offers resource sites.

Fiona - 

And now we need a story break, something harrowing, please.

Jina -
My Wild Mulholland Ride

    The moment the sexy Australian walked into the radio station, I felt his magic.
    Tall, dark, and handsome with a stubble beard. And that accent. Made me tingle down to my cowgirl boots. I loved hearing Max talk. The manager at the radio station where I worked had hired him for a guest gig to pull up our ratings with the female audience 18-49.
    He was AM. I was FM.
    I did radio commercials, filled in, wrote PR and commercial copy, acted in skits with the other DJs, including doing remotes like chili cookoffs and handing out trophies at the racetrack. I even got to be a pink-sequined mermaid in a parade during a promotional weekend in Catalina.
    But nothing thrilled me down to my lace undies as when Max asked me out on a date.
    Not to the local pizza joint, but backstage at a club on the Sunset Strip.
    Max was best buds with a band from New Zealand on tour in the States and he wanted me to meet them.
    We were hanging out at the house the band and their manager, Georgie, had rented in Laurel Canyon when Georgie ran out of smokes. Max volunteered to drive him down the winding, two-lane road to the store. Winking at me, he said he wanted to check out the view of L.A. from Mulholland Drive on the way back.
    Did I want to come along?
    Oh, boy, did I.
    The romantic music in my head turned up a notch. Then another when his lips brushed my cheek. I wiggled my toes in my boots.
With a secret smile curving my lips, I slid into the black leather bucket seat of his shiny, black Mustang. I loved sitting next to him. Every time he shifted gears, we’d take off like a speeding rocket over the bumpy road. Twilight hovered over the hills like an exotic dancer sliding down her pole, revealing just enough to tease.
I couldn’t wait till we got to Mulholland. I thrilled to the idea of Max holding me close while we enjoyed the city view. Then me sighing over a kiss or two while Georgie had a smoke in the backseat.
    I was so enchanted with my daydream—and hanging onto the door handle every time we rounded a steep curve—I didn’t see the truck’s blaring headlights heading straight toward us until it was too late.
“Hold on tight, baby!” Max yelled, his deep voice as hot as dragon’s breath. Every nerve in my body was suddenly on alert.
Zoom! He jammed down on the gas pedal and swerved to the right to avoid hitting the truck, grinding the gears and shifting the sports car into overdrive. With the wind in our faces, the Mustang took off like a roadrunner, flying over the asphalt and onto the grassy terrain on the shoulder.
    The scary, wild ride lasted only a few seconds, but it seemed like a lifetime.
    I knew this old road well. If we didn’t stop, we’d plunge over the steep hillside and go straight down Mulholland Drive.
    Five hundred feet . . . down into the canyon.
Broken branches. Scraggly bushes and overgrown vegetation might slow us down, but mud from the recent rains made the hillside as slick as a waterslide.
    We were goners if the brakes didn’t hold.
    Max never lost control of the Mustang. Talking to her in that smooth, sexy voice that sent females drowning in their lattes. I swear the car listened to him as if she were his best girl. Slipping and sliding, moaning and creaking, the black-hooded bombshell finally screeched to a stop.
    Sooo close to the edge.
    The city lights twinkling below us like fallen stars.
    Shaking, we got out of the car and stared down into the darkness, utterly freaked out . . . not believing how close we came to flipping over the hillside. Inches. Only by the grace of God and Max’s skill behind the wheel did we stop in time. His big, strong hands taking control of the steering wheel and making the Mustang purr . . . later I discovered what those hands could do.
    Heads bowed, Max led us in a prayer of thanks. Georgie, him, and me. The three of us held on to each other as Max’s big voice boomed our thanks out over the Valley. Our personal airwave to heaven.
    Afterward, Georgie got his cigs and we went to the show as planned. The band rocked the trendy club with their fast-moving techno sounds, but I never forgot that night. Or my handsome DJ.
    His soul-melty tones filling the air over Mulholland.
    And those hands of his.
    God bless him.

Fiona - 
Thanks, Jina, I need to go drown myself in a latte now.

Okay folks, you came keep up with Jina at:
Twitter - @JinaBacarr

Also, you can see Jina's movies, read a fun exchange by her characters, and get some great recipes mentioned in her book from our FREE cookbook - KP AUTHORS COOK THEIR BOOKS.
The cover and link are just above on the right sidebar. (There's some Weakest Lynx backstory in there, too). ENJOY!

And as always, a big thank you stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Nip and a Tuck: Information for Writers Who Have Plastic Surgery in Their Plotlines.

Today we are talking with the beautiful Kim Carmichael about how plastic surgery can twist a plot. Can you tell us about your background in this area?


Along with being an author, I'm in pharmaceutical grade skin care with dermatologists and plastic surgeons. I have worked in the aesthetic field for over twenty years either in the physician offices or in the field. I have seen many many transformations in the last two decades, and I have watched the field change from almost all cutting to a lot of less invasive procedures as well.

Fiona - 
I have seen some shows that show amazing transformations. My amazement doesn't always belong in the "Wow that's an amazing change for the better" Category. Sometimes it's just in the "oh, wow" category.  When someone is undergoing a major transformation what ethics apply to a doctor's decision to radically change someone's appearance?

Kim - 
I think that is a real issue today. We have a joke about people either end up looking like a lion or a goldfish if you get a physician that is not as talented as he or she should be. I think the physician needs to deliver what the patient wants, but within limits meaning not leaving them looking odd or deformed even. It's important to know when to not over-treat a patient even though a patent may ask for that. The first part of the Hippocratic oath is first do no harm. With the obsession with celebrities many people ask for certain looks, and I feel its the doctors responsibility to be honest about can actually be performed and be healthy. Surgery no matter what is a risk and should never be taken lightly

Fiona - 
When would a doctor say "no I will not work with you?"

Kim - 
When the patient is asking for an impossible or unsafe correction. I have watched a doctor turn away a patient when she wanted more filler and would have left her looking very odd, they told her they couldn't help and would not do the procedure.

Fiona -
Yes, well I guess that doctor's reputation is on the line, too. Can you imagine someone with over injected lips raving about her doctor and everyone else can see that s/he looks unnatural. That's just bad walking/word-of-mouth advertising. 

How long might someone take to recover from a surgery? How long would they be in bandages?

Kim - 
That depends. It is usually at least a week. Recovery is a process and dependent on the procedure, but just to be able to get up and be semi-normal can take more than a week, the swelling and final results is 3-6 months out.

Fiona -
That's a long time. So no quick stops to the local plastic surgeon to change a character's nose and jaw line to evade the police. 

Are the scars noticeable to the point that they can be seen and used as evidence that the person tampered with their face?

Kim - 
Nothing is ever one hundred percent gone, it can be masked and hidden in skin folds etc. It really depends on that patients healing (if they create keloid scars etc.) and the doctor's skill in hiding the evidence, as well as how the patient takes care of themselves after the procedure.

Fiona - 
What are the main reasons people become involved with transformations?

Kim - 
Well for me, I really didn't like certain things about myself. I think everyone has a part of themselves they want to change. At the end of the day we all want to look and feel good and its amazing how invigorating getting something corrected can be to someones mental state.

Fiona - 
What would surprise us about the field of transformative surgery?

Kim - 
Most doctors don't go for this huge transformation but they go for natural corrections that look like the patient only better. Also, plastic surgeons can be the kindest doctors on the planet, they truly care.

Fiona - 
Awww smile emoticon Have you ever seen a doctor fall for his patient?

Kim - 
No LOL (but it sounds like a romance novel)

Fiona - 
Let's say that the plot line involves a crime victim or an accident victim...

Kim - 
Most plastic surgeons do treat that, and they do reconstruction and these are very talented physicians who can give a patient their life back. I think that if I were a physician that would be one of the most fulfilling profession because you really change someone's life.

Fiona - 
What kinds of aftercare is needed?

Kim -
Every doctor has his own regimen, but for my recent surgery, I had a pre-procedure regimen that consisted of arnica, bromelian and vitamin k as well as a list of things I wasn't allowed to take. Then I had a prophylactic antibiotic. Afterwards, I was wrapped in foam so I didn't have to do any ointments or anything so that was nice. But there are ointments that keep the area clean and promote healing. if one was having facial plastic surgery there would be skin care products to help with facial redness, and to promote collagen production, etc.

Fiona - 
You have personal experience using a plastic surgeon, can you tell us what you had done, and the progression of your experience?

Kim -

I lost a lot of weight about 9 years ago. I had a lot of loose skin and a c-section scar. I had an abdominalplasty eight years ago and just this summer I had some additional body contouring. I have always been made fun of my weight, and I have issues with anything that deals with that. With the latest round of surgery, I felt like I had gained weight in areas I didn't want it just due to age etc. So that is why I opted for another surgery.

Fiona - 
How did you feel going into the surgery - any trepidation or do you have enough experience with others that this felt comfortable to you?

Kim - 
I wanted it gone so badly, I didn't care if I died trying to get rid of it.

Fiona -
How was your pain level and recovery time?

Kim -
Don't be fooled plastic surgery hurts. The first time, they cut off a lot skin and I was down for over a month. The second time, it took about 2 weeks to be able to get up and down as I wanted.

Fiona - 
What physical things were you precluded from doing and for how long?

Kim - 
Well the fist one I couldn't stand up straight for about six weeks LOL they tightened it so much. You just have to watch it. And no exercise, no getting the incisions wet, etc. Your body tells you what you can and cannot do.

Fiona - 
I'm interested in the pain and the ways that the doctors would abate that. Ice? Meds? How long - if medicated and any chance that in a book this might lead to addictions - as in it takes so long to overcome the surgery meds could be used as a plot twist. (Poor girl was attacked went through surgeries to build her face back she became addicted to opiates etc)

Kim - 
They will give you a pain reliever like a Vicodin. They limit the number they give you. Ice can be for certain things, I had a foam glued to me that kept the incisions sterile. I had some supplements, Vicodin and an antibiotic. Ff you need refills on the pain meds, they will normally make you prove why they are very careful to not allow you to have too much, and they stress they would rather you take Tylenol than the Vicodin.

Fiona -
What surprised you about the process - what details could an author include in her writing that would make this plot twist more real and interesting to the reader?

Kim - 
You don't walk in one person and out another person. Everyone thinks that. They also don't think that plastic surgery is real surgery, so they think they'll be partying that night. It is very far from the truth. It is real surgery, and you have to go in expecting realistic results. If the doctor is good, he will make sure you understand. 

Fiona -
What did I not ask you because I didn't know enough? What do you think writers should know so they can write this right?

Kim - 
Remember that you are down for the count after a procedure. You are not up and around that night watching a movie, especially if you were put under. Also, recovery is long and takes months to see the final results. And most importantly, you don't look like a different person. Those movies where people walk in looking one way and walk out looking another are false. When you see that it is usually the result of several surgeries over years and years.

Nothing is 100 percent

Fiona - 
Everyone on ThrillWriting is asked to share their favorite scar story. Will you tell us your tale?

Kim - 
I have a scar on my knee from when  I was about 7 years old when I was crawling across the front seat of my Dad's old yellow nova with flowers painted on it (true) and the car was old and the spring went through my knee. It hurt like hell ,and I survived with only a few stitches and got a puppy!

Fiona - 
Yay for puppies! Thanks so much sharing your information with us. 

Kim is a Kindle Scout Winner, her book is:


What's your fantasy?

Twenty years ago, the movie Hollywood Stardust defined a generation of teens and changed the four actors’ lives forever.

Typecast as the villain both in front and behind the silver screen, Logan Alexander has purposely allowed his star to fade. Now with the 20th Anniversary of the movie on the horizon, he is the only one fit to step into the spotlight, deal with the unwanted publicity, and make sure that things meant to be left on the cutting room floor remain there.

Ivy Vermont has always longed to be a leading lady, yet her paralyzing stage fright has relegated her to stay behind the scenes as a fact checker for’s entertainment webcasts. However, when her one-time poster-boy crush walks in to the studio demanding only she be in charge of his story, she knows she must take advantage of her big break.

Now, Logan tightropes between old loyalties and new love, while Ivy struggles to stay in reality with her ultimate fantasy.

You can catch up with Kim and stay in touch HERE

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Diversity in Our Writing: Cultural differences and Immigration with Jennifer Skutelsky

Today we have the wonderful
 opportunity to visit with Jennifer Skutelsky. Jennifer was born in South Africa and has settled in the United States, where she lives with her daughter and three immigrant pets in San Francisco. Award winning author of GRAVE OF HUMMINGBIRDS and TIN CAN SHRAPNEL, she is both a softie and a warrior, with a passion for the underdog and alternate realities. She loves rhinos and elephants and has been known to talk to pigeons, while laughter and gratitude have often talked her off a ledge. With roots in ballet, marketing and visual art, everything she does now revolves around books.

Fiona - 
Welcome Jennifer. Would you tell us your "coming to America story?"

Jennifer - 
Mid-2009, I moved to the United States with my daughter, Amber, who was 13 at the time. I'd applied to both San Francisco State University and Columbia to do an MFA in Creative Writing--Columbia waitlisted me and SF State said yes, so San Francisco it was. I was leaning toward the West Coast anyway, as I'd heard that San Francisco was its own country: progressive, alternative, a bit like me, so the decision made sense. (No one had the faintest clue how much the city has changed since the 60s.)

It was a daunting prospect. I sold everything to make three years of study in a different country possible, and my family did all they could to help. The exchange rate was terrifying: R10 to the $ at the time. I look back and wonder how I found the courage and temerity to even dream I could pull it off. At 13, Amber still thought I was a magician and could do anything, so she was mostly excited that she'd get to watch a dozen movies on the plane. Our dog, Fifi, came with us. She stayed in her crate under the seat in front of me for the duration of the long flight to Paris, then on to San Francisco.

Fiona - 
Can you talk to me about the decision making process? How did this come onto your radar? And was your daughter part of the decision making team?

Jennifer - 
We both needed a break from South Africa. 2008 had been a traumatic year. I'd worked with refugees of a violent spate of xenophobia that displaced over 20,000 people, and I think a large part of my heart broke during that time. I wanted to move Amber away for a few years, into a global arena, one that would advance and nurture her ballet and expose her to a more culturally expansive experience. One that didn't feel so threatening, or dangerous.

My daughter, young as she was, was very much part of the decision-making process. I raised her on my own, and we're very close. She's my center; everything spins around her. Both of us were excited at the prospect of her auditioning for the San Francisco Ballet School, although we knew how difficult it would be to get in. I had faith in her, and she in me.

Fiona - 
Had you planned to live here forevermore?

Jennifer - 
I didn't think past the three years it would take to do my degree. I was very naive. However tough things had gotten for me in the past, I'd always landed on my feet. But if I'd known how strong and resilient I'd have to be, I just might have chickened out.

Fiona - 
What hoops would a character in a novel have to jump through to move to the US.

Jennifer - 
Since 9/11, immigration has become a minefield, but I think that's true of most countries/continents--Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and South Africa too. 

There are a frightening number of active war zones in the world that desperate people are trying to escape, and any hardship they take on in terms of immigration pales into insignificance against what they face in their home countries. In extreme cases, people fleeing poverty or violence might approach the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (with limited success); others will do whatever it takes by whatever means. So it depends how edgy the character is, his level of jeopardy, where he comes from, why and how he's chosen to move to the United States. In South Africa, some refugees brave being eaten by lions and leopards as they crawl under border fences; here they might get shot, fall off a train, drown, or suffocate in an overloaded container.

Where legal channels come into play, and when a person chooses to move for reasons other than imminent threat, there are a number of hoops to jump through, and they can test someone's athleticism for years. Let's assume your character falls in love and marries an American citizen. That used to be all that was needed to establish residency, but the US authorities became aware of the proliferation of fraudulent marriages, and clamped down. Now a couple has to prove that they entered into a good faith marriage, either through joint bank accounts, joint tax returns, and/or a joint mortgage or lease. The US spouse essentially sponsors her foreign husband to remain in the country, and she has to show that she has the financial means to support him. The couple then launches a joint application, and will usually be called in for an interview with an officer from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
If approved, the immigrant is granted conditional permanent residence, which expires after two years, at which point another joint application must be made to have those conditions removed. If nothing has changed since the original application, the person becomes a permanent resident, and after five years (including the initial two), can apply for citizenship. However, that's the ideal scenario. There are often delays, requests for further evidence, additional face-to-face interviews with USCIS, fingerprinting at various intervals, etc. It can become a very difficult process to navigate, and many people turn to immigration lawyers for help.

Other paths some people might follow are corporate sponsorship in the form of a job offer; investment opportunities; and/or business visas (where they have serious money at their disposal).

I came on a student's visa initially. While I was still in South Africa, I was required to show that I had the funds to support us, and could pay for my degree. I had to produce proof from the university that I was in fact enrolled. I already had a ten year visa in place, as I'd been to New York a few times to train with the New York City Ballet Workout, and once all my student documents were in place, things went smoothly. Fortunately, I had Amber's Unabridged Birth Certificate at hand, which indicated that I was her sole parent and could therefore move freely with her. I think if one is honest and systematic, very focused and in tune with what's required, it makes the process less fraught.

My student visa allowed me to work for 20 hours a week, only at the university. I ended up doing my degree in two years, not three--I wouldn't have finished if I'd taken that long.

Fiona -  
What happens if the character's spouse dies or they are divorced - does this change their status?

Jennifer - 
At some point the US Government had to take into consideration that marriages fail more than they seem to succeed--sadly--and that it would be unfair to punish a bona fide immigrant by deporting them if their marriage didn't work out.

If the divorce happens prior to the conditions of permanent residence being removed, then the joint application is rejected and the applicant must proceed alone, or face deportation. If s/he chooses to proceed alone and can prove a good faith marriage, which is sometimes hard to do, then s/he will have the conditions removed and further down the line, may take up citizenship. The fees mount up, as does the time it takes for the applications to be processed. It can take a person a decade or more to become a citizen.

If your application, either joint or individual as a divorced person, is rejected, then you would appear in Court before an Immigration Judge, who would assess the credibility of the marriage. If the judge rejects the application, then you have leave to appeal in Civil Court, where many lawyers feel more comfortable. While applications are pending, it's unlikely that you would be deported, but it's essential that USCIS knows where you are or whether you have any intention of traveling. During some of these transitions, travel becomes especially thorny, and express permission is needed if you're to be allowed back in the country.

Fiona - 
You had visited the US before, and you already spoke English, was the transition fluid or did you have some shocks?

Jennifer -
I think you've hit on something a lot of people don't take into consideration when undertaking such a move. We speak and write British English, and might think that we're ahead of the game because we've also embraced many aspects of American culture. We love Hollywood and TV and have tried everything on McDonald's menu, so we assume the transition will be smooth. And perhaps, if you're coming to a job or to family, it's easier. But immigration is one of the most traumatic life changes a person can go through; it's right up there, just below losing a loved one. I found myself constantly off balance. My daughter fared better than I did--she jumped in like a little fish and played in the water.

Fiona - 
When I lived in Europe, I tried to explain it by talking about the doors. You pushed the doors to go in and pull to go out. Here in America, for the most part, they are the opposite. So it looked like a door and acted like a door, but I was always seemed to be doing it wrong - in doors and other little subtle ways. Can you share a story of some of the subtle ways that life in America felt like a huge learning curve?

Jennifer - 
That's an interesting analogy.

One day, not long after we'd got here, my daughter and I were waiting to catch a train in West Portal. The BART police were on the platform, checking the tickets of people getting off one of the trains that pulled in. A young man wearing a hoodie didn't seem to have a ticket. The policewoman wouldn't let him go when he tried to leave, and she called for backup. Four of them laid into this boy, and I stepped forward to intervene--I'd come from South Africa and seen some horrific things; I'd stopped a UN plane from leaving Johannesburg, for heaven's sake--I wasn't going to stand by. My daughter held me back and pulled me onto the train, which was a brilliant thing to do (but she's like that, my Amber). People on the train were staring straight ahead, like they were completely unaware of this boy being pushed around outside the window. It was like an episode straight out of The Stepford Wives. I stood in the middle of the aisle and screamed at them, "Can you not see what they're doing to him? How can you just sit there??? What's wrong with you people?" Then I burst into tears. It took me a long time to get over that, even though I wasn't a stranger to brutality. I guess I learned caution, and I learned to temper my expectations, to modify my hopes, and I learned patience.

Fiona -  
I'm wondering about coping mechanisms - what helped you deal with your stress? Can you give some bench markers for adaptation or do you still feel off kilter?

Jennifer - 
Honestly, I'm sometimes still off kilter. There are many things I love about America and more specifically, about San Francisco. But I continue to bridge cultural gaps. I miss my mother, who's 91 this year, and my sister. I miss the beauty and spirit of Africa, and I will always love South Africa. 

We've made a lot of sacrifices, Amber and I, and while she feels a sense of belonging, I've acculturated less easily. I think San Francisco can be tough on people who migrate to the city. Amber has an American accent; I don't. I still say things that elicit a bewildered stare and find myself groping for a different vocabulary than the one I'm used to. My work as an editor pushed me into a whole new arena of English, and I adapted quickly, worked especially hard to get ahead. I did Professional Editing and Teaching as correlatives for my MFA, and I think that accelerated and consolidated things for me. But it was hard to come to terms with finding a new voice and sensibility in writing. Some things have been difficult to let go of. That's good. We shouldn't aim to emulate everyone else, and being different is fine. It took me a while to work that out.

Coping mechanisms? I would recommend becoming part of something--for my daughter, it was the San Francisco Ballet School. Because she was a technically sound and artistically beautiful dancer, she fit right in, and ballet's globally inclusive language facilitated her sense of belonging. Make friends, something that isn't easy to do unless you're part of some kind of group, whatever that is. Join Meetups, learn the rules of baseball and football. Fall in love with the Giants, and watch cricket, rugby and soccer with people who understand why you're sitting near a box of tissues. Read as much as you can, especially if you're a writer, but even if you're not. Do a lot of research because really, knowledge and understanding can change everything.

Fiona - 
Did you gravitate to other immigrants/try to find other people from your cultural background or did you prefer to make American friends/connections as your social base and can you explain why?

Jennifer - 
I made friends with some of the moms at Amber's school (School of the Arts) and at SFB. I was much older than people at University and had vastly different historical imprints, so I often felt lonely. I think that's one of the most difficult things an immigrant has to deal with aside from the culture shock and the fact that people don't laugh at your jokes--that sense of isolation, of being different. Charlize Theron understood what it would take to fit in: she lost her accent in record time and has never looked back:).

Fiona - 
What did you hope that I'd asked/want authors to understand about writing a character who is new to America?

Jennifer -
Avoid trying to capture an accent in dialogue. You need a very finely tuned ear to get it right. If you feel you must, then do it once or twice right at the beginning, but that's all you get. Most times a writer's efforts to capture a vernacular will be jarring and come across as patronizing.

Considering the context in which we live and the need to embrace diversity in all spheres, the immigrant lends himself to vivid character development in a novel. Try to get under the character's skin. Stereotypes of refugees and immigrants allow for only a single, one dimensional story to be told. In reality, many immigrants bring a wealth of vibrant cultural influence and contribution to all facets of American life. Unfortunately there's a cloud of implied hostility/distrust that they often live under. You can imagine how many years and what kind of financial outlay is involved in being accepted here, not to mention the stress and insecurity that would inform every facet of a character in a novel. They might develop symptoms of anxiety and depression, even PTSD; they might be defensive or constantly fearful, especially agitated when looking through mail, or when there's a knock on the door. Speaking broadly, they might develop sleep issues, nervous body language, and I can almost guarantee that money will be a major concern. The whole process of migration is one that leaves a person in a state of fairly constant precarity, unless the ideal scenario mentioned above is at play. Some people come from terrifying places, yet they'll experience homesickness. They may have given up everything to run a gauntlet of emotional and cultural upheaval. Try to get a hold of the issues they grapple with. Take into account the frequent, destabilizing recalibration that has to take place and how very little can ever be taken for granted.

Yet it's not all grueling. When I came here I looked at everything with wide eyes. I was so intensely eager and receptive. Of all the places I've ever been, San Francisco allows you to reinvent yourself--to be whoever and whatever you want to be. The process of discovery might kill you, but you try not to dwell on that.

Fiona - 
Would you please tell us about your Kindle Scout winning book Grave of Hummingbirds which will be published by Little A in January 2016?

Jennifer - 
When a boy stumbles on the body of a woman with a condor's wings stitched into her back, Gregory Moreno does a secret autopsy and confronts the work of a butcher. The killer stirs again when Gregory meets Sophie Lawson, a forensic anthropologist traveling from San Francisco, and before she meets a grotesque fate, Gregory must undertake a frenzied search across mountains haunted by ritual and superstition. Nothing prepares him for the macabre truths he uncovers.

Fiona - 
Traditionally here at ThrillWriting, we ask about your favorite scar.

Jennifer - 
Rather than tell a scar story (of which I have a few), can I tell a story that tested a few of my limits?

As I mentioned previously, in 2008 mobs of South Africans attacked and displaced thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from other African countries. Camps were set up to accommodate traumatized people who had lost everything. In the aftermath of protests at a camp in Johannesburg that led to a standoff between authorities and angry refugees, a group of women stood in front of their men to shield them from the police. A number of people were arrested, including the women. One of them was nursing an infant, while the others had small children. I got a call from an agitated father to tell me that his children had disappeared and no one knew what had happened to them. None of the working groups had a clue where to look for them. But I was something of a wild card and eventually managed to track the little ones down. They were in the process of being made wards of the state, something I couldn't let happen since I had met the mothers and knew how terrified they were of losing their children. I wrested them from the state and returned them to their fathers. One group of children, however, was to be deported to Burundi with their uncle while their mother sat in jail. I knew that was the last thing she would want, so I fought the United Nations. One of the lawyers got me into the prison again, and I wrote an Affidavit on the mother's behalf to refuse permission for her children to be returned to Burundi. As I was leaving the prison, clutching the document, I got a call to say the UN plane was ready to take off. I threatened all manner of mayhem if they didn't stop it, on the runway if necessary, and stop it they did. I drove like a maniac across town--I remember one of the lawyers sitting in the back seat holding on for dear life with terror in his eyes. A couple of weeks later, mother and children were reunited when she was released on bail. The case was dismissed months later.

I wrote about that year in a memoir called Tin Can Shrapnel. It was important that I kept a record of what had happened to people I had grown close to, and I wanted their voices to be heard.

Fiona - 
A beautiful story of strength and conviction. Thank you so much Jennifer for sharing it with us.

An ERIC HOFFER BOOK AWARD Finalist, TIN CAN SHRAPNEL is the story of one woman's journey to salvage hope from the hate and madness of horrific xenophobic attacks that broke out in cities and townships across South Africa in 2008. Reflecting the voices of a small group of men and women from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jennifer Skutelsky traces events leading to the accommodation of more than 20,000 dislocated people in refugee camps. A story of chaos and courage and missing children, it is, more than anything, a story of universal truth, and finding a way back from the end of the world.

If you'd like to keep stay in touch with Jennifer, here are her links:

Fiona Quinn's Newsletter Link, Sign up HERE
Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.