Author Spotlight: Maria Grazia Swan

Today I welcome Maria Grazia Swan to Reade and Write. Maria is a mystery author with a novella in the soon-to-be-released collection Summer Snoops Unleashed. I’ve helped the authors of the collection promote it, and there’s one more post featuring two or three other authors coming soon.

Ready to learn more about Maria?

Tell me about your new novella.

Pies, Lies and a Last Goodbye could be seen as a short book or a long novella. It’s about 24,000 words and will be released on July 23 as part of the boxed set Summer Snoops Unleashed, as you mentioned. The link to purchase the collection is https://books2read.com/SummerSnoopsUnleashed, and as you can see, for 99¢ readers will have plenty of stories to read. I’m honored to be in the company of such great authors.

Pies, Lies and a Last Goodbye is part of my Baker Girls cozy mystery series. As you read this, books 1 and 2 of the series are available only on Amazon, but very soon (in about 10 days) all the books in the series will be available at all major online retailers.

Click this link to find Book 1, Cooks, Crooks and a Corpse, on Amazon.

Click this link to find Book 2, Foods, Fools, and a Dead Psychic, on Amazon.

Here are the covers of the books currently on Amazon:

I’m really excited to be able to share my new covers with you here! Drum roll, please…

Congratulations, Maria! I love the new covers!

Book 3 in the Baker Girls series, Wine, Dine, and Christmas Crimes, is available for pre-order now. Here’s a look at the cover and link to pre-order the book.

https://books2read.com/u/mY1NZV

Back to Pies, Lies and a Last Goodbye. I wanted to write a short book for readers not familiar with the Baker Girls series. In this novella I introduce the main characters and the feelings driving their actions. I hope new readers will like the concept and read the rest of the series.

Readers, Maria is giving away two Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of Pies, Lies and a Last Goodbye today! All you have to do to be entered to win is comment on this post. I’ll choose the winners tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. EST.

Maria, tell us about your other books. 

Baker Girls is my 3rd series and the first one with a Phoenix/Arizona locale/settings.

My first series is the Mina Calvi Adventure mysteries. Anyone familiar with my books knows I only write about places where I have lived or at least visited personally. The Mina Calvi series has Orange County, California, as background because I lived there while writing most of the books…

…Except for book 3, Italian Summer. I wrote that back home in Italy and it’s 60% autobiographical as it pertains to settings, feelings, and habits. OK, I’m stopping here. You’ll have to read the book to fill the blanks…

My second series is the Lella York suspense series, and those books each have a different setting. Book 1, Gemini Moon: Murder Under the Italian Moon, was based on a real deadly event. A friend of mine was shot by the spouse and her blood spattered on one of my books she had on her desk at the time. It was returned to me years later and I just had to write about the shooting.

Describe yourself in three words

Loyal, passionate, truthful.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write from the heart: readers can tell. And keep in mind no one was born a writer. While some excel at it, it’s a craft. Practice makes perfect. Never give up.

Where can readers find you?

Email: mgsweb1@gmail.com

Website

Twitter

Amazon Author page

BookBub 

Subscribe to my newsletter

And where can readers find your books, besides the links you’ve already provided?

I’ve written short stories and non-fiction in addition to my mysteries. Check out my website for more information on my books.

Maria has graciously provided a recipe from one of her main characters, Monica, a cook who tends to take shortcuts. There are two versions of Pasta Primavera: the regular version and Monica’s shortcut version.

Monica’s Pasta Primavera

(This version works for vegetarians. If you are following a gluten-free diet, substitute gluten-free pasta for regular pasta. You can use your favorite brand. My choice is Barilla. ~Monica)

12 ounces of pasta (I use Barilla thin spaghetti)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

½ pound broccoli, trim thick stems

½ pound cauliflower

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup heavy cream

***

Cook pasta according to directions.

While waiting for water to boil chop broccoli and cauliflower into bite size pieces.

Once the pasta is in the pot, melt butter in large skillet over low heat, but don’t let it brown. Set aside.

Two minutes before removing the pasta from the boiling pot add the chopped broccoli and cauliflower to the boiling water/pasta.

Drain well pasta and veggies, transfer to the skillet with melted butter, toss well. Add heavy cream and cheese, toss some more and serve.  (4 servings)

Buon appetito!

 

Monica’s One-Pot 15-Minute version…if you dare…serves 2

8 ounces pasta (half a package) (Barilla thin spaghetti cooks in 5-6 minutes al dente)

Salt and pepper as needed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1-10 ounces package frozen vegetables (I like the Oriental Stir-fry plain, but any frozen vegetables would do)

***

Cook pasta according to directions.

While pasta is cooking, open frozen vegetables, discard wrapping and put vegetables in colander. Let hot water from kitchen faucet run over frozen vegetables. That way they will thaw but remain crisp.

When pasta is done, turn off faucet and pour pasta over vegetables in colander. Drain well.

Quickly return the pot in which the pasta was cooked to the same burner, add butter. Allow it to melt over a low burner but do not allow it to brown.

Pour pasta and vegetables on top of melted butter, add olive oil and toss well.

Serve with grated cheese to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sounds delicious! Thanks for visiting, Maria!

Until next time,

Amy

 

 

 

 

 

No Symbolism Here

With apologies to any English teachers who may read this blog…

Think back to when you were in high school. Remember your English classes? Remember how the teacher would insist that there was deep and profound meaning in something that you were taking at face value?

Let me give you an example. A character takes a walk in the woods. You thought, “Okay. So the guy takes a walk in the woods. So what?” Your English teacher said, “Don’t you see? The walk in the woods symbolizes something. It represents the sadness of the character, the character’s loneliness and self-fulfilling limitations.”

Breaking news: sometimes a character just wants to take a walk in the woods. No symbolism there. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, it’s pretty in the woods. It’s a nice place to take a walk. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone is sad or lonely or suffering from self-fulfilling limitations.

You can probably think of a thousand other examples of symbolism being forced on a story where, perhaps, the author never meant anything more than what is written on the page.

I was thinking about this because I was helping a person-who-shall-remain-nameless with an English paper recently. It was based on a short story and the person-who-shall-remain-nameless did a great job on the paper and I told that person as much.

Long story short, that person got a pretty poor grade on the essay. I think I felt worse than the student did because I had helped with the paper. Turns out the English teacher thought certain crucial elements of the story had been left out of the essay. The student (and I) didn’t agree.

It’s an embarrassing situation because my job is writing. I didn’t just decide one day to sit down and start writing. I took countless writing classes in college, I took writing classes in law school, and I wrote daily and endlessly as a lawyer. I like to think I can take a piece of writing and pick out what’s important and what isn’t. But I know there are plenty of English teachers out there who disagree with me. Who think that if I don’t see a deeper meaning in much of what I read, I am reading it wrong.

Sometimes it’s important to read a story just because it’s a good story.

Thousands and thousands of authors write for the simple joy of entertaining, and millions and millions of readers read for the simple joy of being entertained.

I’m not saying that symbolism in writing isn’t important. It is. But sometimes that simple joy of reading can be squelched by the demands placed on the written word. I would never make a good English teacher-I’m too literal. When I read a book I want to escape into the plot, not be bogged down by a hidden meaning that may or may not exist.

I’m thankful that kids today have the opportunity to dig deep into books at school and that they have the benefit of the knowledge and experience of their English teachers, whom I respect and admire. I just want to make sure that kids don’t stop reading outside of school because they’re afraid of missing something important in a book, because they’ve been taught that books have deeper meanings that the kids just don’t understand.

Because sometimes a walk in the woods is just a walk in the woods.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. With a little bit of luck, maybe the cover of The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor will be revealed next week!

The Genesis of an Idea

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of speaking at Career Day for one of my kids. The students who signed up to hear my author spiel were quiet, respectful, and asked some thoughtful questions. The question I received the most was “Where do you get your ideas?”

There are as many places to find ideas for stories as there are writers who write those stories.

This is what I told the kids: I start with my setting. I find that once I decide where my story is going to take place, the ideas flow from that. My first novel takes place in the Thousand Islands; as you might imagine, there are parts of my story that could only take place on an island in the middle of a river. My second novel takes place near Charleston, South Carolina, so a plantation great house has an important role in the story. Not every writer starts with a setting, of course. Some get an idea and the setting grows out of it.

One thing I told the kids on Career Day was that some writers get ideas from reading the obituaries. They read the obits and imagine things that may have happened during the lives of the people who have just passed, whether it was someone who survived the Holocaust or someone who emigrated from Italy as a teenager or someone who spent his or her life as a singer/songwriter. The obituaries are fertile ground for vivid imaginations.

Where else do writers get their ideas? How about newspaper articles? Some writers get ideas from reading the headlines and making up their own backstories. Some read regular columns and make up corruption and intrigue that amp up the excitement. Others use stories from their own jobs; there are more than a few ex-lawyers who use real legal cases in their books. The same is true with doctors and almost any other profession you can imagine.

Ever heard of the book Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night? It’s a book by Lawrence Schiller, an investigative journalist who studied a real case from Cape May Court House, New Jersey (not far from where I live), involving a husband, a wife, their daughter, and a tragic event. Though Schiller stuck very close to the original story, there are lots of real crimes that get fictionalized by authors who are looking for a realistic story line.

The last thing I told the kids was this: ask “what if?” every chance you get. You’re driving by an abandoned house. What if a murder took place there? What if the most recent owner was a recluse? Or you see a father strike his child at a grocery store. What if that father was stressed out because his wife just left him? What if that man wasn’t the child’s father? Maybe you see two people talking on a park bench. What if they’re undercover agents? What if it’s a clandestine meeting? The possibilities are endless.

So think of a place you’d love to set a story. Read newspapers and Internet news stories and the obituaries. Ask “what if?” every once in a while. You’ll stimulate your own imagination and you might just think of something fantastic.

Where do you get your ideas? I’d love to know.

Until next week,

Amy

Blog Hopping!

This week’s blog is coming a little early. I’m participating in a blog-hop at the invitation of Joyce Ann Brown, author of some very fun cozy mystery stories. I recommend a visit to her blog at http://www.retirementchoicescozymystery.wordpress.com.

So here are my answers to the burning questions:

1. What am I working on now?

I am currently working on my second novel, with a tentative title of Low Country Twilight. It’s the story of a restoration specialist who moves from Chicago to South Carolina with her little girl to restore an old plantation manor. While there, she discovers that the members of the household have hidden vices and secrets, and she slowly gets drawn into a web of suspicion and distrust that affect her job and her future happiness. I am enjoying the story and my goal is to have it finished by Easter. It is due to the publisher on June 1st, so I will have between April 20th and June 1st to revise and rewrite.

2. How is my writing different from others of the same genre?

My books are considered women’s fiction with a strong sense of suspense and setting. I like to write about places I know well, and I hope that the love I have for the places I write about shows in my stories. Though my books are in the genre of romantic suspense, they contain light, sweet romance and suspense that is not too violent or gory. I like to write the types of books that I read.

3. Why do I write what I do?

That’s easy, and I have already given the short answer: I write what I like to read. Growing up, one of my favorite authors was Phyllis A. Whitney, author of a huge number of romantic suspense books and my personal hero. She was a prolific author who wrote past age 100, and her protagonists were always strong women who dealt with adversity head-on and came out stronger for it.

This is not to say that I don’t love other genres, too. I am a huge fan of historical fiction and biographies. I also love thrillers. If you read some of the older posts on my blog, you’ll see that I simply love books, and my favorites run the gamut from Jane Austen to Ernest Hemingway to M.C. Beaton.

4. How does your writing process work?

I have addressed this issue in past blog posts, too. I like to plot out my stories long before I start writing them. I make up my characters and their personal histories. I like to plot out the scenes before I stitch them together. I draw pictures of the places where the action occurs. I research, research, research. I get an entire story written down before I start revising. I keep a list of things that I know need extra attention on the second pass-through, but I don’t do any rewriting until the story is completed.

I love every single minute of the writing process, whether it’s research, plotting, writing the first draft, revising and editing, writing the final draft, writing any draft in between, doing copy edits, or doing page proofs.

This blog hop didn’t ask, but I figured I’d plug my first book anyways, which is coming out in July 2014 by Kensington Publishing. It’s called Secrets of Hallstead House. It is the story of a young woman who moves from Manhattan to a secluded home in the Thousand Islands to take a job as the private nurse to an elderly woman. While there, she discovers that the people who live on the island harbor dangerous secrets that she was never meant to learn. She must face those secrets if she is to stay alive and find happiness.

I invite you to visit my website at http://www.amymreade.com or to follow my blog and leave comments on the things you read. I usually post on Tuesdays on subjects ranging from writing to reading to volunteering to things to do for fun.

I also invite you to stop by again to see who I’ve tagged next in the blog hop!

Until next week,

Amy

What if Your Book Were a Movie?

I would be lying if I said I had never dreamed of having my first book picked up by Hollywood and made into a blockbuster.  So in the spirit of indulging a wildly optimistic imagination, I’ve decided to do the leg work for the casting people and make suggestions for the roles of the characters in my book.  By the way, it’s called The Secrets of Hallstead House and it will be out (in book form, not in theaters) in July, 2014, from Kensington Publishing.

The main character (I prefer to think of her as the star!) of the story is Macy Stoddard, a twenty-year-old nurse who moves from Manhattan to one of the Thousand Islands in upstate New York.  Her parents have recently been killed in a drunk driving accident and her boyfriend, unable to deal with her emotions following the accident, dumps her shortly thereafter.  She needs a change of scenery so she takes a new job.  Her new patient is an elderly woman recovering from hip surgery.  Macy learns of old secrets on the island that will change her future and that of all the others on the island.  As she learns about life on the St. Lawrence River, she also must learn more about her own past.

In my humble opinion, Macy should be played by Zooey Deschanel.

The two main male characters are Will Harper and Pete McHale.  Will is about forty and the nephew of Macy’s patient; Pete is in his early thirties and a handyman on the island.  Neither man thinks Macy should be on the island, but for different reasons.  I won’t say anymore about them.

Except that Will should be played by Edward Norton.  And my choice for Pete?  Casey Affleck.

Macy’s patient is Alexandria Hallstead.  She is seventy-two and runs a family oil company.  Determined and strong, Alex harbors a shocking secret that Macy doesn’t see coming.

I wonder what Dame Judi Dench is up to these days?  Other than starring in Philomena, of course.

There is an older couple, Valentina and Leland Bryd, that live on the island.  Both are miserable and want nothing to do with Macy.

I think Annette O’Toole would be delightful as Vali, and I picture Leland being played by James Cromwell.

There are two other characters in The Secrets of Hallstead House:  Brandt Davis and Giselle Smythe.  Brandt is in the Coast Guard and Giselle is a television news anchor.  I can’t really say too much about these two without giving away spoilers, so you’ll have to read the book to find out more.

For Brandt, I think Orlando Bloom would be great.  And Giselle can only be played by the great Naomi Watts.

So for all you casting directors out there, I’ve done the work for you.  All you have to do is make a few calls.

Do you have dream characters for your books?  I’d love to hear the people you’ve chosen!

Until next week,

Amy

The Write Atmosphere

I love to read about other authors’ writing habits.  What’s your writing routine?  Do you write early in the morning?  Late at night?  In the middle of the day?  Do you sit and talk to the computer?  To yourself?  To your dog?  Do you listen to music?  Other people’s voices?  The sound of silence?

I think parts of your routine are generational and rooted in your own past.  It can be hard to leave them behind.  For example, I need silence.  Try as I might, I can’t work without it.  If it’s noisy, or if other people are around, I find that I am less focused.  Less productive.  I grew up doing homework in silence.  I studied at the library.  The classrooms of my childhood were quiet places.  When I practiced law, I always worked best when my office door was closed.

My kids, on the other hand, can work with music playing or the tv on, or other voices babbling, and constant activity in the room where they’re studying.  They even prefer it this way.  It took me a long time to come to grips with this bizarre reality, but I have learned to accept it and even marvel at it.  But that’s the way it is in their schools.  The teachers often have music playing, there are kids in small groups talking and interacting, and computers are everywhere and always on.

My work day takes a hiatus when the kids get home from school.  I work until the first child comes home, then when Kid #1 goes upstairs to do homework (with the iPad on and the texting in full swing), I work until the second child comes home.  It is at this point that writing usually becomes a useless pursuit.  Kid #2 has a lot to say after school.  When Kid #3 finally comes through the door, forget it.  I’m then prepping for whatever the evening will bring, and I put my writing aside until everyone is in bed.  Or at least ensconced in his or her own room.

Likewise, you may not believe this, but (gasp!) I work with pencil and paper until I’m ready to draft my novel.  All the research, the ideas, the outline, almost everything, is handwritten for months before sentences come together on a screen.  This habit of mine comes from school- elementary school, high school, college, and law school.  All I ever had to work with was a word processor, and I had to sign up for time to use the word processor lab at school.  Everything had to be written before I could get on the machines, because my time was limited.  Old habits die hard.

I have a few other “musts” while I write.  They’re not generational or rooted in my past- they’re just the way I am.  First, I always have tea next to me.  On my right side.  This time of year, it’s hot tea.  In the summer, cold.  Second, when I’m not on the computer I like to work in one of two places:  the kitchen table or my eldest child’s desk.  The light is perfect in her room.  Third, I write more productively after I’ve put in my time at the Pilates studio.  Finally, since the tea is on my right side, on my left is J.L. Rodale’s Synonym Finder.  It was a gift many years ago, and I can’t work without it.

What are your habits and routines?

Until next week,

Amy