An Interview with Barbara Bentley

February 21, 2014

1. In one paragraph, summarize your book, A Dance with the Devil, A True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath.

The book traces my journey from victim to victor and educates the reader on the devious methods of psychopaths. I met retired Rear Admiral Perry at a friend’s home and was intrigued when he said he was the son of Admiral Perry from WWII Seabees fame. A fairy tale romance led to marriage and then, nine years later, to divorce after he tried to murder me by ether asphyxiation. I was shocked to find that my admiral was a con-man with an FBI record and then saddened to learn he was, in fact, the son of Admiral Perry. When I discovered that the California divorce law still allowed him, a convicted prisoner, to collect alimony and to get half of my retirement fund, I became enraged and vowed to change the sacrosanct law. I found a distinct voice, applied it to my vision to make a difference for others, and against all odds, I did it.

2. Give us the elevator version of your path to publication.

This is the pitch on a slow elevator going up to the top of the tallest building in the world. I had a passion to share my story to help others understand the crazymaking world of the psychopath and came up with the plan to write and publish a book. First, I learned to write by reading books, joining the International Women’s Writing Guild, and attending writing conferences. Second, I used patience and persistence as I balanced writing time with other significant life events. Fourteen years later I presented my manuscript to a professional editor. Third, I read more books to learn about the publishing business. With a polished manuscript in hand, I populated a list of agents, created a full proposal package, and submitted query letters. Through a contact I had made at a writing conference, I learned of a New York agent who was looking for a memoir and I also queried her. I made the ultimate mistake of a novice author…I forgot to include my telephone and email address! Fortunately the agent liked the query and had put it on her “follow-up” pile. Four months later I received my query letter back in the post with a handwritten note on the back asking for my manuscript…and my contact information. Three months later the agent sent me an email and asked to represent me. After some minor editing, she shopped the manuscript and it sold within three days to Berkley Books, an imprint of then Penguin USA.

3. Who are your favorite authors?

Maeve Binchy, John Grisham, Ken Follet

4. If you had to do anything over again when writing this book, what would it be?

I truly believe everything happens for a reason and in its own time. I wouldn’t change anything.

5. I imagine sharing your life in print took great courage, have negative reviews harmed your healing process?

Many people conclude that writing my book was cathartic, but my healing process took place way before I ever started putting pen to paper…or in the case of the modern world…text on a monitor. Writing the book was like putting together a gazillion puzzle pieces to come up with the complete picture. I felt like Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately I didn’t try smoking a pipe or wearing a funny hat. As far as negative reviews, I tend to ignore them. I will admit that the first couple that appeared on Amazon smarted, but then I realized that ignorant people were making judgments about me without having met me. There are a lot of sick people n the world who will find any venue to rant and rave and pontificate. I made a decision to ignore them and not allow them to suck up my energy. But I do chuckle and wonder how many may be psychopaths. Did I hit too close to home for their comfort level? And one thing an author must know….never engage with a negative reviewer. You’re not going to change their mind and you allow them to continue their platform at your emotional expense.

6. Getting a bill passed into law must have been tough, how did you figure out how to get it done?

Without realizing it, I used my four P’s….passion, planning, patience and persistence. When writing the book, I discovered that I have used these four P’s to accomplish many things in my life. The legal process started with writing letters to local state senators and assemblymen. One-and-a-half years later I sat in the office of Assemblyman Rainey and he agreed to carry my bill. Each step of the way from there on was a learning experience by experiment, taking advantage of situations as they arose. This time I did not read books. Now I hear from women who want to change a law and I provide a general template on my website.

7. If you could say one thing to a woman stuck in a dysfunctional marriage, what would it be?

Talk with someone you trust about your feelings. Do not keep things to yourself. If you have no one to trust, contact your local domestic violence shelter. By all means do not confront your abuser. Also know that the most dangerous time for a victim is when she decides to leave the relationship. It is imperative to create a safety plan before exiting. Do not tell your abuser what you are planning.

8. What are your writing strengths?

For how I like to write, my writing strength is organization. This came in handy when writing my first book and now with the research for my new novel.

9. Tell us about your television experiences.

My story has been part of four television series. In 2003 I appeared on the Erin Brockovich show “Final Justice” but did not meet her. In 2008 a producer from Dateline NBC contacted me and my story aired in June 2009. It shows repeatedly to this day on several stations in the U.S. and around the world. Several years later a Canadian production company filmed my story for their series “The Devil You Know.” The latest show I did was “Who the Bleep Did I Marry.”

10. What writing project are you working on now?

I self-published my second book “The Little Book of Success: Turn Your Dreams into Reality with Four Simple Tools.” It traces how I used the four P’s on four different quests in my life. It is a little book and did not fit into my publisher’s formats.

I currently am writing a novel based on the life of another strong woman…an aristocratic Anglo-Irish woman who exchanges silk ball gowns for rough wool uniforms, forsakes family and friends, becomes a leader in the Irish revolution and is the only woman sentenced to death for her part of the Easter Rising of 1916.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Barbara Bentley. To learn more visit her website http://www.adancewiththedevil.com where you can find links to her book’s Facebook page, and her Twitter page. You can also find links to purchase her books at Barnes and Noble, independent book stores, and at Amazon.com.

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10 REASONS TO CREATE A MUSE BOARD (AKA MOOD BOARD)

February 10, 2014

A muse (or mood) board is a visual aid designed to create mood, inform plot or inspire descriptive prose. Typically, the advertising industry, interior designers, wedding organizers, or more recently, web designers have used this technique. In writing, a muse board is less formal and structured than a storyboard, but can loosely serve the same function. I recently presented this concept to a group of writers at the Mount Diablo Branch of the California Writers Club and the concept received a great deal of interest.
If you decide to try this writing aid, the first two decisions you will have to make is what format you want and what media you’d like to use. The format can be collage, sequential images that outline plot, character-specific, or abstract and mood driven. There are many options, adding corkboard next to your computer, tri-fold cardboard (think child’s science project), or digital. One advantage of the trifold is that it can be displayed at author readings and book signings. The digital world offers many types of platforms, including Pinterest, Photoshop, Imagespark (shows other mood boards, but this site is possibly closing), Sampleboard and Evernote. Pinterest has an added bonus that your followers can monitor your progress and it can create buzz and it is free.
While digital media is convenient, content is limited to Internet images and digital photos (can photograph other media), while using traditional media gives more options for material and can include:
• Photos
• Post its
• Magazines
• Maps
• Fabrics/textures
• Scented cloth
• Photographs of your own text
• Your introductory story paragraph
• Internet images
• Inspirational quotes
• Isolated words
• Sound bites (like a movie trailer)

Here are some of the many possible advantages:
1). Correct weaknesses in your writing style.
2). Identify key themes and help set tone or mood.
3). Focus plots and overcome writer’s block.
4). Craft detailed descriptive text.
5). Prevent time-consuming rewrites.
6). Keep text true to your time period or era and timelines straight.
7). Create a cohesive balance in the arc of the story.
8). Helps ensure consistency of descriptions of characters and setting.
9). Assist in foreshadowing.
10). Prevent meandering and assist in finding your beginning and/or ending.

While you might be concerned that creating a muse board will take away from precious writing time, but the truth is that the planning and energy can actually save time. Creating a muse board can exercise your creative brain and take your work to a whole new level. It can also be a fun visual to take to author signings after publication.


An Interview With Children’s Writer Michelle Houts

February 1, 2014

Michelle Houts Postcard front2

  1. In one paragraph, summarize your new book, The Practical County Drama Queen.

In The Practical County Drama Queen, eleven-year-old Frannie has ten weeks to stop her older brother Ronnie from making the biggest mistake of his life.  As the youngest of Practical County’s Ryan family, Frannie has grown up watching everything. Watching her older brother and sister show steers, watching her Granddad work with the cows and calves, and watching the Darling sisters manipulate, lie, and cheat at the Practical County Fair. Frannie has also grown up knowing that, if she’s persistent enough, she can usually accomplish whatever she set out to do. But in this summer tale of growing up and letting go, Frannie begins to realize that some things in life just might be beyond her control.

  1. What was the inspiration behind your main character?

Frannie was a fan-favorite character in my debut novel, The Beef Princess of Practical County. Then, she was a precocious preschooler with a huge vocabulary and an even bigger imagination. Readers begged me to give Frannie her own story. So, Frannie grew up a little, and what a story she has to tell!

  1. Who are your favorite authors?    

I have always had great respect for Katherine Paterson. And, anything written by Cynthia Rylant is golden in my eyes!

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication? 

Patience. It goes against my nature to be patient. But authors know that the publishing world moves at a turtle’s pace. If you can’t be patient, you’ll give up before you get to the best part!

  1. Were you a drama queen as a teen? 

Me? (Laughs hysterically) Oh, pul-eeze! Why you even ask me that? For crying out loud! A drama queen? Ha! Really. (Rolls eyes).  Well, maybe.

       6. If you were to describe yourself as a type of livestock, what would you be?

I’m probably a mother hen. I could curl up on a nest and brood all day.

     7. What are your writing strengths?

I’m an instinctive writer. I don’t follow an outline. I break a lot of “rules.” I like working on character and setting. Planning out the plot gives me fits, so I usually just write and see what happens. Is that a strength? Or chaos in action? I’m not sure, exactly.

     8. Was it easier to find a publisher for this book, than your debut novel, The Beef Princess of Practical County?

One would think! But life is tricky sometimes, isn’t it?  I entered The Beef Princess of Practical County in the Delacorte Dell Middle Grade Fiction Contest in 2008. I didn’t win. No one did, actually. It was one of the years they didn’t choose a winner. But shortly after, I got a call saying I was a finalist. And, would I be willing to do some work on the novel and resubmit it?  Uh, sure? Of course! So, Beef Princess was sold to a Random House imprint without an agent on a second try. Not your typical “how I got published” story, I’ll admit.

Beef Princess fans asked for more. (But my editor didn’t.) Young readers said, “You should write another Practical County story!” (Hmm, my editor didn’t.)  School teachers said, “Frannie surely has her own tale to tell!” (But my editor wasn’t asking for Frannie’s tale.) So, I wrote it. And much to my shock and chagrin, guess who wasn’t all that interested? I know, I know. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed sometimes. 

After Beef Princess, I landed a fantastic agent, who sold my middle-grade novel about Danish gnomes at Christmastime (a bit of a leap from cattle farming, I know) to Candlewick Press. That is Winterfrost – due to release 9/9/14.  My wonderful agent was determined to sell The Practical County Drama Queen.  But we were met time and time again with this:  It just doesn’t make sense for us to publish a sequel to something we didn’t publish in the first place.

Enter SCBWI. Their member’s magazine had a story last year on E-First Publishers. These publishers put books out in electronic format first. Then, they may or may not offer a print edition. My agent submitted, and MuseItUp offered an electronic AND print contract right away. Frannie’s tale would be told!

     9. How do you balance writing with raising a family?

Seasons. I give myself permission NOT to write during certain seasons. When my farmer husband is planting or harvesting and I’m doing all the household chores, feeding extra farmhands, and running for parts to fix broken equipment, I give myself permission NOT to write. When I’m hosting the extended family Christmas and working parttime and caring for aging in-laws, I give myself permission NOT to write. It sure beats beating myself up for NOT writing.  But when I have a deadline or a blizzard hits or I’m just inspired, I declare a season of writing.  And that’s when I give myself permission NOT to fold laundry. It sure beats beating myself up over it.

      10. Can you tell us about your writing space?

Right now I write just about anywhere I can find a quiet corner. But, I’m working on restoring a one-room schoolhouse built in 1894. It has been used as a barn for more than 50 years, so it needs a lot of work! When it’s done, I want to use it as my writing studio. And, I dream of having a cat there. I’d name her Miss Beadle.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Michelle Houts.  To learn more visit her website www.michellehouts.com 

To buy her books visit your favorite local independent bookstore or www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com