Fundamentals of Descriptive Writing You Can’t Afford To Ignore

Fundamentals of Descriptive Writing You Can’t Afford To Ignore

By Leigh Holland.

Descriptive writing. For many of us, it’s the most difficult aspect of writing to wrap our heads around. I recommend keeping an imagery notebook to jot down ideas in. As this grows, you’ll have a bank of descriptions to work from in your writing.

First, let’s refresh our minds with some basics.

Why is Descriptive Writing important? Shouldn’t I trust the reader?

Absolutely trust your readers to infer things from your writing. However, people want to have an experience when they read your stories. They want to feel, think, and connect with your characters and world. To do that requires imagination. The purpose of descriptive writing is to inspire imagination within your readers.

A Few Terms

Caricature- A device used in descriptive writing and portrait art where traits of a subject are exaggerated to produce a comic effect.

Simile- Making a comparison using the words “like” or “as”. Example: She’s as pretty as a picture. He prances like a pony.

Metaphor- Figure of speech which makes an implicit or implied between two things that are unrelated but share some common characteristic. Example: She’s the black sheep of the family.

Analogy- Making a comparison between two ideas or things which may be quite different. Metaphor and simile are tools used to form analogies. Example: Just as the sword is the weapon of the warrior, the pen is the weapon of the writer.

Symbolism- Usage of symbols to express ideas and qualities by giving them meanings that are different from their literal sense. Examples of symbols in daily life include red roses for romantic love, the color black for death, mirrors for introspection, and doves for peace.

Diction- The writer’s choice of words, which change based on context or setting, creating and conveying mood, tone, atmosphere, and how the writer feels about his own work.



Avoid using weather to match the mood of the character. Stay away from boring, normal weather. Weather imagery should be used to create atmosphere and build intensity. Extreme weather is the best type because it brings out emotions in the characters. Think about how irate people are in the heat without relief, how they snap easily at each other. Others don’t get irate but might lay back and lounge, refusing to do a thing until the heat passes or the air conditioning gets fixed. What about people snowed in on a mountain for weeks? Will they succumb to cabin fever?

Make sure when using the weather throughout a novel to keep it consistent with the changing of the seasons, the clothing worn, the storefront decorations, the foods eaten, and the general social moods. If the scene is outside, remember that the weather affects everything in the scene.



Colors go beyond ROYGBIV. Avoid cliches like ‘rose red’ or ‘white as the driven snow’. But add detail to your color descriptions where appropriate. Here are some off the cuff examples:

Black as asphalt in a storm

Red as my commemorative “Office Space” Swingline stapler

Kentucky Blue

Pom-Pom Rah-Rah red

Oak Bark Brown

Stone Blue-Gray

Juniper green

Obsidian black

Citrine orange

Carnelian red

Tan as slightly overdone toast

Straw gold

Dandelion white

Metal Desk Gray

Haybale yellow

Okra green

Karner butterfly blue

 Exercise: Carry a notebook, journal, or just pull up a document on your phone. Write ROYGBIV, a line for each color. Write the things you see throughout the day that fall under that color. Later, spend a little time creating a database of new ways to describe colors.

Shadows and Light


What mood do you want to evoke? Creepy? Noir? Sad? Nostalgic? Shadows and light can set the mood of your scene. What is the source of the light in the scene? Moonlight? Candles? Strobe lights and a disco ball? The hot glare of the noon day sun? A flashlight? How does the light fall on the setting and what effect does it have on the characters? When describing outdoor light, does it glint or gleam off nearby objects?

When describing light and shadow, use powerful verbs and adjectives. Is the light cool or warm? Is it harsh or soft? Does it tumble through the window and drop across the gunmetal gray floor? Does it create tiny triangles across the quilted bed, fading in and out as the dandelion white curtain flutters gently in the cool breeze?

Make sure when using this technique repeatedly to vary your descriptions.

Exercise: Throughout the day, make a note of the light and shadows in your own setting. Try to vary between outdoors, indoors, day, and night.


Add detail to your descriptions. Which is more interesting?

“He walked down the street surrounded by trees.”

“He walked down the asphalt road surrounded by weeping willows.”

Word choices make a world of difference as well. Using powerful verbs and adjectives paints a fuller image.

“He strolled down the onyx asphalt road, surrounded on either side by voluminous weeping willows.”

Additionally, when writing in Deep POV, describe what the character sees and experiences. Limit the manner in which you describe things to his or her perceptions.

Exercise: Go back to a scene you’ve written. Find and circle the verbs is, was, are, or were. Can you find a stronger verb for these sentences?



While telling the reader “It was the next day when…” imparts what they need to know, it’s not exactly exciting. Show them with description how much time has passed. If it’s later in the same day, show how the shadows and light have changed, the sun’s position overhead, or have the character take a simple action such as turning on (or off) the lights. If it’s a few days later, show the change in weather, or progress in work. If it’s months later, changes in temperature, weather, clothing styles, holidays, and shop sales are all wonderful ways to show the time that has passed.

The Senses

We take in a vast amount of information through our senses every moment, albeit subconsciously. Our minds sort the data and decide which data are the most important bits to consciously experience and commit to memory. Can we add too much description to a scene? Yes, we can always add too little or too much. Description is like the flavor of the writing recipe, the dish will be vastly different depending on which combination of spices you add and in what amounts. Too little, and the characters are roaming around in the green screen of the reader’s mind. Too much, and you leave nothing to the imagination. How do we decide which bits to write about?

One of the most powerful and concise methods is to describe the smells a character experiences upon entering a scene. Think about it- we smell things continuously but only really notice and react to powerful scents. This can quickly set the mood and setting for the scene. Use this in an appropriate manner and don’t overuse the technique from scene to scene.

Another way to paint a more vibrant image is to describe background noises. Don’t list them, find concise ways to describe them. Example: The eagle, titan among birds, emitted a series of monotone, high-pitched screeches in periodic cycles. The occasional car hummed its way through the suburb.

Rachel Poli has an article covering the senses at How To Use The 5 Senses In Creative Writing.

Scene Type and Description

The Action Scene

  1. If at all possible, describe the setting for the action scene in an earlier scene. Description can interfere with action if not inserted carefully. By employing “pre-emptive imagery”, you can write the action scene without halting the action for setting description.
  2. Select a setting that has objects or items that can be used as weaponry, obstacles, or hidey-holes. This allows you to insert description into the action subtly as characters interact with their environment.
  3. Use strong, potent verb choices and short to medium length sentences. The goal is to keep up the reader’s sense of fast-paced excitement.

The Love Scene

  1. The best love scenes evoke deep emotions in the reader. The reader feels the characters’ yearning, desire, passion, and pain. Readers will never forget a scene that touched their hearts.
  2. Settings and circumstances can often force two people together who otherwise may have remained apart. For example, if your characters have chemistry but are at each other’s throats, perhaps they get separated from the group, a storm appears, they’re lost, she hurts her leg, and they have to fight for survival until rescue comes. Maybe the characters have never met and are forced together through circumstance, such as in the film Speed. These dangerous circumstances would cause them to forge an immediate bond. In Speed, they literally met earlier that day.

The Chase Scene

  1. Use high action verbs, such as dart, veer, flash, streak, panther-quick.
  2. Write about the sweat glistening on your character’s brow, his heart pounding, his breath panting. Get inside his skin and identify with him. Let us feel his determination, fear, anger, drive.
  3. Like the action scene, keep sentences shorter and use high powered verbs. Cut the adverbs.
  4. Place obstacles in his way. The setting should be interactive. Bring him close to death’s door. Alternate with hair-raising momentary escapes, keep up the suspense.
  5. Check out these scenes from The French Connection and Bullitt for inspiration.

Parting Words…

  • Don’t worry as much about description in your rough draft. You want to be patient and create vivid descriptions during the editing process.
  • Is it relevant? If you don’t need the description, no matter how pretty it is, cut it.
  • Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about finding the perfect word. Remember, simpler is often better.
  • Happy Writing!

Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt

Gaia’s Majesty-Mission Called: Women in Power by Roger B. Burt, 280 pages, March 17th 2017, Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary Fiction. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

This book is the first in a planned trilogy. The Earth Mother Gaia is sentient, alive, and moving in mysterious ways to influence the life that resides in her surface. Although Gaia elevated mankind to the top of the food chain, she kept another species in reserve should they prove unworthy. This hidden species, the Tethyans, appears human when moving among humans. They’re intuitive and sensitive to the will of Gaia.

We follow Avery as she goes through life with a plan. The plan largely involves following the path laid out for her by her deceased parents. Since her parents died, she feels adrift without a compass. Avery meets Beck and they grow ever fonder of each other. Their romance is set against the backdrop of a hidden fantasy world with its own agenda. Avery searches for answers about her parents and her past. She discovers she is part of the hidden world. Avery worries about how this will affect her relationship with Beck, whom she has fallen hard for. Beck is supportive and self-sacrificing where Avery is concerned. At several points, as Avery learns more about her identity and origins, she rejects the world of the Tethyans. Yet she comes back every time, despite the uneasiness she feels, sensing she must continue on this path. Avery believes in destiny, has intuition, and follows her hunches. Avery and Beck are encouraged by the Tethyans to be together and her fear of what the path may do to their relationship fades. As we learn about Avery, we learn about the Tethyans and their culture alongside her. It’s a lot of information to impart to the reader and Burt does a great job of weaving it into Avery’s journey.

I loved the concept that the hidden species are the basis for many of our seafaring myths, such as sirens and mermaids. The world of humans is based on the traits that Western culture considers masculine: competition, physical strength, male dominance, and violent behavior. The world of Tethyans is based on what Western culture deems are traditionally feminine traits: cooperation, intuition, emotional strength, and pacifism (the exception is Andromeda, their defense forces). The book accepts this divide without question and makes the two cultures the opposite image of the other. Women are therefore in power in the Tethyan culture. There are also different groups with different missions within the culture, such as the Primals, Progenitors, and Andromeda. Chapters switch between the story of Avery, Beck, and their romance and journey of discovery, and the story of the women of Andromeda, elite female forces keeping the world and environment safe from powerful, wicked male corporate elitists. Each fighter of Andromeda is unique and has her own special powers which are often used against their enemies. I found both storylines interesting.

One of the things I found surprising was how easily Avery and Beck accepted the Tethyan world in the end after discovering the Tethyans never seem to question what they consider Gaia’s commands. They had reservations earlier, but not at this point, which struck me as odd. Tethyans will give up anything and anyone they must in order to fulfill their mission on behalf of Gaia. Gaia is presented as a goddess-force that imparts intuitions and is the source of the Tethyan mission. This zealotry was a disturbing part of their culture. There were times when I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was primarily a romance or a fantasy novel. It took a while for the two stories to connect and intertwine. By the end, I decided this is a Fantasy novel about two people who happen to fall in love while finding out they’re part of the Tethyan world and its mission.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Gaia’s Majesty. The concept was intriguing. I wish there had been more description and exploration of the underwater cities. I would’ve liked to have seen more interaction between the undersea folk and Avery and Beck. Hopefully, this will be explored further in the next novel in the series.

You can find this book at Gaia’s Majesty: Mission Called.

Book Description

From the Back Cover

Gaia’s Majesty : Mission Called – Women in Power

The first book of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy

 Our earth mother, Gaia, was intrigued by clever creatures developing on her Earth. She believed they held promise but also danger for themselves and her planet.

Wisely Gaia reserved a gifted population of women dedicated to safeguarding the future of humankind and Earth. The women called Progenitors lived in the sea and could transform to live on the land if they chose. Their families on land were called Primals. Among them were a defense force of women called the Andromeda. Collectively these people were called Tethyans.

She foresaw a definitive epoch which is now upon us. Our planet is enveloped in environmental and social crises. Unless humankind serves as stewards for Earth and ourselves we may live on a despoiled planet as people held in bondage by a wealthy class of plutocrats. The empowerment of women holds the key to our future.

Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy explores if Gaia’s preparations will succeed. Is this story a myth, or like so many myths, does it reside on the cusp of reality?

Gaia Speaks

You used to adore me. You took my bounty gratefully and before my loving sight developed your skills as will a child in the sight of mother. You worshipped me and my fruitfulness. I tested you with adversity which made you strong. But in time you selfishly saw Earth’s bounty as your due. You now have a choice between stewardship or devastation.

From the Author

Women are coming to power. It is happening just as we enter a world environmental crisis of biblical proportions. We may disagree over the origins of our environmental crisis but its reality is demanding our attention. What will it mean that women are coming to power at this moment? One glorious benefit of the empowerment of women is that it opens us to a true and wonderful partnership between men and women

The Majesty Trilogy, of which this book is the first, falls on the cusp of reality. Environmental crisis and the empowerment of women are real but can be illuminated in fiction which has a mythological cast to it. In these books we embark on a fantasy journey where women take the lead in a planet which is being transformed. Whether that transformation is for the benefit of humankind or is a tragedy is yet to be decided.

Our earth mother, Gaia, knew this day would come as her most clever animals matured. She knew it might be necessary to start over if her experiment with humans failed. She created cities in the sea occupied predominately by women who could live in the water or on the land. We may have sighted them and know them as mermaids. But we have not known their import. They are at the forefront of empowerment and are opposed by powerful and immensely wealthy plutocratic men known as the Overlords.

Join us in this story as we venture to cleanse our planet and to empower women so together we may have a glorious partnership for men and women and possibly a transformative future.

Author Biography

When Duke University granted me a Ph.D. in clinical psychology it was time to go out beyond academia. I chose to work in the inner city of Baltimore in a community mental health program. My experience there was a wholly new form of learning. Daily I was confronted with the dire effects of deep poverty. It changed my life and view of the world.

Over time other elements in my education crept forward. The teachings of Leslie White about culture took on a new meaning and the depth of the studies of Carl Jung arose. Over decades I found myself assessing the meaning of cultural flow and the importance of myth in our lives. I took on a commitment to stewardship and came to see that the empowerment of women was essential to the future of humankind.

Later in life they all flowed together in the creation of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy. Myth was not some abstraction but living elements of human existence. Psychology taught me there were elemental forces deep inside of us which ruled our lives but were largely unrecognized or at least not given their due. I wondered about such things as stories of mermaids which showed up across so many cultures. And I found issues of culture and myth showing up in my clinical work. My thoughts went deep into how they might relate to current human and ecological crises.

Much of my reaction seemed to be developing unconsciously until the day when the story of the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy began to flow onto my computer. I have become convinced that deep unrecognized forces within us direct our lives and our cultures. I also became convinced that we do, indeed, live on the cusp of reality. My reality is different from your reality and we struggle to reach a workable common ground. And at this time we face unparalleled ecological crises. It seems that the rise of women and their empowerment are a crucial part of what has come to be a denouement in the story of humankind. The empowerment of women should at last lead to true partnership between men and women. Is it possible we may be moving toward a remarkable transformation? What it might be can only be the subject of a “what if”.

In these books I try to create an engagement for consideration of what may be happening to us. While the trilogy is fiction, its mythological cloak gives it a special relief and begs us to consider what may be happening to us and where we might be going. Is humankind to be led into terrible poverty and bondage where an economic elite will rule and will we also despoil the very planet on which we live and depend?

Come to the adventure in the Gaia’s Majesty Trilogy and join in considering what it might say about our future.

And please join us for the commentary and discussion on the website

Other Works

Other works (non-fiction) can be found at:

Stepfamilies: The Step By Step Model of Brief Therapy by Mala S. Burt and Roger B. Burt

Creating Characters and Plot: Secrets of a Jungian Toolbox to Guide Inspiration by Roger B. Burt PhD

Stepfamilies: Professionals and Stepcouples In Partnership by Mala S. Burt and Roger B. Burt

Whatever Happened To Community Mental Health?


Once Taken (A Riley Paige Mystery-Book 2) by Blake Pierce

Once Taken (A Riley Paige Mystery-Book 2) by Blake Pierce, 235 pages, February 14th 2016, Genre: Mystery/Thriller/Suspense. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Once Taken is a double story, both building on each other in a progressing character arc for FBI Special Agent Riley Paige. I was engaged from start to finish. When one plot resolved, the other had already captivated me. The heart of this book is its main character, Riley Paige, and the unfolding exploration of her darker side.

Riley is divorced from Ryan, a self-important big-time lawyer. She has a teenage, rebellious daughter named April. And she’s haunted by the idea that her serial killing tormentor and nemesis, Peterson, may have survived their last encounter. She has several years under her belt and when Lucy Vargas, the new kid on the block, is assigned to the next case alongside her, she worries it’ll compromise the investigation having a rookie on the case. Riley becomes particularly dedicated to the next case, as the victims are hung and posed after their deaths by throat slitting. This reminds her of Marie, a woman who took her own life by hanging in association with the Peterson case.

After a break-in, Riley makes it known she thinks it was Peterson. The FBI believes he’s dead and the other officers think Riley’s lost her mind. However, while she and Lucy are investigating the serial killings in Reedsport, New York, she gets an urgent text from April. Reluctantly, she returns home to discover Ryan lost track of April. April has been kidnapped and Riley is certain Peterson took her. Her best friend and former partner, Bill Jeffreys, returns to help her find April before it’s too late. Meanwhile, April is a chip off the block, doing whatever it takes to escape Peterson before he murders her. The climax of the first story leaves Riley questioning her motives and moral compass.

My favorite character is Riley. Riley is easy to relate to. She’s realistic, human, and flawed. She’d do anything to protect her daughter. She’s driven to do whatever it takes to bring down the killer, even if it skirts crossing the line. Riley tiptoes over the line more than once in this book. Will Riley be in danger of fully embracing her dark side? Will she one day turn into what she hates? I also enjoyed her discussions with Hatcher, an imprisoned criminal and killer with insights into the psychology of killing, particularly with chains. Hatcher possesses an uncanny ability to empathize with cops and killers alike. This allows him to play mind games with them if they’re not careful.

I enjoyed Once Taken and would recommend it to readers of crime thrillers.

There are ten books in this series at the present time. You can find them (in order) here:

Once Gone A free download with over 800  5 star reviews!

Once Taken

Once Craved

Once Lured

Once Hunted

Once Pined

Once Forsaken

Once Cold

Once Stalked

Once Lost

Book Synopsis

ONCE TAKEN is book #2 in the bestselling Riley Paige mystery series, which begins with ONCE GONE (Book #1)–a free download with over 800 five star reviews!

Women are being murdered in upstate New York, their bodies found mysteriously hanging in chains. With the FBI called in, given the bizarre nature of the murders—and the lack of any clues—there is only one agent they can turn to: Special Agent Riley Paige.

Riley, reeling from her last case, is reluctant to take on a new one, since she is still convinced a former serial killer is out there, stalking her. She knows, though, that her ability to enter a serial killer’s mind and her obsessive nature is what will be needed to crack this case, and she just can’t refuse—even if it will push her over the edge.

Riley’s search takes her deep into a killer’s deluded mind as it leads her to orphanages, mental hospitals, prisons, all in an effort to understand the depth of his psychosis. Realizing she is up against a true psychopath, she knows time is short before he strikes again. But with her own job on the line and her own family a target, and with her fragile psyche collapsing, it may all be too much for her—and too late.

A dark psychological thriller with heart-pounding suspense, ONCE TAKEN is book #2 in a riveting new series—with a beloved new character—that will leave you turning pages late into the night.

Book #3 in the Riley Paige series–ONCE CRAVED–is also available!

About the Author

Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which include the mystery suspense thrillers ONCE GONE (book #1), ONCE TAKEN (book #2), ONCE CRAVED (#3) and ONCE LURED (#4). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series and AVERY BLACK mystery series.

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit to learn more and stay in touch.

Check out other reviews at:

Once Taken at The Forensic Bibliophile

Once Taken at My Little Book Blog

Anxiety Girl by Lacey London

Great Message!

Anxiety Girl by Lacey London, 333 pages, SSO Publishing, March 23rd 2017, Genre: Literature & Fiction/Social and Family Issues. Warning: Contains Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

“I don’t need help. I don’t have depression, anxiety, or any of the other scary words Aldo was spouting last night. I just need to have a positive mental attitude, that’s all.”

Sadie Valentine had a life many would be envious of. Her mother won the lottery in her youth and she’s always been financially secure. She’s never had to worry about how she’d pay for the basics of life. Her mother even bought Sadie a lavish, large, upscale apartment. Attractive, young, healthy, and stylish, Sadie Valentine should be on top of the world. Right?

Changes happen faster than Sadie can wrap her head around them. Her fiance breaks off the relationship and tosses her out. Her artwork’s venue ends their business arrangement, cutting off her personal source of income, and she’s unable to find a new one. Her relationship with her mother is distant; her mother’s idea of warmth is to fly herself to Cancun and improve her tan. Unable to figure out what went wrong in her break-up with Spencer, Sadie goes on drinking binges and serial dates. Nothing seems to lift her mood. After further negative events, Sadie begins suffering from anxiety attacks.

I found Sadie likable. I became frustrated with her inability to see that her girlfriends weren’t worth her time and weren’t really her friends. Those three vipers deserve each other. My favorite character was Aldo. A true, loyal, concerned friend, Aldo had heart. I enjoyed traveling along Sadie’s journey with her and seeing her personal transformation.

London does an excellent job of describing what those with anxiety suffer. I was impressed by how accurate the descriptions were. Sadie begins her journey with mythical thinking about anxiety and looking at mental illness as a personal deficit of her own character. She doesn’t want medication as she believes this will make it real. Sadie doesn’t want to believe what’s happening to her is real. She tries to be “strong” by keeping her feelings bottled up and her condition hidden. Along the way, Sadie learns that reacting this way only makes her suffering worse.

I enjoyed reading Anxiety Girl. Its core message is that if you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, seek help for what you’re going through, because you’re not alone in this struggle. There’s hope and there’s help. Seeking help doesn’t mean you’re weak-it means you’re stronger than you know. That’s a message I can certainly get behind.

This book can be found at Anxiety Girl.

Book Description

From the best-selling author of the CLARA ANDREWS series!

 Sadie Valentine was just like you and I, or so she was…

Loving life in the glitzy village of Alderley Edge, Sadie Valentine thought she had it all.

With her gay best friend, Aldo, for company, Sadie spends her time sipping bubbles amongst the glitterati in her many local bars and restaurants.

However, unbeknown to the outside world, Sadie is battling a broken heart.

Keeping her mask in place on a daily basis proves harder than Sadie anticipates and when she is dealt more blows, her positive exterior starts to crumble.

Sadie soon realises that sometimes, it’s not quite as simple as picking yourself up and carrying on.

Once a normal-ish woman, her mental health wasn’t something that Sadie ever thought about, but when the three evils, anxiety, panic and depression creep into her life, Sadie wonders if she will ever see the light again.

With Aldo by her side, can Sadie crawl out of the impossibly dark hole and take back control of her life?

Once you have hit rock bottom, there’s only one way to go…

The characters in this novel might be fictitious, but the feelings and emotions experienced are very real.

Lacey London has spoken publicly about her own struggles with anxiety and hopes that Sadie will help other sufferers realise that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

About the Author

Lacey London is the bestselling author of THE CLARA ANDREWS SERIES and ANXIETY GIRL SERIES.

Lacey’s latest novel in the Anxiety Girl series, Anxiety Girl Falls Again, is available to order from Amazon Worldwide in ebook and paperback now.

Lacey London lives in Cheshire, England with her husband and their Yorkshire Terrier. When she is not writing, she can usually be found in one of Alderley Edge’s many bars or restaurants. Failing that, she is probably sleeping. Lacey loves fairy-tales and hates numbers, except the ones in her bank account.


Books in the Anxiety Girl Series: ANXIETY GIRL and ANXIETY GIRL FALLS AGAIN.

Lacey can be found on Twitter @thelaceylondon and at

Check out a few other reviews for this book at:

Anxiety Girl at Platinum Diaries

Anxiety Girl at The Review Author

Anxiety Girl at Craig Shepherd

Leigh Holland’s Interview with George Bachman

Leigh Holland’s Interview with George Bachman

Today, I’m interviewing George Bachman, author of “Spellcaster”, on my blog. Thanks, George, for the interview!

Thank you for speaking with me.

 Leigh: Tell us a little about yourself.

 I work in the software sector in New York in addition to writing.

Leigh: What inspired you to write Spellcaster? What drew you to Historical Fiction with a paranormal component?

I’ve always wanted to write something on the late Victorian era around the turn of the century, when social attitudes among the English aristocracy were under attack by wealthy Americans trying to penetrate their ranks. I have also always wanted to do a paranormal novel incorporating a whole range of historical magic beliefs such as those practiced by Aleister Crowley and his circle. I thought an alternate reality fantasy novel such as Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale or one of John Crowley’s Aegypt books would be the perfect medium to incorporate all these things.

Leigh: What was the most difficult thing about writing Spellcaster?

Dialogue is the most difficult part of any story, always. Besides that, making the magic believable in a recognizable social milieu.

Leigh: Which writers have inspired you?

Generally, Nabakov, because of his love of language, Cao Xueqin, because of his ability to mix fantasy and reality to make immersive worlds, Calvino, because of his intelligent use of genre, and Austen, because of her genius in creating characters that seem to walk off the page. For this particular story, Helprin because of his haunting magic realism and Crowley because of his inventiveness in mixing history and fiction.

Leigh: How much research did you do for Spellcaster?

Quite a bit. Most of the rituals in the book are historical or have a strong historical basis. I tried to get the social reality as right as I could to make the steampunk elements more believable. The historical background of the Sir Tomas section is how it may have been if a few facts had been different (such as Edward II not inheriting Gascony as a feudal vassal) with many real-life players of that era.

Leigh: What is your writing process like? Do you have a set writing schedule? Do you work from an outline or write the first draft from strict inspiration?

I generally write after work when I’m not doing anything else, for as many hours as I can fit in, no set schedule. I have a very general outline telling me where I’m heading and the major points to hit, not much else. The outline is the initial inspiration which never entirely goes away as I fill in more and more details.

Leigh: What are you working on now? Can you tell us anything about it?

Another historical fantasy, this one set in Renaissance Europe.

Leigh: What book are you currently reading?

Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.

Leigh: Who designed your book cover?

A very talented artist named Clarissa Yeo, of Yocla Book Designs.

Leigh: What are some of your hobbies?

Travel, reading, Asian cinema, and anime.

Leigh: Where can readers find out more about you and your work?


Twitter: @OfficialBachman

Amazon Author Page: George Bachman’s Amazon Page


Goodreads: George Bachman at Goodreads

Thank you very much, George, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.

You can find George Bachman’s “Spellcaster” at: Spellcaster.

Killing Kate by Alex Lake

Killing Kate by Alex Lake, 417 pages, October 6th 2016, HarperCollins Publishers, Genre: Thriller and Suspense/Serial Killers/Crime. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Kate and her friends take a trip to Greece on vacation after Kate breaks up with her long time boyfriend, Phil. Phil didn’t take the break up well, not well at all. Phil believed they were ready for marriage, kids, and growing old together. Kate, on the other hand, had never been with anyone but Phil, had never experienced much in life on her own, and decided she needed to do so before she could commit. Phil can’t stop thinking about Kate. He’s obsessed with her. When he decides to date another woman, she not only looks like Kate, but she’s just intended to make Kate jealous. Phil can’t seem to move on.

On her vacation, Kate gets drunk and almost sleeps with a man named Mike she picks up in a bar. Mike, the perfect gentleman, doesn’t take advantage of her and lets her sleep it off in his bedroom. The next day, Kate decides she never wants to see Mike again. Upon her return to England, however, Kate finds Phil is faring no better. Phil texts, calls, and ‘unexpectedly checks in on’ her for a while. As women who look remarkably like Kate and live in the same town get murdered one after another, the tension rises. Kate realizes she could be a serial killer’s next target. Changing her hair and wearing colored contacts makes sense, until the killer switches to killing women who look like Kate after the changes.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. The writing style kept me engaged through to the end. I wasn’t surprised by the time the villain was revealed, but it did keep me guessing for much of the book. I didn’t like Kate very much. I liked the other characters in the novel. Kate is lucky to have such good friends; including, yes, the slightly stalkerish Phil. The climax of the story kept me on the edge of my seat with concern for everyone involved. I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy suspense and thriller novels.

This book can be found at Killing Kate.

Book Description:

From the author of ebook No. 1 bestseller and Sunday Times top ten bestseller AFTER ANNA.

A serial killer is stalking your home town.

He has a type: all his victims look the same.

And they all look like you.

Kate returns from a post break-up holiday with her girlfriends to news of a serial killer in her hometown – and his victims all look like her.

It could, of course, be a simple coincidence.

Or maybe not.

She becomes convinced she is being watched, followed even. Is she next? And could her mild-mannered ex-boyfriend really be a deranged murderer?

Or is the truth something far more sinister?

About the Author:

Alex Lake is a British novelist who was born in the North West of England. After Anna, the author’s first novel written under this pseudonym, was a No.1 bestselling ebook sensation and a top ten Sunday Times bestseller. The author now lives in the North East of the US.

Check out some other reviews at:

Killing Kate at Always With a Book

ARC Book Review: Killing Kate

Madam Tulip: An Irish Cozy Mystery by David Ahern


Madam Tulip: An Irish Cozy Mystery by David Ahern, 309 pages, Malin Press, May 1st 2016, Genre: Mystery/Cozy Mysteries. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

Madam Tulip is a delightful cozy mystery with quirky, interesting characters and just the right blend of mystery, suspense, and fun. The pacing was excellent; I completed it in one evening. The plot was intriguing and the villain, human and believable. The twist to this novel is the O’Donnell’s gift of visions. I found this aspect fascinating.

Derry O’Donnell is an out-of-work actress, waiting for her big break to arrive. When her mother, an American art dealer divorced from her Da, cuts Derry off financially, Derry is forced to take stock of what talents and skills she can put to use in pursuit of an income. She and her friend Bella get together one evening and Derry reads her tarot cards for her. Bella suggests Derry become a fortune teller. With a little help from her theatrical friends, Derry costumes up and transforms into Madam Tulip, celebrity fortune teller. With the help of her father Jacko, Derry lands a gig at a posh celebrity charity event. Derry gets wrapped up in the world of models, celebrities, and drug dealers over the weekend at the lavish castle. The celebrities confide in her and enjoy their sessions with Madam Tulip. Her future seems assured until a famous musician ends up dead and her best friend is jailed as the prime suspect. In order to free Bella and ensure the safety of her family, friends, and self, Derry must solve the crime against a ticking clock.

Derry has visions, but she can neither control the visions nor understand what they mean. The visions are highly symbolic. It’s only once the event happens that it becomes clear what Derry’s vision was trying to warn her about. Derry expresses exasperation with the visions. What’s the use of having a family gift that doesn’t seem to help? Her father reminds her that because of the visions, Derry is keenly aware that things aren’t random. She doesn’t need faith in a higher power, she knows it exists. And the cost of the gift of knowing, well, that may sometimes be high.

I loved this book. It was charming. From Derry’s relationship with her parents to her romantic yearning for an old flame, I found her graceful and capable in her dealings with difficult people and situations. The characters were engaging. The humor arrived at just the right moments. In fact, I’ve just purchased the next book in the series, Madam Tulip and the Knave of Hearts  . I’d recommend this to anyone who likes cozy mysteries.

This book can be found at Madam Tulip.

Book Synopsis:

Living in Ireland, out-of-work American actress Derry O’Donnell is young, talented, a teeny bit psychic … and broke. Spurred on by an ultimatum from her awesomely high-achieving mother, and with a little help from her theatrical friends, Derry embarks on a part-time career as Madam Tulip, fortune-teller to the rich and famous. But at her first fortune-telling gig – a celebrity charity weekend in a castle – a famous rap artist will die.
As Derry is drawn deeper into a seedy world of celebrities, supermodels and millionaires, she finds herself playing the most dangerous role of her acting life.

Trapped in a maze of intrigue, money and drugs, Derry’s attempts at amateur detective could soon destroy her friends, her ex-lover, her father and herself.
Madame Tulip is the first in a series of Tulip adventures in which Derry O’Donnell, celebrity fortune-teller and reluctant detective, plays the most exciting and perilous roles of her acting life, drinks borage tea, and fails to understand her parents.

About the Author:

David Ahern grew up in a theatrical family in Ireland but ran away to Scotland to become a research psychologist and sensible person. He earned his doctorate but soon absconded to work in television. He became a writer, director and producer, creating international documentary series and winning numerous awards, none of which got him free into nightclubs.

Madame Tulip wasn’t David Ahern’s first novel, but writing it was the most fun he’d ever had with a computer. The second in the Madam Tulip mystery series, Madam Tulip and the Knave of Hearts, was published in autumn 2016. He is now writing the third Madam Tulip adventure and enjoys pretending this is actual work.

David Ahern lives in the beautiful West of Ireland with his wife, two cats and a vegetable garden of which he is inordinately proud.

You can learn more about David Ahern and Madam Tulip on his website David .

Connect with David Ahern on Facebook:
and Twitter:

Check out other reviews at:

Madam Tulip at Rachel Poli

Madam Tulip at The Book Review Directory

Spellcaster by George Bachman

Spellcaster by George Bachman, 262 pages, Sublime Ltd., April 3rd 2017, Genre: Historical Fiction/Paranormal. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

“It took all my own will merely to swallow water. “What sort of powers?”

“Amalrich claimed he could descend into certain forbidden passages beneath the earth where our world meets others.” Lady Kinloss gave me a secretive look. “Unfortunately any records he might have made of his trips are lost. But recently one of these supposed keys passed into my hands.” I nodded. “I keep it locked away in a glass cage and take it with me when I’m out. Would you like to see it?”

Spellcaster is a work of historical fiction set in England. Unlike traditional works in this genre, this book has a strong paranormal element. Spellcaster weaves together two tales- one involving past lives and unfinished business, and the other involving magic, relics, and bargains in the present. If you enjoy Jane Austen’s writing style, you’ll enjoy the style of Spellcaster.

Christine Daniel, a Provencal young lady, is spending the summer in England with the Cote sisters. She is coming out into society, officially becoming a marriageable young woman. However, she has another purpose. Christine’s fevers induce visions and she’s hunting for a remedy. Rather than fight the visions, Christine follows their lead. She seeks out “the mage” to befriend her as her visions portend. She encounters Lady Kinloss, whom she determines to be the mage of her visions. She rents a home for herself and her friends in the countryside from Lady Kinloss. Christine strikes a bargain with her to gain possession of a relic.

I felt the book started off a bit slow. The last half of the book picked up pace and revealed more information, tying things together as the story continued. I enjoyed this novel, especially its interesting reincarnation twist. When magic is used, it’s apparent that Bachman researched beliefs about magic in this time period.

This book can be found at Spellcaster by George Bachman.

Check out other reviews at:

Paperback Darling’s review of Spellcaster

Spellcaster at Kariny’s Book Frenzy

Invinciman by R. T. Leone

Invinciman by R. T. Leone, 424 pages, Leoneum Inc, March 9th 2017, Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy/Superheroes. Warning: Contains Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

      Invinciman is a story in the “Superheroes” genre. At it’s heart, it’s about a protagonist fighting a villain, and the journey each took to get there. Naturally, Ray Martin and Daniel Darque were best friends. Both men went to college together and became engineers. Each one’s strengths were different and they complemented each other. They worked together to build Robox, the most popular gladiator show in the world. Robox features advanced robots, designed to represent various nations, facing off in a ring. Ray and Daniel have different moral and political agendas, leading to a struggle between them.

       First, what I liked about it. The plot, writing style, and structure remained true to what one would expect of a book in this genre. It’s quirky. The book is written in an alternating timeline style. One timeline is in the present and the other recollects the past. As the present moves forward, so does the past, and the two streams finally meet at the climactic moment. Events unfold and the motives of the characters are revealed. Pacing was fairly even and the desire to understand how the past led these men here kept me turning the pages. I had many questions, such as “How did Ray survive a bullet to his head, being buried alive, getting his arm hacked off, and nearly bleeding to death?”, and “Is Ray a robot?”, and “Wait-who is supposed to be the hero here?”

        Leone presents Daniel Darque in a sympathetic light. He’s a man seeking justice in an unjust world. I found myself agreeing with a couple of his ideas. If I’d faced the things he suffered, would I have turned out to think the same way? Likewise, Ray Martin is a bit of a privileged, upper middle class guy. He’s never suffered. He’s had the luxury of maintaining his code of principles most of his life. It’s clear he believes he’s morally superior to his best friend. When their worldviews crash into each other, it leaves the reader questioning which man is the hero. Who is betraying whom?

      Now, what I think could be improved. It never explained where Ray got his amazing superhuman ability to live through things no mortal man can survive. Indeed, this was what I considered the first hook that kept me reading. I wanted to know how Ray survived. While it’s not an absolute genre requirement, it helps suspend disbelief over the long haul to give an explanation, even if it’s only an acknowledgement that he doesn’t know how he survives such things but always has.

       The reader has a reasonable expectation that a book will have a beginning, a middle, a climactic moment, followed by resolution. This story builds the reader’s excitement up to the climactic moment. The climactic moment never occurs nor does the resolution. Instead, the book is followed up with an afterword by the author in which he explains why he’s letting the reader decide which ending they prefer.

This book can be found at Invinciman.

Book Description:

Rise Against the Machine!

In this psychological thriller, you become Ray Martin—an engineer left for dead and looking for answers. Don’t take too long, though! As life drains out of your body, you find yourself hunted by both the government and a terrorist organization. Are you a solution to the problem, or THE problem to their solution? Meanwhile, you put the pieces of your puzzled life together, and find that your best friend is at the root of your suffering. Once upon a time, you two built a robot-fighting empire that became the biggest thing in the world. Superpowers like the United States, Russia, and China resolved world conflicts in your sport, but something was off. Consequently, you took the fall. Now you must rise.

Do You See the Arc?

A switch must be flipped. You have the tools at your disposal. You must design, engineer, and build your robot as minutes run out in your life. After all, you’ll need to transfer your consciousness into it! You need to become the superhero you were always meant to be, because that’s the only way you’ll stop them. You’ve dealt with self-learning artificial intelligence before, and know what challenges lie ahead. The question is: once you get to the end, will you flip the switch? Or will your journey change your destiny?

A Superhero to Save Us All

Invinciman is a modern-day folktale with universal themes that have always existed throughout time. Loyalty, betrayal, honesty, and injustice. R. T. Leone delivers an introspective adventure that sees the hero start from nothing, and work their way to the end—using environmental analysis, problem-solving, and strategic decision-making: a video game in a book. The author succeeds in intoxicating the reader with a hypnotizing story, causing them to question everything, as he ultimately pens a dazzling novel that will stand the test of time.

Are You Ready to Enter the Maze?

 Then, stop. Take your deepest breath. And…


About the Author:

Ricky Tony Leone is an ultramodern author based in Toronto and best known for his debut novel, “Invinciman.” The psychological drama follows a protagonist, targeted in a mass conspiracy, who looks to rebuild himself in robotic form as the world disintegrates. Leone’s education in design and engineering has created a fusion of creative and logical thinking which informs his fable making, and allows Leone to achieve his desired innovation in the literary world.

Check out other reviews at:

Invinciman at Speedy Reader

The Corner Office by Katerina Baker

The Corner Office by Katerina Baker, 236 pages, June 23rd 2017, Genre: Contemporary Romance. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

The Corner Office is about how modern women don’t take care of ourselves and our needs the way we should. All too often, we allow our ambition and need to compete in work spaces traditionally dominated by men to run our lives. Ambition and hard work are positive values, but not if they come at the expense of everything else. If we want to have it all, we have to create balance.

Tara Johnson is a single woman trying to rise in a male-dominated office. She tries to set an example for the women in her workplace, that they can have it all and succeed. While the women perceive her as a cold, hard ice queen, they also admire her dedication and drive. Tara realizes she’s a hypocrite- she only has her work, yet here she is telling them they can have it all. By the time Tara goes against her own advice and has an affair with Aidan, her “bad boy” employee, she’s accepted there’s something missing from her otherwise accomplished life. As Tara competes with the handsome Richard for a promotion, sparks flare between them as well. Should Tara risk her promotion for personal romantic happiness? Which man is the right man for her?

I had difficulty relating to the main character at various points of the book. Tara’s mother, who requires a nurse due to gaps in her memory, is looking forward to a concert. Tara spends time planning it and is looking forward to it herself. Her mother will probably wonder why her husband isn’t there and might forget all about it afterwards, but Tara considers it important to do this with her mom. When she learns of a business trip happening at the same time, she must choose between possibly being out of the loop on the job and losing the promotion, or going ahead with plans with her mother. She chooses to take the business trip. As the women ask questions about how to be wives and mothers to their small kids while putting in twelve hour days at the office, Tara tows the company line, suggesting they get nannies or take work home with them. She tells them to never have an affair with a fellow employee while she is having an affair with someone under her command.

The sex is steamy, especially since it’s “taboo” in their workplace. The romantic relationship develops in the last half of the book. The challenges in the corporate workplace facing parents are real. It’s interesting how Tara tries to mold the women into versions of her idea of success, yet in the end, she is influenced to make changes in her own life. The writing is good. The pacing was steady. I enjoyed watching her transform into a more laid back, relaxed, happier working woman, even if I couldn’t always agree with her choices along the way.

This book can be found at The Corner Office.

Book Description:

Tara Johnson’s sacrifices are about to pay off: a senior executive at thirty-five at a Fortune 500 company, she’s one of the two finalists in line for a Managing Director position. Unfortunately, her rival of fifteen years, the charming, infuriating Richard Boyd, is just as qualified, and unlike her, he’s willing to cross pretty much every line to get what he wants.
Of all the things Tara stored in the attic to make it to the top, it’s her personal life she misses the most. That is, until she starts a steamy affair with sex god Aidan, her direct report. Interoffice relationships with a subordinate can mean the end of a career, and when Richard finds out, it’s the perfect opportunity to take his high-heeled nemesis out, especially since he’s still nursing a grudge against Tara for rejecting him years ago.
But Tara’s increasingly domineering lover has his own dark secrets, endangering more than just her career. As her liaison spirals out of control, salvation will come from the man she always thought she hated, and perhaps the only one to truly understand her.


Author Bio:

Katerina Baker is a lucky gal who still attempts to have it all: full-time project management job that she enjoys, crazy family of four (with the ongoing threats of getting a pet to upset the family equilibrium) and writing.

Although on some days she is much more successful at managing her life than on the others, she still claims that she doesn’t want it any other way.

Katerina is represented by Sharon Belcastro from Belcastro Agency, and has a contract with Lachesis Publishing, who will be publishing her Romantic Suspense novel Under the Scrubs.

Check out other reviews at:

The Corner Office at Just Love My Books

The Corner Office at The Loaded Shelf

The Ultimatum by Karen Robards

Thief with a heart!



The Ultimatum: An International Spy Thriller (The Guardian Book 1) by Karen Robards, MIRA, 336 pages, July 13th 2017, Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense/Organized Crime. Warning: May Contain Spoilers.

Review by Leigh Holland.

“What I’m doing is trying to save a little girl and her mother, and yes, that’s worth risking my life,” says Bianca St. Ives, an international thief with a heart of gold. In this intriguing dance of crooks, cops, and killers, Robards provides us with a harder-than-diamonds heroine who’s soft in all the right places. Although her father taught her ‘the rules’, a code that ensures her survival even at the expense of others, Bianca often finds herself making ‘exceptions’.

Bianca St. Ives has been trained since childhood by her father to be a master of disguise, thief, con artist, security specialist, martial artist and part of his team. A huge heist goes horribly wrong in Bahrain, leading to an explosion that takes the life of her father. Bianca must pick up the pieces, returning to her ‘cover’ life in Savannah as the head of a her own security firm. Doc, the only surviving member of his team, returns with her and acts in the capacity of her internet and computer expert. While monitoring her father’s email, Doc and Bianca get an offer for a job directed to her dad. Bianca takes the job. When things go from bad to worse, she tries to get out of the job, to no avail, as the lives of others hang in the balance. Bianca’s journey leads her to discover more about her origins, true identity, and her family’s past. The cliffhanger ending readies the reader for the next installment in the series, leaving us wanting more.

For fans of Robards’ previous Romantic Suspense novels, this first installment may leave you feeling the romantic aspect is lacking. Bianca has steamy chemistry in her cat-and-mouse game with Mickey, but it never goes deeper. There is potential for fleshing out a deeper relationship in later books. A lot of questions about Bianca’s past remain unanswered. In this book, you’ll find a lot of descriptive spy activity, suspenseful action, and a couple of interesting twists.

I enjoyed reading this first installment and I’m anxiously looking forward to seeing where the series goes as well as finding out more about Bianca’s past. I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy strong female protagonists and criminal/suspense novels.

Amazon link: The Ultimatum by Karen Robards



Karen Robards is a bestselling novelist from Louisville, Kentucky. She has penned over 50 published novels since 1981 and had her work translated into 17 languages. Starting off as a historical romance writer, Robards switched to Romantic Suspense. Her most recent novel, The Ultimatum, is a Spy Thriller.

Her father was an orthodontist and when she visited his work, she read his copies of Reader’s Digest. In 1973, she sold her first short story to Reader’s Digest for $100. Her first book, “Island Flame”, was the result of a graduate level writing class assignment. Not realizing she’d have to read the work to the class, she chose to write the assignment in the historical romance genre. Her first book stayed on the shelves three weeks, which was standard in those days. She took a job at an orthodontist’s office and during her lunch break, worked on her second novel bit by bit. “To Love a Man” sold to new publisher and began selling quickly. She won a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award.

Check out other reviews at:

The Ultimatum at All About Romance

The Ultimatum at Publisher’s Weekly

Spotlight on Alretha Thomas, author of “A Penny For Her Heart”

Leigh Holland’s Interview with Alretha Thomas

I’m excited to have Alretha Thomas, author of “A Penny for Her Heart”, on my blog today! Thank you so much, Alretha!

Leigh: Tell us a little about yourself.

Thank you, Leigh, for featuring me on your blog. I love having the opportunity to share more about myself with your readers. I was born in Oakland and raised in San Francisco. I came to Los Angeles when my mother passed away. I was 14 and she was only 36. That was a pretty rough time for me. However, my faith in God got me through, and I graduated salutatorian of my high school and went on to major in journalism at USC. Upon graduating I realized I really wanted to write fiction versus news copy. I started writing plays for my church and from there they were produced in the Los Angeles area. In 1999, I wrote Daughter Denied, a novel loosely based on my childhood. After unsuccessfully trying to land an agent and a book deal, I self-published in 2008. Fast forward to 2017. I’ve written eleven novels consisting of two series. My Cass and Nick series was picked up and published by Soul Mate publishing. The second series is the Detective Rachel Storme series: Justice for Jessica, Losing Lauren and A Penny For Her Heart.

Leigh: A Penny for Her Heart is set against a political backdrop. What inspired you to choose this backdrop for the book?

When I started the series, I decided each installment would have a distinct backdrop. Justice for Jessica’s backdrop is the world of wealth. Losing Lauren’s backdrop is the world of entertainment and as you mentioned, A Penny For Her Heart takes place within the political arena. I hadn’t planned that book three would be the political book, but the timing worked out well, especially considering all the drama surrounding the 2016 presidential election.

Leigh: How does this book differ or expand upon the first two books of the series?

Each book in the series is told from alternative POVS—Detective Rachel Storme’s and the friend and or relative of the victim. In Penny For Her Heart, unlike the earlier two books, the friend of the victim was in competition with the victim. The latest book also expands on the lives of the secondary characters. I don’t want to give things away, but Cassie, Rachel’s aunt, has a major development in her life. I also introduce the captain of the Buderwood Hills Police Department. He’s referenced in the previous novels, but in Penny For Her Heart, there’s an actual scene where readers will get to meet and hear him. Finally, this book contains more comic relief than the other books, complements of the character Vince Rossi. He’s married to Vanessa Johnson Rossi, Penny’s best friend. Vanessa is the alternative POV in the book.

Leigh: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? What drew you to the mystery genre?

I realized I wanted to be a writer in the fifth grade. My English teacher assigned a short story project and I wrote a love story. That begs the question, what did I know about love at ten? LOL! But apparently, I knew a little something because the next day my teacher told us we all had done a great job but that one story stood out. It was mine. I was shocked. She read it aloud and the look on my classmates’ faces was priceless. They were really into it. I knew at that moment I wanted to be a writer. I made what seemed to be a natural segue into mystery. My Cass and Nick series is what I would call romantic suspense. All four books in that series, Married in the Nick of Nine, The Baby in the Window, One Harte, Two Loves, and Renee’s Return, have elements of suspense. In 2014 my first mystery novel was published—Missing Melissa. I was hooked. I love writing mysteries, coming up with red herrings and plot twists. It’s like playing chess.

Leigh: What was your favorite book in childhood? Which books have influenced you the most over the years as an author?

As a child, I loved Sounder by William H. Armstrong. I also read Madeline and Alice in Wonderland. Books in adulthood that have influenced me are novels by the late Bebe Moore Campbell. I also enjoy the works of Terry McMillan, the late Frank McCourt, Jodi Picoult, Gillian Flynn, and James Patterson, to name a few.

Leigh: What are you working on currently? What can you tell us about it?

I’m currently working on a mystery/suspense novel involving a mother and stepdaughter. I can’t say too much about it now, but it’s slated for traditional publishing.

Leigh: How much research do you usually do for a book?

I try to write what I know, so I don’t have to do a great deal of research. You’ll find many of my books have someone who works in investment banking. That’s because I worked as an assistant for over a decade in that industry. I’ve written novels that involved acting and the entertainment industry. I was heavily involved in acting in the 90s and have since returned to the business. Regarding police procedure, I have talked to detectives and I have relied on the internet. It’s amazingly resourceful.

Leigh: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

Leigh, I have learned a lot over the years, much by trial and error. As I mentioned, I majored in journalism. It’s nothing like novel writing. I had no clue when I wrote my first book. My biggest struggle was with structure. I joined writing groups and learned my craft. I’m by no means perfect, but I’ve come a long way. I now have what I call a creative confidence. I trust myself when writing, and I’ve developed a process that allows me to put out a strong product.

Leigh: What do you do to relax? What are some of your hobbies?

I love reading for pleasure. It takes me away. I also enjoy theatre, going to the movies and concerts. Television is really good nowadays, and I have a few favorite shows like—Scandal, Shades of Blue, This is Us and a few others.

Leigh: Where can readers find out more about your work?






Amazon Author Page:


IMDB: Alretha Thomas at IMDB


Thank you very much, Alretha, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview.

Thank you for having me, Leigh. It’s been a pleasure.


Bio: Shortly after graduating from USC with a degree in journalism, Alretha soon realized her interest in her major was not heartfelt. Instead of writing news stories, she wanted to write plays and books. Several years later, her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces—the community response was overwhelming. This led to plays outside of the church, including Alretha’s “One, Woman Two Lives,” starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by four-time NAACP Image Award Best Director recipient, Denise Dowse. The production garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences.
In between plays, Alretha’s first novel, “Daughter Denied,” was launched in 2008 and in 2011, Alretha launched “Dancing Her Dreams Away.” Her third novel, “Married in the Nick of Nine,” was launched in 2012 and spawned a four-book standalone series affectionately known as the Cass & Nick Series. In 2014, Soul Mate Publishing acquired all four books, “Married in the Nick of Nine,” “The Baby in the Window,” “One Harte, Two Loves,” and “Renee’s Return.”
Alretha became an award-winning author in 2014 when she received the Jessie Redmon Fauset Fiction Award for her novel, “Four Ladies Only.” In 2015, her first mystery novel, “Missing Melissa,” was released to rave reviews. In 2016, she embarked upon a new mystery series called The Detective Rachel Storme series. “A Penny For Her Heart” is the third book in the series. “Justice for Jessica,” and “Losing Lauren,” are the first and second books in the series, respectively.

Happy “Painting”!

Writing Is The Painting


10 Writing Tips From Joss Whedon

10 Writing Tips From Joss Whedon

Joseph Hill Whedon was born in New York City, New York, on June 23rd 1964 to Tom Whedon and Ann Lee Jeffries Stearns. His mother, a teacher at Riverdale Country School in New York, was originally from Kentucky. An aspiring writer and actress, she and Tom were members of Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club where they appeared on stage together. Tom was a screenwriter for “Alice” and “The Golden Girls”. Tom’s dad had previously worked on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Joss has two older brothers, Samuel and Matthew, and two younger brothers, Jed and Zack. Jed and Zack Whedon are also writers.

Joss attended high school where his mother taught. He developed a love of British t.v. as a child and attended Winchester College in England for three years. The environment at Winchester was one of bullying. He graduated Wesleyan University, where he studied under Richard Slotkin, in 1987.

His early work consisted of staff writing and being a script doctor on projects such as “Roseanne”, “Parenthood”, “The Getaway”, “X-Men”, and “Speed”. He co-wrote the beloved film “Toy Story” and “Titan A.E.”. During this period, he worked on his script for his film “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, from which would spin off television shows of the same name and “Angel”. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his work on “Toy Story”.

In the early 21st Century, Whedon would produce some of his most popular work, including the cult classic show “Firefly” and movie “Serenity”. In 2008, he completed his 24th issue of “The Astonishing X-Men” comic series. He did some freelance directing for “Glee” and “The Office”. In 2008, his response to the Writer’s Guild strike was to create the web series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”. In 2009 Whedon created the series “Dollhouse”. Some of Whedon’s most popular recent work includes “The Avengers”, “Agents of SHIELD”, and “Age of Ultron”. In May 2017, Whedon assumed working on the upcoming film “The Justice League”.

Whedon’s work often revolves around a hero who has a sense of community support, or a team of heroes. Common themes running throughout his work include feminism, misogyny, free will, power vs. powerlessness, sacrifice, the meaning of life, and anti-authoritarianism as well as anti-corporatism. He’s known for dramatically and meaningfully killing his darling characters. Whedon’s influences include Ray Bradbury, Stephen Sondheim, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Rod Serling and James Cameron.

Joss Whedon is married to Kai Cole, an architect, with whom he has two children. He is a Humanist and appears to support moderately liberal political views. He credits his mother with teaching his about feminism.

Here are his ten writing tips.


Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.


Structure means knowing where you’re going ; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes ? The thrills ? The romance ? Who knows what, and when ? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around : the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.


This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys ?’


Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue : you get sound-bites. Not everybody has to be funny ; not everybody has to be cute ; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.


Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favourite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.


When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.


You have one goal : to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theatre, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, ‘Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.


Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly ; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie ; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet ?’


Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system ; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction ; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up : they’d started talking about a different show.


The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie : if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are : that’s called whoring.”

These were found on Once Upon A Sketch.

Conquering the “Look”

Conquering the “Look”

By Leigh Holland.

Reviewing my chapter today, I searched the document for the word “look”. Gasping in horror, I realized I’d used the word “look”, or some conjugation of it, far too often. I was engaged in an epic mental struggle with the “Look”, a condition that’s tormented me for as long as I can recall. How can I conquer the “Look” once and for all?

Expressiveness of the Eyes


They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. By that, they mean the eyes are so expressive that they give away the truth behind them. Here are some ways we can describe “looking” with the eyes.


Expression of Eyes

Agitation Gaze bouncing from place to place, Avoided meeting her eyes
Amazement, Disbelief, Surprise Eyes widened, Rapidly blinked repeatedly, An open stare, Glancing at companions to see if they’re amazed, Lifting one brow, Incredulous stare
Anger, Contempt, Hatred Eyes protruded, a cold, hard glare, eyes narrowing
Anguish, Sadness Crying, wailing, weeping, reddened eyes, tears shimmering, tears welling up, Glistening eyes, Wincing
Annoyance, Irritation Raising eyebrows, giving a glassy stare, Narrowed eyes, eye-rolling, Focusing gaze elsewhere
Conflicted, Ambivalence Avoiding eye contact, increased blinking, Ping-ponging gaze
Confusion Narrowed eyes, eyebrows squishing together, Eyes cluding, Distant gaze, Staring at the ground, Blinking
Curiosity A sidelong glance, Raised eyebrows
Defeat, Depression Vacant eyes, Downward gaze, Staring at one’s own hands, Infrequently blinking, dark circles under eyes
Defensiveness Squinting eyes, a fixed gaze, Lowering brow, Eye-rolling
Desire Solid eye contact, Shining eyes, Glossed over eyes, softened gaze,
Desperation, Loneliness Wet eyes, Glossy eyes, Darting gaze, Feverish stare, Over-bright eyes, A longing gaze, Lack of eye contact
Dread, Fear Downward gaze, hair over face, Avoiding eye contact, Rapid blinking, Staring without seeing
Excitement, Happiness Sparkling, gleaming eyes, Making eye contact, Dancing eyes
Impatient Glancing repeatedly at watch, Narrowed eyes, Intense focus, Raised eyebrows, Massaging the temples with eyes closed
Love Strong eye contact, little blinking, Yearning gaze, Beaming eyes, Soft gaze
Nostalgia Unfocused gaze, Tear-filled eyes, Eyes bright with memories
Paranoia Scouting for exits upon entry, Unfocused darting gaze.
Regret, Remorse Eyebrows gathering inward, Staring at one’s feet, Tears
Resignation Quiet tears, Dull eyes, Staring off at nothing
Satisfaction, Peacefulness A raised eyebrow, A closed eye lidded look, Sparking eyes, A dazzling gaze


Other Words Related To “Look”


Interested in other body language your characters can express? Check out The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression.

Happy Writing!


Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction

Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction

By Leigh Holland.

The novel. It’s such a massive project. There’s outlining, character arcs, pacing, setting, and am I the only person who’s ever taken days to pick the perfect names for characters? How do we find the time to work, take care of our homes and yards and kids, have a social life, and still find time to write a novel? Sometimes it can seem like a slogging chore instead of the passion fruit of our joyful, inspired labor. We want that gleaming, finished product of our imagination to be ready now rather than later.

I’m not saying to stop writing your novel. Keep at it, by all means! But you don’t have to wait until your novel is complete to create and publish another project. Sure, people want novels.  But I love picking up a short read that can entertain me through my lunch break. I’m not alone. There’s a market out there for short stories.

Short fiction helps readers discover you. How does that work? For Amazon, the more published works you have available, the more likely it is that someone will find one of your books. If they like it, they may buy more. This leads to your books showing up more often in Amazon’s recommendation queue, which in turn leads to even more work being found by readers.

It’s helpful if at least one of your short fiction tales sells for .99 cents. You’ll make .30 cents on each copy, but most people will spend .99 cents on anything that looks interesting. You want to eliminate their reason to not buy one (or more) of your books. It helps get your book in front of the reader and if they enjoy it, they’ll buy other works from you. Once you’re ready to publish your novel, this will help you sell the novel because you’ve established a base of readers who already enjoy your work.


How much should you charge for short fiction? Most people would consider it fair to charge .99 cents to $1.99 for a story under 10,000 words. Most short stories run around 5,000 words. Let’s say you write 2 short stories per month. After one year, you have published 24 short stories at an average price point of 1.50 per copy, of which you’d keep about .45 cents. Even if you sold one copy of each book per day the following year, that’s over $3,500 you’d earn from those stories in one year. Now, I’m not saying money should be the focus when you write books- I’m saying that those short stories can have added financial benefits. Once you’ve published several stories in a genre, pull them together into a larger collection. Price the collection at less than the sum of the individual stories.

Additionally, run giveaways once every three to six months. Offering stories for free helps build up your readership. This can also be helpful in trying to obtain honest reviews from readers.

Apart from marketing, platform building, and sales strategies, there are artistic benefits to writing short fiction regularly. If you want to expand on a minor character from one of your published novels, a short story is a wonderful way to do that. If you loved the world you created in a novel but felt you didn’t have a chance to explore it further, short fiction is another way to expand and explore that fictional world. Want to write the prequel for your hero, but there’s not enough material for a novel? Are you worried it’s still too much for a short story? Try writing a novella. The lengths for different types of fiction can be found at Ironclad Ways To Increase Your Word Count.

Suffering from writer’s block as you work on your main novel? After trying these tips, check out some writing prompts. Find one that inspires you and write a short story or piece of flash fiction (under 2,000 words, flash fiction is typically about 500 words). It can help break you out of that cycle and get you back to writing productively.

Happy writing!

Some Sites Where You Can Sell Short Fiction (Check Their Submission Guidelines)

May and September Only: AGNI

American Short Fiction


Clarkes’ World Magazine

Daily Science Fiction

Devilfish Review

Flash Fiction Online



Strange Horizons

Vestal Review

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #6: The Shapeshifter

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey #6: The Shapeshifter

In part six, we talk about the role of the Shapeshifter in the Hero’s Journey. The Shapeshifter role can be two-faced, changeable, and mysterious. This transformational power brings tension and doubt into the story. The transformation can be literal and physical. It can be spiritual or emotional. It can encompass both the seen and unseen nature of the Shapeshifter character. In romance and subplotting, the love interest of the hero often takes on this role. The femme fatale is an example of this role.

Additionally, a character may switch roles throughout the narrative. A character may be the herald, then the mentor, then the shapeshifter, and finally reveal himself to be the shadow. There’s no rule against one character playing multiple roles in the journey.

The shapeshifter hides their true nature from the hero. The shapeshifter keeps the hero and reader wondering whose side they’re really on. Usually, the shapeshifter is on the shapeshifter’s side. Because the reader isn’t sure about the shapeshifter’s loyalties and motives, this character brings tension, frustration, and intrigue to the story.

According to Carl Jung, inside each human being there’s an alternate gender-force. For men this is the feminine side or “anima”, for women, we have the masculine side or “animus”. Society has taught women to hide masculine traits such as ambition, boldness, and power. It’s also taught men to shove down traits that are traditionally viewed as feminine, such as intuition and emotional sensitivity. In the shapeshifter, we see these traits of our own being. We impose this on the role and in this fashion, safely explore it. This isn’t just true of exploring in a romantic context; we also explore our wild side in the primal nature of the werewolf, our dark side in the cursed werewolf who can’t control his killing. Through the shapeshifter role, we are able to relate to hidden pieces of ourselves that we usually don’t explore from day to day. If we’re being honest with ourselves, we compartmentalize and wear masks around others every day. The shapeshifter role shows us masks; and at some point, reveals what’s behind them.

A wonderful example of projection of the anima occurs in the Hitchcock classic 1958 movie, Vertigo. (This also happens to be one of my favorite films!) In Vertigo, private detective Scottie Ferguson takes a job watching the suicidal wife of an old friend. He falls madly in love with her and tries to save her from a family curse, ultimately failing because of his vertigo. After he’s released from an institution six months later, he happens to see a woman-Judy- who bears a striking resemblance to his dear yet dead Madeleine. Obsessed, Scottie takes care of her, buys her things, and ultimately changes her appearance until she looks exactly like Madeleine. Here are a couple of videos that capture this transformation:


Runaway , a fan video

Madeleine’s final touch

Who is Judy? Why does she look like Madeleine? What’s scarier, the fact she looks exactly like her, or how far Scottie’s obsession drives him in transforming her? Can he trust his lover?

What happens when we can’t trust our lover? Will the shapeshifter betray us? Love us? Save us? Destroy us? Both? This tension brings vital suspense to the tale.

The femme fatale is a classic, if overused, example of the archetype. Who can forget Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, or in Total Recall:

Total Recall Trailer

While some femme fatale try to murder the hero or lead him into fatal danger, this is not needed for the character to be a shapeshifter. Both the shapeshifter and femme fatale criteria can be met by confusing, distracting, or tempting the hero away from his true quest.

Shapeshifters don’t have to be femme fatale, or femme at all. Male characters can easily serve in this dramatic role. One example is Han Solo from Star Wars. When we first meet Han, we learn that Han is all about himself. He’s in it for Han. It’s only as the movies progress that Han’s character arc changes and he reveals that yes, he’s the shapeshifter, and man, can he ever change. He saves lives, both of friends and strangers, and starts to be in it for more than just Han. He cares and starts putting others first. I believe this rehabilitation of his shapeshifter nature is one of the reasons for the “Who shot first?” debate that rages on. (It wasn’t Greedo. Han wasn’t always the good guy we come to adore, he was a shapeshifter before he transformed).

Who Shot First?

And finally, here is a classic example of a literal shapeshifter. Powerful. Mysterious. Potentially deadly. Maybe friend, maybe foe, maybe our true love.

I love you, David.

The source for this material is Christopher Vogler’s  The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition.

If interested in purchasing any of these wonderful films, they can be found at:

Vertigo (on Bluray)

An American Werewolf In London (bluray)

Total Recall (classic)

Here are the articles in this series:

#1 The Hero

#2 The Journey

#3 The Mentor

#4 The Threshold Guardian

#5 The Herald