Tuesday, November 17, 2015

D. J. Niko - Adventures in Antiquity

West Palm Beach writer D.J. Niko (pseudonym for Daphne Nikolopoulos) was bitten by the travel bug early in life. This self-described nomad has visited some of the world’s most remote and exotic locations, and she uses her experiences to create thrill-packed adventures that span continents and centuries.
Born in Athens, Greece, Niko immigrated to Florida with her family in the late 70s. After graduating from the University of Central Florida, she took a job as a writer/editor for a weekly publication in West Palm Beach. “I’ve loved writing since I was young,” she says. “I wrote essays, poems and graphic novels in elementary school and took many literature and writing courses in college. So I knew I wanted to write professionally when I took the job at the paper.” After a few years, however, her wanderlust got the best of her, and she decided to take some time off to backpack around the world. “I sold my car and gave up everything,” she recalls. “It was a very formative experience, and I’ve been traveling ever since.”

Niko parlayed her passion for travel into a career as a travel writer.  After selling an article to the Miami Herald, she spent ten years freelancing, writing articles about locations “way off the beaten path.” Niko eventually accumulated enough material to write a book. “During my years as a travel writer and a traveler/seeker, I had gathered amazing experiences and observations,” she explains. “It wasn't specific research. It was just a part of the process. So when I decided to write fiction, it was natural to write about adventures and exotic places because that was my experience.” 

Niko’s fascination with Ethiopia made it a logical setting for her first novel, The Tenth Saint. According to Niko, “I knew I wanted to write about Ethiopia because of its ancient traditions and cultures and its profound yet quiet spirituality that informs every aspect of daily life.  Setting The Tenth Saint there was a good excuse to study Ethiopia in greater detail and to return there.”
The Tenth Saint introduces Sarah Weston, an archaeologist who shares Niko’s passions: adventure, antiquity and mysteries hidden in the earth. “There’s some of me in Sarah, but she’s more idealized and has better legs,” Niko says. The Tenth Saint begins with Sarah’s discovery of a cryptic inscription in a mysterious tomb. Her determination to decipher its meaning leads her, along with her colleague, Daniel Madigan, into danger when they discover a conspiracy determined to keep the inscription a secret.  The Tenth Saint was awarded a gold medal in the prestigious Florida Book Awards, an honor Niko calls “an insane surprise.” 

After the positive response to The Tenth Saint, Niko penned a sequel. The Riddle of Solomon, published in 2013, has Sarah and Daniel discovering an ancient scroll that contains a mysterious riddle. As they search for the riddle’s solution, they find themselves facing a formidable enemy – a psychopath who believes he is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, a direct descendant from the line of King Solomon. Niko got the idea for the story from her husband. “He was telling me about Solomon and the legends surrounding him,” she says. “I began researching and became fascinated by Solomon. Even though he was flawed, he exemplified the qualities we all strive for as humans – wisdom, faith, piety. And he had the leadership ability to unite his people and inspire them to be better.”

In addition to her job as editor of “Palm Beach Illustrated” and editorial director of Palm Beach Media Group, this busy mother of 6-year-old twins has managed to complete two more writing projects – The Oracle, the third novel in the Sarah Weston series, which released this month, and The Judgment, a stand-alone historical fiction set in the 10th Century BC, releasing May 2016. Niko her hopes readers will enjoy escaping with her to fascinating and mysterious locales and experiencing adventures that transport them out of the everyday and back in time.

For more information, visit the author’s website at www.djnikobooks.com

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Felicia Brings - West Meets East

What’s a nice Jewish girl from Central Park West doing in a southern Chinese town teaching English to rowdy middle school students? The answer can be found in No Hugging in China, an entertaining memoir by St. Petersburg writer Felicia Brings. This sometimes funny, sometimes surprising book gives readers an insider’s view of life in the People’s Republic of China – and it’s certainly not what you’d expect.

For Brings, the road to China began in Manhattan. She grew up in New York City, started writing in junior high school, was the editor of her high school’s newspaper and earned a degree in English from New York’s Pace University. She co-authored a scholarly book when she was at Hunter College and wrote several articles that were published in newspapers across the country but never intended to become a full-time writer. “It’s not something I really enjoy,” she admits. “I’m very social, and sitting alone in front of that blank page is very challenging. As a writer, your ego is out there to be splayed open. I always say I’ll probably never do it again – but I probably will.”

So Brings became a teacher. She taught writing at Monterey Peninsula College in California and at Laboratory Institute of Merchandising in New York City.  She also spent ten years leading corporate seminars for Fortune 100 companies. But everything changed one day when she and a friend, Susan Winter, were having lunch. “We both had younger boyfriends, and we were talking and giggling about some of our experiences,” she recalls.   “At some point, one of us said we should write a book. So we did.” At first, they intended to write about their own exploits. Soon, however, they realized there were lots of women with similar stories, so they decided to start interviewing them. The result was a groundbreaking book – Older Women, Younger Men: New Options for Love and Romance – published in September, 2000. 

An exploration of relationships that were often considered taboo, Older Women, Younger Men became wildly popular and is a source of pride for Brings.  “Back then, the term ‘cougar’ hadn’t entered the lexicon and most of these relationships were furtive,” she explains. “This was something men had done for ages, but women couldn’t. I’m pleased and proud that I contributed to ending that nonsense.”

Seven years later, Brings was approaching her sixtieth birthday and ready for an adventure. Dreading another icy New York winter, she decided to answer an ad recruiting English instructors to teach in China’s Guangdong province, an area with a sub-tropical climate.  The ad promised a six-month contract teaching adults at the Bridge Language Institute in “China’s Garden City.” What Brings discovered when she arrived was something completely different. She was assigned to a middle school in the industrial town of Xiaolan where she faced rebellious students, rampant pollution, a scarcity of toilet paper, crazed drivers and government corruption that would make the IRS blush. A tumultuous six months later, Brings returned to the United States with an abiding admiration for the Chinese people and enough experiences to fill a book. She combed through the emails she’d sent during her stay, and in February, 2012 published No Hugging in China, a memoir chronicling her adventures (and misadventures) in Xiaolan. “China is an amazing place,” she says. “It’s colorful, fascinating and wonderful, but there’s a lot or corruption. I hope the book will show how that impacts the lives of everyday people.”

In 2012, Brings published China Tips (or a Blonde’s Guide to Teaching in China, a 25-page compendium of practical advice for any Westerners entertaining the idea of traveling or working in China. She hopes the book will assist Western tourists in navigating the customs, manners and mores of the Chinese people. According to Brings, “China Tips tackles the pressing issues most travel books don't address, like where to find coffee, how to use a lazy susan in a restaurant, what toilet paper is for, etc.”

Brings’s three favorite things about Florida are “Weather, weather and weather.” She enjoys shopping and jogging with Oliver, the long-haired Chihuahua she calls “the light of my life.”  She is currently working on a screen treatment of No Hugging in China that she hopes will be optioned for Chinese television. “I’ve never written a screenplay before,” she admits, “so I’m flying by the seat of my pants, which I always do. It’s worked out so far. I hope it will again.”

For more information, visit the author’s Amazon author page at http://www.amazon.com/Felicia-Brings/e/B001KIXV34

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Vicki M. Taylor - Heroic Heroines

If you're a reader who enjoys stories that feature strong female protagonists, pick up a book by Tampa writer Vicki M. Taylor. Her tales of women who face seemingly impossible challenges with courage and resolve will inspire readers and give them a glimpse into her own personal struggles.

Taylor was born in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula but left after high school graduation and never looked back. Following a stint in the Marine Corps, she sought out warm, sunny places like South Carolina, California, and Arizona. “I’m just not a cold-weather person,” she says.  So it wasn’t surprising that, after her three children were grown, she found her way to Florida where she enjoys “living in Vacationland” with her husband, Greg, her 12-year-old American Eskimo dog, and a Sun Conure  parrot who “flew into our yard one day and adopted us.”

Taylor did not begin her career as a novelist. She graduated with a degree in Computer Science and took a programming job in the tech world. One day, her boss asked her to put together a user’s manual for a new product. Taylor enjoyed the project so much that she decided to focus on technical writing, eventually starting her own technical writing and consulting company after nearly fifteen years working her way up to manager. After a few years as a successful business owner, a health crisis caused her to reassess her life. “I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease and had to go on bed rest,” she recalls. “It made me realize that life was short. I’d always wanted to write fiction, and I didn’t want to wait any longer.” So in 1998, Taylor left the business world and began writing fiction in earnest. Around the same time, she and five others founded the Florida Writers Association, which after fifteen years is still the only statewide writing organization in Florida.

Her first novel took eight months. She admits that it’s “still sitting on my bookshelf, and will never see the light of day.” Things changed, though, with her next attempt. Forever Until We Meet, the story of a lonely woman who falls prey to an unscrupulous man on an online discussion board, was published in 2001. Taylor calls the novel “a composite of many women’s stories about how they’d been taken advantage of on computer forums.” Taylor followed this with three more novels featuring women in crisis: Not Without Anna, a story of a mother trying to cope with her daughter’s death; Trust in the Wind, the tale of a struggling single mother; and Out for Justice, a suspense novel about a young female detective investigating a child’s murder. Taylor has also written three novellas in the Romantic/Suspense, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Speculative Fiction genres.

Her latest book, Good Intentions, is a family drama based on a newspaper article about a woman whose family tried to adopt a 14- year-old pregnant girl. “The story touched my heart,” Taylor says. “I contacted the reporter for more information, and the reporter put me in touch with the family.  I wanted to fictionalize their story and add more drama.” In the book, Taylor’s fictional family faces deception, infidelity, drugs, child abuse, cancer, sexual abuse and home invasion. The process of interviewing, writing and publishing took four years, but in December, 2012, Good Intentions was finally released.

Taylor is currently working on a memoir, something of a departure from her other works.  In it, she shares the unique, intensely intimate story of her ongoing struggle with bi-polar disorder. Like her fictional heroines, Taylor has done battle with a host of personal demons. “The last five years have been very difficult.  I’ve been in and out of hospitals,” she says. “I’m hoping my story will resonate with people in similar situations.”  Taylor was also the subject of a local news program that helped demonstrate how far medical advancements have come in regards to Electroconvulsive Therapy. (You can see the news story at http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/health/shock-therapy-is-out-of-the-dark-ages-and-bringing-light-to-thousands-of-bay-area-patients. Taylor admits that it feels strange becoming the main character in one of her books. “My stories tell about strong women who face insurmountable odds and succeed,” she says. “I’d like to have that kind of strength and be able to show others how strong I really am.”

Taylor credits much of her positive success to journaling which inspired her to write Words Heal, a self-guided creative writing, expressive therapy, and journaling process to help others who may have past or present traumas and want to live more joyful lives. (Find Words Heal on Amazon.)  
Vicki is now taking life easier, shifting her priorities from constantly working to spending more time serving God, loving her family, which includes four grandchildren, supporting her husband and keeping herself stable. 

For more information, visit the author’s website at www.vickimtaylor.com or find her writings at her blogs http://www.livingstonefaith.com or http://www.succeedatwriting.com or http://www.writecovery.com.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Barbara Levenson - Mystery and Murder in Miami

Mary Magruder Katz is not your garden variety attorney. Half Southern Baptist, half Jewish, with a love life as fiery as the South Florida sun and a penchant for getting herself into trouble, this feisty female protagonist is the title character in a series of mystery novels by Miami judge-turned-writer Barbara Levenson. The Mary Magruder Katz Mysteries give readers an insider’s view of the legal system while taking them on a suspense filled romp through the city that has become Levenson’s adopted home. Levenson describes her books as “Nancy Drew for grown-ups.” 

An Ohio native, Levenson graduated cum laude from the University of Miami’s Law School and began her legal career as a prosecutor. She later started her own law firm focused on criminal defense and civil rights litigation. In 1992, Levenson was elected to a judgeship in the Miami-Dade circuit court.  “I’d always loved writing, but with my job, I never had the time to do anything other than legal writing,” she says. “I started writing fiction as a retirement hobby. I had lots of ideas from my time in court. Instead of focusing on the facts of a case, I began writing about the people. The rest was simple.” She signed up for a writing course at Miami-Dade College and was “so intrigued” that she took another. Her instructor was impressed with her work and suggested she apply for a summer program in Ohio. Her manuscript was accepted, and after completing the program, she came home and began writing in earnest. A year later, her first novel, Fatal February, was published, and Mary Magruder Katz was born.

Fatal February (2009) started as a series of short stories based on Levenson’s experiences in the courtroom. “Mary is a composite of many of the women attorneys I knew,” Levenson explains.  “I hope their viewpoint comes through to the readers.” Mary is also a product of Miami: unpredictable, edgy, passionate and energetic. In Fatal February, her life is turned upside-down when a minor traffic accident introduces her to Carlos Martin, a handsome Latin real estate developer.  Her love affair with Carlos causes her to break her engagement, lose her job with her former fiancĂ©’s prestigious law firm and start her own law practice. Soon Mary finds herself defending the prime suspect in a high-profile Miami murder case. The Library Journal praised Fatal February as “A fun debut, full of humor and joie de vivre.”

Mary’s exploits continue in Justice in June where she becomes entangled in three cases: two personally connected to Carlos and one that puts her life in danger as she investigates wrongdoing in Miami courts. 

 Outrageous October, the third book in the series takes place in Vermont. Mary leaves Miami after a nasty break-up with Carlos and heads for the tranquility of a small Vermont town. Unfortunately, an unsolved murder pulls Mary into a web of intrigue.  A mysterious intruder, an abducted college co-ed, a complicated relationship with a handsome young attorney and a feud between neighbors that ends in homicide soon make Mary long for the comparative peace of Miami.  Levenson spends  summers and fall in Quechee, Vermont. “This book was written to satisfy my Northern New England friends who wanted a book of their own. 

Neurotic November was launched in November, 2014 at an amazing launch party at Books and Books in Coral Gables.  This beautiful independent book store was filled with a standing room only crowd and a sell-out of books. Readers were happy to find Mary returning to Miami in a whirlwind of new cases. The plot involves the murder of a friend’s ex-husband, and a University of Miami football player accused of sexual battery on an underage girl.  Levenson hopes Mary’s exploits will entertain her readers and leave them feeling like they’ve vacationed in Miami. “Miami is so much more than South Beach,” she says. “It’s an exciting city with the diversity that adds so much to life.  But it’s also filled with people who live like people everywhere. They work, go to school, raise kids. They just do it in better weather.”

This summer finds Levenson in the midst of writing Dangerous December that will be available in the winter of 2016.  Of course, there are murders, and a Medicare fraud case, among other chaotic happenings.  Mary and Carlos’s hot romance rises to new levels.  The Thanksgiving recipes that accompanied Neurotic November were such a hit that Dangerous December will include Christmas and Chanukah recipe surprises.  Look for family fireworks by New Year’s Eve.

When asked about the future for Barbara Levenson, she confided that she is working on a serious novel about the lives of four women and one Cuban rafter.  Stay tuned! 

For more about Barbara Levenson, visit her website at www.barbaralevenson.com.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Writing for Children or Adults: A Choice - A Guest Post by Dorothy Francis

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger Dorothy Francis. Her works include a series of animal stories for children; "Captain Morgana Mason," a middle grade novel; and six cozy mysteries set in Key West. Dorothy was our featured author on June 15, 2011.

A sixth grade girl sent me a fan letter that made my day for a few moments.I loved reading Captain Morgana Mason,” she wrote, “would you please tell me all you know about writing?” Her words flattered me until I looked inside the envelope she had sent. For my reply, she had enclosed a stamped self-addressed post card. My ego took a nosedive.

Creating children’s fiction was my favorite kind of writing at that time, and Captain Morgana Mason was also my favorite book.  I wondered why. Was it the story’s plot? Or was it the story’s characters? I’m convinced it was the characters. Any writer could have used the plot idea to write a book, but the characters in that plot were unique.  I’m convinced that the characters led to the story’s success.

And although many unfortunate things happened to Captain Morgana Mason, it survived. The first good thing that happened was that it received the honor of being chosen by the Florida State Historical Society the best children’s book of its year with a Florida background. My editor was thrilled and said she’d have plenty of books at the historical society’s meeting. I thanked her and gave her the date and place of the meeting.

The book didn’t arrive. I called the editor. She said she was sorry, but she had forgotten.  So for the several hundred potential buyers who were present, there were no books for me to sign. Later, when I met that editor in her New York office, neither of us mentioned that meeting in Florida.  She smiled and told me Captain Morgana Mason was doing fine and asked what I was currently working on.

Had she  been lying to me?  Perhaps. I was home only a few weeks when her letter arrived  saying Captain Morgana Mason was going out of print. I asked why. She said the company suddenly had a shortage of storage space for unsold copies.  Soon I received another letter offering me the 3000 unsold copies at a dollar each.

My husband suggested I buy those books and sell them when I was making speeches at libraries and writer’s conferences. We bought the books.

I soon learned from a Children’s Literature prof  at a Missouri University that Captain Morgana Mason had been chosen Children’s Book of the Year by Missouri school children. I smiled until he told me they’d have to cancel their order because books chosen had to be readily available to the schools. I was devastated, but the professor bought 400 copies.

After many months, I’d sold enough copies to break even. Later, I gave copies of Captain Morgana Mason to every elementary school in the Florida Keys.  

 For years before my husband and I started spending winters in Florida, people asked me when I was  going to write books for grown- ups instead of for children?  And with the question I heard the challenge—can you do it?  Can you really write for adults?

So I decided to give it a try.

I loved Florida from the moment I saw it.  Everything about it called to me.  The exotic  flowers.  The unique houses.  The fascinating  people.  The major part of my research involved looking out my window and writing about what I saw. The tales the natives told were extraordinary. I spent hours in our back country boat taking notes on my surroundings while my husband fished. Soon I could hardly wait to start writing—this time for adults.

After finishing my first adult mystery, I learned that a literary agent was searching for published books for teens. She was offering second rights to buyers in other English-speaking countries.  I wrote to that agent, and she took on many of my teen books. Here was my chance. I showed her my adult mystery. she took it on and it sold as The Conch Shell Murder. A few years later, I had six Key West mysteries to my credit. They received good reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus.

But now, several years later, I’m living full time in Iowa and my heart is back with writing for children.  A friend helped me place Captain Morgana Mason as an e-book on Amazon, and I’m ready to start writing a book for children once again.