Friday, February 5, 2016

Tom Winton - Writing from the Heart

Tom Winton is a man who writes from his heart.  This Jensen Beach author who now spends part of his time in the Georgia Mountains has penned seven novels he describes as “emotion-packed with a literary edge.” His books all debuted on Amazon’s “Hot New Release” list, putting him in the ranks of Amazon’s 100 Most Popular Authors in both literary fiction and mystery/thriller/suspense. He has been described as “a man who writes with his pen dipped in his soul.”

Winton’s success as a writer would certainly come as a surprise to his teachers at Flushing High School in his native New York. “My high school grades weren’t good,” he admits. “In fact, I barely made it through.”  He joined the Air Force after graduation, then drove down to Florida in a snowstorm to marry the woman he’d been dating "for a record 89 days.” Although he held a number of different jobs, he never considered writing. “Until I was 35, I was like a lot of other guys my age,” he says. “For the most part I only read the sports pages, fishing magazines and Playboy. But then I discovered novels and always had five or six alongside my easy chair. Whenever I had free time and wasn’t out fishing I read voraciously. Although I put the better authors on a pedestal, about the time I turned 49 I began to think, ‘I can do better than most of these writers.’ That’s what I believed, anyway. It took me two full years of looking at the same blank page of a Spiral notebook before I started scrawling words.” He completed two manuscripts, but when he couldn’t find a publisher, he became discouraged and stopped writing.

Even though Winton didn’t write for 11 years, he never lost the desire. “When I threw those manuscripts into a closet for all that time, I left of piece of my soul alongside them,” he recalls.  Then one day, he heard about an online writer’s site and decided to upload one of the manuscripts he’d abandoned for so long. Entitled Beyond Nostalgia, it is the story of a young love that is lost and rediscovered 25 years later. And then things started to happen—and quickly. Only five weeks after Tom submitted Beyond Nostalgia, it was nominated for the Random House site’s Book of the Year. A year later, when he was 62 year years old, Winton was approached by a publisher and signed his first contract.
   
Over the next five years Winton wrote six more novels, and they all soon became bestsellers. Although most of his books have scenes that take place in Florida, two of them, Four Days with Hemingway’s Ghost and A Second Chance in Paradise, are set for the most part in the Sunshine State. His other titles are Forever Three, The Last American Martyr, Within a Man’s Heart, and his newest, A New Dawn in Deer Isle. The latter, a heartrending story about a widower who drives across America, following much of the route famed author John Steinbeck did in his Travels with Charley, became an Amazon bestseller and “Hot New Release” just two days after its release.
Although Winton admits that coming up with ideas for a new books is not always easy, he’s already working on yet another Florida Keys based novel. As he tries to do with all his books, Winton hopes that his readers will again enjoy experiencing the range of feelings he puts into his stories.  “Rather than just reading words, I want them to feel the emotions,” he says. “When you can make readers feel what happens to your characters you know you’re at the top of your game.”

For more information about Tom Winton and his books you can visit his Amazon page at http://www.amazon.com/Tom-Winton/e/B005H2T7AA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 or his author’s website at www.tomwintonauthor.com


Saturday, January 16, 2016

J.J. White - Writing As Fast As He Can

Some may question how author J.J.White explains his impressive writing output. His answer? “I started late, so I have to write as much as I can, as fast as I can.” White moved from Vermont to Florida’s Space Coast in 1963 when his father, who worked for the space program, relocated there. White went on to earn a degree in engineering from the University of Central Florida and became an electrical engineer. Although he describes himself as always having been creative, writing was never something he pursued until he was sidelined with a back injury in 2006. “I was flat on my back for two weeks, so I started writing,” he recalls. “I progressed from horrible to better.” Later, he started going to writers conferences and joined a writers group to hone those literary skills. To date, he has written over 300 short stories, many of which were published in magazines and anthologies such as The Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. Along with the short stories, he has penned eight novels, three of which have been published by Black Opal Books
In 2014, White’s first published novel, Prodigious Savant, was released.  A savant is a person who exhibits a superhuman mental ability like photographic memory or being able to do complex mathematical calculations in one’s head. Unfortunately, this unusual type of genius has a dark side.  Savants are usually significantly impaired when it comes to day-to-day functioning and normal social interactions (think Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.”)  Among this group is a small percentage – fewer than 100 worldwide – who show abilities so outstanding that they fall into the range of genius. These are known as prodigious savants.  This is the phenomenon White explores in Prodigious Savant,  a unique thriller that takes readers into the savant mind.

 Prodigious Savant  is the story of Gavin Weaver, a typical 17-year-old living in Vermont in 1962. After surviving a head injury resulting from a horrific explosion, he awakes from a coma to find that he possesses savant-like abilities in art, music, mathematics and chess. While he doesn’t seem to be suffering from the accompanying mental impairment, it isn’t long before Gavin begins to realize that something's not quite right. White says the idea for the book came from two sources. “In Burlington in 1961, two boys were shooting at a building where explosives were stored. There was an explosion, and one boy was killed. The other was blinded, and I remember him riding through town on a bike built for two with his parents. That made an impression on me. Later, I read about Jason Padgett, an acquired savant. He was injured on the right side of his head and woke up able to do complex math.” For White, the hardest part of writing the book was the research – particularly learning enough chess to make that talent believable. He was rewarded for his efforts with a Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association and a second place in the Maryland Writers Association Novel Contest.

White's second novel,  Deviant Acts, is a crime story about “a reluctant hippie Vietnam vet PI.” White got  the inspiration for Deviant Acts from his brother Eddie, who used to send him letters from Vietnam describing the horrors of the war while at the same time sending letters to his mother detailing only the happy and banal events of a bored Marine. “Eddie would write about snipers and firefights to me while describing wonderful landscapes and museums to my mother,” he recalls. Deviant Acts begins in 1973, Charlotte, North Carolina, and is the story of Vietnam veteran Jackson Hurst, a poster child for losers. Jackson lives his nightmares from the war with his eyes open. Only the heroin he's been addicted to since Vietnam keeps the horror at bay. His addiction has cost him his job and his girlfriend. Jackson's hope for change comes in the form of his Aunt Camille, a Vermont millionaire who desperately needs his services to retrieve her twenty-year-old adopted daughter from kidnappers. Camille wants her back at any cost - and she wants the kidnappers murdered. Jackson desperately needs the money but isn't sure he can stay clean long enough to do the job. He also doesn't know if he can he kill again, despite the demons haunting him from the war.

On the cover of Deviant Acts is a blurb by noted author Sterling Watson who wrote, “White has reinvented the amateur sleuth.” Although White thought it an honor to have an author of Watson’s caliber offer such a flattering statement, he worried the words “amateur sleuth” might dissuade readers from buying the book. “After all,” White says, “why would anyone want to hire a private detective who has no experience gathering critical evidence or solving crimes?  When most readers think of fictional private investigators they envision men of confidence and cunning, morally upright detectives with a keen eye for detail, such as Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and Spencer. These men had backgrounds from the usual sources you might recruit investigators, such as the police department or the legal profession." White, instead, creates an amateur sleuth who reluctantly enters the world of private investigation not for the cause of justice but to support his expensive drug habit while stumbling through his first case.” But this flawed protagonist is one of the things that makes the story so compelling.

White’s next book, Nisei, a historical fiction centered on second-generation Japanese Americans during WWII, is scheduled for release this summer. Nisei has already been named Grand Champion in the Columbus Creative Cooperative “Great Novel” contest. White believes he has created novels that will keep readers turning pages. “I hope they come away from my books entertained," he says. "I want them to feel satisfied they’ve read a good story.”


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

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Don Farmer and Chris Curle - An Inside Look at TV News

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of network news, you won’t want to miss a new novel by two Marco Island authors. Deadly News by Don Farmer and Chris Curle gives readers what Farmer calls “a fun look into a strange vocation.” There are few people more knowledgeable about the subject than this husband-wife team. Between the two of them, they have logged over 99 years in the news business.

Farmer and Curle’s relationship started in a newsroom. In 1970, Curle was working as a news anchor/reporter for an ABC affiliate in Houston. Farmer, the southern bureau chief for ABC news, was in Houston on assignment. The two were covering an incident of social unrest when Farmer first saw Curle. “I asked her what she was doing after the riot,” he says. “I thought that was the best pick-up line ever.” It must have been – they were married two years later.

The newlyweds moved to Europe where they covered international news, then returned to the states where Farmer covered several presidential campaigns and spent five years as a congressional correspondent. When media mogul Ted Turner created CNN, he hired Farmer and Curle as two of his first on-air news anchors. Here they had the unique opportunity to interview some of the biggest names in politics, sports and entertainment. The two had a close working relationship in more ways than one. According to Farmer, “We both had desks in an office the size of a phone booth.” Following their stint at CNN, Farmer and Curle anchored the news for Atlanta’s WSB-TV.

In the mid-1990s, Farmer decided to try his hand at writing a book. “My frat brother was Skip Caray, the legendary sportscaster for the Atlanta Braves. We were talking about some of our crazy experiences, and I told Skip I thought we should write a book about them.” The result was Roomies – Tales from the Worlds of TV News and Sports, a book co-authored by Farmer and Caray.

After the publication of Roomies, Farmer thought he’d take a stab at fiction. “I enjoy collecting bizarre happenings and personal quirkiness,” he says. He began compiling funny stories about some of the people he’d known and worked with. “After spending my life writing non-fiction, it was liberating to be able to write something I could just make up,” he explains. The result was Deadly News, a book Farmer describes as “a humorous satire, with murder and mayhem, set in the news business.” Set in Atlanta and southwest Florida, the story centers around the murder of a movie star who is thrown off a 46th floor balcony, landing on the tower of a TV news truck. With enough thrills and drama to keep readers riveted, the novel’s dark humor will have them laughing as they flip the pages. Fox News host Greta Van Susteren says the story “…cleverly weaves together the fast-paced worlds of media and crime.” Katie Couric praises Deadly News as “…an explosive, exciting thriller.”

Farmer credits his wife and co-author with the novel’s success.  While Curle calls herself “the back-up singer,” Farmer says he couldn’t have written the book without her. “She has so much more patience than I do,” he says.  Farmer hopes Deadly News will give readers an insider’s look at the TV news business and leave them wanting more. “If you’ve ever watched a news program and wanted to throw something at the TV,” he says, “this is the book for you.”

Farmer and Curle have another murder-thriller in the works. Titled Open Season, most of the action takes place in the Naples, Florida area, Atlanta, Georgia and the North Georgia Mountains. When eco-extremists kidnap a star TV news anchorwoman as she leaves an Atlanta restaurant, a media frenzy erupts nationwide. She’s threatened with death unless her captors’ outrageous ransom demands are met. The man behind the kidnapping is a flashy, low-life killer who passes as a wealthy man-about-town. The kidnapping of anchorwoman Nikki Z is part of a larger scheme, a world-wide crime ring and a tale of strong women who decide to do something about it.

For more information, visit the authors' website at www.donfarmer.com

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Perils of Writing What You Know Too Well - A Guest Post by D.J. Niko

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers is pleased to welcome guest blogger D.J. Niko. D.J. is an award-winning author, journalist and editor who writes archaeological and historical thrillers.  A lifelong traveler and adventurer, she personally visits and researches in the places she writes about. D.J. was our featured author on November 17, 2015.

 Every time I gear up for the release of one of my novels, I hold my breath. I don’t know if this happens to every writer, but it sure happens to me. Four books into my career, I still think: What will the critics say? Will anyone buy it? Will the reviews be glowing, scathing, or, worst of all, lukewarm?

The feeling is amplified when the book’s subject is something I am particularly close to. This month’s release, The Oracle, is one such instance. It is set in Greece, where I was born and raised, and delves into both the ancient history and the current state of this great nation. I’d always known I wanted to write a Greek setting, yet I’d hesitated, waiting to build up storytelling experience—or, perhaps, nerve. Since The Oracle was the third book in my Sarah Weston Chronicles series of archaeo-historical thrillers, I took a deep breath and told myself it was time.

The widely accepted “write what you know” logic might dictate that this was the easiest book for me to write. In fact, it was the opposite. I can’t tell you how many plot lines I scrapped and started over, each time sweating my looming deadline. I even had full-blown anxiety attacks—twice.

While writing what you know is a good policy, writing what you know too well is fraught with peril. It demands that you dredge up your deepest emotions, let go of long-held biases, and be unafraid of telling it like it is, even if you might be judged for it. It’s scary, anxiety-inducing stuff, but, if handled correctly, it can lead to some of your best writing.

In my case, there were two imperatives: to describe the settings with the authenticity one would rightly expect from a native, and to give some insight into the culture, past and present, and into the sociopolitical minefield of a nation bogged down by crisis and instability. The first part: no sweat. The second was harder to nail, and the jury’s still out as to whether or not I’ve managed that.

I’ll share an example. In the excerpt below, I describe the scene in Omonia, which in my childhood was the commercial and cultural hub of Athens but has since been blighted by neglect and crime. I struggled with whether I should tell it like it is or avoid it altogether. Writing is all about taking risks, of course, so I opted for the former.

 Sarah wandered the back streets of Omonia, the square in the heart of downtown Athens. She needed time to process what she’d just heard and a distraction to keep from doing something she’d regret.
She glanced furtively at the faces around her: Bangladeshi men, dressed in sarongs and tank tops, chewing paan as they sat idly on stoops of shuttered buildings; homeless waifs lying on filthy blankets on the sidewalk, staring vacantly at passersby and on occasion summoning the energy to extend an open palm; an emaciated young woman dressed in a cheap, skin-tight micromini, standing against a corrugated metal construction wall, cigarette in hand, soliciting business.
She couldn’t believe how Omonia Square had changed in the years since she’d visited Athens. Apart from the die-hard souvlaki stands and tobacco kiosks, businesses had gone under, leaving behind boarded-up buildings that eventually became magnets for posters and political graffiti. The apartments, once desirable real estate, had been left to decay and converted to low-rent immigrant quarters, many with no heat or running water. The Greeks had all fled to other neighborhoods, handing the spiritual keys to their Omonia over to poor, jobless foreign settlers—some legal, some not—and letting them turn this former hub into a cesspool of debauchery.
Sarah stopped by the temporary wall, behind which was an abandoned construction site now strewn with garbage. She took a cigarette out of her jacket pocket and fumbled for a lighter. The streetwalker walked up to her, offering a light. Sarah accepted it, noting the multiple needle marks on the woman’s arms. She met her gaze and realized she was probably no older than sixteen. The girl flashed a smile, a heartbreaking playfulness in it. Sarah nodded her thanks and walked on.

It’s a hundred percent accurate, yet it was hard for me to write. But I’m glad I did it. There is a certain acceptance that comes with committing something to paper and putting it out there for the world to see.
Many scenes like this one unfold in The Oracle, and—I hope—enrich the narrative. Though it cost me some sleep and tears, the decision to paint a true portrait of Greece, for better or for worse, ultimately was a good one—if for no one else, for me.
Truth is, after all, one of the paragons of ancient Greek philosophy. As Plato said in his seminal work, The Republic, “When the mind’s eye rests on objects illuminated by truth and reality, it understands and comprehends them, and functions intelligently.” It’s sage advice for all of us.


The Oracle is available this month from Medallion. For more information, visit www.djnikobooks.com or the author’s Facebook page.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Femmes Fatales

I was invited by Elaine Viets, one of our Fabulous Florida Writers, to do a guest blog about my book, Jacqueline, for the Femmes Fatales Blog. You can check it out here: http://femmesfatales.typepad.com/my_weblog/2015/12/the-best-book-i-almost-never-wrote.html
Thanks, Elaine!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Kat Carlton - The Changing Face of YA Fiction



It can be said that Ft. Lauderdale writer Kat Carlton has led a double life. For 10 years, she was Karen Kendall, award-winning writer of romantic comedy and light suspense. Flash forward to 2013 and enter alter ego Kat Carlton who describes herself as “a covert creative operative who's content to kick butt from behind a laptop." Carlton is also the author of Two Lies and a Spy, a young adult novel that combines action, romance and mystery with enough thrills and surprises to keep even the most reluctant reader turning the pages.

Carlton started writing at the age of five. She was 12 when she first attempted a novel, hand-writing the story in a spiral notebook. “The plot lines were like kudzu vines and were alarmingly melodramatic,” she recalls, “but it was mine and I was proud of it. I got to page 53 before realizing instinctively that my opus wasn’t going anywhere and needed to be published by Circular File, Inc.”

After graduating from Smith College with a degree in Art History, Carlton did graduate work at the University of Texas. She took jobs at small museums and art galleries, but she never lost the desire to write that book. After three failed attempts, she was offered a publishing contract for a romance novel, “Something about Cecily,” in 2001 and has been a full-time writer ever since. She wrote over 20 novels and novellas and received several awards.

In 2012, Carlton decided to switch genres (and identities) and pen a book for the teenage audience. “I chose YA (Young Adult) because I remember reading voraciously at that age, always looking for great stories that would take me on exciting journeys outside my own experience,” she explains. Although her favorites included fantasies like The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Dragonriders of Pern, Carlton chose to go in a very different direction. “The atmosphere today is darker than it was when I was a teenager dreaming about tomorrow,” she says. “It’s a scarier, more sophisticated world, and everything seems to be documented by technology. I also think the American Dream that my generation grew up with is in jeopardy – the idea that if you work hard and do everything you’re supposed to do, you’ll have a bright and secure future.” 

In Carlton’s book, Two Lies and a Spy, 16-year-old Kari Andrews receives a seemingly innocuous text message from her father that changes her life. Suddenly, her parents go missing, and Kari finds herself up against sinister forces and danger lurking around every corner. With her precocious younger brother and a mismatched group of friends, Kari commits herself to finding her parents – whatever the odds. She soon learns that not everything – or everyone – is what it seems. Carlton says the idea for the story came from her subconscious but Kari “walked into my head almost fully formed.” Carlton describes Kari as “a normal high school girl, dealing with typical teenage issues, who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances that force her to come of age early.” This early coming-of-age theme is what inspired the book.  The way Carlton sees is, “We’re not living in the same Mayberry, USA atmosphere I grew up in. Technology, information and cynicism have transformed this country and the entire world.” But while the world has changed for teenagers, there are some things that remain the same. According to Carlton, “The teen archetypes don’t change. There are still, and probably always will be, the Popular Girls, the Jock Guys, the Smart-But-Not- So-Cute Geek Kids, and the Outsiders.” Kirkus Reviews praised the book as “A spy caper spiced up with teen romance…Goes down easy as popcorn.”

Kari Andrews and her brother, Charlie, return in Sealed With a Lie (20114). Although Kari thinks she and her brother Charlie are safe at Generation Interpol, a training center for spies, she soon learns that this is not the case. When Charlie is kidnapped and his life hangs in the balance, Kari and her friends are forced to race around Europe at the bidding of a mysterious voice on the phone - a voice telling them that to get Charlie back, they'll need to jailbreak a thief, steal something from a high security facility, and deliver the goods during what's sure to be a double-cross exchange. Voya Magazine described the book as "...solid...intereting...and effectuvely executed....There is enough action and plenty of twists to keep the plot moving along at a swift pace."


Along with their suspenseful plots, likable characters, and surprising revelations, Carlton's books show respect for their young readers. “I have huge respect for teens who are growing up today,” Carlton says, “because they have to do it so fast and be so smart about it.”


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




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