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 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:
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

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

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

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 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 or find her writings at her blogs or or