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