The first chapter…

Vicky Burkholder offers great advice on how to add characters’ backstories into the first pages without losing steam of the action…

Vicky Burkholder

In reading over several manuscripts, I ask myself, how does this writer introduce information about the characters? How much belongs in the first chapter?

Handling background information is one of the trickiest parts of writing. The general rule is to include only what’s needed up front, then gradually provide additional details. The problem is, how do you know what’s needed?

You want to involve the reader immediately with the story and characters. Anything that slows down that process, unless the information is essential to the scene, should be pared. However, the reader needs to feel grounded. Where are we, in what time period, and roughly how old are the characters (just a hint — don’t have to be specific)? Gender’s important, too, especially if you’re writing in the first person.

Don’t drop information in an awkward lump. It can be subtle. We know it’s present day if a character uses…

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An Interview With C.W. Browning, Author of Next Exit, Three Miles

I would like to welcome my special guest, C.W. Browning, the author of Next Exit, Three Miles. Please enjoy the insightful interview!


1.  Do you have any advice for other writers trying to get published?

I suppose I would advise them to think very carefully about what they are looking for in publishing. There are options now that we didn’t have a few years ago: self-publishing versus trade publishing, ebooks versus print, or even hybrid publishing. Each option comes with its own set of pros and cons. But once you make a choice, whichever one you choose, be prepared to work your rear-end off! As hard as it is to get the finished product out there, the work doesn’t end with the published book. If anything, it’s just beginning. Be prepared to sell, promote, market and discuss your book…all while working on the next one. It’s a fantastic and wild ride, but once you get on, you’re on it until the end.

2.  Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

My goal has always been, and I hope will always be, to entertain my readers. I want to write the kind of books that will distract you from whatever you have going on in your life and give you the opportunity to get lost. I want to make you laugh, cry, and hold your breath, trying to guess what will happen next. The overwhelming amount of positive feedback that I have been getting from my readers is truly humbling. I had one write and say that I kept her up half the night because she couldn’t put it down. Another one said she cried at the end of the book and didn’t want it to end. That is my goal, with every word I write, to make you lose yourself in the book. Thank you so much for taking a chance on me! I promise to only improve!

3.  What are your thoughts on the fact that both trade and self-published authors have to promote their own work?

I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think it brings us more in contact with our readers and potential readers and forces us to really focus on what parts of our work are marketable and what people want to see and read. Sure, I would love to sit back and not have to do anything but write. I’d also love to win the lottery and buy an island somewhere and sip drinks with umbrellas all day. Reality is that we do have to work our tails off, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everything is a learning experience.

4.  What genre do you write for? Your favorite aspect? Your least favorite aspect?

I write suspense novels, with a touch of romance in them. My favorite aspect is developing the characters within the pace of the suspense. Life moves quickly, and there isn’t always time to analyze every feeling we have when we have it. I try to bring that into my characters’ emotional development. If they can evolve emotionally while chasing terrorists, then there’s hope for the rest of us! I don’t have a least favorite aspect of writing. I truly enjoy it all…even the plot outlining. While it’s tedious, it is fun watching the plot form in basics, ready to be fleshed out. I actually just finished plotting out book 3 in the series. I got all the main points and arranged them into a flow chart so I could make sure everything inter-connected properly. I ended up with something resembling the subway map of London. At that point, I color-coded the arrows just for fun.

5.  What are your current/next projects?

I’m currently working on Book 3 of the Exit series. As I mentioned, I finished plotting and I’m ready to start writing. I’m really looking forward to it! This is going to be a fun book to write and read! It’s got a haunted prison, Halloween, Day of the Dead and enough twists to…well…look like the London underground.

6.  Do you prefer to work alone or with critique partners/beta-readers?

I write alone. Occasionally, I may bounce an idea off my daughter to see if it’s stupid or not…but really I write alone. However, once the book is finished, I have a group of test/beta readers who I rely on heavily to tell me what works, what doesn’t, and whether or not the book flows cohesively. They are truly invaluable…and they are absolute saints for doing it!

7.  How do you find time to write?

I sacrifice a lot to find time to write. I work full time and do my writing at night and on the weekends. I do take breaks and get out and about, but I am very disciplined in the sense that if I want to get it done, I knuckle down and do it. My family and friends have learned that when I’m in the zone, they won’t see me. It’s just how it is.

8.  Did you always want to become an author?

Yes. I tried very hard to convince myself otherwise. Let’s face it, as a rule, writing doesn’t pay well. But in the end, I couldn’t deny it anymore. I was born to write. So that is what I finally decided to do.

9.  Is there any writing rituals you complete before creating your manuscripts/drafts?

Wine. I drink a lot of wine.

10.  Do you write the beginning/opening first or do you tend to write out of order (with whatever scenes interest you the most)?

I tend to write straight through, beginning to end. On rare occasions, if I really get hung up on a chapter, I’ll skip it and come back to it. Or sometimes, I will write a great scene when I think of it and then insert it at the appropriate spot in the manuscript when I get there. But by and large, I write straight through.

11.  Have you ever hated something you wrote?

Hated? No. Have I thought something was embarrassingly bad? Absolutely. (some of my early manuscripts come vividly to mind…)

12.  Which is easiest for you–novel, novella, or short story? Why?

Novel. Hands down. I can’t write short stories at all and have only the highest respect for those who can. I need the length of a novel to develop my characters and plot in a way that makes me feel like the reader can immerse themselves. I have tried doing that in shorter formats and failed miserably.

13.  While you were writing, did you ever feel like you were one of your characters?

I try to put myself into my characters’ place in certain situations, and I think it’s inevitable that something of ourselves come out in our characters, but I don’t think I have ever actually run across feeling as though I was one of them. Perhaps part of all them…

14.  How did you come up with the title?

Funny story, that. So I got the bright idea to have a brainstorming session with family. I got my sister, daughter and sister-in-law around a table with index cards and pens and we started throwing out words that had something to do with the book. Yeah…that didn’t work out so well. After about 3 very frustrating hours, we abandoned that idea. I asked what we think of when we think about Jersey (the book takes place in New Jersey). Someone, I don’t remember who, said exits. EVERYTHING in New Jersey is off an exit. If you ever want to know where something is in Jersey, you just ask, “What exit?” The book involves an attack on Three Mile Island, and so the title was born, Next Exit, Three Miles.

15.  What inspired you to write your latest book? What is the book about?

After finishing the sequel for Next Exit, Three Miles, I knew I wanted to bring the series back to New Jersey. The thing with Jersey is that, like other states, we have such a wealth of historical landmarks that most people know nothing about because, well, it’s New Jersey. People know us for the shore (and no, we’re nothing like Jersey Shore…at least, not in South Jersey) and they know us for New York. That’s about it. Even people who were born and raised here don’t know much about some of the places here. So I decided that I was going to highlight various points of interest in South Jersey, focusing on one for each book going forward. My latest one, that I am working on now, is set around the Mt. Holly Prison, a haunted prison that closed in 1968 and is now maintained as a museum. Because it is supposedly haunted (Ghost Hunters filmed an episode there), of course it was only natural to set the story in October. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that bodies start popping up mysteriously around the prison.

16.  Any blogs, websites, social media you’d like to share?

That’s very gracious of you! Thank you!

I can be found at My Website. I am also on Facebook. I also Tweet: @cw_browning

And thanks, Yawatta, for inviting me! 🙂

Book Review: The Doll By J.C. Martin

The Island of the Dolls is a strange and eerie tourist destination in Mexico, where hundreds of decomposing dolls hang from trees like grisly Christmas ornaments. On a trip to the island, Joyce Parker’s daughter falls in love with a beautiful but sinister doll. Soon after, she starts developing strange mannerisms that concerns Joyce. Her research into the doll’s past reveals a dark history, and the curse of a lonely child spirit.

12792689I loved this short story. It was spooky and creepy (in a good way). I definitely kept looking over my shoulders while reading it, happy I don’t have any dolls in my room LOL. The opening sentence: “The disembodied head dangled from the overhanging branch, staring at Joyce Parker with one glass eye.” had me hooked right away.

The mom, Joyce, and her daughter, Taylor, went on a trip to visit The Island of the Dolls. Pablo was their tour guide. The urban legend was that a young girl named Salvadora drowned. Now, she’s a ghost; the villagers had collected all those dolls so she’d have toys to play with. If you touched one, you would die.

I was sitting at the edge of my seat whenever Taylor was near a doll. As a young six year old, she was full of curiosity, and I was beyond nervous that Joyce couldn’t always keep her eyes on her daughter.

My favorite lines: 1) “Get a grip, Joyce. They’re just dolls…” 2) “What kind of sick psycho would build a shrine for a dead girl?” 3) “For someone who turns her nose up at creativity, you have quite the imagination.”

The author had a brilliant talent with setting. I could picture every detail like it was a movie. A Chiller movie. If any part of the culture was true, then readers get a cool insight into black magic and how it works. Once Taylor and Joyce return home, craziness happened. When Joyce discovered that her child had imaginary friends, I screamed. Good thing I was home alone.

The twist at the end was excellent.

I RECOMMEND this book to read.

For more information on the book or author:

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

Book Review: Rendezvous With Danger By Sharon C. Cooper

***I received this book as a gift***

Alandra Pargas, ex-CIA counter-intelligence officer, plans to wreak vengeance on the people who tried to kill her. A little rendezvous with danger is not what scares her, though. It’s seeing the tall, dark, and dangerously sexy man she vowed to love forever that has her running for cover.

Former U.S. Special Operative, Quinn Hamilton, left the world of covert operations after the love of his life died in his arms during a black op. Three years later, he still loses sleep wondering if maybe he could have done something more to save her – until Alandra shows up on his doorstep. With her lies and betrayal, he wants nothing to do with her, yet, his heart won’t cooperate. It’s not until unknown enemies come after her that he must decide if he can leave the past behind and protect the woman he’ll always love. Will they survive this last mission and rekindle the love and passion they once shared?

17451144I loved this 18 chapter book. I said it once, and I’ll say it again, I’m a huge fan of Sharon C. Cooper. Her writing style manages to flow naturally with great description. She focuses on characterization, setting, dialogue, and plot to the point that readers can get lost in the story. I could see this book as a blockbuster hit.

My favorite lines: 1) It had been three long years. If she were still alive, she would have found some way to contact him. Wouldn’t she? 2) “I’m too old for this crap.” 3) He really did like Alandra, but she should have stayed dead.

 Imagine being separated from someone you love because of something you can’t control. That’s what happened to Quinn. He thought his wife, Alandra, was dead. Imagine his frustration and relief to find out the truth. I thought his friends Malik and Wiz were nice additions to the story. They brought some comic relief.

The author did a great job of portraying sizzling sexual tension between Quinn and Alandra. A couple of scenes, I blushed. Alandra was a lucky woman! The author also managed to have suspenseful moments. The entire time I worried about all the characters’ safety. She had enough red herrings that will have readers guessing who’s after Alandra and who wants her dead. It was fun getting some insight from the bad guy (or woman).

There was a nice twist at the end.

I RECOMMEND this book to read.

For more information on the author or book:

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

Book Review: Finding Her Feet By Jams N. Roses

***I received a free copy in exchange for a book review***

Drama. Tragedy. Family. Life.


The tragedy begins as Amanda watches her sister fall through the broken ice. Heartbreakingly, Samantha doesn’t reappear until the following day, when her lifeless body is pulled from the water. The devastation continues as the family falls apart under the weight of emotional pain and unfair blame.

When overwhelmed with guilt, how does a child cope with a death in the family?

Contemporary Drama / Tragedy / YA – Adult Content – Sex & Violence – 16+

413X4gAMwjL._AA200_I liked this 38 chapter book. Samantha (a.k.a. Sam) and Amanda were twins. Michelle was their older sister. When they were younger, Sam died by drowning in an icy lake. Their mom became abusive toward Michelle while their dad avoided everyone due to depression.

I’ll never forgive what the mom allowed to happen to Michelle as a little girl. The mom was definitely my most hated character. The author did a great job with characterization–you either loved or hated the people in the story, but you were never bored with them. In a twist, Michelle had a bad childhood but managed to find success as a young adult. Amanda was spoiled as a child. When she turned 16, a destructive path followed her like the plague. I couldn’t even imagine living with guilt of losing a sibling.

There was a lot of headhopping, so some of the dramatic or suspenseful moments were overshadowed by already knowing what all the characters were plotting in the same paragraphs. It took all the tension away. As a reader,  I wish there was more dialogue and immediate scenes. There seemed to be a lot of telling what happened by narrative summary.

My favorite lines: 1) When Samantha lost her life in that lake, she took the life of her family with her. 2) ‘She had the right to be angry,’ said Michelle, ‘but to let other people hurt me was too much. Her rejection was punishment enough.’

I RECOMMEND this book to read.

For more information on the author or book:

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby

Book Review: The Show By John A. Heldt

***I received a free copy in exchange for a review***

Seattle, 1941. Grace Vandenberg, 21, is having a bad day. Minutes after Pearl Harbor is attacked, she learns that her boyfriend is a time traveler from 2000 who has abandoned her for a future he insists they cannot share. Determined to save their love, she follows him into the new century. But just when happiness is within her grasp, she accidentally enters a second time portal and exits in 1918. Distraught and heartbroken, Grace starts a new life in the age of Woodrow Wilson, silent movies, and the Spanish flu. She meets her parents as young, single adults and befriends a handsome, wounded Army captain just back from the war. In THE SHOW, the sequel to THE MINE, Grace finds love and friendship in the ashes of tragedy as she endures the trial of her life.

17381278I loved this 70 chapter book. If you’ve already read the first book in the series, then it starts off a little slow because it explains the back story of Grace and Joel’s relationship while providing details of how she found his note about returning to the year 2000. Once that section is over, the book has an interesting love story. Keep in mind, a person can love a significant other, friend, and family member.

My favorite lines: 1) “Most people call it a shopping mall,” Katie said. “I call it organized chaos.” 2) How could a man, any man compete with a memory? 3) When you abruptly abandoned loved ones, you left wreckage behind. 4) And with that, three women once separated by time, space, and death were reunited.

The author had a brilliant talent with characterization and setting.

  • There were a lot of characters for the reader to juggle, but the author did a great job of having each character’s personality shine through as well as revealing different motivations. I wasn’t confused nor lost at all. I loved seeing Penelope, Edith, and Katie in different stages of their lives. I thought their personalities and mannerisms stayed consistent while they were older women, teens, and in Penelope’s case, a little girl. John A. Heldt managed to make all the relationships three-dimensional.
  • The story covered three time zones: 1941, 2000, and 1918. As a reader, I wasn’t confused because the clothing, body language, dialogue, gender belief systems and expectations were established clearly in a very descriptive way. It felt like I was transported in the different time zones alongside Grace. I thought it was cool how Grace managed the unexpected twists–talk about utter confusion for her.

A love story can’t be perfect so, of course, there were some obstacles. On Grace and Joel’s anniversary, they attended an event at the remodeled movie theater. This is where the story really got entertaining for me. My favorite sections and chapters–the ones that featured Grace getting to know her ancestors in 1918. I respected that everyone was skeptical and didn’t just blindly believe Grace; it made the story more realistic. Being invested in Grace and Joel’s relationship since the first book in the series, I didn’t care for John, the next door neighbor in 1918, trying to pursue Grace.

My favorite scenes: 1) when Grace saw her mom and dad for the first time 2) Grace’s interactions with her great uncle, Alistair 3) the scenes in the remodeled movie theater (present and past)

The ending was intense. Did Grace end up with John? Or was she trapped in 1918 forever due to the movie theater fire? Could she find her way back to 2000 to be with Joel? You’ll have to read the story to find out. I can say that the cliffhanger definitely motivated me to want to read the next book!

I RECOMMEND this book to read.

Keep smiling,

Yawatta Hosby