It’s Time to Give #BodyThanks!

Next week, people across the country will be gathering together with loved ones to delight in decadent feasts and say thanks for the many blessings at their lives’ tables. If only all of the metaphorical dishes were pleasurable…

For many Americans, guilt and food-related stress overpower what's most important.

For many Americans, food and body-related stress overpowers what matters most during the holidays—but it doesn’t have to!

Amid the festivities, countless individuals will have stress-inducing thoughts of high-calorie sugarplums and compensatory workouts dancing chaotically in their heads. Overindulgence causes one-third of holiday stress, according to Mental Health America, and an estimated 90 percent of women (and many men) are dissatisfied with their shape or size, making feast enjoying difficult. My fabulous friend, Pauline Campos, creator of Girl Body Pride and advice columnist for Latina Magazine, and I have decided to set a happier tone this Thanksgiving by hosting a #BodyThanks Twitter party on Monday, November 25th from 6 – 7pm PST.

In addition to our wacky word-loving work styles and passion for all-things-empowerment, Pauline and I share a special bond: we’ve both endured serious eating disorders and have since evolved into stronger, more fulfilled (okay, and louder! ;)) women. Our shared message that bodies are meant to be EMBRACED is fun, but it’s also important; we believe that a shift from body shunning to gratitude could help change or even save a few lives. But we can’t do it alone.

Our Mission:

It’s our hope that by partying Twitter-style on Monday, the kickoff to Thanksgiving week, participants suffering from body or food-related angst will enjoy Thanksgiving with less negativity and a heck of lot more joy. Whether you have mild, moderate or significant body image issues, chances are chatting with a gaggle of gratitude-celebrating friends can add light to your week. We hope you’ll join us!

body image party

What you can expect:

  • Stimulating chit chat and question prompts
  • Fun contests with PRIZES!
  • Engagement with special guests, including Emme, the supermodel, and Andy Lyons, radio show host and Chief Passion Curator of Bring Back Desire
  • Silliness (It’s bound to happen!)
  • And there may just be a little after-party for those who linger… 😉
A sneak peek at a few prizes!

A sneak peek at a few prizes!

For more information on Monday’s event and your friendly hostesses, visit our #BodyThanks Facebook event page, Tweet us (@AugstMcLaughlin @Pauline_Campos #BodyThanks) and check out Pauline’s fantastic blog post: Honoring Ourselves with #BodyThanks. We can’t wait to party with you all soon! 

Will you be joining us? How do you stay peaceful and stress-free throughout the holidays? Any tips for bypassing food or body image-related difficulties? I hope you know that your comments rock my world. 

On (Truly) Strong Females, Recycled Tropes and Hope for the Horror Genre

Happy Halloween! I’m a bit low on candy (okay, I don’t have any – *sniff*), but I do have a special treat for you all. Today I’m thrilled to share my blog living room with one of the most brilliant folks I know. Karina Wilson is a British writer and story consultant based in Los Angeles who knows the horror genre better than most. She took time out of her hectic week to chat with me about the genre, addressing some of the issues we addressed on Monday, and more. We are so fortunate to have her. (Thanks again, Karina!)

Horror scene of a scary woman

August: What sexist themes are most common in the horror genre as of late? Has the apparent popularity of the “strong female” archetype made a difference?

Karina: There are strong females and there are strong females… I find the emphasis on women only finding strength through their mothering instincts (e.g. INSIDIOUS, MAMA, BYZANTIUM and THE CONJURING) quite disturbing; only women who’ve conformed to social expectations and played the “good mom” role are perceived as having value and are therefore permitted to survive. This is especially worrying when it plays out to target audiences weaned on poor, benighted Bella Swan, who wanted nothing more from life than to get married and have a baby before her 19th birthday. However, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (one of my favorite films of the last few years) counterbalances this ‘cult of Motherhood’ quite nicely.

I’m also very wary of the current fashion for witch-bashing, which was particularly iniquitous in HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. It’s all a bit too glib and easy (the Crone with warts on her nose must die!), and doesn’t acknowledge that witch hunts led to the deaths of tens of thousands of women in Europe during the peak of the Inquisition, and that accusations of witchcraft are still used to justify lynch mobs and the murder of old women across Africa. It’s all part and parcel of the expressed desire to persecute women who don’t fit neatly into the marry-reproduce-nuture mold – there’s nothing wrong with doing that, per se, but women who don’t choose that path shouldn’t be routinely demonized.

August: What’s the dynamic like for female writers and filmmakers in the genre?

Karina: I actually think horror is a more welcoming place for women than many other segments of cinema – you’ll find more female-driven story lines than in action or biopics, for instance, or those ‘heavy-hitting’ dramas that clog theatres this time of year, and I personally know a number of female horror directors. However, I believe there is a fetishization of violence against women in low-budget horror that has to stop. A rape/torture storyline is one of the cheapest and easiest things to film, but that doesn’t mean filmmakers should keep doing it. Why keep putting it out there, especially when it keeps coming from the tired perspective of the male gaze? We’re not in 2005 any more. Screenplays where conflict arises only from the suffering of a young, attractive woman are often more reflective of the writer’s mental health than about telling a story. They read like a cry for psychiatric help rather than entertainment.

August: Do the sexist notions cut both ways, affecting both genders? 

Karina: Horror movies have to conform to a fairly solid set of conventions – otherwise they’re not horror films anymore. Unfortunately, filmmakers mix up stereotypes and tropes, and recycle the same old same old characters thinking that this is what the genre demands. It’s not. As long as your story is structured along the right lines, you can innovate with characters, especially in terms of race, age and gender. The more you defy expectations on that front, the more enjoyable even a familiar story can be. CHASTITY BITES is good example of a recent independent horror movie that made huge efforts to defy stereotypes, with a subsequent payoff in audience good times.


August: Why do you feel sexism in the genre seems to carry on, after significant amounts of (if partial) progression?

Karina: The male gaze. We’ve been looking at women as objects rather than subjects for so long, that we’ve forgotten there are other ways of seeing ourselves. So many movies across the board, from family fare to R-Rated, are produced, directed, photographed, written, edited and scored entirely by men that there’s no room for female perspectives. The statistics from research like that done by the Geena Davis Institute on women’s roles within the media are heartbreaking. There are so many talented women out there who never get a voice, or, when they do, their voice is diluted.  It’s so rare to see a film like Sam Taylor-Johnson’s NOWHERE BOY that even partially embraces the way women look at men with desire rather than the other way around.  She’s up to direct FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, which could be very interesting. So sexism is a huge issue across movies in general, not just horror.  I sincerely hope things will change throughout the entire industry so that the female gaze becomes a familiar way of seeing for audiences.

August: How can readers, film watchers and creative artists make a positive difference in these regards?

Karina: Tell stories not just about women but from a female point of view. Embrace those stories where you find them. Think about ways in which the female gaze is different from the male’s, and why there’s room for both in our filmed and printed fictions. Tell your friends. Begin a cultural revolution.

August: Brilliant. Any such horror writers, books or films you’d recommend?

Karina: Where to start? Anne Rice, Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier are the grande dammes of horror fiction, and they’ve been telling stories from a female point of view for a long time. If you haven’t read them, you should. More recently, Michelle Paver, Sarah Pinborough, Sarah Waters, Lisa Tuttle, Muriel Gray, Sarah Gran, Sarah Langan and many more – go crazy with your “To Read” pile (but why are there so many Sarahs?). I’m always looking for suggestions for my column on horror and cult fiction, LURID, at LitReactor so hit me up via Twitter (@medkno). Female-directed horror movies you should see are AMERICAN MARY, TROUBLE EVERY DAY, NEAR DARK, IN MY SKIN, FUGUE, PET SEMATARY, THE COMMUNE and THE ATTIC, again, to name but a few. There’s so much material out there.

To learn more about Karina, visit

We’d love to hear your thoughts! What struck you most about Karina’s insight? What’s your take on “strong female” characters? Do you seek out or aim to write/create female-driven stories? What’s your favorite horror book or film? ♥

Boogey-Dog, Thrill-Seeking and Halloween

My dog cracks…me…up.

A few weeks ago, we were strolling the neighborhood when a dog rushed to its fence then ran to and fro alongside it, barking as we passed. Being deaf, Zoe couldn’t hear the dog and her highly sensitive sniffer was fixated on fragrant grass. When the dog finally caught her attention, she lurched up in the air, like a ghost-spooked kid in a haunted house. With her face and body weight like magnets to the pooch, I guided her on.

The next day, she headed straight for that house and sort of tiptoed toward it with her head low, eyes glaring. The dog rushed to the fence for an encore performance. Zoe duplicated her previous response—totally freaked out, as though she had no clue what was coming. The spooked “kid” walked had purposely into the booby trap.

It happened again the next day, the next day…and the next.

On the cusp of Halloween, the daily run-and-spooks have me thinking. Like people, Zoe isn’t merely seeking fear. She seems to dig the anticipation, the feeling of everything else falling away, leaving only the present, heart-pounding moment. And she doesn’t want or expect to get hurt. At 90 strong pounds she could definitely hold her own if the fence weren’t there, but that’s not the point. It’s the exhilaration she’s after, and perhaps the later calm. After leaving boogey-dog’s terrain, she gradually calms to a state of bulldog zen.

Many of us are drawn to suspenseful, everything’s-at-stake stories for the same reasons Zoe is drawn to that fence. We long for intrigue and anticipation, the vanishing of other matters in our lives, if even for a short story-soaked time. We want to feel as though our lives are on the line, without actually going there. It’s what lures many of us into reading, watching and writing stories, and what compels many writers to convey personal beliefs and world-changing ideas through fiction.

Yet for others, thrillers, horror flicks and haunted hayrides rank up there with root canals and food poisoning in desirability.

There are people who have a tremendous need for stimulation and excitement,” says Stuart Fischoff, a professor of psychology at California State University. It can also be counterintuitive, as the highest levels of anxiety during films are linked with the desire to seek them. Strong feelings make suspenseful films, books and TV cathartic.

Yes. All of that. Yet you couldn’t pay me enough to get on a bungie cord, deep-water diving board or speeding motorcycle. I suppose we all find thrills in different places.

More Thrill-Seeking Facts

* A few studies have shown that males are more into scary stories than females. (Yet more evidence that I may be part-guy. ;-P)

* For a big chunk ‘o change, $1,500 to $4,000, you can pay a New York company to arrange your abduction with details of your liking, from being tied up and gagged to having as much fear inspired as possible.

* When The Exorcist hit movie screens in 1973, several adult watchers experienced such intense distress, they landed in the hospital.

* Freaky films can rev the sexual engine, says Dr. Joanne Cantor, a researcher and professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin. After the movie, sensual glances and touches can be more stimulating. Cantor recommends psychological thrillers over gory chainsaw flicks, particularly if you’re hoping to turn on a newish partner. 😉

* For kids, Halloween provides a safe way to explore and experience fear, knowing it’s all make-believe. It can also help kids manage pent-up stress, says researcher and University of Colorado professor, Leon Rappoport.

* Americans get a thrill from dressing pets up. We’ve spent $370 million on pet costumes this Halloween season, a 40 percent increase since 2010.

Are you a thrill-seeker? Is your pet? Would you go so far as to hire someone to abduct you? (Yipers.) Share the wealth!

LSR #4: Trusting Your Instincts

“The solution to violence in America is the acceptance of reality.”
― Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

I first read The Gift of Fear after flowers arrived at my door from a man I could barely call an acquaintance. The enclosed card had a sentimental message and his phone number. Once I realized who the guy was, I felt an odd mix of emotions. Not only did I have a boyfriend at the time, the sender shouldn’t have known where I lived. I considered calling him to say, “Gosh, thanks, but…” (Ever heard the term Minnesota Nice? ;))

According to de Becker, a world-renowned expert on the prediction and management of violence, that’s the last thing I should have done, next to asking the guy out or proposing. The Gift of Fear taught me not only how to respond, but how lucky I’d been numerous times before—one time in particular.

A Close Call

I was living in midtown Manhattan and had just finished a long work day on the lower East side. I stepped onto the subway, eager to return to my apartment and swap my dress for sweats. My thoughts drifted miles away as the train prodded forward. Then I felt it: Eyes. Staring. Burning into my face like molten cigarettes.

It’s nothing, I told myself, then glanced up to see a man at the opposite end of the train car, his steely stare on me. He’s probably as spaced out as I am, I decided, though my insides quivered and chills coated my skin. One-thousand percent uncomfortable with our eye-lock, I looked away and shuffled my position to block his view. Soon, I was back in daydream oblivion.

After transferring trains twice, per my usual route, I exited and walked three blocks to my building. Once inside, I beelined for the elevator.

“Hey!” The security guard’s booming voice jolted me.

I spun around and nearly ran into the man from the subway. Had the guard not intervened, he would’ve entered the elevator with me. The sneak and I—alone in a locked, metal cube. Instead, he lost his wrestling match with the guard and landed back on the street.

This incident resurfaced again and again as I read The Gift of Fear. Had something worse resulted, I would have blamed the creepy dude—it’s never the victim’s fault, after all. But ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ matter little when our lives and safety are at stake.

“Intuition is always right in at least two important ways,” says de Becker. “It is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart.”

My intuition kicked in that night. But rather than trust my fears, I talked myself out of them.

Instincts versus Intuition

Instincts are “natural or inherent aptitudes, impulses, or capacities,” according to Merriam-Webster. Unlike animals, who act upon their instincts with ease, we humans often reason ourselves out of responding. (I have no good reason to think he/she’s harmful. I’m just paranoid. I’ve watched too many Lifetime movies…) Intuition is the ability to understand something right away, without the need for conscious reasoning. (I just know it’s the right multiple choice answer; I can feel it.) 

And although instincts and intuition can seem like supernatural silliness, they’re extremely scientific.

As we accumulate knowledge, our brains create what social scientist Herbert Simon PhD called chunks. Gradually, our brains link these chunks together and begins recognizing patterns—an act called “chunking.” When we observe familiar details, our brains see a larger composition—flashes we know as instincts or intuition.

Psychologist, David Myers PhD, author of Intuition, puts it another way. He says, “Gut instincts are mental shortcuts used to make a snap judgment based on experience and environment.”

And while we don’t need to know all of the details, why those gut feelings kick in, observing, respecting and responding to them can help save our lives.

Note: Since this post is part of my Lifesaving Resolutions series, I’m focusing on personal safety. But keep in mind that our instincts play an important role in everything from our book writing and publishing success to making wise purchases and dating decisions.

Steps Toward Trusting Your Instincts to Save Your Life

Purchase and read The Gift of Fear, if you haven’t. If you have, I suggest routine review—something I’m in the midst of doing.

Limit distractions when you’re alone in public, whether you’re walking to your car, jogging at the park or getting the mail. (Cell phones and iPods can make your inner voice inaudible. Or make it sound more like Beyoncé.)

If you sense that someone’s following you, de Becker suggests you turn and look them in the eyes. Then take mental notes on their appearance. Note their apparel, body size, ethnicity and age. Yelling the details of an impending attacker’s appearance can help by revealing your preparedness, etching the details into your mind and notifying others.

If someone creeps you out, chuck niceness out the window. In The Gift of Fear, de Becker makes a great point on this: A rational person will understand and not press if you turn them down for, say, a date. An irrational person, on the other hand, wants the attention—even negative. From “Wow, I really like you but I’m super busy right now,” the irrational person perceives that you’re into them, fixates only on the word “like.” And calling them up, even to say, “Leave me alone,” can be perceived as welcomed attention.

Never let a captor take you to a second location, even if he/she threatens you. Your chance of severe assault and injuries are far greater in a second location, such as the person’s home or car. And your chance of rescue drops significantly. To view police sergeant Sanford Strong’s insight on the tactic, check out Life-Saving Advice from the Oprah Winfrey Show. (Fab stuff!)

Use intuition as one, but not your only, tool. Instincts and intuition won’t pull out your mace and spray an offender, but they may prompt you to pull it out of your pocket. Keeping yourself out of high-risk places and situations, such as grocery store parking lots and public restrooms in the wee hours of the morning, lowers your risk of needing to rely on your instincts in the first place. In other words, listen to your “gut,” then guide with logic.

Super Safety-Savvy Resources

How do you think I responded to Flower Man? The first person to guess right will get a brand spankin’ new copy of The Gift of Fear. 🙂 Has following your instincts kept you out of harm’s way? Have you learned these lessons the hard way? Any thoughts on The Gift of Fear? I love hearing from you!

New Year’s Eve Prep: Sidestep the Psychopath

Next week, I’ll officially kick off the Lifesaving Resolutions series with a hugely important topic: mindful driving. But I couldn’t let this holiday weekend pass by without addressing the psychopath in many celebratory rooms. Yes, that’s what I said, psychopath. Natalie Hartford was the first to use the term in this particular way… Lucky of us, she gave me the go-ahead to share her story.

From the moment I spotted Natalie’s blog, lush with hilarity and girlish yet sexy cuteness, I LOVED it. Let me in! I cried. And she did. I soon learned that this welcoming woman and her kin have endured more heartache than anyone should have to…because of the psychopath. Since then, Natalie’s made it her mission to prevent similar pain in others.

Impaired Driving – Our Story

By Natalie Hartford

A brutal before and after

On August 1, 2009, my mother-in-law (the beautiful Donna Kennie who I lovingly called Mamma K) was gunned down. I say gunned down because it feels like she was brutally murdered by a gun-wielding psychopath. Instead, it was a seemingly harmless driver who had one too many drinks and smoked some weed. Someone who likely thought he was “fine” to drive but clearly wasn’t when he cut sharply into the other lane.

It was a gorgeous sunny day. 2:30 in the afternoon.

A witness driving behind Mamma K testified in court that when the 1-ton truck slammed into Mamma K’s 2-door sunfire nearly head on, the force of the collision propelled the truck literally 10 feet in the air as it flipped over and landed on its hood sliding into the gravel. The impact tore the driver side door off her car. It was found imbedded in the truck’s front grill.

My Mamma K was nearly ripped in two and died almost instantly. She lived long enough to turn to her right as she took her final breath and see that her 16-year-old grandson (my step-son) was alive. He watched her mutilated body fade away to the afterlife before his very eyes. Now he lives with recurring nightmares and sleepless nights.

Trent Mallet was charged with impaired driving causing death.

And he did her family the honor (being sarcastic here) of pleading not-guilty to impaired driving causing death. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the Canadian justice system and Trent’s right to plead not guilty to try and get away with it. But that choice meant that my family was dragged through 18 months and over a dozen court dates before finally seeing this guy found guilty and sentenced for his crime (3 whole years…here’s another kick in the gut, he’ll be eligible for parole after serving 1 year…yip…he could serve 1 year for murder!).

The entire court process was like having a Band-Aid slowly torn off with salt pouring directly on an open, festering wound over and over again. We were unable to get closure, heal, or move forward having the hurt and anger stirred up every few months for nearly two years.

And then there was the added emotional roller coaster of not knowing from court date to court date what was going to happen next; were we going to win, was the criminal blood in or out (deemed inadmissible by the way), medical evidence admissible (it was), was he going to get off on a technicality (thankfully by sheer luck, he did not)? I can’t even begin to put into words the emotional torture this was to my family; the not knowing if he’d ever be held accountable for his choices and actions…for her murder.

And it doesn’t end. It doesn’t stop with a final round of court dates, sentencing, his eventual release etc. It lasts forever. It will reverberate through our lives forever. It will always be there. It will always haunt us.

Drunk drivers don’t discriminate against time of day. They don’t care where they are, if the road conditions are ideal, or if anyone will get hurt. Nothing matters to them because you see…they tell themselves they are ok to drive….they think their harmless…

I think they are gun wielding psychopaths!

The devastation that impaired driving inflicts on families is undeniable and unspeakable. Worse than that, it is senseless and 100% preventable. Mamma K never had to die!

Why ever take the chance? Why drive even after a drink or two; even if you feel fine? Why take the risk? What if you inadvertently murder some innocent person(s)…just to save a few bucks on a cab? It’s not worth it! It doesn’t make sense.


Natalie’s right. It doesn’t. Most of know the risks, yet drunk driving continues to kill approximately one person every 30 minutes. Many drunk drivers start with good intentions—prior to their drunken-gun-weilding psychopathology. They don’t believe they’ll hurt anyone (only happens to “other” people) and get behind the wheel out of confidence they won’t get caught. But they should get caught. New Year’s Eve is among the most common days of the year for alcohol-related accidents and fatalities.

To sidestep this psychopath, consider the following: 

  • Commit to not drinking and driving before you start drinking. (Now would be a prime time. ;)) Choose a reasonable amount of alcohol or none at all.
  • Share your commitment with others for added accountability.
  • Remember that not normally drinking, genetics and being female or petite increase alcohol sensitivity. (I won’t drive after one glass of champagne…)
  • Eat before you start drinking. A full stomach helps slow the rate of absorption.
  • Drink slowly to give your body time to handle the alcohol. Then allow time before any additional drinks.
  • Avoid caffeinated alcoholic beverages like the plague. Studies show that they don’t minimize drunken/grogginess, but make partakers feel less drunk, increasing the risk for accidents. They also heighten other risks, such as alcohol toxicity.
  • Know what you’re drinking. Don’t accept a drink with unknown ingredients.
  • Never leave drinks unattended. (I’ve seen Rohypnol in action—not pretty.)
  • If you’re the party host, serve food and stop serving alcohol a few hours before you expect the party to end. Provide non-alcoholic drinks for non-drinkers and designated drivers.
  • Never let a tipsy guest drive home. Call a taxicab, have a sober friend drive or urge the guest to stay the night.
  • Whether you’re drunk or sober, take extra caution when driving, particularly late at night. Allow extra room between cars and stay aware of other drivers. Keep your eye out for cars that swerve, sway or speed.
  • If you notice a dangerous driver, note the license plate, pull over then report it to the police.
Has your life been touched by drunk driving? What commitments have you made to guard against it? Any thoughts to share with Natalie? (She’s out of town at the moment, but I KNOW she’d love hearing from you. :))
Life is precious. Live yours well.

Author Mike Sirota on Writing and His Latest Work

It’s been said that thriller and horror authors are the nicest people on the planet because they get all of their angst out in their fiction. Doubtful? A conversation with renowned horror author Mike Sirota might convince you otherwise.

Not only does Sirota have twenty published novels (including the recently released Fire Dance) and fourteen years as an award-winning magazine feature writer and editor under his belt, he is a kick-butt writing coach, book editor and friend who cares as much about his writers’ success as he does his own. And he took time out of his busy schedule to answer questions on our behalf. (Thanks, Mike! :))

First, here is what others are saying about Sirota and his work:

“Mike Sirota is an absolute pro of a writer and, even for non-aficionados of ghost stories, these pages sing.” John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of Treasure Hunt and Damage

“Dear Mike: What can I say? Because of your expert guidance and fine touch I’m now a published author. When we first hooked up and started working together, I worried that the job of writing my novel would be an arduous task, filled with hours of agony and tedious rewrites, but I was wrong. Your lively comments and sense of humor have made the effort truly enjoyable. You keep editing and I’ll keep writing. It’s a pleasure working with you.” Jeff Sherratt, author of Detour to Murder

About Fire Dance:
LEGENDARY AUTHOR MIKE SIROTA RETURNS! The searing wind whistles through the ruins of Concordia Sanitarium in Southern California’s bleak Anza-Borrego Desert. Now, something else stirs: the tormented spirits of the staff and inmates who perished in an all-consuming fire over a century earlier. As one gruesome murder after another plagues the nearby quiet retirement community of Smoke Tree, Tracy Russell and Mark Alderson try desperately to stop the one inmate that should never have been released—either in life or in death.” ZOVA Books

“Sirota returns…with this atmospheric tale of horror in the American Southwest. Horror fans will enjoy this updated take on the western ghost town.” Publishers Weekly

“So great to have a new book from legendary writing coach Mike Sirota. When he writes, you should listen!” Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Live to Tell

Here we are at his book signing at Mysterious Galaxy. Good times!

What inspired you to write Fire Dance?
MS: I go hiking in the Anza-Borrego desert, the setting for Fire Dance, at least once a year. On one trip, the old “what if” kicked in. What if, during the 1870s, they put a sanitarium in the desert where no one could run away, given the heat, the terrain, etc.? What if one inmate—Bruno—was a violent mass murderer? What if they all burned to death during a dance? And what if, over a century later, they all came back…

What aspect of Fire Dance are you most pleased with?
MS: While it is a ghost story—some even call it a horror novel—it has a strong romantic element. Tracy and Mark, the main protagonists, are two emotionally wounded people who come together in a small desert town—a retirement community, no less—under some remarkably challenging conditions. As they learn to love and trust again, their future is in doubt as they face the nightmare that is Bruno.

You have a gift for luring readers in from the get-go. How do you do it? Any tips for other writers?
MS: We call the opening of a novel the HOOK. Engage the reader on page one and don’t let go. Just recently I presented a hook workshop at a writers’ conference and I read the first page of Fire Dance to the attendees. It gratified me that they were so taken with the visualization of the desert, and the inmates wandering around the grounds in their white, ghostly shrouds. Scene builds on scene, each one designed to make the reader want to know more. Don’t bore the reader with expository narration, weather reports, the main character describing herself while looking in the mirror, the history of the world, part I, etc.

Of your many accomplishments, what makes you the most proud?
MS: All writers hope to be reviewed in Publishers Weekly, our major trade publication. Even a bad review can be a good thing. Of my first nineteen novels, not one was reviewed in PW. But Fire Dance was, and positively. It made my day.

What do you love most about writing?
MS: Just about everything. I love it when a scene comes out of my head so fast that I can’t input it quickly enough. I love doing research. The book/Internet research is cool enough, but for my final draft I do what I call “living research,” where I travel to the scene of my story to actually experience the setting. Last month I traveled to the Sierra Nevada foothills, the setting for my next novel, THE BURNING GROUND. Fantastic trip that, after I got home, enabled me to bring my pages to life. I do this for every story.

Do you make mistakes?? 😉 Let me rephrase: What aspects of writing do you find most challenging?
MS: I’m a perfectionist, so I probably go overboard in being anal. As an editor, I want no typos or other errors. As a writer I want every detail to be correct. If the woman is wearing a red dress on page 23, she’d better not be wearing a blue dress in the same scene on page 36. I’ve seen it happen—in published novels.

What common mistake(s) do you see new or up-and-coming writers make?
MS: Oh, how much time and space do you have! Weak opening hooks, inability to handle a POV (point of view), poor dialogue—I could go on and on. If you want to write a book you need to READ READ READ, which sounds basic, but you wouldn’t believe how many writers hardly read. Some writers even try to write in a genre of which they have never read a single book—because the genre is selling, they think.

Take writing classes. Go to writers’ conferences. Join a read-critique group. Read books about all aspects of writing. Subscribe to THE WRITER and WRITER’S DIGEST. Learn your craft!

Anything you wish you’d done differently throughout your career?
MS: I always tell writers to keep their day jobs. Had I followed that advice for myself years ago, I might have kept writing and improving my craft, instead of taking a hiatus of about seventeen years.

If you could give one bit of advice to writers, what would you suggest? Write for the love of writing. If you write to become a bestselling author and make a gazillion dollars, you will likely fail.

What’s next in the pipeline? I mentioned THE BURNING GROUND. It’s another ghost story, and also a romance, this time with three emotionally wounded people: a man, a woman, and a ten-year-old boy. It also became a statement book, as it involves a small Sierra foothill Native American tribe, the Maidu (they’re for real), and one particular village where everyone is exterminated by miners during the Gold Rush (true). Their spirits remain trapped here, and in the contemporary story their graves are desecrated by “thieves of time” (also a real problem) for artifacts. Now the spirits are really pissed, and guess what…

CONTEST!!! Order Fire Dance or Demon Shadows (Kindle edition). Send a copy of your purchase confirmation to and I’ll place your name in a drawing for a $20 iTunes gift card. And as always, I welcome your thoughts!