Monthly Archives: July 2017

Are all book reviews equal?

I’ve been reading quite a lot about book reviews in various Facebook groups recently. One theme has been that even bad reviews can help sell your book. (I believe that JK Rowling has more one star reviews than any other writer, and they certainly don’t seem to have held her sales back).

To date I’ve only had a single one star review – for an anthology in which I had a short story (Mary’s Christmas in Festive Treats): festive-treats

Mary’s Christmas by Margaret Egrot relates the highly boring Christmas of an OAP in a nameless British town. Nothing of note happens. It is related in excruciating detail.

This review came straight after a much more upbeat one for the whole anthology, in which my story was again singled out:

Some of the stories are moving and heart-warming. The story of Mary’s lone Christmas, standing above the rest in the bunch, I feared another outcome, which is testament to the cleverness of how the author made the story unfurl, the resolution made me joyously happy! Margaret Egrot has written a truly beautiful story.

Just goes to show you can’t please everybody.

Despite (because?) attracting the full range of star ratings, Festive Treats has almost never been out of the Amazon best seller list – though the fact that it is free as an e-book might help!

One of my favourite ‘critical’ reviews was for my first YA novel, And Alex Still Has And Alex -coverAcne. The young reviewer hadn’t much liked the book, because she didn’t like books about topics covered by the celebrated author, Jacqueline Wilson. As many readers do though (including me) I was quite chuffed:

The book certainly shows the author’s understanding of the idiosyncratic problems which certain young people today (often described in the novels of Jacqueline Wilson) have to deal with.

Whether one star reviews boost sales or not, it is still re-assuring for an author to get a good first review after a book is published. So you can imagine I was delighted to get the following five star review last week for Cast Off, my recently released collection of short stories based on female characters in Shakespeare’s plays:

One word for this short story anthology? Original. Certainly an odd descriptor for a Cast Offcollection of tales based on the characters in another’s works, but Mrs. Egrot weaves intriguing story lines utilizing some of Shakespeare lesser known supporting characters, and spin-offs from his heroines. My favorite two? “Time Out of Mind” affected me on an emotional level, and “Ban! Ban! Cacaliban” left me wanting more. Each story stands alone on its own merit. If you’ve never even heard of the bard, and you were born in a cave and raised by wolves, you will find a tale here to fall in love with. Thoroughly enjoyed.

On balance, whatever they say about the merits of one star reviews, vis-a-vis five star ones, I know which I prefer for a first review!

All the stories mentioned are available from my Amazon author pages:

All but Festive Treats are also available from Solstice Publishing.

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A Blog About Blogging

Today, multi genre author Marie Lavender describes her blogging ‘journey’ – and offers several ideas for new authors thinking of starting a blog. She also has a new publication of her own  out this week – see details at the end of this article.

Blogging: A Journey and Its Benefits – by Marie Lavender.

Marie Lavender LogoWhen I started publishing books back in 2010, I had read about launching a blog. So I went for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the first thing about blogging at the time. If you browse through my older entries, you can see the struggle. But we all learn. In 2012, I was invited to guest blog on Nicole Galloway’s site. From that experience I gleaned how it was supposed to look. Of course, over the years I’ve subscribed to numerous blogs, and I’ve picked up little nuances here and there. I kept myself open to trying out new projects, not just with my writing career, but as a blogger.

My first blogging venture was the Writing in the Modern Age blog (affectionately termed WritModAge). It was established in 2010, but I didn’t accept guest writers/authors until

March of 2013. Since then, the blog has expanded into a great place for writers at any stage of their careers to visit for advice, and for readers to find their new favorite authors. Posts range from articles with tips about writing, publishing or marketing, all the way to new releases and book features, cover reveals, poetry spotlights, author interviews, service interviews, the Author’s Bookshelf Feature, occasional multi-author book giveaways, and special annual writers’ participation events, such as our 350th Anniversary post “What Does Your Writing Process Look Like?” On Writing in the Modern Age, we average about 95 guest authors featured per year, but that doesn’t count the new ones that donate books in our giveaways.

Another site I launched around the same time was Marie Lavender’s Books! blog (affectionately named MLB). The MLB blog was established in 2012, when I began writing articles and sharing writer news equally between my two blogs at the time. In 2015, I started accepting guest authors through exclusive author interviews, book spotlight interviews, cover reveals and new release features. We average about 60 to 70 guest authors featured per year on the MLB blog. I still post my own articles on both of those. I have another blog through my author website, offering updates, but that one is definitely smaller for now.


The final blog I want to mention is the I Love Romance Blog (ILRB). This blog was launched in 2014, with the intent of centering it on discussions about romance novels, as well as tips on romantic relationships. At first, not knowing exactly where to go with the blog, I posted random thoughts on romance, then started writing and posting romantic poetry. Soon enough, however, I networked and hosted character interviews, and the blog evolved to include other features like new releases, cover reveals and promoting free Amazon days for authors, presenting romantic guest posts, poetry spotlights, special events like multi-author book giveaways, or our latest popular series, “What Does Romance Mean to Me?” Our upcoming feature is titled “Heroes & Heroines”, which will entail a glimpse into each author’s take on a character (what drove them to write the story or kept them up at night). Each year on this blog, we have 60+ guest authors and average about 20,000 visitors and 40,000 total views.


So, what are the benefits of blogging as a writer?

  1. You will find your blogging niche. Discover what interests you and tell others about it in a unique, fun way. Plus, you can talk about your books in a manner that doesn’t sound like shameless promotion.
  1. You can meet new readers. I can’t tell you how many people have emailed me, or tagged me on social media, just to thank me for a great blog post!
  1. Readers need a way to keep connected with you. Whether you decide to get into indie publishing or go a more traditional route, you must find a way to reach potential readers. Even traditional publishers expect new authors to have a blog, or at least a website with a blog option. In my case, I have four blogs. I still write articles now and then for my blogs, but I am usually hosting all these great people, you know?

Blogging, however, is a great method for learning about others, and to show readers your utterly human side. Yes, even those foolish mistakes, the wins and losses we don’t always talk about.

My blogs aren’t the New York Times, but I’d like to believe I’ve made an impact on readers and writers alike. None of blogging was easy (don’t get me started on the occasional tech issues), yet in the process I’ve gained author friends and met people whom I never imagined I would. And last but not least, I helped other authors by promoting their work, and even assisted fledgling writers in making their mark on the world.

Marie Directions of the Heart - eBook cover

Thank you for reading about my blogs, and feel free to check out my modern romantic drama collection, Directions of the Heart, which was officially released on the 25th July!

Purchase Links for Directions of the Heart:                  


Guest Blogger Bio: Bestselling multi-genre author of UPON YOUR RETURN and 21 other books. Mystery Blogger Award for 2017. A to Z Blog Challenge Survivor in 2016. March 2016 Empress of the Universe title – winner of the “Broken Heart” themed contest and the “I Love You” themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers’ Poll. Nominated in the TRR Readers’ Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015 PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014 MARSocial’s Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013 and 2014. Top 10 Authors on Winner of the Great One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.

Marie Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and three cats. She has been writing for a little over twenty-five years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 22 books in the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense, paranormal romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/thriller, dramatic fiction, literary fiction and poetry. She has also contributed to several multi-author anthologies. Her current series are The Heiresses in Love Series, The Magick Series, The Blood at First Sight Series and The Code of Endhivar Series.



Amazon author page:







Meet author Jeffery Martin Botzenhart

Jeff B 1Jeffery Martin Botzenhart is a writer whose genres have included romance, steampunk, historical, science fiction – and more…

What is the title of your latest book? 

The title of my latest book is Daybreak (Book One of the 4 part Nightfall Series).  The story is set in 2035 San Francisco and revolves around Sebastian, a sixteen year old runaway who innocently accesses a sophisticated virtual reality program, which unknowingly leads to revelations of a world-wide robotic conspiracy.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding?

For me, the writing itself comes pretty easy.  It’s like sitting back in the seat at a movie theatre and watching this incredible film come to life.  The most challenging part of being a writer is finding readers interested in my stories.  I started out as a romance writer, but I don’t write the current popular trends which seem to be focused on billionaires, cowboys, shape-shifters, and aliens. Jeff B 2

My stories are a mixture of contemporary, steampunk, and historical (with settings such as the Vietnam War and the days leading up to the Second World War).  As for my young adult stories being published by Solstice Publishing, they focus on elements of science-fiction.

For me the most rewarding part of being a writer has been the kind comments and reviews left by those who have read and appreciated what I’ve written.  They inspire me to continue on this journey as a writer.

 What is your top tip for an aspiring writer?

Write the story you want to tell.  Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.  Though I am inspired by other writers, I don’t set out to retell their stories.  Make your story unique.

 What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a family drama set at a lake-side cabin in the Adirondack Mountains.

 What do you like to read?

I’m pretty open to everything.  When I first started reading novels I gravitated toward Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen King.  But later I moved on to stories by C.S. Lewis, S.E. Hinton, and J.D. Salinger.  Although I have been told that I’m a gifted romance writer, this is the genre I least read.

 Jeff B 3

Where can readers find your books?

All my books are available on Amazon Kindle Reads.  I also post weekly on my author page:





Fancy that! (More words and meanings)

There are a several words or phrases that I know well, but have never known how they have come to mean what they now do. Last week, however, I picked up Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk, in a second-hand book sale, and found some answers. Here are a few:

Take stalking horse.  When I hear this term on the radio, I understand it to mean a pony-1149420_960_720politician who runs for senior office against the current post holder (often, in the UK, a back bench member of parliament running against the sitting prime minister). They have no realistic expectation of winning, but are setting the stage for a stronger candidate to come forward. Now I know that in the fifteenth century, a stalking horse was literally a horse that had been trained to approach birds or other wild game slowly, with the rider hiding under its belly. Once close enough, the rider would step out and shoot the intended prey. By the sixteenth century the term had come to mean a sneaky type of military manoeuvre, and by the seventeenth century it could mean an accomplice who, often unwittingly, assisted in underhand ventures. So it’s easy to see how its modern use has come about.

Petty-fogging  now denotes unnecessary bureaucracy, usually imposed by lawyers or other rule enforcersAs far as I can see, petty-fogging has never had any positive connotations. A petty-fogger was a term first in use in the sixteenth century for a lawyer who, for a fee, would quibble over the smallest detail in order to win a case. Such a person is depicted by Lewis Carroll (the author of Alice in Wonderland):

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law, Lewis carrol

And argued each case with my wife;

And the muscular strength that it gave to my jaw.

Has lasted the rest of my life.”

 flunkeyBoth flunkey and lackey are now used dismissively about one person’s subservience to another. But flunkey (from the French verb flanquer – to flank) started out in the eighteenth century as a neutral noun for a servant in livery who stood alongside his master to provide help as needed. Only in the mid-nineteenth century did it start to acquire its negative connotations, such as slavishly obeying orders, or ‘flunking’  (dropping out of) a difficult task / test.

The older term, lackey (also from old French – laquay), described a servant with similar role to the flunkey. It was not a derogatory term – it was, for example, used by Shakespeare in The Taming of the Shrew, to describe, without malice, a man-servant. But lackey too has degenerated into a term of derision.

If you have enjoyed this post, you may like to read more of my published work. This is Cast Offavailable from my Amazon author pages.

 My latest collection of 13 short stories, CAST OFF – based around female characters from plays by Shakespeare was released by Solstice Publishing on the 14th July.

Cast Off:

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CAST OFF has cast off …

Cast Off, my collection of Shakespeare themed short stories, has just been released by Solstice Publishing. Cast Off

Blurb: Have you ever thought what a Shakespeare character might be thinking or doing when she’s not on stage? Does she like the role that’s been created for her? Would she prefer a different plot? Or love interest? How does she really feel about all that cross dressing? In this light-hearted collection of short stories, the author suggests a few answers to these and other questions.


Now the hard work begins! As I learnt after the publication of my first novel, writing the book, is only one of the tasks expected of a published author. Each author has a big part to play in the promoting and marketing of their work once it has been released. So, apart from several tweets, posts on Facebook, and the occasional blog, I have just done a stint on the local BBC radio channel  Here’s the link if you are interested:  (I appear approximately one and a quarter hours into the Vic Minett show, at the start of the weekly Book Club).

Other promotistonefest 17onal activity to date has included taking part in a creative arts festival – Stone Fest – where I joined other members of the Coventry Writers’ Group to sell our books in the market square. Later I read an extract from Our Mad Sister, one of the Shakespeare stories, in a wine bar.  Our Mad Sister is based on the character of Cassandra – the one in Greek legends who is always prophesying (correctly) that things are going to turn out badly. She actually only takes a fleeting role in the play, Troilus and Cressida, but most people know more about her than the characters in the title, and she was fun to write about.


Here is the excerpt I read – if you like it, why not consider buying the whole collection!

Our Mad Sister.

 It’s crazy, I know, but it can’t be denied that a single woman of a certain age is invisible. Once I was the talk of Troy for my fine bone structure, my flawless skin, and my tall, graceful figure. Oh, I was clever too, but it was my beauty everyone talked about. I was so beautiful, in fact, that the god Apollo singled me out to be his lover. I was tempted of course – who wouldn’t be?

       But I had been cursed from a young age with common sense and wisdom. I may have been King Priam’s daughter, and sister to the mighty Hector and the flighty Paris, but I could sense that for Apollo I would just be a dalliance. I was flattered by his attention, my dreams were full of him. My knees went weak and my heart trembled whenever he was near.

       But, always, something held me back. I could foresee that for him I was just a human plaything he could seduce, before moving on to other paramours. So I held back, resisting his most pressing advances, and eventually he grew bored with me and left Troy. My common sense, that he had once found so seductive, had started to irk him. That didn’t stop him feeling angry and resentful. As he left, he settled a final curse on me.

       “I leave you Cassandra, a frustrated and disappointed god. Your virtue has defeated me. Long may you continue to be sensible,” he said. “And long may you be able to foretell the consequences of your and your compatriot’s actions. But you have defied me, a god, and, as a mere mortal, you must bear the consequences. I have decreed that no matter what sensible words you have to say, no-one will ever believe you. Mark my words: to them you will just be a crazed and embittered old maid.”

       With that he was gone, leaving me bereft, and questioning the wisdom of clinging so tenaciously to my virgin state. Maybe the passing love of a god would not have been so shameful after all? The palace was large, and I had my own quarters. True, my parents were old, set in their ways. But they weren’t unkind, and times change. Certainly, years later, when Paris snatched the beautiful wife of Menelaus, the Greek, my father was very angry with him, but not so angry that he ordered him to send her back. Instead he was willing to let Troy go to war to keep her here. A war I knew was bound to end in our defeat, but no one was listening to me by then.

       Oh the irony! Helen, little more than a pretty tart, arrived in our country, and we were prepared to lose some of our bravest soldiers on her behalf. But then, fathers down the ages have had different standards for their daughters. Paris carrying on with another man’s wife, was easier for him to tolerate than his daughter having a baby with a god. Never mind that it would have been the child of the God of Love, a genuine love–child. Later, when he might have been more understanding, my chance of motherhood had gone.

       So I witnessed my brothers’ lives moving on whilst mine atrophied. Hector married the boring but virtuous Andromache, Paris hooked up with his vacuous mistress, and even little Troilus grew up enough to want a woman of his own. Like Paris, Troilus had an eye for a pretty girl, and his choice – Cressida – was nothing if not pretty. But she was more a Helen than an Andromache. I knew the kind, beautiful, sexy, generous with her favours, pragmatic in how she bestowed them.

       Yes, I foresaw that Cressida would abandon Troilus, and Troy, within days of their conjoining and would join the Greek armies camped outside. To give her some credit, maybe she too had sensed that Troy would soon be overrun. After all, her father had already abandoned the city and joined the Greeks camped all around, the traitor. I could have told my brother all this as I watched him from my balcony making his way stealthily to Cressida’s bed under the cover of a starless night sky. I chose to remain silent. What was the point in running out to stop him – he wouldn’t have believed me. Besides, none of his family was supposed to know about his secret tryst. He would simply have denied what he was up to. And then what was I to do? I was just his mad sister, after all.

        That’s what my brothers called me, “Our mad sister,” they used to say to visitors to the palace. I had become old, too old anyway to be a suitable bargaining chip in a marriage arrangement with neighbouring countries, and too ‘odd,’ with my true, but ultimately gloomy prophesies, to be welcome in their quarters as a visitor in my own right. As I grew older I became less and less important. Even my parents sometimes forgot who I was.

       I was the crazy one, always foretelling doom, pouring cold water on people’s plans, and muttering that it would all turn out badly. Who wants someone like that sitting opposite you over breakfast? Of course I wasn’t completely left out, but I was like the poor relation you had to invite but you hoped would not cause embarrassment and upset the visitors. And if I did make one of my, to them, tactless and doom filled predictions, they would cover the ensuing embarrassed silence with a laugh, a roll of the eyes and, maybe, a finger briefly touching the temple. Later, when things turned out like I said they would, which they did, they denied I’d said anything, or blamed me for it, as if it was my fault. Sometimes they did both!

          It wasn’t long after Apollo abandoned me that my beauty started to fade, and people no longer turned admiring glances on me as I walked round the city. Soon they hardly noticed me at all, and I sometimes had to step off the pavement to let a group of young men through. They never acknowledged this. Why should they? They hadn’t noticed me in the first place.

       I started to neglect myself – let my hair grow long and leave it loose and uncombed around my neck. Sometimes I even left it weeks before I washed it. The same went with my clothes. Why worry if no one was going to notice? Instead I wore my old working smocks for months on end. Soon I found that people noticed me all right then. Not in a good way – they would look in horror at my eccentric appearance and, fearful perhaps that I was none too sweet smelling, they would step into the road to avoid me. At least I got the pavement to myself then. Sometimes I would emit a few cackles, as I drew near to them, and cackle louder whilst they stepped further out into the road to avoid me. Often as not I would shout out too.       

“Cry, Trojans, Cry!” was one of my favourites. Or, “Lend me your ears, and I will fill them with prophetic tears!”  This would get them looking anywhere but at me, and scurrying away as fast as they could go. I was not mad, I told myself, because I knew exactly what I was doing and the effect my behaviour had on others. But maybe only a crazy woman would want to behave like that. Now there’s a thought!

 I have plenty more promotional work planned throughout the summer, whilst still trying to find time to crack on with my next book – 10,000 words already, only another 70,000 to go! solstice logo (1)

Meet author T. Joseph Kelly.

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In the latest installment of author interviews, I would like to introduce you to T. Joseph Kelly.

Tom has actually met, and had advice about writing from, John Grisham. Yes really! Read on to find out when – and what the advice was!


What is the title of your latest book? (In a nutshell what is it about?)

The Last Black Hundred. The President of the United States has been infected with smallpox and has 48 hours to live. Only a handful of the President’s closest advisers are aware of her condition. The perpetrator is a Russian dissident who hates democracy, the United States and pro-western values and ideals. He wants a return to the “cold-war” days where Russia was feared around the world. His accomplice is the Vice President’s wife, whose parents were killed during the 1950s by greedy research companies who wanted to be the first to find a cure for smallpox. TJ Kelly 1

Dr. Brody Moses, a young navy physician and Denise Adamchik, an NSA analyst and expert in Russian culture and anti-American activity, are engaged to find a cure and bring the perpetrator to justice. They have 48 hours to do it or the President dies.

What are the most challenging aspects of being a writer? And the most rewarding?

 It’s finding the time. I have a very busy professional career and I find it challenging to balance the career, family and writing. I’m also finding hard just to find time to do the reading I enjoy.

What is your top tip for an aspiring writer?

 First–Persevere!!! Be committed to seeing the book finished. Second, develop, if you don’t already have one, a “thick skin.” Rejection, in general, is difficult for most people but as an aspiring writer in comes in droves!! Be tough, have confidence in who you are and take pride in your own writing style.

Forgive the digression but it’s a lesson I learned long ago from John Grisham…yes, thee John Grisham. Back in the mid ’90s I was doing some work for former New Jersey Senator, Bill Bradley. His staff was having a fund-raiser dinner/cocktail reception for him. What I didn’t know was that John Grisham was a big fan of Senator Bradley. Mr. Grisham was the guest speaker that evening and so I actually had dinner with him. He told me and other attendees his story. After he wrote his first book, A Time to Kill, he couldn’t get an agent or a book deal. Finally, a small publisher in Tarrytown, New York offered him a publishing contract. He said he couldn’t give the books away! Nobody knew him and no one wanted to pay $20 for one of his books. He also said that many of these first printing books were kept in the trunk of his car. He was so disgusted as a writer that, occasionally, he would stop by a dumpster and throw a whole box of books away!!! Of course, if you had a first edition of A Tim to Kill now, it’s probably worth $4-7,000 on eBay!!! His advice to me was to “never quit. Even if you don’t sell one book, take satisfaction in knowing that you accomplished something that you’ve always wanted to do.” I found this to be very inspiring.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just started to write a sequel to my first book A Snake in the Dome.

 What do you like to read?

I rotate between popular novels from authors like, Grisham, Patterson, Demille, and my favorite, Ian McEwan. Also throw in a classic here and there. Just finished To Kill a Mocking Bird. Amazing book!

Where can readers find you? I’m available at

Want to find out more about The Last Black Hundred? Below is a synopsis.

From the moment the sound of the phone startled Dr. Brody Moses from a troublesome sleep he knew his life was about to change. His eyes, still clinging with morning dew, began to focus on his digital clock that repeatedly blinked 6:00 AM. His mind tried to get a grip on what the Secret Service Agent just told him. “An armored-plated Suburban will pick you up in 15 minutes. Leave quietly. Oh…Dr. McBride-I don’t need to remind you of your duty to God and country, do I?”

Up until that fateful moment, Dr. Moses lived a relatively uneventful, some might consider, boring life. After high school, he joined the Navy, looking for the cheapest way to become a physician. Given his humble upbringing, he needed the educational benefits the military service provided. Determined not to come out of medical school with a lifetime of debt to pay, focused entirely on making the most of his classroom time. As a result, he received his medical degree from Georgetown and his PhD from John Hopkins. He thought himself an expert in infectious diseases…that is, until now. What he was about to find out about the President’s life-threatening condition would throw his whole academic and scientific world into chaos.   

Across town another young, brilliant, civil servant was receiving the same kind of phone call. Denise Adamchik, special agent for the National Security Agency (NSA) was abruptly awoken by the ominous voice of a secret service agent. “Be ready in fifteen minutes…and disappear quietly.”

Agent Adamchik was raised in a very competitive, patriotic family. Her twin brother joined the marines and volunteered for a tour of duty in the Middle East. Unfortunately, he was killed by an IED. His death inspired her to fight terrorism wherever it grew. As the Russian Bear began to raise its ugly head again she decided to focus on them. And this made perfect sense to here. She was of Russian decent and studied Russian History at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Her heritage and her passion were a perfect match. After being highly recruited by many government agencies, including the Department of Defense and Homeland Security, she joined the National Security Agency and quickly became a rising star. She became an expert in Russian culture and anti-American activities. And now, her intellect and her courage were being called upon in ways she could have never envisioned.     

Dr. Moses and Agent Adamchik arrive at the White House and are whisked to a room somewhere in the basement. Complete strangers to one another, Brody and Denise join the meeting already in progress. At the table: the President’s Chief of Staff; the Directors of Homeland Security, CIA, FBI and the Surgeon General. This post-traumatic, shell-shocked, group of elder statesmen inform them that the President of the United States lies critically ill in the Bethesda Naval Hospital. She has been inexplicably infected with variola virus…a.k.a. smallpox. If an antidote is not developed, she will most certainly die within forty-eight hours. Needless to say, no one can offer a clue as to how the President could have been infected, especially in the post 911 era, where the value of privacy has been replaced with security.

In 1980, The World Health Organization declared that the smallpox disease had been eradicated from the face of the earth. They also requested that all laboratories either destroy their remaining stocks of variola virus or transfer them to one of two WHO reference laboratories – The Institute of Viral Preparations in Moscow, or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. It appears that not all laboratories complied with this request.

Dmitri Yablonski, a Russian scientist and loyalist to the former Russian system of Communism is disgruntled with the pro-western approach to government. After a tumultuous decade of painful economic reforms, and elections characterized by pro-democratic images and ideas, he mobilizes his hatred into one last act of vengeance. His alliance with the Russian Mafia help him secure the deadly virus and with the aid of the Vice President’s wife, whose parents were both sacrificed by a ruthless and corrupt American research firm attempting to develop a cure for smallpox during the 1950’s, he is able to smuggle a vial of variola virus into the White House in the form of the flu mist vaccine. The vial is conveniently concealed in the inside pocket of the red blazer worn by of one of members of the Russian Boys Choir, whose last command performance while on tour of the United States is at the White House.

Agent Adamchik’s charge: identify the perpetrator and coordinate the resources necessary to bring him to justice. She is given the nation’s highest security clearance and access to everyone and anyone who she believes to be a suspect.

Dr. Moses’s charge: save the President’s life. Since smallpox had been eradicated back in 1980 there no longer exists a vaccine. And since the antibodies can only be developed within the human body, Dr. Moses realizes that he must become a human guinea pig and provide the culture in which to cultivate the antibodies. There’s really no other choice…without this, the President dies. With the help of his longtime friend and mentor Dr. Miles Rooney, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Science back in 1955, they develop an aggressive formula that will expedite the effect of the virus and allow Dr. Rooney to develop the vaccine within the next 48 hours.

Professor Rooney develops the antibodies and shrewdly, ironically, they are administered to the President by none other than the man who poisoned her to begin with…Dmitri Yablonski. While Dmitri and his fellow conspirators are planning for his triumphant return to St. Petersburg, where he anticipates becoming the next Czar of Russia, the President is recovering nicely in Washington. Via satellite, the Russian people witness the President waving to the adoring crowd surrounding the hospital. Feeling obviously betrayed, Dmitri is overwhelmed by the once reverent audience and his body is never found.

P.S. My own novels and short stories are available from my Amazon author pages:                                                                                   My latest collection of short stories, CAST OFF,  based on characters in plays by Shakespeare, is available from Friday 14th July. See my last post for more information.

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CAST OFF – Collection out on Friday.

On Friday 14th July, my new collection of short stories, Cast Off, is published by Solstice Publishing. Below I answer a few questions about the stories that you probably hadn’t thought to ask.

Cast OffWhat are the stories in Cast Off about? Each story is based on a female character in a Shakespeare play. The story takes place whilst the cast is off stage, and speculates what the character might be thinking or doing, sometimes in relation to the playwright himself (Taming of the Shrew), or in relation to other characters (Lear), or even if they are going to go back on stage for the last act (The Winter’s Tale). Some are in the first person, some in the third. A couple are also related by one of the other characters (Twelfth Night), or by a more contemporary figure. None are intended to be taken too seriously!

Why did I choose this as the theme for my collection? I was inspired to write one of the stories by a poem I heard on the radio a few years ago (Hamlet). Another was written following an invitation to write a short story for an anthology based round a recipe (Othello), and a third to tie in with an anthology to be published on midsummer’s day (no prizes for guessing which play that was based on!) Before I knew it, a collection was building up and, with 2016 being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, I decided to read several more of his plays, write some more stories, and put together a collection. This has taken me a bit longer than originally planned, but I finally felt I had enough by March this year, when I completed my thirteenth story.

How did I choose which plays to base each story on? I ruled out the historical plays as some readers might have wanted historical accuracy, and my stories are more whimsical. I wanted strong female characters to base the story around, though they didn’t necessarily have to be the lead character – Portia’s maid, for example, rather than Portia herself from The Merchant of Venice; the nurse not Juliet from Romeo and Juliet. Most stories almost wrote themselves after I’d read the play, but some plays that are known for their strong female leads (Much Ado About Nothing springs to mind) didn’t immediately throw up an angle for me to work on. Another time perhaps!

What was my writing process? First I read the play straight through. Then I decided on a character to ‘play’ with, and a possible story line. I would re-read the play, making a few notes, and perhaps noting down a couple of quotations. Then I would write the story without further reference to the play. Finally I would read the play again to check that the story line I’d followed could be justified, or that any deviations in characterisation etc. were intentional and consistent. I would also check the accuracy of any quotations used. Then it was time for the usual spell checking and editing, as with any story.

Do I have any taster stories available, preferably for free?  There are no Shakespeare themed stories available until this collection is published on Friday. However I have a short story, Mary’s Christmas, in an anthology called Festive Treats, which is permanently free on Amazon Books. Solstice Publishing has also issued two of my other short stories as stand-alone e-books for about £/$1.00 each. These are called Sleeping Beauty, and Love in Waiting.  All three stories can be found following the links below to my Amazon author pages:

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