Thursday, October 30, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Crissi Langwell, Author

Crissi Langwell, Author
Reviewers describe Crissi Langwell’s books as “those books that have a story that stay with you weeks later.” In her most recent novel, THE ROAD TO HOPE, Langwell’s “believable and real” characters turn grief into hope, in a way that reviewers say “hooked them right from the start.” She also has published two other novels, a book of essays, and a book of poetry.

Langwell sets her books in Sonoma County, California where she lives with her blended family, and says, “Family is what I know, and what we can all relate to.” In 2015 she plans to release a series of more “lighthearted” projects that mix magic with desserts. In addition to writing books, Langwell works for her local newspaper and is editor for her regional writing club newsletter.

Q: Your newest book THE ROAD TO HOPE has been described as turning “grief and affliction” into “beauty that exists when hope prevails.” Why did you write this story? How did you conceive it? Where did it come from?

Crissi Langwell: 12 years ago, I lost my third child to stillbirth. It was such a shocking loss, one I don’t think anyone could be prepared for. There isn’t much that hurts more than to lose your child. For years, this loss defined me. However, with time, I was able to heal. But because of that loss, I’m forever changed.

Fast forward a couple more years, and I witnessed a toddler fall from a Trader Joe’s shopping cart headfirst onto the floor. He ended up being okay, but something about the whole scene stuck with me. Everyone was watching the mother but not helping. And she was just sitting in the middle of the store, soothing her screaming child. It was this event that became the first scene of my book, and the whole story evolved into a love letter to myself and to anyone else who has gone through hardship or trauma.

Q: As in your previous books, reviewers of THE ROAD TO HOPE tout it as “an amazing story. Hooked right from the start” and “I was absolutely RIVETED!” How do you make your story “riveting?” What pulls your readers in and won’t let them go?

Crissi Langwell: I try to keep the boring parts out. ;-) Really, I do my best to keep the story moving forward at all times. Each action that happens, you can bet that it will lead to something pivotal a few scenes later.  And I write about real life, the kinds of things we all are thinking or feeling, even if they’re not the kind of stuff we’ll admit out loud. I try to be authentic when I write.

Q: Reviewers say that you have “a gift for creating believable and real characters.” What makes “real” characters? Why do readers believe them?

Crissi Langwell: I love writing about people and how they affect each other. I draw from real experiences, but I also let the characters tell the story, not me. When I begin writing a novel, I always have a loose plan in place. But as soon as I get to know the characters better, they take over and throw my plans out. I think that’s why readers find my characters believable, because I do my best not to interrupt the story that’s taking place.

Q: Family seems important to you throughout all of your writing—fiction, non-fiction, reporting. What is it about the family that inspires you to write about it?

Crissi Langwell: I started my family a little younger than most, with my first daughter born when I was 20. I got married and divorced in my 20s, raised my kids as a single mother, and I’m now happily married into a blended family. I’ve experienced all sorts of different types of families – from my intact and totally normal family when I grew up, my chaotic family in my 20s, and now in a family of all different personalities under one roof. Family is my life! I was even the family columnist for my local newspaper for a time. So when it came to writing books, I couldn’t think of anything more I wanted to write about. Family is what I know, and what we can all relate to.

Q: Did you write THE ROAD TO HOPE to entertain readers, to deliver a message, and/or to educate? To inspire?

Crissi Langwell: It could be a little of all three. I love writing about the underdogs, and THE ROAD TO HOPE is no different. In this book, I touched on themes of homelessness, poverty, teen pregnancy, and child loss. I offered points of view that many would be too uncomfortable to get close to in real life. But I offered insight as to how easily these situations could happen to anyone. It’s my hope that someone who reads my book will be able to walk away with a new way to look at life.

Q: How relevant is the concept of villains and heroes to your stories?

Crissi Langwell: The concept of villains and heroes is not only relevant, but it can also be a muddy concept as well. Sometimes the heroes can be villains. Sometimes the villains can be heroes. In my novels, I’ve written about bad guys/girls who are cruel, have caused bad things to happen, say mean things, are rude or dismissive… But there’s always a backstory. WHY are they mean? Why do they hurt people around them? I do my best to answer these questions. Sometimes the villains in my stories end up being readers’ favorites, because their bad side is also their human side.

Q: How helpful is setting to telling your stories? Could they occur at any time in any place?

Crissi Langwell: One little secret I have is that I like to place my characters in the same place I live – Sonoma County. There are a few books out there that have used Sonoma County (which is north of San Francisco) as their setting, and it’s always a treat to come across my home in a book. I imagine one day I’ll write a book that doesn’t take place here at all. But so far, every one of my stories is set in a nearby town. It’s also helpful to be describing a scene, and be able to completely envision it because it’s based off a real place, even if just loosely. As for the timing, so far all my books take place in the present. I haven’t done any serious writing that takes place in the past or future. But it’s not out of the question.

Q: Er, just to let you know, my next mystery, Hilltop Sunset, is set in Sonoma County. I love it there.

Q: You have also written poetry. When do you prefer writing poetry over prose?

Crissi Langwell: I always prefer prose over poetry. Poetry is hard! But for a time, it served as a way to loosen my pen in preparation for writing a novel. It helped teach me to dive into description and draw the reader into the scene I was painting. Much of my poetry was written years ago during a very confusing time in my life. I never even meant for it to go public! But when all was said and done, I realized that what I wrote wasn’t half bad. My book of poetry, Everything I Am Not Saying, is not one that I publicize a ton, but it is one of my proudest (and most personal) achievements.

Q: What’s next?

Crissi Langwell: After writing three novels that dealt with deep and heavy themes, I am now exploring something more lighthearted. I’m preparing to release a series of 4 books in 2015 that mixes magic with desserts. The first book is titled Come Here, Cupcake, and is about a woman who discovers she has the magical ability to infuse her baking with her feelings. As you can imagine, this leads to some very sticky situations.

Q: Tell us about Crissi Langwell. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Crissi Langwell: I read. A lot. I also can be found at the baseball field or golf course cheering on my son, teaching my daughter to drive (Lord help us all), or just hanging with the family at home. I’m the newsletter editor for my regional writing club, Redwood Writers, I work full-time for the local newspaper, I volunteer for my church, and I help with the year-round planning for the summer camp the kids and I attend every year. I guess you can say I like to stay busy!

About Crissi Langwell

Crissi Langwell is the author of three fiction novels, a book of poetry, and a collection of true stories about single parenting. She lives in Northern California with her husband and blended family of three kids, a whiny cat, and a ridiculous teenage dog.

Jill is a woman who just lost her son. Maddie is a teen mother who has been rejected by her parents. Both are sent reeling at the tragic spin life has taken. And both are on a crash course for changing each other’s lives. This is the story of two mothers, the trauma they experience, and how life’s twists and turns can have an impact on who they think they are, who they’re bound to become, and the lives they touch in between.


Chapter One ~ The Point of Impact
There was no stopping it. In one moment, Toby had been standing in the front of the small shopping cart, grinning at his mom as she filled a bag with green beans. In the next, the cart tipped forward against his weight, sending him head-first toward the checkered linoleum in the middle of Hal’s Market. The look of terror on her toddler’s face was etched in Jill’s mind as she saw him tumble from the cart, falling just far enough away that she knew she’d never reach him in time. But in the eternity that lay in those few seconds, she made a valiant effort, throwing her arms forward to catch nothing but air.

Toby’s forehead hit the slick floor first, the rest of his body crumpling down into his neck, then careening over his body like a rag doll. Jill reached him and, despite everything she had ever learned about not moving accident victims, she turned him over to see if he was okay. She would never forget the look in his eyes. Tearless, they reached into her, grabbing at her guilt with a firm hold while raking over her worst fears. Then they lost all recognition.

“Toby,” she breathed. His olive eyes were fixed on the ceiling, the blank expression frozen on his face. But then his body relaxed into a deep and shuddering breath, followed by a scream of pain and terror. His cries were a sweet sound to Jill’s ears. She scooped her son up and held him tight against her chest.

Jill avoided the stares from the small crowd forming around her and Toby. She could feel the weight of their judgment, their unspoken thoughts screaming at her. How could she? What kind of mother lets that happen? She doesn’t deserve a child. Jill held her sobbing son to her chest, rocking him next to the green beans and zucchini while trying to pretend the growing crowd didn’t exist. The two of them sat until his screams subsided into hiccupped breathing. Then Toby lay his curly blonde head against her shoulder, playing with a lock of her chestnut hair as he breathed into her sweater. Jill couldn’t help but see the irony in this—her injured toddler finding safety in the very person who had let him fall.


Twitter: @crissilangwell


Friday, October 24, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Kelly Crigger, Author and Curmudgeon

Kelly Crigger, Curmudgeon and Author
Kelly Crigger is a self-avowed curmudgeon, and he’s used his knowledge to write a guide for others to follow. As one reviewer said, “The world needs a great big dose of reality, and this work here is exactly where it starts.” Crigger started to write “life lessons” for his children, but his journal evolved into CURMUDGEONISM: A SURLY MAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE.

Crigger continues to enjoy writing and is now co-authoring a book “I Am Haunted” and has four other novels underway. He likes spending time with his family, and appreciates the days he gets to spend with them.

Q: What inspired you to write CURMUDGEONISM: A SURLY MAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE? Why did you write it?

Kelly Crigger: I went through a dark period in 2013 where I lost my father and my business and was kinda pissed at the world and people in general. When you own a business you see the worst in people. They all want to take advantage of you or lie to your face and it really jaded me. At the time I’d been writing down life lessons for my kids and was planning to put them into a book for them. So I just got drunk one night and took all those lessons and rewrote them with a “fuck you world” attitude and 8 weeks later the book was done. Once I got started I couldn’t stop myself.

Q: When did you comprehend the significance of curmudgeonism?

Kelly Crigger: About a year after retiring from the Army I was lost and really wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I was used to a life of selfless service where everyone helps and trusts each other and landed in a world of backstabbing, lying assholes. I figured there were probably a lot of midlife men like me struggling with their place in life and wrote this for them.

Q: How helpful is humor to recognizing and coping with curmudgeonism?

Kelly Crigger: Very. My book comes across as angry (and it is) but it’s also laced with humor…if you can recognize it. John Cleese said it best – “Humor is best when it’s mean spirited.” I took that to heart.

Q: You offer advice on “how to cope” with this “midlife tailspin.” Is this advice based on your own discovery of Curmudgeonism? Or did you research scientific or medical authorities?

Kelly Crigger: My own tailspin that I am only just barely coming out of. You have to remember that men are wired to provide (at least the ones who give a shit are). When anything threatens our ability to bring home the bacon, put a roof over our family’s heads, or pay for braces, we freak out just a little and dedicate our energies to bringing the world back into balance by ensuring we provide now and in the future. 

Q: One of the reviewers of CURMUDGEONISM says, “this book is about one thing above all else: reality.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Kelly Crigger: Of course I agree. I dedicated part of the book to those namby pamby souls who turn a blind eye to reality and try to wish it away. Men go to war, immigrants are here, drugs are everywhere. To encase yourself in a cocoon of denial is stupid and doesn’t help solve any of these problems.

Q: Do you believe that your insight into curmudgeonism applies to men worldwide? Or is it more pertinent to men in the US and developed countries?

Kelly Crigger: I’d like to think it’s applicable to men everywhere, but I’m willing to bet there are cultural differences that would make men in different countries look at me like an idiot. Islam doesn’t treat women like we do, so I’m sure my views on the opposite sex would not go over well with them.

Q: What are the top three to five tips you might offer to curmudgeons?

Kelly Crigger: 1. Live and let live, meaning when you encounter morons just give them a wide berth and be comfortable in knowing they’re morons and you’re not.
2. When you cannot avoid encountering a moron, let him have it. Prove he’s a moron not to be an asshole, but to help him recognize that he’s a moron and you’re only trying to help reduce his moronism.
3. Never apologize for being a curmudgeon.

Q: Did you learn anything when writing CURMUDGEONISM?

Kelly Crigger: I write angry subjects better when I drink.

Q: What’s next? Any novels in your future or do you prefer non-fiction?

Kelly Crigger: I’m co-writing a book with Zak Bagans called I Am Haunted that comes out in February. It’s on Amazon now. After that I’ll be working on novels. I have 4 in various stages of production.

Q: Tell us about Kelly Crigger. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Kelly Crigger: Drink and hate everything. Just kidding. I love to write and be with my family. I’m kind of a hermit. My job is Chemical and Biological Defense, but for the most part I’m just sitting in my house with my family as much as possible because I know these days are limited. The kids will move out eventually and if they’re like me they’ll never look back.

About Kelly Crigger

Kelly Crigger is an angry troll who lives under a bridge, eats goats that wander past, and throws their bones into the canyon of despair.

Discovering who you are is not just for teenagers. Midlife men must also rediscover the world around them while struggling with their own impending mortality and legacy, especially those who change careers and lifestyles.

Middle-aged men like me are under siege, beset on all sides by personal ambition, internal expectations, familial pressure, disillusionment, uncertainty, and legacy. It’s a constant battle to balance the needs of the self and the needs of others and a struggle to discover which ones really take priority. Some win this battle and some tragically lose.

Curmudgeonism is a state of mind, unwavering, unapologetic, and uninterested in what people think. We are the proverbial old dog that can’t be taught new tricks because we know the old tricks are tried and true. We have firm beliefs that can’t be shaken. Free trade is good. True leaders are rare. Happiness is a luxury. Golf is a waste of time and we don’t have enough years left to be unproductive. We don’t apologize for our views because we’ve spent half a lifetime developing them. Theory and idealism sounds good in school but only until it becomes cost prohibitive and the real world determines ground truth. Curmudgeons are uncaring about what people think and have low expectations on the world because it’s done little more than disappoint us. We’re middle aged and tired of looking, acting, feeling the way people want us to, so we’re breaking out and being who we were meant to be; irascible curs who make the world a better place through brutal honesty. We see this as our duty and take it seriously.


Twitter address - @kellycrigger or @curmudgeonism

Follow the entire Curmudgeonsim Tour HERE
Brought to you by Worldwind Virtual Book Tours

Monday, October 20, 2014

CHECK IT OUT: Character Jillian Hillcrest Introduces New Protagonist and Cover of Mystery HILLTOP SUNSET

Character Jillian Hillcrest solves mysteries written by yours truly, Joyce T. Strand. When she’s not sleuthing, publicist Jillian promotes her company. She joins us today to introduce a new protagonist, Brynn Bancroft, and the cover of her premier mystery, HILLTOP SUNSET: A BRYNN BANCROFT MYSTERY scheduled for launch Nov. 12, 2014.

by Jillian Hillcrest 
Character from the Jillian Hillcrest Mysteries

I am so excited to introduce Brynn Bancroft as the latest protagonist for Joyce T. Strand’s mysteries. My fans will recall that in the Jillian Hillcrest Mystery series, Brynn was my boss. She served as Chief Financial Officer of Harmonia Therapeutics in Silicon Valley, California. Unfortunately, Brynn—a shapely blonde with a MENSA IQ—had an affair with the CEO of the company. The CEO’s wife figured out that the two were involved and asked Brynn to leave the company, which she agreed to do.

In the meantime, Brynn’s husband, Liam grew tired of waiting for Brynn to commit to their relationship after 14 years of marriage and asked for a divorce--even though he was aware of her upbringing in an abusive family. At the same time, he solicited her assistance in developing his new winery in Sonoma County, Calif.

Much like me in my series, Brynn, too, attracts mystery and murders as she grows to enjoy life at her ex-husband’s Hilltop Sunset Winery. 

Oh, and by the way, I do appear now and again in the Brynn Bancroft mysteries. I’m just not the star!

HILLTOP SUNSET, a mystery set in wine country pitting financial exec—my boss—Brynn Bancroft against a determined stalker, a troubled love interest, and career clashes. Like all Joyce T. Strand mysteries, HILLTOP SUNSET is drawn from a real California case.

Brynn learns that a former employee who beat her nearly to death has returned to stalk her and me, Jillian Hillcrest, also a former victim.  Recently divorced, Brynn turns to a new love interest only to encounter additional unwelcome issues. Meanwhile, I notice that short-timer Brynn, who has resigned from her Silicon Valley company, becomes bored fulfilling her remaining responsibilities there. She seems to prefer supporting the launch of her ex-husband’s new hilltop winery while waiting to move to her next position.

Between our stalker and her new love interest, Brynn faces a series of life-threatening events—some of which I share.

Brynn says, “I welcome readers to watch how I transition from Chief Financial Officer to winemaker amid confrontation with a stalker, murders, and a new love interest.”

You won’t want to miss Brynn’s premier mystery. Watch for it! If you doubt me, you can

Publication date for HILLTOP SUNSET is November 12, 2014. It will be available in e-book and paperback on Amazon and e-book on Nook.

Watch for blog tours and giveaways.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sylvia Stein, Author

Sylvia Stein, Author
Sylvia Stein brings us her first novella, CLOSURE, reviewed as “a story about monsters, but not the monsters of typical horror books, these monsters (alcohol and cancer) are reality.” Stein says that she pulled her story partially out of her own childhood and she tells it to inspire readers to hope. Her villain is alcohol, coupled to death and child abuse.

Stein currently lives with her husband and three children. She loves to speak Spanish, and when she’s not writing, to spend time with her family. She has published several short stories, and is currently working on her second novel, “Chasing Clarity.”

Q: What inspired you to write a book about child abuse? Why did you write CLOSURE?

Sylvia Stein: I began writing CLOSURE not as a book about child abuse but to tell a story of a young girl who grows up into a woman and is left with the lingering abuse of her past due to her father.   This book was not only to show the affect of child abuse but also to show how the loss of her mother affects Sara and her father Garrison and how it leads them both into trying to find their way back and if it is even a possibility for them.

 Q:  Reviewers tout how real your characters are in CLOSURE. How did you achieve this? Were you able to draw on any actual people?

Sylvia Stein: I am pleased with the Reviews.  I am also happy that the readers have connected with CLOSURE and have found the characters so real.   The main reasons are because I based them off many of those people I knew back home.  These characters of Sara and Garrison are based on them and their experiences and I added the alcoholism because that affected my parents and ultimately ended their marriage, which affected all of us.  It was a bit of what we went through; the only difference was that my father got help eventually and he was never abusive to any of us but for my mother enough was enough. Luckily they were able to become friends and then after getting sober my father lived a happy life with all of us.  He loved all of us, and we all built a great relationship and then sadly in 2005 he passed away. 

Q: A story about death, alcoholism, and child abuse could be depressing. Where do you make CLOSURE compelling and inviting to read?

Sylvia Stein: Yes, CLOSURE tackles death, alcoholism and child abuse but I tell the story in a way that the reader is able to follow not only Sara’s Journey but also find out a bit more about Garrison’s as well.   The way I make it compelling and inviting is to have written it with all the emotion that lets the reader not only follow the story but ultimately lets them reach their own empathy for the characters. 

Q: How do you create the emotional response felt by many reviewers of CLOSURE?

Sylvia Stein:  As I said CLOSURE is close to my heart because I have known others that have dealt with these issues.   I also added my own struggles within my family in regards to how I felt when someone you love is caught up within the monster that is alcohol and what it does to the entire family.   This is why I believe reviewers are responding in the same way.

Q: How accurate are the attributes of alcoholism and child abuse? Did you need to do research for credibility?

Sylvia Stein: The attributes of alcoholism are accurate because I did the research and I made sure all of it was compelling within the story. 

Q: Does the concept of hero vs. villain apply to CLOSURE? If so, who do you consider to be the villain? What attributes contribute to creating an effective villain?

Sylvia Stein: No, for me I do not think I would classify any of the characters as villains.  I would say the villain is alcohol and that is the monster.  Then there is the sadness that is Cancer. However, I do see heroes in the story; for example, Sara’s Aunt Valerie and her Uncle Kyle, Dr. Baker, the AA for Garrison and all the nurses of the Hospice.  And let’s not forget in the end Sara and Garrison became heroes in their own right. 

Q: Did you write CLOSURE to entertain readers, to educate them, to deliver a message, to inspire?

Sylvia Stein: I wrote CLOSURE to deliver a message and to inspire their emotions and to ultimately create the faith to hold on to hope.

Q: How relevant or supportive to telling your story was the setting? Could CLOSURE have occurred anywhere at any time?

Sylvia Stein: For the setting I focused on cities that I am familiar with.  I think they could have occurred anywhere. 

Q: What’s next?

Sylvia Stein: Well, right now I am working on my second novel called, “Chasing Clarity” which I began writing for my first National Novel Month last November 2013.  It should be out in December and I am also taking my online classes for my Master’s of Creative Writing and English with a concentration in Fiction; I will be graduating next August. 

Q: Tell us about Sylvia Stein. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sylvia Stein: I love speaking Spanish.  I was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas to my parents Catarina and Ramon Olivares.  They immigrated from Mexico along with their parents and they provided a better life for all of us.  When I am not writing I love to spend time with my family.  My three children and my husband are my everything. I love having a fun night of being mom and going out to a nice dinner with all of them.  I also love to attend church because my faith is everything too.

About Sylvia Stein

Author Sylvia Stein began her path to writing when she joined the Writer’s Group on Linked in 750 in 2012.  She continued her journey by creating short stories, which were published in the Giant tales Anthology series.

While obtaining her Masters degree at Southern New Hampshire University online, author Stein built a solid foundation with her colleagues who encouraged her to continue her writing. That’s when CLOSURE was born.

With the help of her editor CLOSURE grew from a short story to a full novella that Author Stein is excited to share.  CLOSURE is her debut book as a solo writer.   To quote author Stein,  “ This is the first of many to come.”


After years of abuse, Sara’s aunt visits. She recognizes the abuse and removes Sara. The frail girl begins the delicate journey of finding herself, while struggling to leave her father and the monster behind.

Despite the emotional and mental scars she carried, Sara manages to start a new life. She is finally happy.

A phone call changes everything.

Will Sara continue her new life? Can she face the monster, or will she find closure?


Chapter 2

In the dark corner of a room, Sara James waited until the monster fell asleep.

Who was the monster?

Garrison James, her father.

It amazed her how much had changed in the few short months since her mother, Lila left. It felt as if it happened over night.

At first, he seemed absent. Then the yelling, drinking, and angry glares erupted whenever she entered the same room as him. Soon, he began calling her names. When she thought things could not get worse, the real abuse began.

He’s not my dad! He’s a monster!

Heavy footsteps tromped towards the room. She gulped in jagged breaths and looked to the ceiling while blinking rapidly. A feeble attempt to control her tears.
When hiding from the monster found her, she would replay what she did wrong and how he caught her the time before.

Don’t cry, she reminded herself, that’s how he finds you.

She looked around the once lively home for a sweet reminder of better times. There was a time when the house was surrounded by a beautiful garden. Her and her mother would walk hand in hand and choose which flowers to bring inside. Now, the windows were closed, and the vase that usually held flowers sat empty. No matter where she looked, there was no sign of happiness or life.

The house had become a vessel of sorrow and pain.

Mommy, think of her.

She closed her eyes and forced images of her favorite memories. A brief smile appeared as thoughts reverted her to one of the many times when her mother taught her how to bake cookies.

“Oh, Momma, I miss you,” she whispered.

The memory of her mother distracted Sara from the harsh reality. However, nearly as quick as the memories arrived, they dissipated, and before she knew it, the monster began lashing out.

“Sara! Sara! Where are you?” he screamed.

Realizing she had made noise. Sara covered her mouth and began internally praying.


Twitter address: @sylvia_stein07