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GRACE FALLS – New Release from G.A. Finocchiaro!

Writing Bloc is pleased to announce our second full-length single-author work! GRACE FALLS was produced under the Identity Crisis Books imprint, which is managed by Head of Editing Cari Dubiel. We were so pleased to work with G.A. Finocchiaro on this collection of short works, all set in the small town of Grace Falls, Pennsylvania, where Lovecraft meets Stranger Things.

We talked with Finocchiaro about his book, the process of writing it, and what is coming next.

Tell us about GRACE FALLS and how it came to be. What was your inspiration?

GRACE FALLS started out as an idea to grow the mythology of the world I was creating. I was inspired by the way Stephen King connected his worlds together, and I wanted to do the same with the way he wrote the town of Derry. I love how he, and his son Joe Hill, winked at the reader with subtle hints as to the larger scope of the events taking place. With that mythology in mind, I wanted to write a bunch of short stories that were fun, creepy, and allowed me to pay homage to my favorite episodes of Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, Tales from the Darkside, Tales from the Crypt, and more. 
I grew up in a small town, and there was always that creepy house, or that strange place that stirred rumors. Small towns have this way of creating their own mythologies because of their isolation. So I drew a lot of inspiration from my own childhood.

How are the stories linked together, and how do they fit into the greater universe of your work?

The outcomes of the individual stories bleed into each other through the characters and events over the course of one calendar year in Grace Falls. Sometimes it’s merely a suggestion that a character was there, and other times it’s through the direct outcome of the previous story. Every event is connected in some way, and those willing to dive in should be able to pick up on connections between each story within this anthology, as well as to my first book, The Knightmares

This town and its inhabitants are at the center of a mystery that will ripple outward into every story I write. Their lives and histories will set up the overall mythology for everything that happens across all of my books. I was always fascinated with World War I, and how there were many events that led to the outbreak of war. That’s how I see my novels—each story building up to a breaking point.

“Mum,” the first story in GRACE FALLS, will ultimately be the start of the chaos within the book, but it is only a symptom of a greater threat to the town and its people. And as you finish the book with “Extraordinary,” you’ll get a small glimpse at the cosmic levels of danger involved. The stories in between, in particular “Breacher” and “Pajamas,” have a direct connection as they share the same, literal, back yard. “Cubicle 43-B” is the most isolated story, but its protagonist has direct influence on the life of the characters in “Extraordinary.” However, the best thread throughout the anthology comes in the form of its mysterious villain… but I won’t give away the fun.  

What’s your writing routine like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m actually somewhere in between. I usually plot out all my chapters, but then I find that the narrative or a character’s arc organically should go a different direction, and I adjust. I also end up with a ton of notes, adding and subtracting things, throughout the course of writing my drafts. I view writing a lot like sculpting from a piece of rock. Everything starts with a large whole, and as a writer I slowly whittle it away, refining, until I have something I like. 

Your book is set in the 80s. How did you choose this timeframe? What did you research to make sure the setting was accurate?

Pop culture exploded in the 80s. I love that era, growing up, and look back fondly on it. It was a super weird decade filled with some of the most fascinating movies and music we have ever seen as a culture. To pay homage to the things that made me into who I am begins back then with The Monster Squad, Goonies, The Last Starfighter, and more. I wanted to tell stories about innocence versus darkness like the heroes of my youth. 

What are you working on next?

I am currently working on a 4-part story (tentatively) that takes place, in part, within Grace Falls and includes some of its many characters I established within this current book. The series as a whole is called Cataclysm, for now, and is separated into these four titles:

  1. The Raptor
  2. The Omega
  3. The Two-Eyed Man
  4. Cataclysm

The story is a love story set against horrific events, both fantastic and real-life. I like to say it’s a cross between 13 Reasons WhyThe Crow, and Clash of the Titans. This story will expand upon the characters of Grace Falls. 

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Interview with Jackie Pulpit – Author of Questionable Morels

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jackie Pulpit since we were in a writers’ group together many years ago. Since then, Jackie has found great success in independent publishing under other names. Questionable Morels is the first in the Naturalist Selection cozy mystery series, starring protagonist Fern Rivers. Fern must question everything she knows to be true after a mysterious death rocks her small metropark community.

I loved the book, so I wanted to ask Jackie a few questions about the upcoming release!

This is your cozy debut. How is this work different from other work you have written? Why did you choose to write a cozy? 

Aside from switching perspectives from third to first person, not too much about the writing and creation process changed for me. Stepping away from fantasy and sci-fi was refreshing, and I enjoy writing situational dialogue in a present-day mystery. The biggest difference was having to detail the plot from top to bottom. I’m a bit of a pantser, in that I usually have a general idea of what my story is going to be so I can keep things loose and free to change if necessary along the way. Mysteries need to be solved—pun intended—on the outline before the main character can do it themselves.

I chose to write my cozy series because of two reasons. One being my love of PBS mysteries: who doesn’t enjoy watching the likes of Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes sniffing around for clues and solving complex murders in interesting settings? Two, because of a friend’s recommendation of the cozy genre. I’d never heard the term before that point. I researched it and fell in love.

Fern Rivers is a naturalist. What was your inspiration for this story world? How does the natural world inform your writing? 

My wife is the inspiration for Fern Rivers. They are alike in so many ways that I think she’s a bit weirded out by it. Nature, in general, informs my writing. My series takes place in the fictional town of Duskview, where Lake Erie, lush green forests, and a small, sleepy town are prominently displayed. The Cleveland Metroparks and its Emerald Necklace are a treasure trove of beauty and inspiration, and I feel that the cozy genre is lacking a focus on such a splendid setting. Having a naturalist as the sleuth protagonist is also a blast to explore. It helps that I’ve also been around outdoor education for two decades.

Fern has to work two part-time jobs to make ends meet, plus live with her ex-boyfriend. I personally enjoyed the inherent conflict that this situation added to the main murder plot. I also loved the giddy nerdiness of Fern’s ex, Alexander. What do you think readers will like about this story? 

Personally, I really hope readers will enjoy what I hope is a fresh take on this genre by exploring outdoor education and the strong female presence found in parks all around the world. I like to think that people will learn something about nature and the local wildlife of Northeast Ohio. I attempted what I hope is a unique approach to the recipes normally found in culinary cozies by providing original artwork of certain plants and wildlife mentioned in the novel. As for the nerdy ex-boyfriend, Alexander, I had so much fun writing him, and I intend to explore his character a lot more. In today’s society, I felt that having two Millennial ex-lovers living and working together made sense and had endless potential for conflict, growth, and hilarity.

What are your future plans for Fern? How will she grow (ha ha, see what I did there) in forthcoming stories? 

I did see what you did there. 🙂 Fern’s character will indeed grow, and I plan on throwing some particularly tricky mysteries her way in the next couple books. I have three books in total planned as of right now, along with a prequel short story. I’m going to tackle a budding romance, explore the unusual relationship between her and her ex, dive into painful family memory, and continue to introduce people to the natural world.

Questionable Morels will be released on September 3, 2019. Order your copy today!

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How to Write Great Reviews

As a librarian, I am constantly thinking about book reviews. I use them to select books for my library’s collection, as well as to decide which titles to hand-sell to my patrons. I review for Booklist and read reviews critically. I see a review as a tool – something to help people make decisions about a book before reading it. And it’s cool to give back to the reading community by creating those tools after I’ve enjoyed a book.

In my writer-life, it’s different. Reviews of my own work make me cringe. I cannot open the Goodreads pages for anything I’ve written. Better to remain in la-la land.

Because here’s the thing – reviews are for readers.

And every reader will have a subjective opinion. Whether you’re indie-published, trad-published, or in some little hybrid land like I am, your reviews are not all going to be five stars. Even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the highest-rated book on Goodreads, has 4.62 stars. 

In library terms, we call that 1. Every book its reader and 2. Every reader their book. These are two of S.R. Ranganathan’s five laws of librarianship. Some readers will resonate with your work, and others will loathe it. That truth cannot be avoided, and it means that as writers, we must become comfortable with reviews that we don’t like.

OK. Now that you’ve sat with it for a while, we can get back to the task and art of writing reviews of other people’s work.

Some writers will give the advice that you shouldn’t review other people’s work at all. That’s a perfectly valid choice, and it’s your boundary to set as a writer. For me, it’s not feasible. First, because I’m a librarian, and second, because I just can’t stop reading books. Seriously. It’s an addiction.

So I have some Very Particular Rules for how I review and blurb. I generally do not rate anything lower than four stars. I figure, if the book was worth my time to read and I enjoyed it, it’s worth four or five stars. If I am sent a book for Booklist that I cannot review under this criteria, I decline to review it. But, like the decision to review or not review, your star-code is yours to set. Readers vary widely over this – some readers will give one star even if they read the entire book! This is another reason why the stars are so subjective.

A few other general tips:

  1. Don’t use the review as a platform.
    1. Remember – the review is for readers. Now, if you have some connection to the book, you may certainly state that. But the reader is not interested in what you have to say about your own work. They are trying to figure out if the book is worth their time investment. Also, this is not the time to be using writerly jargon, being overly critical, or give feedback the way you would in a writer’s workshop. The book is published. That time is over.
  2. Do comment on the very specific strengths of the book.
    1. What sets this book apart? I like to think of myself as writing a query letter for someone else’s book every time I write a review. I’m helping the author sell the book by pointing out its strengths. 
  3. Do focus on the appeal factors.
    1. If you are not familiar with appeal factors – brush up! We librarians use them to help match readers with books. These are the juicy characteristics of books which entice readers: plot, character, language, setting, and so forth. Here is a fabulous crash course which I use in my readers’ advisory classes for librarians (thanks, Molly At the Library!) 
  4. Do be mindful of the star rating.
    1. “But, Cari, you just said the stars don’t matter!” Yes, I did. But the overall star rating will impact how readers receive your review. I’m not saying you should change anything based on it – stick to your star-code. Just know that the star rating is there and it’s part of the package.
  5. Do acknowledge the author’s hard work.
    1. A thoughtful review helps the author know that it was worth it for them to put that work out into the world. Help keep the good karma wheel spinning.
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Author Interview Writing Life

Interview with Vivien Chien: Murder Most Cozy

I’ve known Vivien Chien since before she got her first contract. It’s been amazing to watch her star rise, from her #ownvoices debut Death by Dumpling to her latest, Murder Lo Mein, which comes out today! I was lucky enough to host Vivien at the library where I work for her first book launch, and since then, our patrons have been clamoring for her new releases.

Vivien brings real Cleveland flavor to her stories. I’m a native myself, and I love that I can picture her protagonist’s journeys through the city as she solves her puzzles. And if you’re reading them, make sure you have your favorite noodle shop on speed dial, because you will get hungry. Vivien is a master at describing the tasty dishes served by the Ho-Lee Noodle House.

I chatted with Vivien to see what she’s up to these days!

Tell us about the Noodle Shop series. 

The Noodle Shop mysteries take place in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio and feature Lana Lee, a late twenty-something Asian-American who is trying to gracefully steer her way through life after hitting a severe rough patch. When we first meet Lana in Death by Dumpling, she is at the beginning of her new adventure, working in her parents’ Chinese restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House. Of course, while getting back on her feet, murders ensue. (And wouldn’t that just figure?) The series follows her journey along with a cast of wacky characters who may or may not be considered “dysfunctional.”

What do you like best about MURDER LO MEIN, the third book in the series? What part of it was the most fun to write?

Honestly, I can’t pick just one part of Murder Lo Mein to like best. I have to say this is my favorite one out of the three and I love the story as a whole. (As cheesy as that answer sounds, it’s completely true!) The most fun I had writing were the fortune cookie bits, and the scenes between detective Adam Trudeau and Lana. I really enjoy exploring the dynamic of their budding relationship. 

How do you balance a full-time job along with writing your cozies? Do you have any productivity tips?

The balancing act can be a challenge at times, but the end result is completely worth it. I write after work throughout the week and accomplish what I can in about an hour or so. Then a lot of times on the weekends, I’ll have writing marathons that last about 8-10 hours straight. These sessions usually involve mass amounts of coffee and the occasional doughnut.

My best advice on productivity would be to stop making excuses as to why you can’t sit in that chair and write. “Those darn dishes” or “that blasted laundry” will still be there an hour from now. Then once you’re sitting, the next step would be to forget about checking your email, logging into social media, or buying that really awesome bookshelf from Amazon. Those things will also still be there later.

And lastly, I would say, don’t get hung up on perfection. We lose many a minute by worrying how a particular sentence sounds or the problem we find with an entire paragraph. Get it down first, fuss later. 

WONTON TERROR is due out in August. What are your plans following that release?


After Wonton Terror, there will definitely be two more books in the Noodle Shop series, and they will follow the same publication schedule of two books released per year. I do also plan on proposing more books in the series to ensure that Lana has a long life in the cozy mystery world.

Aside from these books, I have a few other book proposals up my sleeve. One series involves a female P.I. who will also make a guest appearance in book five of the Noodle Shop mysteries, and the other involves a story-line in the paranormal realm. It will still be a mystery, but it’ll involve a predominantly supernatural cast of characters.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Never give up! I think that is the single most important thing for any writer to know. So many of us can be easily discouraged because writing AND getting published can be a very daunting task. But all you have to do is keep believing in yourself. That is key.

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Writing Life

Write Smart, Part II: How to Set Goals

So, after weighing the pros and cons, you’ve decided to start a writing project. You’ve read Write Smart, Part I, and you’ve asked yourself the hard questions. Why do you want to write? What does writing bring to your life? Or, what do you want it to bring? Now that you’ve examined those motivations, you can begin setting goals.

Some writers will simply open a blank document and start typing. There is certainly nothing wrong with this. I often think of Natalie Goldberg and her essential Writing Down the Bones – writing “hot,” as she calls it, flexes our creative muscles. It’s a great way to tap into your core, that primal place of emotion, which can really help to drive your writing. But without a plan, without any sort of map to find your way, this type of writing can get frustrating fast.

There’s a lot to learn at the beginning, and it’s easy for new writers to decide this pursuit is hopeless and unworthy. Having a plan will also help keep you moving forward. Even in the hardest times, when your kids are crying and there are mountains of laundry, and you are questioning your idea to do this at all, you will know that achieving a small goal will make you feel good. Dopamine, the brain chemical that drives our actions, will kick in.

So how do we set those goals?

You’ve probably heard of SMART goals – they’re all the rage in business, and they apply here too. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

I’m going to focus on Achievable here – that’s the most important for beginning writers. Choose a goal you can reasonably achieve. You won’t be able to write a novel overnight. Heck, I’m still rewriting the novel I started almost two years ago.

Let’s imagine we want to write a novel. We have to break that down into its component parts:

-Studying plot and structure

-Outlining

-Drafting

-Rewriting

-Line editing

And that’s before you include everything a publisher or agent might ask for, if your novel makes it that far – meaning you might have to revisit these steps second, third, and fourth times. An important note about goal-setting – be prepared to revise those goals as many times as necessary.

So let’s break it down even further. Maybe you’re an absolute beginner. You know you want to write a mystery novel. What kind? A cozy, a thriller, a police procedural? Go to the library and check out five of your favorite type of mystery. Check out five books on craft, too. Assign yourself the goal of reading for half an hour a day and making notes. Or you can choose a writing conference or writers’ group to attend.

As you become more advanced, you can adjust your goals to specific word counts or actions to complete within appropriate time frames. I use Kanban Flow to monitor my tasks. It’s free and customizable – I personally have different to-do lists for each day, color-coded based on the type of task. But you can use any software, bullet journal, or even just loose paper to track your progress.

Got some ideas? Great! Join us next time for an overview of the publishing industry, so you can get even more information on how to move your career forward!

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Writing Life

Write Smart, Part I: Put Yourself First

As a librarian, I often get questions about how to write a book, how to get published, what makes a good book, etc. In this series, I give my best thoughts on these issues as a resource for future students of writing.

One of the most frequent questions I get at the reference desk is: “How do I become a writer?”

Now, I get a lot of hard questions. I’ve been asked for an audiobook of the Bible in the original language. I’ve been asked to find a World War II survivor’s childhood home in England, which she fled during the Blitz. I’ve been asked for medical, legal, and even relationship advice. Sometimes there just is no easy answer.

I’ve been trying to convince myself I’m a writer for 20-something years, ever since I picked up a Garfield notebook in third grade and started writing little stories in it. At first, writing was something fun I could do in my spare time. Then it became something I had to do to let off steam. Then an English teacher pronounced me talented, and suddenly writing was a competition. I had to get better at it, not necessarily to be better than I was before, but to be better than other people. I clawed and fought and typed to earn others’ approval. I won some contests, got some articles published, lost some contests, got a lot of rejection letters. And through all that time, after all those words, I still couldn’t call myself a writer.

Not everyone liked me, and that meant I wasn’t good enough.

If you want to be a writer, you need to face this impostor syndrome head-on, over and over, and the only way to do that is to put yourself first.

This may seem counterproductive, especially if you practice empathy (which I do). Being kind to others is a necessity in today’s world. But if you do things that don’t make sense for you just to please someone else, then you will not have the energy to do what you want – which, I assume, is become a writer.

It took me a long time to understand that controlling the happiness of other people is not possible.

The only person you can make happy is yourself.

When I relentlessly pursued the approval of others, I lost myself. Writing lost its joy – it became something I had to do in order to maintain my identity. If I didn’t write, I beat myself up. I told myself I’d never get to the goals I wanted to achieve, even though I didn’t have any well-defined goals (more on goals in a future post). The point is that all this worry poisoned my life, and I continued to feel like an impostor on top of it.

I needed to change focus. I needed to put myself first in order to fully embrace my identity. When the rest of the world melted away, I was a writer. I was putting words on a page, stringing sentences together, developing characters.

Whether anyone cared or not, I was a writer.

By the way, other people’s non-writing expectations of you factor into this, too. Does your mother think your house should be sparkling clean? Does your spouse expect you to have dinner on the table every night? Does your boss want you to stay past quitting time even when it’s not necessary? You’re allowed to set your own boundaries, and if there’s a toxic person in your life getting in your way, you might need to address those issues.

You must practice self-care. Nourish your self-esteem. Do things that relax you and make you proud. Sometimes those things are hard – we can only grow when we get outside our comfort zone. But sometimes those things are as easy as closing your eyes and feeling the air move around your face.

I recently saw Sisters in Crime past president Laura diSilverio speak at an event. She talked a lot about the sobering reality of writing and publishing today: most people cannot earn a living from writing. So we must remember that joy comes from the writing process. We won’t magically feel better when we’re published. We won’t feel validated when we hit the New York Times bestseller list. Even Lee Child compares himself to James Patterson in sales. We are all striving for something, and that’s never going to end. Again – that’s how we grow.

So, my long answer to that short reference question: the first step to becoming a writer is to become self-aware. Actually, that’s also the first step to becoming human.

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