Sunday, May 31, 2020


These are the most listened-to episodes of the week. Did your favorite make the list?

1)   Carmen Cook 
2)   Matilda Swift
3)   Jason LaVelle
4)   MJ Preston
5)   CJ Baty
6)   Will North
7)   Kristina Rienzi
8)   Abigail Keam
9)   Ilene Goff Kaufmann
10) Di Ainsworth

*stats compiled from - these do not include numbers from ArtistFirst Radio Network

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Writing for Escape, Reading for Delight ~ by Jessica Lauryn

When I was in kindergarten, I couldn’t wait to get done with my work, so that I could get to “play time.” Our teacher would give us assignments, then, call us up to her desk, one at a time, to come and check them over. Once we were given a thumbs up so-to-speak, we could have the remainder of the time during which it took our classmates to finish their assignments, to play. I lived for play time! So excited one day, I called out to announce that I was finished with my work, then was told that, as punishment for calling out, I had to wait until the end to have my work checked. I’ve never had a lot of patience. As an adult, I still find myself racing through whatever work and chores need to be done in order to get to play time. For me, that time is writing time.

During my recent podcast interview with Kristine, I was reminded that she, like me, is a writer for whom there are never enough hours in the day, because she has so many story ideas it would be impossible to write them all, at least as quickly as our minds can cook them up. I understand this problem all too well! I have dozens of story ideas ready to be written, and I rarely suffer from writers’ block. It’s just that with all of the responsibilities life demands of us, it isn’t always easy to find the time to do what we love. Stories take time to develop and though doing so can be the most thrilling exercise in the world for a passionate writer, we don’t always get to choose how we spend our time. Life comes with its share of responsibilities. Though, it’s essential that we take time for ourselves to decompress. Embracing your imagination is an excellent way to make that happen. of my author friends know that I first began writing just after I’d graduated from college. Though I was always writing in some form or another throughout my lifetime – creating soap-opera-like scenarios with my dolls or spinning stories inside my own head – this was the first time I treated writing like a real job. The word job makes many of us cringe, but I quickly realized that for me, writing doesn’t feel like work. Exactly the opposite – it’s an escape, a chance to create a fantasy world that is all mine, to allow my imagination to go wherever it will and of course, since I write romance, there will always be a happily ever after.

I’ve fought hard for “writing time.” Like with “play time” it seems that writing time often comes at the end of the list of priorities, when we’ve gotten our “real” work done. I hear so many writers say that they get up early, before the rest of their family is awake, or write into the wee hours of the night. I see nothing wrong with that as long as the writer is doing it because she wants to, because it is her best time to write. I hate the idea that so many of us are forced to make writing our last priority. I hate it so much that in one of my day jobs, one in which I had very little responsibility, I proceeded to write four books with my time. Though my “multitasking” was eventually discovered, I have no regrets about how I spent that time, because it was some of the most enjoyable time of my life. Free of the guilt of not having a “real job,” I was able to relax and write stories in a way that few opportunities since have provided me with. I wrote faster than I ever have before in my life and with my evenings free to read, I read as many as three books at a time, which not only helped me to improve my own writing but provided me with even more of an escape. We all need to escape, once in a while.

With all of the anxiety in our world today, we need to escape now more than ever. It saddens me to hear fellow writers say that they’re so stressed out that they haven’t been able to write these last few months at all. I understand how these writers feel but I also encourage them to try sitting at their keyboards again, or perhaps to read some of their old stories, or another author’s stories. These tricks have helped me at times when I was stuck, taking me back inside a fantasy world and eventually, the words just flowed. Whatever your distress, writing and reading can provide an outlet. That outlet is always there for you, if you can allow yourself to be swept away by it.

Being a writer today doesn’t mean what it did thirty years ago. Whether we’re self-published or traditionally published, most of us are doing our own marketing and that means just one more thing added on to a long list of responsibilities. Author Laura Kaye once said that as writers, we should expect to spend 50% of our time writing and 50% of it marketing. Those of us in the room in which we were told this gasped – carving out writing time is hard enough as it is, but to give up half of it for marketing. How could this be done? How would we ever find the joy in our writing, with our time for writing being even more limited?

It took me a long time to accept the fact that this advice was good, solid advice. Writing is a business, and unless you already have an enormous following, no one is going to market our books for us. If we value our own work, showcasing it is something we have to do for ourselves and it’s something we owe ourselves the chance to do. That said, if writing is a business, can it still be an escape?

Considering this question, I’m taken back to my earliest days as a writer. And the truth is that whatever time I manage to carve out for writing still brings me joy. I take great pleasure in being transported to another time, another place, experiencing the thrills, excitement and danger through the eyes of my characters, just as I did before I wrote for a living. And the same goes double for reading—experiencing a story through another author’s perspective, not knowing what twists and turns lie ahead, it’s truly amazing. Writing, for me, will always be an escape. And reading is just delightful.

Listen to Jessica Lauryn's podcast episodes here and here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Episode 168 - Guest Carmen Cook

Carmen Cook – author of The Sapphire Creek series.!5b32f

Episode 167 - Guest Jason LaVelle

Jason LaVelle – author of the A Dark Night thriller series, A Flutter of Darkness, and The Dying World Chronicles.!5b32f

Sunday, May 24, 2020


These are the most listened-to episodes of the week. Did your favorite make the list?

1)   Matilda Swift 
2)   Sharon Pape 
3)   Ilene Goff Kaufmann
4)   Judith Katz
5)   MJ Preston
6)   Leah Pugh
7)   CJ Baty
8)   Dee Stewart
9)   Will North
10) Bullet Books Speed Reads Part Two

*stats compiled from - these do not include numbers from ArtistFirst Radio Network

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Careers and writing lessons ~ by Tom Combs

Like many of you writing is not my first career. I’m a retired emergency physician. I’m honored to have been asked to share thoughts on writing.

To discuss writing it seemed reasonable to share some of my personal story and how it led to my two very different careers.

I was a Minneapolis kid from a big family. After a solid grade school education I spent aimless high school years accomplishing little (authority issues/knucklehead).

My family culture pushed me to apply for college. I was accepted despite poor high school grades due to SAT and ACT test scores. I had no objective in mind. The initial years I majored in partying and what I now refer to as “misdirected studies”.

I matured, met my wife-to-be Michele, and though a number of experiences came to believe in the dream of a career in medicine. I applied myself and after years of study and work I was lucky enough to be accepted to the U of MNMedical School.

I obtained my medical degree in 1984 and started my internship at Hennepin County Medical Center. There I was introduced to the relatively new specialty of emergency medicine. I knew immediately it was a good fit for me. I did three years of emergency medicine specialty training at the University of Cincinnati. I then returned to Mpls and an emergency room position in a busy, inner-city, level one trauma center. I spent most of my life there working day, evening, and nights from 1985 to 2007. Emergency medicine dominated my life.

Besides being the destination for the sickest and most grievously injured among us, ERs are the safety net for our society. Emergency departments care for everyone - those that are the sickest, the most critical, the poorest, and the most vulnerable. No one is turned away. It is the resource for victims of illness, violence/crime, natural disaster, mental illness, substance abuse, and those who have nothing and no one.

It’s a place where every hour round-the-clock people present with life-changing and, not rarely, life-ending crises. Working in emergency medicine you know that the worst thing that happens to anyone in your community will end up coming to you and your team.

In addition to “typical” critical illness and accidents, every day and night mental health crises, drug and alcohol tragedies, and both the victims and perpetrators of the worst imaginable crimes are cared for in the emergency department.

When police have individuals who are too violent for them to control they are brought to the emergency department. When people are acutely psychotic, suicidal, or homicidal they are brought to the ER. The ER is a world very few people are aware of and much different than anything I experienced growing up in my solid and intact family.

I’ve worked many shifts where multiple, grievously injured patients present at the same time all with lethal injuries. Car crashes with entire families in desperately injured.

I’ve taken care of five gang members who arrived by ambulance within minutes of one another who had minutes to live due to gaping stab wounds to their chests and collapsed lungs. The tubes I needed to drive into their chests to restore their collapsed lungs and manage their internal bleeding resulted in so much blood jetting out that my legs were soaked and my saturated shoes squished with each footstep.

Most cases are not as dramatic but the urgency is often no less and the diagnoses more difficult. And it always matters that you get it right…

That was my world in emergency medicine. It was my career. It was my endlessly challenging professional life for over 20 years. My work as an emergency medicine physician was a huge part of who I was.

On November 7, 2007 everything changed.

It was 5:31 p.m. and I was at home when a bomb went off in my head.

That’s what it felt like. The medical term is subarachnoid hemorrhage and it is the result of an aneurysm - an abnormal blood vessel that had burst in my brain.

Nearly 50% of people who experience this die immediately. 60 to 70% % die in the first hours and days. Those that survive typically have the significant compromise of a major stroke.

I spent 10 days in the neuro-intensive care unit though I don’t remember much of that time. I was lucky. I didn’t have any weakness or problems with movement but I did have cognitive issues. I couldn’t read for months and had ongoing issues with operational memory and attention. I was not able to multitask and was easily distracted. I was not reliable enough to babysit. I could not enter my credit card number on the internet and had to write where I parked my car for about 18 months.

Not surprisingly I lost my job as an emergency physician.

After about two years of rehab and healing I had recovered my reading ability enough that I entertained the idea that perhaps I could write. I hoped that I might be able to create for others the incredible pleasure and satisfaction that I enjoyed in reading a good book.

I started taking writing courses. In my first course I learned the most important lesson of my now 12-plus year writing career.

I’d attended a writing course with about 30 other students for 10 weeks. We had assignments each week yet they’d never been collected. A woman in the class asked if we were to ever get any individual feedback.

The instructor assigned the following. Each of us was to write a dramatic scene. He broke the class into four person groups and advised that we should make four printed copies of our scene and the next week we could exchange copies with those in our group - in the final week we would critique and workshop one another’s writing.

I attempted to write a scene reflecting an experience I had as a young physician. Here were the events I attempted to describe:

In my three years of working and emergency medicine training at the U of Cincinnati, I was also the helicopter flight physician. If a first responder felt a patient or patients were in desperate enough circumstances they could summon the air care helicopter to the scene. I carried the flight beeper while working my shifts in the ER. When the beeper went off I needed to hand off my current patients to colleagues (and nurses) to watch over while I ran to the flight elevator and rode to the helipad on the roof of the hospital.

On this day I climbed into the thundering helicopter and as we dove off the pad I put on my headphones. The dispatcher advised we were in route to a 30s-year-old black female who had been pulled unresponsive from a swimming pool. Our reported ETA was four minutes.

In those minutes I ran through the dozens of possible causes and interventions that might be involved – hoping there was something that could be done. As the helicopter touched down I saw two paramedics performing CPR. I exited the helicopter, ducked under the blades and ran to their side and assessed the patient – desperately looking for any possible way to save her life.

This type of experience and critical thinking was a regular experience for me. It was clear everything that could be done, had been done. She was gone. We stopped CPR. I had to pronounce the her dead.

We flew back to the hospital with her body on board. I returned to the ER and continued with the cares of my patients and the multiple other new patients that were flooding the ER. I was waiting for the physician’s worst job.

In these situations the hospital staff contact family members and advise them to “come to the ER”. They do not inform of death.

An hour or so later the charge nurse informed me that members of the deceased woman’s family had arrived. I made my way through the packed and noisy ER waiting room into the adjoining small, windowless room designated as the family room.

A 50s-year-old black female wearing clothes that look suitable for an office job was seated with one hand held to her mouth and the other gripped by a perhaps 10-year-old thin black boy who stood leaning tight against her. He wore a T-shirt, faded jeans too short for his legs, and bright red Converse tennis shoes with the tongues hanging out.

The woman and child’s postures and expressions radiated dread.

It was my job to inform this mother that her daughter was dead… to tell this young boy that his mother was forever gone. There is no way to soften such a reality.

They were bludgeoned by news and clutched one another in their agony. In their grief they showed dignity, courage, an incredible togetherness, and love. It made my throat clench and eyes water.

Approaching sirens intruded reminding me I needed to get back to the ER to other patients. I gently squeezed the woman’s shoulder and asked if there was anything I could do for them. She looked up with tears streaming and patted my hand as if she were comforting me.

As I turned to leave the boy left his grandmother’s side and stood in front of me. He looked me in the eye and said, “Did you try everything for my mom?”

I met his gaze, nodded while my heart ached, and answered, “We tried everything.”

He paused, nodded and then extended his hand. I shook his hand with my heart aching.

“Thank you,” he said. “Now it’s up to me to take care of my Grandma and little sister.”

That was the scene I tried to write for the assignment. Its impact on me has never faded. I could not have read it aloud.

The last week our group met to share critiques. One guy in my group had a Masters in screenwriting – not sure why he was in this entry level class – but he said “let’s do his first” referencing my scene to the two young women who completed our group.

The first young woman held up my few pages and said. “I really didn’t like it. The doctor was just so cold.”

The second woman nodded, “Yeah. He really just didn’t care at all.”

The screenwriter added, “Yeah. There’s something here but it’s a mess.”

I did not say a word. Totally shocked. How was it possible they’d got it so “wrong”?

As I processed their response I recognized an incredible lesson in writing. What had I learned?

It didn’t matter what was in my memory, heart and mind. What mattered were the words on the page.

The words I’d written did not make the experience and emotion accessible to my classmates. I’d failed to provide the words that allowed the readers to share in the powerful, poignant reality I’d experienced. In all scenes, factual or those we’ve created, the drama and feeling we seek to share must be communicated by the words on the page.

Talent, craft and artistry are factors that direct us on how to accomplish the magical shared alchemy. The critical lesson I learned is what the author’s essential task actually is and that the words on the page determine if we are successful.

Do the words on the page communicate the essence of the experience? Do they allow the reader to feel what stirs us as the author?

Clearly what I had written failed to communicate the meaning and intensity of what had occurred. I needed to learn to put words on the page with the skill and artistry necessary to create a unique but shared experience. To allow the reader to engage—to feel.

This recognition was the most significant writing lesson I’ve learned. Perhaps this sounds overly simplistic to others but this awareness is an essential guide for me in my writing efforts. Will the words on the page allow the reader to experience what I’m hoping they will? Do the words allow them to engage? To care? To feel?

I continue with my efforts to make that happen as I work on book #4 in my medical mystery-thriller series.

I hope my long-winded recounting may help you in your efforts to accomplish the challenges we face.

Thank you!

Tom Combs



Listen to Tom Combs' podcast episode here

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Episode 166 - Guest Matilda Swift


Matilda Swift – author of The Heathervale Mystery series.!5b32f

Episode 165 - Guest Sharon Pape

Sharon Pape – author of the A Portrait of Crime Mystery series, For Everything A Season, and An Abracadabra Mystery series.