Guest Blog: Time Travel, Medieval Scotland… and Trombones?

Author Laura Vosika

Guest blog from LAURA VOSIKA
March, 2018

I wandered into time travel by way of a children’s novel called In the Keep of Time, and I wandered from there into medieval Scotland by way of trombone—admittedly not the normal route!

In the Keep of Time was probably the first time travel story I ever read. Written by Margaret Anderson in the 70s, it told the story of four siblings—Andrew, Eleanor, Edward, and Ollie—who are left with their elderly great aunt in Scotland for a summer. They are not as enthused as Aunt Grace about the medieval ruin—Smailholm Keep—to which she holds the key. Nonetheless, with nothing else to do, they go in. When Ollie wiggles between bars and falls, they race to the lower floor, dreading what they’ll find. The last thing they expect is—cattle. And it has suddenly become night. They have been transported to Scotland of the 1500s, and the impending battle at which James II—James of the Fiery Face—will die.

Some time later, I took up trombone. As the years went by, I tried the famous trombone theme and variations, Blue Bells of Scotland, based on the old folk song of the same name. The lyrics—about streaming banners and noble deeds—described just the sort of book I would like to read.

Well, if you’re going to tell a story about streaming banners and noble deeds, chances are it’s going to involve a battle. My research brought me to Bannockburn, the great David and Goliath clash between the earth-shaking forces of Edward II of England, and the much smaller, ill-equipped army of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.

And so came about the story of Shawn Kleiner, arrogant, obnoxious classical musician with star-level fame—and notoriety—finding himself caught in medieval Scotland. Without his fame and money, things are very different. People there will run him through with a pitchfork for kissing their daughters! He is expected to see the lovely Allene safely through the wilderness, pursued by English soldiers, to raise troops for the impending and potentially disastrous battle that might destroy Scotland.

It is also the story of Niall Campbell, noble and upright medieval Highlander, caught in modern Scotland and mistaken for Shawn, reading a horrifying history of his own people, and seeking a way back across time to save them, fighting against all the anger Shawn has left in his wake.

The rest is—dare I say?—history! Blue Bells of Scotland came out in 2009, spending most of a year in the top 100 in all three of its categories. It was followed by The Minstrel Boy, The Water is Wide, and Westering Home, telling the story of Niall and Shawn’s growing friendship as they work together for the Bruce, and seek a way to get Shawn home.The fifth and final book, The Battle is O’er, is available March 23, 2018.

Blue Bells Bk 1 by Laura Vosika  The Minstrel Boy by Laura Vosika  Blue Bells Bk 3 by Laura Vosika  Blue Bells Bk 4 by Laura Vosika  Blue Bells Bk 3 by Laura Vosika

So what’s next, after nine years of Shawn, Niall, the Laird, Allene, Amy, Christina, and the boy Red found in an ancient Roman fort?

I have many projects on my plate. A couple of these are non-fiction—Theology of Music, to be co-written with Dr. Chris R. Powell, and a book on large families (I have nine children, myself). But I do have a work in progress called The Castle of Dromore (anyone familiar with Celtic music will notice a theme here!) which, while a ghost story rather than time travel, does, like The Blue Bells Chronicles, tell dual tales of events in modern and medieval Scotland.

It is the story of Lisa Quinn, harpist and mother, recently widowed and under a dark suspicion in her native Boston. She sells all she has and puts it all into buying a medieval castle in Scotland, where she moves her five lively boys for a fresh start.

Only after she’s turned over all her money does she discover the castle is haunted. A lady in green appears in the courtyard, beckoning to one of the boarded up towers. She appears fond of Lisa’s boys in particular. A mysterious harp plays in Lisa’s rooms. Lisa’s greatest fear is her boys finding out their new home is haunted.

Meanwhile, back in medieval Scotland… bit by bit, Lisa learns the tragic tale of Christian and Anna, of Sir Thomas, of jealousies, betrayals, and the final act that ties the woman in green to the castle of Dromore.

Sometimes, in learning the past, we heal from our own and find our way to a better future.


“You know these tunnels?” the chief asked.

“I know them well,” Shawn said tersely.

You’re in your time. That had been Amy, as he led her, too, seven hundred years later, just months ago in July, through these same passages. A chill shot through him, wondering if Niall might be down here. He had seen just a glimpse of him, as he burst into the chapel, just a glimpse of his best friend, his brother, knife raised, looking at Simon, as he faded away. Yes, he, too, would be in these passages, searching for Simon in his own time.

“How do you know them?” Clive asked. His light played over the dirt floor.

“Watch carefully,” Shawn returned. “There’s a side passage opening up. He could be hiding there.”

“How do you know them?” Clive asked again.

“I told you,” Shawn said irritably. “I spent a good part of two years here.”

“You were only gone a year.”

In the close passage, Shawn spun. “Do you not get it? There’s a medieval madman down here—maybe—who will kill you. He’ll have his knife under your ribs and through your heart in the blink of an eye, if you’re not paying attention! Could we maybe have our coffee klatch later?”

In the shadowed light of the labyrinth, Clive’s face remained passive, his eyes dark. He nodded, and spoke to the chief. “Guard the exit. I’ll go with Kleiner.” Before his boss could object, he pushed ahead in the cramped tunnel, saying over his shoulder, “You’re needed at the precinct.”


Many thanks to Laura Vosika for sharing her story with us. Please check out more about Laura at:





Laura will be doing an ‘author takeover’ at Liter (arily) Speaking—Nurture Your Books on March 24, from 4:30 to 7:30.

Guest blog: Fiona Mcvie


Interview with Lynda Engler
Guest blog from Fiona Mcvie, March 3, 2017

Fiona: Tell us your latest news?

I’m very excited to announce that Into the Yellow Zone book 2 in the Into the Outside series, is releasing March 31, 2017. All my beta readers say the first book was good, but this sequel is awesome. I agree. Part of becoming a better is writer is improving along the way, and I’ve taken that to heart. I love to learn and grow as an author and as a person.

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve always written short stories as a kid, and I wrote for the school paper in college, but I didn’t write my first full-length novel until my son was in middle school. It started out of a project her was doing in school and we wrote the novel together. Well, I wrote, and he read and gave me “what if” contributions. That book became the middle grade, time travel fantasy The Forgotten Isle.

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When The Forgotten Isle was published I knew I was a “writer,” but writing (and dreaming) has always been part of who I am.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

I’m very conversational… most of my action moves forward as the characters converse. I tend to write the entire scene with dialog first, then go back and write in the stage directions, and lastly, I put in the scenery and sensory details. I don’t know if that counts as a writing style or a method, but it’s how my brain works.

Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? 

Classic sci-fi has influenced me a lot, especially Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, but more recent authors such as Jack McDevitt and Robert Sawyer are ongoing influences. I love the way they weave a story together, revealing important details little by little, and wrapping it all up in the end in a way that satisfies.

Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who  is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Oh boy, that’s a tough one. There are so many great new authors in the last ten years. If I had to pick just one, my favorite – hands down – is Jodi Taylor. I have read every one of her Chronicles of St. Mary’s series of time travel books, including the short stories she released in between novels. Her writing is snarkily humorous, smart, and every story keeps you on the edge of your seat with expectations around every corner.

Read the rest of the interview

INTO THE YELLOW ZONE – Coming March 31, 2017

Available March 31, 2017.

Into the Yellow Zone, by Lynda Engler


Shelter-girl Isabella journeys into the dangerous Yellow Zone to find the one man who might save them all. But can her brother Luke catch her in time to save her from a deadly disease? Into the Yellow Zone is a thought provoking YA dystopian romance, set in a darkly riveting world that will appeal to fans of Marie Lu’s Legend.

Humanity has hidden underground for fifty years since the Final War destroyed the Earth. Above ground, short-lived, mutated humans eke out a meager existence. When 16-year-old Isabella falls in love with a mutant tribe’s 17-year-old leader, she leaves her shelter to follow her heart into the dangerous Outside.

They have found happiness in the small mutant settlement of Telemark, but when their Wiccan seer has a vision of an old scientist mixing things in test tubes, Isabella and her new husband, Malcolm, are certain the old man is working on a cure for the poisons Outside. Together, they leave the community and most of their tribe behind, to find him. Now they journey into the dangerous Yellow Zone to find the one man who might save them all.

Unknown to Isabella, her cousin-brother, Luke, escapes from the military base and races against time to save her from a deadly disease she does not know she is carrying. Can Luke find her before she succumbs?

Young Adult Science Fiction (Ages 15+)
ISBN: 978-1-53718557-6, 276 pages, 6″ x 9″
Available March 31, 2017.
Kindle: US $0.99, UK £0.83, EU 0.83
          FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers!
Paperback on Amazon: US $10.99, UK £6.99, EU 9.99

How to Start a Novel

Guest Blog, by Jim Aikin.

How to Start a Novel

No, I don’t mean, “How to start writing your novel.” That’s a different topic. Lately I’ve been pondering how novelists begin their narrative: the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page. The conventional wisdom is that the writer needs to hook the reader without delay by deploying an element that’s compelling, that grabs the reader and doesn’t let go.

Good writers have always done this. Two thousand years ago, Virgil began the Aeneid by saying, “Arms and the hero I sing….” The singing bit was, of course, what poets were felt, at that time, to be doing. The hook is that he’s going to tell us about war and heroism.

The danger, for the aspiring or inexperienced writer, is that the opening can be handled in a cheap or misleading way. I remember taking a look not long ago (I didn’t read much past the opening) at a novel in which, in the opening scene, the viewpoint character and her boyfriend are on a picnic and are suddenly menaced by monsters. That’s certainly a grabber. The trouble is, a few pages later she wakes up. It was only a dream.

This cheats the reader: There was no actual danger in the scene. A writer who cheats the reader cannot be trusted. If you lose your reader’s trust on page five, you’re doomed. Dream openings are almost always a mistake. If you feel you have to start with a dream in order to give the reader a compelling scene, possibly you need to rethink the whole story. Or possibly you just need to relax and not try so hard.

Opening scenes with pulse-pounding action are popular these days in genre fiction. I glanced at a book this week (using Amazon’s handy Look Inside feature) that opens with the heroine shooting someone. In the first paragraph, blood spurting. That’s certainly effective as a way of getting the reader’s attention, but I would never start a book that way. Two things make me nervous about such a dramatic opener. First, where can you go from there except down? If you try to keep up that level of intensity for 300 pages, your readers will soon be exhausted and probably bored. Second, an opening that’s a shocker leaves too much unexplained. Why are these people shooting at one another? Should we care?

I prefer to start with an opening that leads the reader forward in a more subtle way. If there’s going to be a gun battle in Chapter One, start by showing your hero loading the gun. That will get our attention, and you’ll have a few pages to establish a context for the impending violence.

In the 19th century, novelists weren’t competing with TV and the movies, so they could indulge in longer, more leisurely openings. Dickens begins Nicholas Nickleby with the marriage of Nicholas’s grandfather and then lets us glimpse Nicholas’ uncle Ralph as a schoolboy. By Chapter Three, Ralph (now middle-aged) is center stage, and Nicholas himself hasn’t yet appeared. But Dickens was a master storyteller, and his readers knew it. He could get away with a slow opener.

A century before Dickens, Defoe opened Moll Flanders with a little more punch. It’s narrated in first person, and starts like this: “My true name is so well known in the records, or registers, in Newgate and at the Old Bailey, and there are some things of such consequence still depending there relating to my particular conduct, that it is not to be expected I should set my name or the account of my family to this work; perhaps after my death it may be better known; at present it would not be proper, no, not though a general pardon should be issued, even without exception of persons or crimes.”

There you have it. The narrator is telling us straight out that her conduct has been so infamous that she’s going to have to disguise her identity. As an opening hook today, the language would have to be very different, but in 1722 it was perfect.

Here’s another fine example. David Goodis is largely forgotten today; a contemporary of Dashiell Hammett, he wrote moody crime novels, including Dark Passage, which was made into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart. Dark Passage opens like this: “It was a tough break. Parry was innocent. On top of that he was a decent sort of guy who never bothered people and wanted to lead a quiet life. But there was too much on the other side and on his side of it there was practically nothing. The jury decided he was guilty. The judge handed him a life sentence and he was taken to San Quentin.”

Writers today are admonished over and over to “show, don’t tell!” That passage from Goodis is pure telling; there’s not a speck of showing anywhere in it. Yet the telling is absolutely essential. If Parry himself protested his innocence, we would have to doubt it. Killers love to proclaim their innocence. No, the author has to tell us in order to set up the plot properly. And as an opening hook for a crime novel, that paragraph would be hard to beat.

You don’t need blood spurting. A good opening should lure the reader in by presenting the essence of your story in a provocative and somewhat mysterious way. A novel is a big, big canvas: You’ll have plenty of time to show us the blood spurting.

See more of Jim’s work at Jim Aikin’s Oblong Blob: Random Rambling & Questionable Commentary

Three Easy Steps to Successful Editing

Three Steps to Successful Editing

The writers brain – okay maybe every brain! – has two sides. The left is for editing, the right is for creativity. One side comes up with inspiration and the other side perfects it. I don’t care what you think: you cannot do both at once. Effective writing means turning off the editor brain and just writing, writing, writing. But once you are done with all that creativity, it’s time to turn on the editor side of your brain. Trust me – this works.

Finish your novel. Then, step away from it for a while, preferably a few weeks. Go do something else. Write something else, read, take a cruise. Whatever. But STAY AWAY FROM YOUR MANUSCRIPT. Now… take a deep breath and let’s get started editing!

Step 1. Read through your book as fast as possible. Don’t take notes. Don’t edit. Just read. This step is searching for the intuitive feel a reader gets from your overall story. The goal of this step is to figure out how well you’ve captured what you set out to do.

Step 2. Now read it again, but this time focus on how well each component works in your story. This is a broad, sweeping edit that looks at style, tone, structure, pacing, and characters. As you do this second read through, ask questions and take notes.

  • Does your story draw the reader in within the first ten pages? Does it have a hook?
  • Does your main character have an opponent or antagonist that is captivating on their own?
  • Is there sustained conflict from your protagonist or antagonist? (If it’s a mystery, you may not know who the antagonist is, but then you should have multiple possible opponents – each should be developed enough to be interesting.)
  • Are the characters motivated enough to propel the plot forward?
  • Does the “middle bit” (the second act of a 3-act-play plot structure) grow steadily in complexity?
  • Are your time, place and situation clearly laid out so the reader is grounded in a “venue”?
  • Does Act 3 build to a climax?
  • Is your climax the top of your conflict arc and does it change everything for the protagonist?
  • Does your main character prevail because of their own actions?
  • Has your protagonist had a life-changing experience?
  • Does the ending satisfy all the questions brought up in the story?
  • Is your prose all in the same verb tense?
  • Is your point of view consistent?

Step 3. Go in for the nitty gritty now. Read again, but this time you are paying attention to elements such as scenes, pacing, conflict levels, characterization, narrative, dialog, and setting. As you do this third read through, ask questions and make notes in the story.

  • Are additional scenes needed in places to fill out the story arc?
  • Do you need more conflict in certain places? Is there enough tension?
  • Can weak scenes be deleted?
    • Does every scene reveal crucial information?
    • Does the scene propel the plot forward?
    • Does the scene have consequences that decide what happens next?
    • Is something meaningful happening?
  • Is your dialogue sharp and focused? Cut out useless chit chat and boring greetings. Cut to the meat of the story in each line of dialogue.
  • Does each character have their own unique voice? Dialogue should be realistic, but don’t overdo dialect or shortened words.
  • Does your writing use action words? Action verbs create vivid mental images.
  • Does your writing use enough sensory words? Use all five senses – not just what something looked or sounded like. Introduce sensory actions like hunger, thirst, itches, heat, cold, pain, and soft touches.

Go forth and edit, edit, edit now!

Being an Effective Beta Reader: Fact, Fiction and How-To’s

Beta ReaderFact: Authors need readers who will give honest, helpful suggestions on their writing before submitting a completed manuscript to an editor, publisher or self-publishing their works.

Fact: Friends and family are helpful, and often well-meaning, but authors need unaffiliated readers more.

Fiction: The average reader can’t beta-read because they aren’t professional proofreaders. WRONG!

When I ask someone to beta-read my manuscript, I want them to give me their detailed impression and thoughts as they read the story. I don’t want proofreading! I want to know what they are thinking and feeling at each point. I literally want to read their minds. This lets me know if I’m connecting, communicating and having the impact I intended.

So how do you do that? Simple: As you read, think about these questions and jot down notes. If you are working from a paper copy, make notes in the margins. If you are reading a Word file, use the comments feature.

* Was the opening compelling?
* Did you get oriented quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, and where and when it’s taking place (with the exception of mysteries where you’re not supposed to know just yet)?
* What scenes/paragraphs/lines did you really like?
* What parts did you dislike or not like as much?
* Where did you get bored?
* What parts resonated with you and/or moved you emotionally?
* What parts should be compressed?
* What parts should be elaborated on?
* What parts are confusing?
* Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, etc.?
* Did you relate to the main character? Did you feel their pain or excitement?
* Were the characters believable? Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likeable?
* Did the setting pull you in, and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?
* Did the dialogue sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial?
* Was the ending satisfying? Believable?
* Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?

Make your notes, and send them back to the author in a “reasonable timeframe.” You should discuss that with the author in advance. Authors at the beta stage are itching to submit their work… they don’t want to wait a year for your thoughts.

Most important advice for beta-readers: be honest… but don’t be mean.

For more helpful hints, read “Ten Rules for Beta Reader Etiquette:”

Happy beta-reading!

Plot it Out or Fly By the Seat of Your Pants?

Writing TipsThere are two different approaches to novel writing. Figure out the plot in advance or just start writing and see where your journey takes you. Actually – there is a third approach, a combination of the two. Each has its merits, each its pitfalls, and every author makes their own choice.

Plotters have it all figured out beforehand. They have an outline (even if only in their head) of the whole story before they start writing. While this approach will keep you from pulling out your hair, binge drinking, and sleepless nights of wide-awake terror, it could also make for a story that feels mechanical, rendering scenes lifeless and flat.

The “flying by the seat of your pants” method opens up the writer to sudden moments of inspiration when their subconscious dumps creative surprises onto their keyboard. Stories written using this method can follow a brisk pace, filling the writer’s journey with creative answers to plot questions that may even surprise the author. Of course, moments of true creative genius can be few and far between, and the author may suffer from writers block when those brilliant creative moments don’t come. And then there is the problem with a creative flash of genius that takes the story down a road that completely destroys other parts of the plot. These side road trips can cause days/weeks/months (fill in the blank) of arduous rewrites.

Blending the two methods makes for a much more effective strategy. Start with an outline – a road map from start to finish. Follow your instincts at first, but also follow the map you created. Inspiration will still hit but those moments of brilliance will become more thoughtful and purposeful now that they have a structure to fit into. Don’t overplot – listing every single event that will happen isn’t necessary. Leave room for flying by the seat of your pants.

Combining the two strategies is all about being flexible. Keep all your writers tools and strategies handy, and pull them out as you go along, whether it’s in the plotting phase or the genius phase. Using all your intermingled strategies slants the odds in your favor that in the end you will have a vivid, complex and readable novel, rather than a near-miss manuscript.

Short is the new long

I thought short stories stopped being relevant for professional writers decades ago, when mainstream magazines (ie Saturday Evening Post) stopped publishing fiction. Wrong.

Short stories are having a revival in the digital age! Thanks to consumers who want quick bites of info and things like Kindle Singles, consumers love short.

Working on a SciFi Short called Time’s Anchor. It’s getting some beta reading right now, but I intend to publish it by end of April. Will keep you posted.

KindleUnlimited: Is Amazon taking over the entire eBook market?

I suppose that we are late to the game as far as KindleUnlimited is concerned, but alas, “Into the Outside” is now available for KU subscribers.

We love the KU concept for readers; pay one price for the monthly subscription and then download and read unlimited number of titles (hence it’s rather ‘uncreative’ name, lol). However, as an author, to put your book into the program, you have to exclusively distribute your eBook on Amazon. When “Into the Outside” was released back in July, we happily put it up on Nook, Kobo, and iBooks. Being forced to remove them from those platforms seemed detrimental to distribution, so we shied away from KU. But after initial sales figures came in, it seemed that the vast majority of books are getting into our readers hands through Kindle.

So we apologize to Nook users and invite you to come over to the Dark Side and enjoy the Kindle platform. You don’t have to buy a device … it works great on your smartphone!

We would love to hear from some Nook/Kobo/iBook users about this subject as well. Are you loosing out on titles because of KindleUnlimited? Is Amazon taking over the entire eBook market?

Into the Outside now free for KINDLE UNLIMITED subscribers!

Fifty years ago the Earth died. In its place emerges a dangerous jungle world with oddly altered wildlife and a handful of short-lived mutated humans. Below ground, survivors wait…

But you don’t need to now that you can read for free!

We hope you enjoy spending time with Isabella, Malcolm and all the others in the book. If you do, please visit Amazon and leave an honest review. Reviews have an enormous impact on an author’s success and the few minutes it takes you really helps us authors out.

And if you are looking for more great reads, Isabella, Malcolm and Luke will be back in the sequel, Into the Yellow Zone.