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Sunday, February 24, 2013

You're Going to Love 'Beachcomber Art'

Being an author means, you constantly question yourself. "Is this the right idea? Or should I have chosen another topic?" There's no way to tell if you are working on something really cool...or if you picked a lemon. And your confidence suffers accordingly.

I'd had a bad, sad couple of days where my doubts got the better of me, when the Universe decided to send me a sign. A detour on the highway took me right past Debbie Brookes' charming shop
 "Beachcomber Art,"

I walked through the front door, took one look at the kitchsy mermaid with her shell bodice, and told Debbie, "I'm in love!"

Debbie's art is EXACTLY the sort of work that I had envisioned for my new heroine.

"I use nature's timeless elements to create art that reaffirms beauty and individuality," she says. Here she is next to an old screen door that she re-purposed by adding a mirror and a cross-section of seashells.

She started with decorative boxes for her friends. See the two above? Note the amazing cluster of shells on top.

And moved to a variety of home decor items, such as this chest, mirror and the candlesticks.

Along the way, her sense of whimsy played into her pieces, as with her fish. (Be sure to click on the photos so you can see them as larger images.)

Her light fixtures are simply divine, especially this one with seaglass.

Now my heroine will also do work that's much more simple. I plan for her to share projects that anyone can tackle at home. In addition, she'll be an avid DIY (Do It Yourself) type that loves to hunt for flea market bargains and turn them into treasures. In fact, that's the name of my new series: The Trash to Treasure Mystery Series. It's about a woman whose life is trashed, but who turns "lemons into lemonade" and winds up creating treasures.

I'd love to hear your feedback!

Friday, February 22, 2013

How to Judge Whether Criticism Is Fair or Not

"Kaizen" is a wonderful Japanese word that means constant and neverending improvement. I've taken that idea to heart. I want every book I write to be better than the last. One way I can improve is by paying attention to criticism. But not all criticism is equally valuable. And some criticism should be promptly forgotten. How can you tell what's what?

By considering the intent of your critic.

People share their criticisms for a myriad of reasons:

1. Because they really care. Yesterday I went to the website of my favorite local restaurant. There I discovered that they had misspelled "romantic." I called them, made my reservation, and mentioned the misspelling. I said, "I love your place so much that I don't want anyone to misjudge how perfect you are! Your place is awesome! And your food and service are superb!" Yes, I really, really love that place, so I told them what I noticed in the hopes that I might contribute to their wonderfulness.

2. Because they are jealous. This is the saddest form of criticism because it comes from a nasty place. How can you tell jealous criticism? By the level of emotion. When the criticism springs from a jealous place, it is almost always full of hyperbole. The tone is overwrought. Frantic. Excessive. Therefore, I am suspect of any review that's full of clever stinging remarks, but no substance. The reviewer is saying, "See? I am smarter than the author whose work I'm reviewing. Look at me! Aren't I clever?"

3. Because they are disappointed. That's what happened to me the other day. The person reviewing my work expected me to take a certain approach. But I didn't. So my reviewer was disappointed--and his criticism was colored accordingly. After nursing some bruised feelings, I tried to sort out which portions of his criticism were valid. Among the lumps of coal there were a few diamonds. Now I'm more excited than ever about my project.

4. Because they have experience and knowledge that leads them to believe you've gone astray. This is a variation of "they care," but in this case, there's a professional bias that underlines their suggestions. The reader has expertise to drawn on. However, the reader can still be wrong. For example, I approached another author about a pre-publication blurb (an endorsement) for Paper, Scissors, Death. She had some publication experience, but not a lot, and she was very confident in her work. So she read Paper, Scissors, Death and promptly called me to say it should never be published. Ever. Fortunately, my publisher did not agree. After Paper, Scissors, Death was nominated for an Agatha Award, the author sent me a lovely apology along the lines of "gee, maybe I didn't know what I was talking about!" I don't think she was being malicious. I think she honestly thought I was making a mistake.

5. Because they're having a bad day. Or a bad month. Or a bad life. Let's face it: On any given day, some readers would have told Will Shakespeare to chuck his work into the fire. Call it the "bad hair day" syndrome. You know how it goes. Everything looks awful when you're having a bad hair day. And so, dear author, when a "bad hair day" reader reviews your work, you are sunk. They can't see the true merit of your project because misery has colored their lenses.

Once you realize that criticism can be leveled for a myriad of reasons, you can sift through the suggestions of your readers and decide whether these points are valid. More often than not, you'll be left holding a mixed bag. It certainly is tempting to toss out the whole mess. But if you do, you'll cheat yourself.

Here's my thinking... If there's even ONE helpful idea in a critique, I am eager to put that idea to good use. Never mind that my feelings are hurt. Never mind the reviewer's intention. Those are transitory things. My work is what matters.

Okay, your turn. Why do you think people offer criticism? How can you tell if the critic is being fair or not? Have you ever had to apologize because you misjudged something?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why Writers Need to Protect Fragile Beginnings...

It happened like this...
I shared three chapters of new work to someone I trust. That person finished reading my words, and said...nothing. NOTHING! Finally, I prompted my reader for a response.
"I want to think about this..." was all I got.
The next day the reader told me how disappointing my ideas were. The reader went on with a laundry list of "I thought you were going to...and I had envisioned." Yes, I could see a few valid criticisms, and a few ways that my work might improve, but somehow, sadly, all the joy had gone from my project.
I walked the beach and tried to re-kindle my enthusiasm. I ate a lot of carbs not on my diet. I tried to read a book. I tried to nap. No luck.
Mainly, all I want to do is cry.
My reader said, "I think you're putting too much on me. YOU are being unfair." 
And then I found this quotation from Apple's CEO Tim Cook, talking about Steve Jobs:
And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

Yep. Squished. That's what I'm feeling. Squished. Squashed flatter than a bug. Like all the wind has gone out of my sails.

So what have I learned from this? (And yes, I know I'm jumping from one POV to another in my list below. Sorry!)

1. Be very, very careful about sharing ideas with other people. Unfortunately, they can become too invested--and this leads other people to have a false sense of ownership. There's a huge gap between sharing an idea for a book or story and writing the thing. Trust me on this. When you share with other people, it's very easy for them to "think" they are co-creators. Unless that's part of the agreement up front, it's only wishful thinking on their part. I am the artist. I am the creator. They just offered a bit of inspiration. I'm doing the heavy lifting. They aren't. (This is exactly why so many people WANT to write a book and so few do. A book is more than a couple of ideas. A lot more. Most people can't handle the long haul.)

2. Do NOT hand your work over to people who have no respect for the creative process. You know who they are. Although my reader's comments had merit, the delivery system was flawed. Toxic even. I once had a boss who was wonderful with creative folks. He knew that we had to be given a wide berth when we were in the incubation period. He knew that we needed guidance rather than criticism. He came to our presentations with an open mind and no preconceptions. If our work didn't match what he might have expected, he would say, "Explain to me why you're taking this tack." When we strayed, he'd say, "I think the piece could benefit from a bit more blah-blah-blah.'" He was very, very good at getting the best out of us.

3. Learn to say, "Next!" and move on. I'm not going to let this ruin a perfectly joyful experience. So I picked the wrong person to let read my work. That doesn't mean I picked the wrong project. That doesn't mean my ideas stink. 

Which leads me to...

4. Realize that you are stronger than this. I need to remind myself that few people have the courage and the drive to see things through from idea to creation. I do. I will. That's part of my gift. No one can take that from me. 

And so I'll take a shower, rinse off the nega-cooties and get back to my writing. Boo-ya!

I'm curious. Have you had a similar experience? How did you cope?

And the Winner Is...


Please send me (Joanna) an email at and I'll get you in touch with Kaye.

Thanks to everyone for commenting!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

You Might Win a Touch of WHIMSEY!

My thanks to Joanna Campbell Slan for inviting me here to tell you about my new book.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley

My new book.


Never in a million years did I think I would say those words.

But after having gotten my toes wet writing a blog and then having two memoir pieces accepted for publication in two regional anthologies, my writing urges went crazy.

The result is a book I love.  It’s full of things I love, and while I know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s my heart. There's a quote attributed to Toni Morrison that many of you have probably seen--"If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."

I guess that’s what I did.

I've written the novel I wanted to write. It has magic and best girlfriends. There's pretty clothes and great food. There's laughter and love and music. Art and a perfect little gallery on a lovely little idyllic island in the Lowcountry. There's a ghost or two and a pixie named Earlene who happens to be partial to Christian Louboutins. It's impossible to put a tag on - kinda like the most interesting people I know who refuse to be placed in a single category. Eccentric and flawed. and fun.

And now, I hope to get the word out there in hopes that others with discover the joy of Whimsey.  ‘Cause, guess what – I’ve started Whimsey Book Two.   I guess I’m hooked after all.


How to Win Your Copy of WHIMSEY...

 I'd like to give one commenter a copy of WHIMSEY: A NOVEL. All you have to do is leave a comment and we'll draw a name. The winner can choose a print version or a Kindle version. We'll come back Friday morning to announce the winner, so be sure and check back then.

Thanks, everyone!  Very much.  I hope you'll all give WHIMSEY  a try and hope you love it.

My thanks to Joanna for having me!


WHIMSEY is Kaye Wilkinson Barley's first novel. She lives with her husband, Don, in the North Carolina mountains along with Harley Doodle Barley, the Wonder Corgi.

You can follow news about WHIMSEY here -

Kaye is Blog Mistress of Meanderings and Muses, which you can follow here -

She also steps in as "Oh, Kaye!" once a month at Jungle Red Writers -

Here's what people are saying about WHIMSEY - - 

- Margaret Maron, New York Times Best-Selling Author. Winner of the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity Awards, and 2013 Mystery Writers of America Grand Master

"Kaye Barley is a treasure and a delight. Her wit, wisdom, imagination--and yes, whimsy!--shine from every page."
- Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Award-Winning Author


WHIMSEY is a novel of southern fiction with a splash of magic and a touch of fantasy, topped with a sprinkling of humor.

The magic was already there when cigar-smoking matriarch Elizabeth Calhoun established an artist’s colony on an island off the coast of Georgia and named it Whimsey.

Elizabeth’s ghost still drops in from time to time to make sure things are going as she planned.

There’s also a wicked pixie named Earlene who fancies tight-fitting designer clothes and Louboutin stilettos.

Elizabeth’s grandniece, Emma Hamilton Foley, a once-promising jewelry designer who moved away from the island, now fears her talent has deserted her.

Along with her four best childhood friends, she has been invited to be a resident artist at Whimsey’s new upscale gallery, Les ├ętoiles. To join them, she’ll need to regain her talent, face the demons from her past and her feelings about Eli Tatnall, whom she loved as a girl.

Will moving back to Whimsey bring the magic back?

WHIMSEY is a story of hope and affirmation, about families and best girlfriends, connections and feelings. It’s about the things in life that make us happy and the things that scare us to death. And the people who walk through life with us.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Online Valentine's Day Party Features These Special Author Guests

You're invited to my online Valentine's Day Party on February 14, at 7 p.m. EST. Just go to and click on "Chat Room" in the lower left hand column. That'll take you into the Chat Room where you can join us for the party!

Guests at this special online Valentine’s Day Party will include: Shelly Arkon, author of
Secondhand Shoes; Mollie Cox Bryan, author of Scrapped; Nancy J. Cohen, author of Permed to Death; Chrystle Fiedler, author of Scent to Kill—and me! Joanna Campbell Slan, author of the Kiki Lowenstein Anthology, Volume 1, as well as Wave Good-Bye (written under the pen name “Lila Dare”).

Secondhand Shoes—by Shelly Arkon—The shoes didn’t fit. It was an omen. Eighteen year old psychic-medium-germ-a-phobe Lila should have listened to her ghostly Gram’s advice the morning of her wedding, “Take off that dress and those shoes. And run.” En route to the honeymoon, she decides to listen after too many disagreements with her groom. It doesn’t pay to go along to make everyone happy. Still in her wedding dress and shoes, she escapes out a diner’s bathroom window into the Florida woods despite her fear of snakes and germs with her dead Gram’s direction. So she begins a journey of finding her inner strength, putting her on a deadly run from her psychotic groom and his deranged friends. Will she ever get past her fear of germs and snakes? Will she survive her honeymoon?


Scrapped—by Mollie Cox Bryan—The ladies of the Cumberland Scrapbook Crop are welcoming an eccentric newbie into their fold. A self-proclaimed witch, Cookie Crandall can whip up a sumptuous vegan meal and rhapsodize about runes and moon phases with equal aplomb. She becomes fast friends with her fellow scrapbookers, including freelance reporter Annie, with whom she shares shallow roots in a community of established family trees. So when Cookie becomes the prime suspect in a series of bizarre murders, the croppers get scrappy and set out to clear her name. Annie starts digging and discovers that the victims each had strange runic patterns carved on their bodies--a piece of evidence that points the police in Cookie's direction. Even her friends begin to doubt her innocence when they find an ornate, spiritual scrapbook that an alleged beginner like Cookie could never have crafted. As Annie and the croppers search for answers, they'll uncover a shockingly wicked side of their once quiet town—and a killer on the prowl for another victim.


Permed to Death—by Nancy J. Cohen-- Hairstylist Marla Shore is giving grumpy Mrs. Kravitz a perm when her client croaks in the shampoo chair. If that isn’t enough to give her a bad hair day, handsome Detective Vail suspects Marla of poisoning the woman’s coffee creamer. 


Scent to Kill—by Chrystle Fiedler— When naturopathic doctor and shop owner Willow McQuade’s ex-boyfriend Simon Lewis invites her to a party for the cast and crew of a new television show at Long Island’s scenic Bixby Estate, she’s most excited to visit the property’s exclusive lavender farm. But a whole field of her favorite stress-reducing herb can’t provide enough soothing support to calm the effects of a murder!

Even the show’s psychic star didn’t predict the demise of Roger Bixby, the estate’s owner and estranged husband of Simon’s new girlfriend. Now Simon, who’s been collared by police, needs Willow’s help to remedy the situation. As Willow snoops about the mansion, offering natural cures to ease the mounting tension, a strange energy—and the discovery of an eerily similar unsolved murder decades earlier—makes her wonder whether the alternative source of the crime might actually be . . . supernatural. Can she find harmony between mind, body, and possibly even spirits before somebody else goes up in smoke?


Wave Good-Bye—by Joanna Campbell Slan writing as “Lila Dare”— St. Elizabeth, Georgia, offers charm, Southern hospitality—and the occasional murder. This time, when a new hair salon tries to steal business, it’s someone’s life that gets cut short…

Violetta’s salon is up in arms. Business is dead. Snippets, a big box haircutting chain, has opened in St. Elizabeth, undercutting prices and luring away loyal customers. Violetta’s daughter, hairdresser Grace Terhune, is shocked to discover that it’s her old high school rival Lisa Butterworth who’s behind the big sweep—and Grace isn’t going to take this sitting down. Snippets’ cold-blooded prized employee is doing wonders with Violetta’s client list. According to Lisa, it’s just business—until a bitter confrontation leaves Grace more than frustrated, and Lisa less than alive. Now Grace is the prime suspect in her rival’s murder. And only her friends at Violetta’s can save her—before the charge proves permanent.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Rules to Live By...

A dear friend is going through a difficult time with the man in her life, a high-powered guy who seems to relish  making her feel unimportant. Frankly, that's just pitiful because anyone who specializes in making you feel "less than" is a loser--and isn't worth your time. But sometimes we all get into situations where extricating ourselves takes time and planning. 

So I shared with her my rules for living. Maybe they'll make a difference to you, too.

1. Live your own life. No matter how busy or important the man is in your life, you need to have your own "world." It makes you more interesting, less available, and stronger. Don't do this out of spite. Do it because you only get one life, and waiting for another person to fulfill your dreams won't cut it.

2. Don't cancel things to make someone else happy. You'll feel miserable and resentful. The person you cancel for will get an inflated sense of his own power. It's a no win situation.

3. Have your own space. Virginia Wolfe was right: Every woman needs a room of her own. You need a bit of space. Everyone does.

4. Limit your exposure to toxic people. Sometimes that means driving yourself places or having money in your pocket to grab a cab and leave, if necessary. This is especially important if the guy in your life has family that you can't stand--or who can't stand you. If you are stuck in a place, with yucky people, they will sense their power and you'll be at their mercy. Always have an exit plan. Always.

5. Increase your exposure to loving people. Work to maintain and keep relationships with those who value you! (My sister Jane is great at this.) 

6. Don't take things personally. Other people have their own problems, and if you look for a personal slant, you only hurt yourself. Think like Forrest Gump. When someone was mean to him, he said, "Gee, that person is having a bad day." He never turned the other person's negativity into a personal insult.

7. Forget logic. People aren't logical. Even if they are very cerebral, they act out of emotions. Most importantly, when people feel threatened or small, they revert to their lowest selves. They act like children. Recognize this and you'll be able to discount their bad behavior, knowing that it's coming from a place of fear and loss.

8. Savor the good. Anticipate good things. Always have events on your calendar to look forward to. Daydream about those coming events. Take photos when you're there--and review the happy moments. Too often we spend more time and effort rehashing the negative than anticipating and remembering the good.

9. Dump the bad. Our minds are like a big pan of Jell-o. When you constantly revisit the bad and ugly, you pour a measuring cup of hot water into the pan. You dig a deep channel. The more you revisit that bad memory, the deeper you engrave it into your brain. Is that really what you want to do? No! So don't keep repeating all of life's hurts and bad memories. You're only making yourself miserable. (If you doubt this, think about how you feel AFTER you've shared that bad memory. Yucky, right? That's your body saying, "Don't revisit this.")

10. Don't let someone else's bad day become your bad day. (If they were covered with dog poop, would you invite them into your house to sit on your sofa? No...well. It's like that!) 

11. Have a lot of balls in the air. That way when one drops, you have more up there to look forward to! When something doesn't pan out, holler, "NEXT!" and move on.

12. Hang in there. It's only over when you quit. Or give up. Until then, a new success is just around the corner. If you throw in the towel too soon, you'll certainly lose.

12. That said, any relationship that gives you more grief than joy is not worth maintaining. So either change the dynamic or move on.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Introducing Shelly Arkon...

Note: Mark your calendars to join me at 7 p.m. EST at for an online Valentine's Day party! Just go to the words "chat room" in the lower left hand column, click and enter my Chat Room! There will be fun, surprises and prizes!

Introducing Shelly Arkon...

I met Shelly when I visited the Florida Writer's Association chapter in Tampa. What a doll she is! Her personality is as big as the sun in the Florida sky. So I asked her to join us at my online Valentine's Day party to tell us more about her paranormal romance, Secondhand Shoes.

When Shelly isn’t doing the laundry, cleaning, cooking, chasing grandkids, listening to daughter drama (five of them), or lopping heads of hair at the salon, she’s writing beside her two fur-peeps, Sir Poops and Hair Ball, popping an occasional chocolate while her hubby is flipping through TV channels.

She lives in New Port Richey with her husband and two dogs. She’s also a member of Florida Writer’s Association and Writer's of Mass Distraction.

Shelly will be giving away a copy of Secondhand Shoes.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Come to My Online Valentine's Day Party!

A pretty pink notebook by Vera Wang, a pink reading light and a pink  satchel  that comes in its own storage bag. (That's the rolled up item that says, "Happy Go Lucky." It's courtesy of K & Co.)
Join me and a quartet of my author friends as we celebrate Valentine's Day in style...with you! The party will begin at 7 p.m. EST on February 14, Thursday. I'll be giving away all sorts of cool loot--a pretty pink notebook by Vera Wang, a pink reading light, and a pink satchel that comes in its own storage bag. PLUS...a copy of my newest book Wave Good-Bye, the fourth book in the Southern Beauty Shop mystery series. I wrote it under the pen name of "Lila Dare." (Release date March 5, 2013)

I'll also give away a copy of the newest collection of Kiki Lowenstein Short Stories, the Kiki Lowenstein Anthology, Volume 1.

To attend, all you need to do is visit and click on the words "Chat Room" in the lower left hand column. Ta-da!

Now let me introduce my special guests:

* Shelly Arkon, author of Second-Hand Shoes
* Mollie Cox Bryan, author of Scrapped
* Nancy J. Cohen, author of the Bad Hair Day Mysteries
* Chrystle Fiedler, author of Scent to Kill

Over the next few days, I'll share more about each of my guests, so stay tuned!

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to be a TERRIFIC Moderator

One of my author friends just emailed me with this compliment: "Last year I saw you moderate a panel (I think it was at Malice), and your panelists were very intelligent, famous, witty women. You did an incredible job moderating. You were articulate, funny, and you have each one of them an opportunity to shine." She went on to ask me for any advice I could give her, since she's been tapped to moderate a panel at a writers' conference.

So here's my best stuff...

               1. Drink warm or room temp water. Cold water strains your voice and makes you screech. Sounds petty, but it helps.

               2. I introduced my panelists myself--and sometimes edited the intros they gave me. Usually if you let them do their own intros, they hurry through the good parts, mumble, and/or act like a mic hog. Also, you can spice up their intros and really emphasize their accomplishments while separating out the dreck. But DO make sure you know how to pronounce their names. ALWAYS speak the intro out loud a couple of times before your panel. Mouth memory is different from sight memory.

               3. Get lucky. Good panels have fun ideas to contribute...but I suggest you prod the authors and ask them for any help/thoughts/ideas they might offer.

               4. I told the panelists, "The point of this is to entertain. It's not for me to be in charge. So if you have a question for each other, or whatever, go for it."

               5. Google them. Look at their websites. The books are only part of the story. Listen to any previous interviews.

               6. Relax. Remember, the audience sincerely WANTS you to succeed. They don't want or care if you are perfect. They just want to have fun.

               7. Find out if the panelists know each other and try to get them to tell stories on each other. Interaction among them helps.

               8. Don't be afraid to get involved. People are curious about you, too. As long as you don't hog the mic, you can add your insights. The trick is...can you amplify something the
they've said? Can you expand on it? If so, the crowd will usually be okay with your interjection.

               9. If you are worried about Q and A afterwards, write up questions on index cards and sprinkle them through the audience. People love to help.

               10. Every author has an "oh, crap" moment. A time when he/she thought, "I'm going nowhere." That usually makes for a great session commentary.

               11. Have fun. Yup. If you are having fun, everyone else will have fun, too. I mean, what's the worst that can happen? You could puke. (George Bush senior did that at dinner with the Chinese.) You could faint. (Elizabeth Lyons did that at SinC into Great Writing.) You could screw up someone's name or a book title. (An announcer at Barnes and Noble said I was there to sign copies of the "Scrap and CRAP" mystery series.) You'll live through it. Besides, you're a writer (or a fan), for goodness sake. You aren't auditioning for late night TV!
               12. Immediately before the panel, go through the audience and introduce yourself to the members. They'll love you for it. It's hard, so hand out bookmarks as a "crutch," but it pays HUGE dividends.

Did any of you see my panel at Malice? What do you think about my list?