September 30, 2009

Interview with Shobhan Bantwal, author of Bollywood book, The Sari Shop Widow

Welcome to special guest author, Shobhan Bantwal, best-selling author of women’s fiction with a touch of India.

In her latest book, THE SARI SHOP WIDOW, young businesswoman Anjali Kapadia’s posh sari boutique in New Jersey is on the verge of financial ruin, until her wealthy uncle from India comes to her rescue.

But the wily, dictatorial uncle arrives with some unpleasant surprises—a young Indo-British partner named Rishi Shah for one—and a startling secret that disturbs Anjali.

Falling in love with the mysterious Shah only adds to Anjali’s burgeoning list of complications. Torn between her loyalty to her family and her business on the one hand and her growing attraction for a man who could never fit into her life on the other, Anjali turns to her family and cultural roots to make a life-altering decision.

NOTE: Be sure to check the contest details at the end of the interview!


The book is pungent with rich scenes and flavors, sure to transport you into a new world scented with curry and filled with glowing colors. Growing up, I recall watching the fascinating “Bollywood” movies that used to air on Saturdays. For me, this book was an interesting and charming introduction to a different culture. Reading it, you of course anticipate the outcome, but you can’t wait until the beautiful Anjali appreciates the potential of the sexy Rishi as more than a business partner. This was a delightful story that will leave you wanting to read more. I can’t wait to read her other books, THE DOWRY BRIDE and THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER.

Talking with Shobhan Bantwal:

Q: How did you begin writing? What inspired your stories?

A: “I stumbled into writing at the age of 50. I call it my ‘menopausal epiphany’ since I took it up as a hobby at first to keep my evenings occupied while my husband worked on an out-of-state engineering project on weekdays. What started as a pastime has mushroomed into a second full-time career (I work at a demanding day job on weekdays). I gradually segued from social interest non-fiction articles to short stories and when my ambitions grew, I tried my hand at full-length fiction.

“My stories are inspired by my deep interest in women’s issues combined with reading romance novels, my childhood years growing up in a conservative Indian family, and my experiences as a woman in an arranged marriage. Additionally, having moved to the U.S. as a young bride, I have had an opportunity over the past 35 years to look at India and Indians almost from an outsider’s viewpoint. Everything that seemed ordinary and not worthy of discussion while I was growing up in India became a story worth telling others about after I became a writer.”

Q: How much of you is in your character, Anjali (Anju)?

A: “The rebellious and stubborn facets of Anju’s personality are similar to my own. I was always the black sheep and hellion of the family, always different from my studious, compliant sisters. Anjali, although cognizant of her parents’ delicate sensibilities and her driven sense of responsibility to them and her young brother, still wants to hang on to her independence. Despite the guilt and shame of having a boyfriend who gives her no more than an hour or two of fun every now and then and nothing permanent, she continues to see him and lie to her parents. It is her one vice she is loath to give up. Anju’s old-fashioned sense of family combined with a strong need for emancipation is something I see in myself as well.”

Q: Is there a sequel to Anju and Rishi's story? (Don't leave us hanging!)

A: “No, there will be no sequel to Anju and Rishi’s story unless my editor requests it. She seemed to like the hopeful ending without a clich├ęd happily-ever-after. Unless a publisher is interested in sequels, a writer rarely writes them. Also, sequels sometimes don’t perform as well as the original book and that is something an author needs to consider as she plans future books and budgets her time. Many of my readers ask me about possible sequels after reading my books. In the future, I might think about a series of some kind, but at this time there are no such plans.”

Q: What is your favorite part of writing, and why?

A: “My favorite part of writing is creating the chemistry between my heroine and hero. It is an integral part of women’s fiction with romance and it needs a lot of planning and delicate handling. Since my characters are Indian, I cannot put too many scenes with overt emotional displays. Most Indians are programmed to internalize their feelings and not show them in public. Consequently I have to put in a lot on introspection and internal dialogue in my books, making it a challenge to bring two personalities together, possibly have lots of conflict, but who ultimately have to fall in love.”

Q: What do you try to show in your writing?

A: “When I started to write, I wanted to entertain as well as inform. I wanted to offer readers a different kind of Indian novel, distinct from literary books that are typical of South Asian authors. I call my books ‘Bollywood in a Book’ since they contain all the emotion, drama, color, and romance of Bollywood movies.

“My first two books deal with hot-button social issues that plague contemporary Indian society. Incorporating women’s issues into a romantic story was both a fun and effective way to bring awareness to them and hopefully start a debate. Many women’s organizations, especially South Asian non-profit groups that assist victims of domestic violence, have indicated interest in my books and I have become involved in their fund-raisers. I donate a portion of my profits to them."

Q: The book offers readers a glimpse into a unique shopping experience. Is Anjali’s boutique based on a real concept? What makes it 'different' than the typical American way of shopping?

A: “My familiarity with the Indian fashion industry is merely as a shopper and not as an insider. However, shopping at an Indian-American store is a vastly different experience than an all-American store. The vivid colors, fabrics, glitzy beads, gold and silver embroidery, the jewelry, footwear, and other accessories are quite dazzling. Also, unlike most American stores, a little price negotiation is allowed in small Indian stores. The boutique concept is real. Many of India’s top designers now have outlet stores in Edison’s Little India, and they definitely exude the posh boutique flavor. Of course, the prices, too, reflect the exclusivity to a great degree.”

Q: What is your writing schedule; where and how do you write?

A: “Juggling a demanding full-time career and writing is a tough challenge. I rise at around 4:30 a.m. and write a little. I go to my regular job (the one that pays the bills) at 7:00 a.m. and return home around 4:30 or 5 p.m. I immediately sit down to write again. After a brief break to cook dinner and share it with my husband, I get back to writing. A lot of my time is spent in book promotion, tending to emails, social networking, and events like addressing book clubs, library groups, writers’ groups, book signings and such. Promotional activities leave little to no time for writing the next book. When I finally go to bed sometime after 10:30 each night, I am exhausted.

“As for where I write, my computer sits in one of our bedrooms converted into a small home office, which I share with my husband. It is also the room that has the altar, a special place for practicing our Hindu faith."

Q: How much of your books relate to your life? Is it hard, or easy, to write on topics that can be so personal?

A: “Writing about my Indian culture is fairly easy. But choosing subjects that might potentially interest my readers is not that simple. Topics that are personally close are something I like writing about, but I generally save them for my non-fiction articles, which include opinion pieces or brief personal experience essays in Indian-American publications.”

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: “Thank you for interviewing me for your popular blog. I like doing interviews and enjoyed this one very much.”

Shobhan, thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed hosting you!

(c) 2009

(FTC disclaimer: I'm not a reviewer, but received an ARC for this book. Loved it regardless!)

* Find information on Shobhan’s books, short fiction, articles, recipes, contests and more at her website.

* Watch the book trailer

* Buy:

* Visit other stops on the Virtual Blog Tour

September 29, 2009

New Miniatures Projects

One of my finished projects that I'm selling. The porch is handmade with Paper Clay steps and front area, plus "stone" and stucco walls.

It's decorated with vintage Halloween pictures. It's set in a stuccoed foam core box. The frame is a standard size oak frame (9.5 x 11.25").

The musical skellie couple are also for sale. Their piano is haunted by some creature, but that doesn't bother Mrs. Skellie. she still sings her "heart" out.... well, where it used to be, anyways.

Thanks for looking!

September 28, 2009

New Miniatures Story: Michele's Amazing Tropical Drinks

Look good, don't they?

These amazing miniature drinks by Michele Kelly are featured in my new story, "Delectable Drinks" in the Nov. '09 Issue, #185 of DollsHouse and Miniature Scene.

The issue also includes a how to by Michele to make your own miniature drink, definitely worth a try!

The drinks are in 1"scale-1/12th scale (1 inch=1 foot). The drink glasses are about 3/4" and under.


Massachusetts miniaturist Michele Kelly has had some success since she began selling her own homemade miniature food and cakes more than 10 years ago. But it’s her latest offerings that have everyone who sees them almost wishing they could take a sip.

That Michele’s tropical drinks are gaining fans is not surprising, given their realism. Of course, it helps when you are a licensed bartender, too!

Michele admits that making the drinks began as kind of a lark. “I started the drinks less than a year now,” she says. “Every now and then I get an idea and try something different.”

* See DollsHouse and Miniature Scene

September 25, 2009

Halloween Read: The Witch Tree

With October just around the corner, thoughts, well at least mine, I confess, turn to Halloween.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed getting scared. No, I don’t enjoy being scared – big difference in real life. But in fiction, a good scare, a few goosebumps, a Stephen King back-of-the-neck feeling is a good thing.

In hard economic times, especially, what beats opening a book or reading a story that’ll have you double-checking to make sure the door is locked and have you jumping at every little sound?

When I wrote my short, THE WITCH TREE, it started with the huge flocks of blackbirds that gathered in the trees at the wetlands in front of my Wisconsin home. By early summer and late fall, usually one tree became a kind of avian gathering spot with tens, twenties, hundreds of birds gathering together in this crazy, screeching mass.

You couldn’t help but wonder… what were they telling each other? What were they planning?

That’s what my character, Jimmy Grayson, wonders in The Witch Tree. He was looking for utopia. Instead he found….them. Jimmy soon is tormented by his own obsession to destroy those that torture him.

It’s him vs. them…. Who will win?

Excerpt from THE WITCH TREE by C.A. Verstraete:

What he noticed first was the sound.

Jimmy Grayson lifted his head from the grimy pillow, stared at the open window, and cringed. The onslaught seemed to come from every direction. He placed a hand over his ear to try to block it out. No such luck. High-pitched screeches, nonstop chattering, the endless wall of freaking sound was making him crazy.

In one swift motion, he threw off the dingy, worn quilt, catapulted from the bed, and rushed to the window. "Shut up!" he screamed, not caring how unhinged he sounded. "Shut the hell up!"

It stopped.

Ahhh. A deep sigh escaped him; an appreciation for the quiet filled him. He exhaled in a soft whoosh of air. The muscles in his neck relaxed as the tension left. His eyes closed almost of themselves-then popped open as the cacophony started up again.
The endless, unendurable shrieks, chirps, and chatters surrounded him from all sides like a blanket. With each passing second, the sound from hundreds of blackbirds increased in volume.

** I dare you to read on! Turn the lights low, get out your
Kindle or Sony ereader, or fire up the laptop and read THE WITCH TREE. Oh, don’t forget to lock the door!

* Buy THE WITCH TREE at Fictionwise

September 23, 2009

First Graphs: Shades of Grey by Clea Simon

What better spooky read than a book with a ghost cat?

Following in the "paw prints" of her popular Theda Krakow mystery series, this time, author Clea Simon is showing that cats do have more than nine lives in her new "cat-centric" mystery series, beginning with SHADES OF GREY (Severn House, Sept. '09)

In the first of the brand-new Dulcie Schwartz feline-filled mystery series, Dulcie's beloved cat Mr. Grey's been put to sleep, and her new roommate, Tim, is a jerk. Walking home, she sees a cat the spitting image of Mr. Grey, and hears a voice say, I wouldn't go in just now. She enters to find Tim dead, stabbed with her own knife. Dulcie's in the frame for murder and she hasn't seen the last of Mr. Grey, either . . .

First Graphs from SHADES OF GREY:

The carving knife was the last straw.

Stomping along the steaming sidewalk, her mood matching the thunder clouds overhead, Dulcie knew that the sentence made no logical sense. How could a knife be a straw? She could hear herself asking her students that, her usual wry smile softening the criticism as she urged them back on the metaphorical track.

But as she trudged toward the apartment she shared, for the summer and increasingly unwillingly, with Tim, she couldn't stop the grammatical train wreck of her thoughts.

She sighed and paused for a moment, looking around at the other drones on the street. How did they do it, day after day? A man in a suit passed by. At least he'd been able to shed his jacket, which now hung over his shoulder. No such relief for Dulcie. Pantyhose in July ought to be illegal. Had last summer been so muggy and dense?

Thirty minutes before, she'd been shivering, trapped in the recycled cold of the over-air conditioned Priority Insurance office, like a bug in some global version of contrast and compare. She shouldn't be temping. Shouldn't have been in that soulless place at all. Insurance. Bah! It was all numbers juggling. All about profits and odds; nothing that actually affected people. She should have been in the pleasingly cool depths of Widener Library, lost in the fogs of the northern moors. Or, perhaps, on a night voyage across the Carpathians in a horse-drawn carriage. At the very least, she should have her thesis topic by now.

According to the terms of her biggest grant, she should be writing already. But right before the holiday break, she'd heard that summer school enrollment was down. Which meant that her teaching section was canceled. No "Nightmare Imagery in the Early British Novel," and by then it was too late to even grab a section of the basic required survey course, English 10, the bane of freshmen and the salvation of starving grad students. It was too late to back out of the summer sublet that had let Tim into her home. And although she hadn't known it at the time, it was too late for Mr. Grey.



* Severn House/UK

September 22, 2009

If You Were a Character, Who Would You Be?

When writing a book or even a short story, you often find that your character takes on a life of their own. You can picture them; you can hear their voice; you see them. They become real.

I noticed a question on an email list that sounded intriguing and goes with the above notion. If you could be a character for a day, who would you be - and why?

I keep thinking it would be fun to be Alice in Wonderland. Being short already, you wouldn't think I'd want to shrink even smaller. But being a dollhouse and miniatures collector, I often see or create a room or house that I almost wish I could live in.

I know with the intriguing new Johnny Depp/Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie coming out next year, I've thought how neat it would be to make one of those scenes in miniature. That garden with the giant flowers, or that amazing scene with everyone at the dinner table. I know I won't be the only one thinking that, either. (Wow, check out the interior of the castle in the trailer!)

* So, who do you see yourself as? What character would you want to be for a day and why?

* Watch the movie trailer.

September 18, 2009

Bo the White House Dog - Real or Miniature?

Miniaturist Alice Zinn has a way with animals. She creates incredible creatures that you almost expect to jump, bark, chirp or meow.

I'll be featuring her and her work in an upcoming post, but for now, I wanted to share her latest creation - a miniature version of Bo, the Obamas' Portuguese Water Dog. The miniature version (2.5" high) is made of polymer clay and synthetic hair. He's a limited edition of four and sells for $150.

The original miniature Bo was commissioned by the Zweifel family, who created the Miniature White House 40 years ago. The 55-foot long White House replica is updated with each new president and continues to be displayed around the country.

Almost hard to tell the real from the miniature, isn't it?! (White House photo - C. Kennedy)

Stay tuned for a special feature on Alice and her miniature dogs coming in October - and a special offer to readers of this blog!

September 16, 2009

First Graphs: The Lighthouse Keeper by Luisa Buehler

Today's feature is perfect for fall, a mystery with a touch of spookiness.

THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER: A Beckoning Death is the fifth book in the popular Grace Marsden Mystery Series by Luisa Buehler (Echelon Press).

With a troubled marriage, and the haunting memories of ghosts, bones, and dead bodies, Grace Marsden needs solace. The invitation from her childhood friend presents Grace with an opportunity for respite on Christian Island.

An ancient Indian tragedy, island ghost sightings, and modern day treachery twist lives until more deaths and more danger make Grace unsure of whom she can trust.

When the spirit of the lighthouse keeper beckons, is it to warn her-- or harm her?


"It's behind that wall."

My brother's whisper brought Joan and me to his side. We'd climbed up to the lantern room in the old lighthouse over an hour ago, ostensibly to take notes and measurements.

"I don't hear anything."

"There can't be anything 'behind' these walls, Marty–they're made of three-foot-thick stone. 'Behind' is out there." Joan motioned toward the windows.

"There it is again. Hear it?"

I heard a faint scratching.

Joan shook her head. "I didn't hear it. If it's anything, it has to be coming from downstairs. Sound displaces in lighthouses…something about the cylindrical shape."

Marty started down the stairs. Joan shook her head and smiled. "It's probably an island rat," she whispered.

"Yuck. The brochure said nothing about rats, island or otherwise." I referred to my childhood friend's letter inviting me to Christian Island for a visit. "And while we're on that page, couldn't you and Dave have waited to sell at the end of the season? Who visits the island in January?"

* Echelon Press

September 15, 2009

When the Story Stops - Asking Authors How They Fill in Their Book

You're an author and writer. You outline, or have the latest book underway. Things are going well, the story is moving along, the outline is figured out and suddenly... gasp! The story runs out!

You thought you had the story worked out and enough situations and scenes to fill the required amount of chapters. Now it seems you may be several chapters short.

So, I'm asking authors: anyone been in this situation? How do you address it?

How did you fill in the gap? What did you add to expand the story without it just being "filler?"

What is needed to fix this kind of situation? What is missing in a book, I'm mostly interested in mystery, that this would occur?

Love to hear your thoughts as I work on my ongoing mystery!

September 14, 2009

Cooking with a Cookbook in a New Way

Today I'm talking about the kind of cooking I do using a cookbook at an appropriate site, the Vintage Cookbooks blog, so be sure to check it out!

September 09, 2009

First Graphs: Stolen Birthright by Margaret Tanner

Today's except is from Margaret Tanner, author of several Australian-set stories including STOLEN BIRTHRIGHT (Whiskey Creek Press, May 2008).

In STOLEN BIRTHRIGHT, the sequel to SAVAGE UTOPIA, Georgina, a wild colonial girl, meets and falls in love with a dashing young English aristocrat, Marcus Lindquist.

When Johnny Dawson is ambushed and killed, Marcus finally learns the secret of what has bound him to Georgina. Johnny is her brother, not her lover as he had jealously supposed, but even darker secrets from the past overshadow their love.

How can an English nobleman marry the daughter of convicts?


The Honourable Marcus Lindquist cursed inwardly as another bump almost unseated him.

What did this idiot of a driver think he was doing? Bloody half-witted colonial.

He had been forced to leave England to save the Lindquist name from being dragged further into disrepute, now he was exiled in this Godforsaken penal colony. Australia was only fit for convicts and destitute immigrants.

September 07, 2009

September Reader's Contest: Win a Special Bookmark!

I've decided to have a contest!

One lucky winner will receive this beautiful silver-plated carved bookmark from England in the shape of Sherlock Holmes! A perfect way to accent your favorite mystery!

To enter:

* Comment on any of the posts on my blog. Suggest a new blog topic, share something from your own collection, or tell me about a favorite book or story you're reading or just read.

Be sure to include an email to contact you. NOTE: I manually approve messages so it will not show up on blog immediately. Don't forget to check out my book links while you're here!

* Contest ends 9/30/09. Entrants limited to US and western Europe only.

Thanks for stopping by and entering! Chris

September 05, 2009

Saturday sales: skellies, tea and perfumes

So.... Mr. and Mrs. Skellie are celebrating their love with a quiet concert, just the two of them...

But Harold....

Not now, dear.

Sweetest, you really should listen to me.

Not this time, dear.

Harold!!! What is that thing inside the piano?

He's speechlees, it seems.

Well, the "creature" appears to be harmless, so they continue their concert.

Spooky, worn wood piano, stool and small "skull" candlestick.

She has a silk skirt with sparkle net over it and a net shawl. And she just had her hair done!

* Perfume stands: hand-made small wood displays for table, boudoir, dresser, store etc.

Perfume stand 1 - deco style

Perfume stand 2 w/ gloves

Tea stand - wood display -Contact me if interested in any of these items.

September 02, 2009

First Graphs: Secrets to Die For by LJ Sellers

Welcome to LJ Sellers, author of the Detective Wade Jackson mystery series, which includes THE SEX CLUB and the soon-to-be-released SECRETS TO DIE FOR,(coming Sept. '09, Echelon Press).

A brutal murder, a suspect with a strange story, and a kidnap victim with a secret to hide—can Detective Jackson uncover the truth in time to save her?

When social worker Raina Hughes visits the home of a young boy she’s been assigned to monitor, things quickly turn ugly. Later, when she’s found brutally murdered, Detective Wade Jackson is confident it’s an open-and-shut case against the boy’s ex-con father.

But nothing is as it seems and complications develop when new evidence points to a serial rapist who’s becoming more violent with each attack. Raina’s lover Jamie knows what the rape victims have in common, but won’t tell for fear of revealing her own secrets.

When Jamie disappears, Jackson knows time is running out and he’s determined to discover the truth before the body count goes any higher.


Wednesday, February 13

Raina shut off the motor and glanced up at the puke-green
doublewide with a chunk of plywood over the front window.
The near dusk couldn't hide the broken dreams of the trailer's
occupants, Bruce and Cindy Gorman. Raina wasn't here to
see them. She was here for Josh, their eight-year-old son.

As a children’s support advocate, Raina had been assigned to monitor Josh six months ago, when the state of Oregon had taken temporary custody and placed the boy in foster care. Her primary responsibility was to stay in touch with Josh and to ensure the system did not fail him. During that time, the Gormans had danced all the right steps–anger management for him, parenting classes for her, and a rehab program for both. So now Josh was back in their care, and this was Raina’s last official contact…for now.

* Read the rest of Chapter 1, "Secrets to Die For."

* Pre-order:

September 01, 2009

Welcome to Echelon Shorts!

Today is the official launch day for the new Echelon Press Shorts .

What's a Short you ask? Other than me?


* Check out NEW releases on the first AND the fifteenth. Find some great new authors with exciting stories that you're sure to enjoy reading!

* Meet new authors via new blog posts Monday through Friday. Get news on the authors, their latest ventures, and their characters.

* This week, there'll be new releases and posts from the authors of those stories including Regan Black, Marc Vun Kannon, Mary Welk, and Michelle Sonnier. And to celebrate, they are giving away *free* ebook downloads.

Stop by, check it out and comment at: Echelon Shorts