The origins of a good story: Tyler McMahon – author of Kilometer 99

Tyler McMahon - Author of "Kilometer 99"  pictured on the sand at Ocean Beach, CA

Tyler McMahon – Author of “Kilometer 99″
pictured on the sand at Ocean Beach, CA

I’m pleased to introduce some insights from fellow author Tyler McMahon, on what went into his latest novel, Kilometer 99.  Mr. McMahon teaches fiction writing at Hawaii Pacific University and is the editor of Hawaii Pacific Review.

Having recently read Kilometer 99, I was thoroughly impressed by Tyler’s ability to balance plot with character development (see my review here on this blog). I was curious why he elected to write the story from the point of view of a female protagonist. Tyler was very gracious and offered the following:

“As for writing from a female point-of-view in Kilometer 99, it wasn’t necessarily part of my design. I’d wanted to write about post-earthquake La Libertad for many years. I drafted stories and essays set there, but none of them quite worked. Malia sort of came to me one day, and immediately snapped the story into focus. As a Hawaiian woman, she had insights into tourism, development, and surfing that other narrators couldn’t. She also challenged Salvadoran assumptions about people from the United States. Right away, she snapped the story into focus.”

K99_smallcoverAs a fiction author, one of the aspects I study while reading a good novel is the balance between plot and character development. Readers will be pleased to discover that Kilometer 99 is rich with fast paced gripping plot elements, but what made this story work for me was the character development.  Mr. McMahon offered the following on this subject:

“For me, the great pleasure of writing novels is to step outside myself and dwell in another consciousness for a while. While I don’t think that I have any particular insight into the female psyche, I do enjoy working with a narrator who is fundamentally different from me. Right away, the challenge becomes a matter of making the character convincing–to make her (or him) into a real, believable person.”

I want to publicly thank Tyler McMahon for sharing his experiences and insights as a writer.  More importantly, I believe prospective readers should know that Kilometer 99 is likely to go down as the best novel with a surf theme that I’ve ever read.  Anyone with doubts should pick up a copy and read it for themselves.

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Book Review: Kilometer 99 by Tyler McMahon

Get ready for a Five Star – Earth Shattering Adventure

I love novels with themes involving surfing. McMahon’s Kilometer 99 is a story that K99_smallcovershould be on the shelf of every surfer and anyone with a sense of adventure that appreciates quality writing. I’ll admit that the book’s plot description in the flyleaf is what got my attention. In fact, it was enough by itself to encourage me to buy a copy and drop what I was previously reading so I could plow right through it when I should have done a better job of savoring every passage. I felt transported by McMahon’s style and precise balances between plot and character development.

The title Kilometer 99, is a reference to a semi secret surf spot in El Salvador. According to the author’s note, the spot doesn’t actually exist, but is representative of the type of warm water point break with long hollow waves and make-able sections that every surfer dreams about.

The tumultuous world events at turn of the 21st century weave into the setting in La Libertad, El Salvador, where main character Malia,a recently minted engineering graduate from Hawaii, is a Peace Corps volunteer. The opening passage is a rail grabber written from Malia’s point of view, that takes the reader on an authentic ride-along in the green room of a fast right, witnessed by a fellow surfer paddling back out to the line up.

It is through surfing that Malia meets Ben, an agriculture specialist with realistic expectations about his role in supporting local development. Turns of fate play significant parts in how McMahon masterfully creates drama throughout the story. An earthquake sets off a chain of events that cause Malia and Ben to seek a different type of adventure. They meet up with Pelochuco, the North American opportunist who influences many of the decisions Ben and Malia are faced with.

I was not only impressed with McMahon’s ability to captivate my attention with his fast paced plot elements, but also his writing craft. The following quote is just one of many wonderful examples of this author’s artistic talents: “The long day’s last light clings like rust to the edges of a worn-out sky.” The colors and tranquility of the scene presented in that passage transported me and still linger as I reflect on this beautifully presented story.

The realism accompanying each string of events that Malia and Ben encounter as they take up with Pelochuco, are almost tragic but somehow laughable at the same time. In the wake of one of Pelochuco’s misbegotten adventures where each of the three were physically injured, Malia recounts their condition with her split lip, Ben’s torn ear and the mutilated eyebrow Pelochuco received surfing at K-99. “Our three wounds have us looking like the ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ monkeys.”

There is no doubt about McMahon’s credibility as a surfer and most definitely a writer. I’ve read all of Kem Nunn’s work and was thoroughly captivated by Tim Winton’s novel Breath, but Kilometer 99 tops my list of novels with a surf theme and ranks among the best of period pieces that appeal to my sense of adventure. This novel has so many wonderfully crafted passages that my best recommendation is to just read it.

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Book Review: “The Former Hero” by indie author Jeffrey Allen Mays

Authentic and Gritty – Five Star Literature

Jeffrey Mays showed me what is in the art of the possible with his debut novel, The Former Hero.
I hadn’t read anything as good in the genre of experimental literature since the early ’70s when Ishmael Reed wow’ed me with The Last Days of Louisiana Red. My appetite for classy writing is once again fulfilled.

Mays’s work will transport readers with a strong sense of place and well-developed characters that bring authentic dialog to life.TFH

When Moira Flax rouses from a substance-enhanced stupor, only to find her daughter missing, she immediately assumes the worst.   Only luck would land her on the back of Angus’s Harley, but it would take more than luck to save her and her daughter Penny from the corrupt and filthy world led by Mayor Robert Knox.

Former “good cop,” Lt. McCarthy is hard wired to “do the right thing” and risks all, to rescue the city and its citizens from the depths of crime and violence controlled by Knox and his cohorts. The story takes place as the cold of a winter season casts a dark shadow over the decrepit city that could be anywhere USA. Mays created the perfect feel for readers who enjoy a “noir-esque” mystery.

The city has a history and Mays offers just enough awareness of the loose links that spring the city’s tragic past, generations forward to the state of affairs at the story’s clever conclusion.

The Former Hero is a novel that will provide readers with a lasting impression. I haven’t stopped thinking about the plot or the characters since immersing myself in the first chapters. Each of the character’s backstories is perfectly synchronized to keep any reader’s interest. I hope Jeffrey Mays can crank out another masterpiece like this one soon.

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Strings and Heartstrings

Broken Circle Breakdown- “An emotionally charged story”

Possibly the best film of the decade, Broken Circle Breakdown will evoke emotions you may never have experienced. In the words of young director/producer, Felix van Groenigen, “this film is an emotional roller coaster.” It is also one that brings the music that I love to the forefront where it belongs. The discerning viewer will more than likely “get” the concept of the circle of life. The term “Breakdown” comes from the bluegrass tradition where the instrumentalists take their turns with a “lead instrumental break” between verses. This is something that can’t be pigeon holed into a quartet or quintet. The genre typically consists of a Bass, Guitar, Fiddle, Mandolin, and Banjo plus 2 to even 4 part harmony vocals.

BCBDIn Groenigen’s film it becomes clear to the casual viewer that there are two prominent themes, and maybe more, but the themes that will transport you as you watch are the love story, and the music. Bluegrass music for those who aren’t among the initiated, tell stories that are deep in the history of culture. When a film can convey the gravity of how these stories are passed forward, you get a big fireworks show…or in my case tears…tears that flow from listening to the music and the lyrics that tell the tragic tale.

As a reader and writer, I’m a big fan of stories of triumph and tragedy. I searched my soul for the triumph from the story in this film but could only find solace in the sound and heart of the music.

When you’re ready to cry…a lot, then set aside some time to watch this movie. I guarantee you’ll be touched.

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American Banjo Camp (ABC) 2014: “Stories” and “passing notes” from a weekend in the “sound”

ABC 2014 Trio

Paul Eliot on fiddle with Peter Langston on guitar playing the original tune, “Bluebonnet” by banjo picker Mike Stahlman – Photo courtesy of Matt Jenson

ABC 2014 – Fort Flaggler, Washinton

The sounds of bluegrass music and the stories told in the lyrics draw me to this genre like no other.  At American Banjo Camp, the sound and stories stretch the imagination and emotions beyond a single genre.

Serendipity is the word that sums up my experience at this year’s ABC. This was my second foray into the immersive experience at a music camp. My first was last year at California’s Walker Creek Music Camp (Anyone interested can read my article about Walker Creek here).

The retreat center at Washington’s Fort Flagler State Park, located in the northern region of the Puget Sound is the perfect setting for harmonizing with nature, especially over a sunny fall weekend.  Along with over 130 participants at the camp, including professional performers and teachers, I found everything about the weekend to be fulfilling and memorable.  From the exquisite food, to the instruction, performances, and the new friendships, I’ve come away with undefined emotions that continue to linger.

It has been almost a week since returning from ABC and I finally realized why my jaw and facial muscles feel like my legs and quads tend to do after a daylong hike in the high country. It occurred to me that nearly everyone I ran across at ABC was smiling – all the time. I finally had to relax from the mile wide grin I’d been carrying around all week.  I’m just glad I know why it was there. Like the other folks at ABC, I’ll be planning to return.

There was one story I’ll share and it has to do with the sound that draws some of us to the music we love.  On Friday morning for those who attended the extra day, there were several demonstration sessions put on by the instructional staff.  The one I attended was “Singing with the Banjo.” The three artist/teachers who shared their talent with us I won’t name – everyone who was there will know who I’m referring to.  I’ll just say that their music, lyrics, and life stories were the launch pad for what turned out to be a transformational weekend for many of us.

What emerged from that intimate session follows:  One of the students sitting across from me was wearing a badge with the name, “Gilles” printed at the top.  Beneath it was a color drawing of a Swiss flag. When Gilles (his name is pronounced zjeel) introduced himself in a Swiss-French accent, he told us he was from Geneva. He said that he loved the sound of American old time banjo but had never heard anyone play it live – only recordings.

I spoke with Gilles after the session and he confirmed what I’d already guessed, that he came to the United States specifically to attend ABC.  He arrived on Wednesday evening and was to return directly to Switzerland on Sunday afternoon. If there were an award for being the most committed student at ABC, Gilles would be the hands down winner. I’m glad Gilles returned to Geneva having heard and listened to his favorite music played by some of the best musicians in the world.

To list all the specific experiences that left a mark on me personally doesn’t seem appropriate as I would likely leave something out or forget to mention a person who made my experience complete. Instead, I’ll just say that I left inspired and will pass on to others who are on music journeys of their own, that for those wishing to live the dream on 5 Strings, ABC is definitely one to add to the list.

For more information on American Banjo Camp, visit them on the web at:

ABC is also on Facebook:

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Interview with Susan Rae, author of “The DeLuca Family Series” and other “Romantic Suspense” novels


Interview with Susan Rae, author of TRUE blue (DeLuca Family Series)


Romantic Suspense Author Susan Rae

I’m so thrilled to have the pleasure of hosting this interview with a writer who has taken on a niche in the suspense and mystery genres and added some spice to to them. I’ve read two of Ms. Rae’s earlier novels; first was freefall, then I discovered ICE blue – the second of three from the DeLuca Family Series. I waited on pins and needles for the release of Rae’s third in the series, TRUE blue.  I must say, that I was thoroughly rewarded with some first class reading entertainment. My review of  TRUE blue is on this blog (reviews of freefall and ICE blue are also posted here).

Lucky for us, Susan agreed to an interview so we can get to know a bit more about an author with a flare for action, suspense, and tension, all mixed in with a little bit of romance. Let’s have Ms. Rae share some of her experiences from her writer’s journey.

Q:  I’ve introduced you as a writer, with a passion for a niche genre.  Could you tell us what best describes the genre you prefer for your novels?

A:  Currently, I write what is considered romantic suspense.  I enjoy writing in this genre, as my bio states, because it allows me to combine a gritty suspense tale with a passionate love story.  The challenge in writing RS is to intertwine the suspense and romance story lines so that both work together toward a satisfying ending (pun intended!) In RS, solving the murder/mystery requires that both the hero and heroine work together, often overcoming differences in personalities and/or  overwhelming odds, in order to save themselves and bring the culprits to justice.  Although I have to admit, my more recent books, including my latest, TRUE blue, leans more heavily on the suspense side with just enough passionate romance to fire it up.TB Cover

Q: How old were you when you set out on your first adventure in writing a novel? Could you comment a little more about why you write and maybe give us some background on your choice of characters?

A: Hmm…  I like to tell people that I write basically, because I can’t help myself.  Characters and story lines are always popping into my head—a story line can be sparked by an article I read in the newspaper or a person I see on the street.  I currently have at least four novels bouncing around in my head. The trick is to corral one, get it down on paper, and start fleshing it out. The other trick is to find the time for all those stories.  I’ve been writing since I was old enough to put pencil to paper.  In college I wrote numerous short stories and poetry and later did some freelance journalism. I didn’t set out to write my first novel until I was a young mother at home with three children to take care of.  That first one was an historical romance, but I soon realized that my real passion was for contemporary suspense.

Q:  You’ve managed to write quite a number of quality novels in a short span of time. How does a day in the life of author Susan Rae unfold?  Do you have a favorite time of the day when you are most productive with your writing?

A:  When I am in full writing mode, my usual day starts out with reading the newspaper while I eat breakfast.  I often find that stories in the newspaper help fuel my writing process. That done, some days I go to the computer and do a quick check of email, Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In. However, even though an author has to keep up on all the social channels, I try very hard not to get sucked into these. Other days, I will immediately attack the writing project for the day—the scene I will be working on.  I often start by writing some notes freehand which usually morphs into a dialogue between characters, where I hear the characters talking, discussing what is happening in the scene. Even if I feel blocked before this process, soon, just by starting with some dialogue, I’ll have half-a-dozen pages of scribbles that I can’t wait to get into the manuscript.  In either case, I am usually at the computer with the book document open by ten am. I’ll write for a couple of hours, have lunch, do some housework, and then get back to it again, not finishing until well past six o-clock.  I find I do my most productive work in the mid to late afternoon.

Q:  TRUE blue has a number of plot strings that I thought were tightly woven, which I thought you concluded with honest precision. To pull this off, how did you keep track of all the moving parts?

A: Yes, TRUE blue is my most intricate murder/mystery to date.  Keeping it all straight was definitely a challenge.  When I write a novel, I start by creating a chart where I break the book into Acts 1, 2 and 3. I list where I want the murder storyline and the characters to be at the end of each act; then I jot down the high points of each act. Now I have a road map to follow as I write the book.  Because I write suspense, I feel I need to know where I am going with the story before I write it, but within that basic outline is where the creative magic happens where the story and the characters take over.  The other important tool I use is the timeline.  For TRUE blue I had to keep multiple time lines, one for the murder twenty-four years ago, one for the current time, and another for the entire DeLuca family showing where they were then and now.

Q:  Your decision to connect the main characters with the story by employing the DeLuca Family ties and chosen occupations led me to believe you must have some familiarity with both.  Do you come from a large family?

New Medium Heartbeats Cover 200A: Yes, I do come from a large family.  I have five siblings—three brothers and two sisters, as well as over thirty cousins.  I find the family dynamics fascinating.  My husband also comes from a large extended family, mostly Italian. I love the Italian culture and I thought it would be fun to incorporate it into my first book, heartbeats, which became the first book in the DeLuca series.Cover_ICEblue_Galley-300dpi

Q:  The sense I got from reading the Notes From the Author, at the back of your novels suggested that you get your inspiration for the settings you use from the places you travel.  How much does traveling play in your life as a writer?

A: I think traveling, visiting other places, especially out in nature, fuels my writing spirit. My husband and I bought our first motorhome before we were married after being inspired by a friend’s trip to Colorado.  We spent our honeymoon on a trip to Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park.  We have driven to New York, the Carolinas, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Canada and all the states in between. Our next big trip will be to New England’s coast and then perhaps to San Francisco.freefall-200

Freefall, my second novel, takes place in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine Forest and panoramic Door County. For TRUE blue, I was first inspired to visit Montana’s Glacier National Park by the pictures my son took during one of his visit’s there. Once I experienced its majesty for myself, I knew I had to get my characters out of Chicago and to the park to solve the mystery of Sean McConnell’s murder.

Glacier National Park - A setting in Susan Rae's novel True blue

Glacier National Park
– A setting in Susan Rae’s novel True blue

The background picture on TRUE blue’s cover is actually from one of my son’s pics.

Q:  I know that TRUE blue was just released.  Are you working on another project right now?

A: I have two that are fighting for attention.  The first one, Moonshadows, takes place in the Wisconsin Northwoods where Maggie, a journalist, returns to her Native American home to cover a story about mining which turns into so much more.  The second project, currently titled, Finding Emily, is a time-travel suspense which takes place on the New England coast (hence the needed trip there.) Teenage girls are disappearing from Walnut Cove. The Chief of Police, Zach Taylor is exasperated by the lack of clues. Then one night he is awakened by a phone call from his ex-wife—his daughter, Emily, is missing.

Q:  Time to lighten things up a bit – what is your favorite color and why?  Do you have a favorite food? 

A: You could ask me this a dozen times and on any given day I could give you a different answer–so much depends on my mood. But today, I will say red, because it connotes passion, anger, blood, desire, fire for all things and feeds the adrenalin rush required to survive and solve a crime. Ice cream is my favorite food. (That’s a food group, right?)

Q:  Tell us three random things about yourself that you’d hope would make us laugh:

A: I’m often way too serious? I love a good thunderstorm.  I enjoy golfing but I lost at least half-a-dozen balls the last time I went. (Honest, it was a really difficult course!)

Thank you so much Ms. Rae, for candidly sharing insights that readers and other writers will appreciate.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about the successful launch of TRUE blue, and your future adventures as an author who knows how to keep things interesting. You can count me among the first who will be reading Moonshadows and Finding Emily.

Look for more about Ms. Rae, her writings, and events, at the following locations:


Publisher Link:

Amazon Author Page:  Susan Rae, Author 

Susan Rae’s books, including all three  from the DeLuca Family series, can be purchased on Amazon and all other major e-book retailers.  Click HERE for more info.


To purchase direct from Amazon:

 TRUE blue

ICE blue




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When one’s discards become another’s treasure…

…and when treasure becomes art…

Portlander’s Robyn and Dave Stein have pooled their talents, finding themselves among a community of local artists who will be showcasing their wares this summer at the “Cracked Pots” 15th Annual Art Show this summer.  McMenamins at Edgefield is hosting a show of art created from recycled materials, 22-23 July.  The Stein’s Glass Garden Flowers will be among the featured pieces on display and for sale.

photo 2The story behind the wonderful garden decorations the Steins have been creating is as interesting as the pieces themselves.  I asked Robyn where the inspiration came from and she said,  “We have always enjoyed garden art and have some interesting pieces sprinkled throughout our garden (gongs, concrete hand, sculpture, bird houses, garden shed). I also enjoy crafts and love finding vintage items at yard and garage sales and thought it would be interesting to use some of my finds in a garden art project. Putting these hobbies together inspired me to embark on this undertaking.”

The Steins are no strangers to the creative arts.  Robyn has an extensive background in vintage crafts, boutique cuisine, and culinary instruction.  Her husband Dave is a Portland native.  Recently retired from a career in industrial products logistics, Dave has quite a bit of experience with his mechanical hobbies – one of them being an avid collector of vintage Motoguzi Motor Cycles.  Dave is also a master gardener and his handy with just about any project.  His custom designed hand crafted garden shed that stands in the corner of the Stein’s rear garden was featured in the “Oregonian’s” Sunday Magazine.

The Glass Flowers that the Steins create are a result of their collective creative energies. Curious as to how the idea germinated and blossomed, Robyn offered the source of such inspiration, ” I am always looking for new craft ideas. The Glass flowers were not an original idea. We met a woman at the last Crackedpots’ show, who used mostly ceramic and metal pieces in her flowers. We also heard about a woman on the East Coast doing it as well, and thought this would be a fun garden art project Dave and I could do together.”

photo 3

When talking with Robyn about the sources of materials they use in their art, she explained, “After I got the idea, I knew I would be shopping for plates, bowls, saucers, votives, vases, and other interesting glass and ceramic plates, all at yard, garage, estate sales and second hand stores.”

I was also curious as to the planning that goes into this style of art. Robyn explained further, “At first, I had a vision ahead of time, but found this usually did not work. It is mostly trial and error, mixing and matching, like putting a puzzle together. It is harder than it looks. Sometimes, one plate seemingly appears to compliment another piece nicely, butafter putting them together,they do not fit. Or I would never imagine some pieces together, but after stacking them, they are transformed and repurposed to a beautiful glass flower.

Being glass and fragile in nature, many of the pieces have become damaged or broken over the years, either chipped, cracked or scratched, and are no longer desirable. In some instances, they are thrown away or dumped, ending up in the garbage or ultimately in a landfill. Or they are no longer considered to be in fashion, becoming outdated, and therefore sold at garage or yard sales or donated to second hand stores, in hopes of finding a new home or being repurposed to a second life.”

The pieces that make up the Glass Flowers look pretty straight forward, but then I got to thinking, if it were easy, everyone would be making them.  After all, they are very attractive and produce a visual effect of being perpetually in 4

Given her husband Dave’s experience with designing and planning larger construction projects, along with his attention to detail devoted to a few of his other hobbies, Dave’s talents are the perfect complement to the Steins’ budding cottage industry of crafting the Glass Flowers. “My husband is handy, knows how to operate power tools and offered to help me put the glass flowers together. At first, he was going to teach me how to do the technical aspects, but then he enjoyed doing it and this became his area of expertise. My role is to gather the glass and assemble the pieces together, a job Dave prefers that I do. Sometimes I ask his opinion on what he thinks of the piece, and he gives me good feedback, but overall, we have clearly defined roles. We would not be doing this without the other… We jokingly call ourselves “Yin and Yang Productions.”

photo 1The Stein’s Glass Flowers  are still in the germination stage of a budding business venture.  Their art work is indeed for sale. The Stein’s Glass Flowers are available for purchase at Garden Fever in NE Portland (3433 NE 24th Avenue) and can also be bought at the “CrackedPots” show this summer. Otherwise, the Steins currently operate their craft business by word of mouth. You can email them direct at

More information about GardenFever is available at this link.


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