Who is Jackie Marshall?

The newest partner of Sweet Gypsy Books is also the daughter of senatorial candidate Paul Marshall Jr as well as a Veteran’s advocate.   I sat down with her today to discuss her background and her future.
Q1:  Ms Marshall, news travels fast in a small town and we’re wondering what brought you back to Sweet Gypsy after being gone for so long.
A1:  News does travel fast down here (*smiles).  It’s true I left Alabama right after college.  Adventure called me from an early age.  It probably started with playing hide-and-seek right here on the lake in Sweet Gypsy.  When I met my husband Charlie at (the University of) Alabama, it was like looking in a mirror and finding my inner soul, my partner for life.  As soon as we threw our graduation caps in the air, he took my hand and away we went.  The Army provided just the adventure we were looking for.  (pauses and looks at her wedding ring).  But like all good adventure stories, ours had to end.  When it did, I needed my home.   Home is the best medicine. So, I’m back.
Q3:  Would you like to tell me how your marriage ended?
A1:  For more than ten years, our country has been at war but that war has affected less than 5% of the population.  Unfortunately, that 5% has endured a nasty burden, and I’ve seen it have a very ugly effect on some people. Families have been torn apart.  Strong, proud service members have been reduced to shrunken images of dejection and inconsequence.  My husband is a prime example.   Charlie deployed six times over ten years.  Each time was at least a year, and two or three were for 18 months.  Each deployment changed him.  He became more withdrawn, yet explosively angry.  Not the sweet, fun guy I knew.  Not the one who laughed at everything.  After the last deployment, he became violent.
Q3: And that’s when you left?
A3: Not at first.  I truly didn’t understand he was physically abusing me and our daughter, who was seven at the time.  After the first time he hit me, he was probably as shocked as I was and couldn’t stop apologizing.  But one day, I was cleaning up the dinner dishes and watching Olivia play with her dolls. The cast on her arm was bright pink.  For some reason, the color screamed at me. It was then I realized I wasn’t protecting her; I wasn’t doing my job as her mother.
Q4: I know this is tough to talk about, but thank you for sharing your story with us.  Why don’t we move on to a lighter topic.  What are your goals now that you’re back?
A4:  (*laughs) Sure.  Well, I’m finishing up my prolonged exposure therapy, which I recommend to anyone who has been through an awful experience.  Honestly, it has been a godsend because it forced me to look at what happened and through repetition, gave me freedom from it.  So, talking to folks about prolonged exposure is one goal.
Another is to help my father with his senatorial campaign.  As a retired Marine, Veterans hold a special place for him. Together I think we can bring a bold awareness to Veteran’s issues and hopefully more support.
And lastly, as the new managing partner at Sweet Gypsy Books, I’d like to bring books into the lives of children.  Veterans from my support group at the VA are helping me put together a children’s authorfest.  It’s a way for me to marry two issues I’m passionate about — reading and Veterans.
(Jackie Marshall is the newest citizen of Sweet Gypsy Springs, Alabama, and we thank her for taking the time to interview with her author today).

What’s in a Name?

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about names, particularly as a writer and developing a good brand.  My platform is writing on Veteran’s issues.  I feel strongly about the need for folks to understand what Veterans face and how they can help.  Since Romance and Spy Thrillers are my two favorite genre, I combine them and create a story to entertain and hopefully, educate.

So, what’s in a name?  Does HazelnutLive sound like a platform that discusses the deep problems of Veterans in a fun and entertaining way?  Since this used to be just a place for me to write whatever I wanted, the name was fine.  Now, though I’m not so sure.
Since the majority of my Facebook friends are people I served with, I went on and asked for name ideas.  Tons came my way — from the quirky and cool jargon to the unmentionable in polite company.  Interestingly, most of the jargon I’ve found to have a negative connotation.  Even when saying “outstanding” or “interesting,” there is a certain amount of sarcasm accompanying it.  But I’d rather the name have a more positive, kick ass vibe to them.  My favorites after one day are below, let me know what you think:
1- Sierra Hotel:  in military lingo, that means Shit Hot
2- Bravo Zulu: in naval terms, it means Good Job
3- Easy Day: in special ops terms — “Of course we can” or “No Problem, why are we even talking about it?”
4- Check Your Six: aviation talk for watch your back
5- Go Pound Sand:  response to indicate you aren’t going to do whatever you were just told to do
6- Point Blank Range: where you don’t want to be
7- Kickin’ in Doors: making stuff happen
8- Fully Automatic:  all in!
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Writing


Denver Debate

I love politics.  Really.  The West Wing?  My favorite show for 7 years.   For the record I am a registered Republican but have not always voted that way.  But here’s the thing, I am not thrilled with my current choices of presidential candidates.  So unexcited that two months ago, my mother was lecturing me on my decision to support a Libertarian third-party candidate.  A vote for the other guy and all that.

Fundamentally I disagree with how the Democrats want to run government.  Being from Alabama, I’m proud of my southern heritage that is staunchly sided with state’s rights (which also includes small government, low taxes & a big military — you know, walk softly but carry an armored tank division).  But I am in awe of the blatant ninny-ness of the Republicans.  Really old GOP, you can’t let the new guys play?  You gonna take your toys and go home?  Ridiculous.  And a great way to split the vote so the other party wins,  *hand clapping* that brilliant strategy from Colorado.

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, regardless of the good in it, and there is lots of good in it, offends me because it denies me the liberty to choose for myself.  On the other hand, I watched the president makes decisions in Afghanistan that were as ballsy as any President Bush would have made.  What he has done to advance the cause of Veterans is also impressive.  In the last four years, when I applied for a civilian position with the US Air Force, of which I am a 10-year Veteran, I couldn’t make the list — even for jobs I once held on active duty.  With the VEOA and VRA, I’m showing up on lists right and left.  This has been the story with lots of folks I know — an great effort to lessen the Veteran joblessness rate of well over 15%.
Governor Romney’s jaunt through Europe and Israel this summer made me cringe with embarrassment. I’m not sure what makes you ready to be a diplomat but I would have thought the CEO of a major international corporation could do better.  On the good side, I firmly believe that a business man has better prospects for changing the economy than a lawyer.  Then again, I’m not totally convinced he’ll implement policies to help folks like you and me.
All that being said, the debates last night showed a prepared Mitt Romney who did articulate a plan.  Not really a detailed plan but enough of a plan with enough statistics and data to show he knows what the heck he’s talking about if the topic is the economy.  And face it, with unemployment at 8% and in some counties in Alabama, it’s above 20%, no one cares about social issues when they can’t put food in their bellies or the bellies of their children.
And the most defining thing for the debates last night was the clarity with which  Mitt Romney wants to be president and how President Obama is shocked by that.    Mind’s not changed yet but at least I have something to think about.
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Posted by on October 4, 2012 in Politics


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This week I’m thinking about writer’s platforms and how to build one.   You don’t have to be an expert on anything other than your book to have a platform.  It is simply what you care enough to write about and how to market it.

My books deal with Veterans issues wrapped in a suspenseful romance novel.  First book, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Second book,  Veteran homelessness.  Third book, Women Veterans.  So my platform handles Veterans Issues.Image


Bob Mayer spoke at the Sangria Summit for Military Writers a couple of weeks ago and said, frankly, he gave up his traditional book deal because he was doing all the writing and the marketing and all the profit was going to a publisher.  Now, he’s an indie, still does his own writing and marketing but gets to keep a majority of the profit.  The bottom line is that in today’s super-saturated fiction world, writers will have to market their work.So, here is a platform plan — hopefully it can help other writers with theirs.

SOCIAL MEDIA – this is a given.  For now I concentrate on the top three with a couple others thrown in when I have time.  The thing is to not waste all your time on social media because then you aren’t writing.  Set a schedule — I like Mondays and Thursdays — and that’s it.

1- GET ON TWITTERfollow other writers and readers and those in your field.  But only follow those who engage.  Social media is “social” and if your followers aren’t commenting, following or retweeting, then they aren’t going to help you get your stuff out there.  The same is true for you.  It’s a give-give game.  I really like Molly Greene’s take on building Twitter (click here).

2- FIRE UP FACEBOOK Until you have a book out, you can use your personal account and create a Group to project all your ideas, news, and information.  Again, this doesn’t have to be just about your writing, it can also include whatever you are writing about.  If it’s spy thrillers, start loading up on quirky, interesting international news.  If it’s romance at a cupcake factory, help the local bakery advertise.

3- BLOG. If you are a writer and you produce a book, you will be asked about your blog and you will be asked to guest blog.  This is another way agents, editors and publishers see you are getting out there.  What to blog about?  The same thing you tweet, Facebook and write about.  Writing, of course and because you love it.  But also what you are writing about.  Is your book about a child with autism.  Start blogging about autism.  Is it about a girl who can’t stay out of antique shops?  Tweet about antiquing.  The thing about a blog is that it can change with each book.  The tie that binds is you the author.  (Blogger and WordPress are the two most common blog sites)

         4- OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA.  Google+ is up and coming and a cross between Twitter and Facebook.  Goodreads is Facebook for readers.     
     5- KEEP IT ALL ORGANIZED WITH A DASHBOARD.  I use Hootsuite to help me.  It lets you monitor up to five social media feeds for free.  This way you don’t have to visit every single social media site, just this one.  You can pick and choose which feeds to upload.  This is a must if you are going to have more than a couple of sites.

VISIT AND TALKS – this is truly dependent on what you are writing.  Because I write about Veterans Issues, meeting with Veterans groups makes sense.  But here are other ideas:


1- RESTAURANTS — If you are writing a book with an Italian restaurant in it, head to your favorite and take pics, post them up and write about why you like it.  Call it a restaurant review.  Owners love free advertising.

 2- SCHOOLS/CHURCHES — If there is a moral anywhere in your book, talk to kids about it OR talk to their teachers OR a women’s/men’s group at church about it (depending on genre).

3- BOOK CLUBS — If you aren’t already in one, get in one because the more you participate, the more likely they will be to read your book.  Once they read it, word of mouth is key!

4- CIVIC CLUBS – like the Rotary.  Whatever issues you are dealing with in your book is probably something the local civic group either has dealt with or will.  Give them a reason to talk about your book.  The VFW and the American Legion want to hear about your war memoir but so do regular Americans who want to support the cause (whatever the cause is).

5- LIBRARY – Local libraries are always looking for authors to talk about books.  Become best friends with your librarian.

6- MOVERS AND SHAKERS – Are you writing about a powerful CEO who seduces women for fun?  How about talking to a group of powerful CEOs?  Or young college graduates?  You get the idea.

 7- THEME PARTIES – Hold a book progress party.  One chapter done?  Invite 5 or so friends over for a party and let them read it for a quick beta test.   Full draft done?  Same thing but send them the entire manuscript.  Food is always a good excuse to get together and chat about books.

No matter what outlet you choose, be creative.  Anything can be talked about at any time to anyone.  Groups tend to be pretty open to discussions and newcomers.  Try anything and if it works, try it again.  I wish you lots of luck as you build your platform!

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Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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For writers: Procrastination Bug Gotcha? – Bite Back!

When writing was a hobby I could punch out anything at anytime – poems, short stories, long stories, anthologies, whatever.  But when I decided to take it on full-time, all of a sudden that stupid beetle (aka procrastination) writhed into my life and bit me.

He crawled on my keyboard, slithered on my outline, stole my notes and creeped his way into every conversation I had with my main characters.
And I’d like him to take a permanent vacation.

So I went searching for tools because I’ve decided to bite back.   Some of these ideas work for me, some don’t but either way, I’m compelled to share.
Feel free to add your own ideas and hopefully, we can all sweep that  bug away from our writing.

1- Kitchen Timer — am I writing or am I trolling the Internet?

2- Word Count — do I have a word count goal for the day or am I cleaning out the fridge?

3- Page Count —  do I have a page count goal for the day or am I organizing the office?

4- Scenes — do I want to finish one scene or two, or would I rather watch TV for “research” ideas?

5- Time of Day — do I write at the exact same time every single day or am I mowing the lawn?

6- Favorite Place — do I write in the same place every day or is today a trip to the mall?

7- Idea From Caryn Caldwell — Goal Buddy:  set the goal and email it to your writing buddy.  Email back when you’ve met the goal.
The sketch is from my good friend Chris Watt, please see more of his illustrations at
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Posted by on September 27, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Foundations of Fiction

(why an editor will reject a manuscripts — this is from Peter Kenftlberg of Kensington Press at the September 2012 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference)
1- POV issues (no head hopping)
2- Tense issues (be consistent)
3- Conflict (it isn’t evident right from the beginning)
4- Static characters (they need to change from the beginning to the end — did they learn anything?  how did they grow?  why can’t they go back to the way it was?)
5- Plot (what is the goal or motivation to do something – STAKES need to be high)
6- Pacing (don’t have it bogged down in emotion, scene setting or description)
7- Info Dump (lots of background or set up; be careful with this in dialogue as well)
8- Dialogue (use contractions!  characters refer to each other by name too often)
9- Cliched opening (wakes from dream, looks in mirror, in a car)
10 – Mechanics (punctuation, grammar, spelling, voice (how does the voice differ from other books?)
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


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 Top 5 Reasons Agents Stop Reading (this is from Anita Mumm of Kristin Nelson Literary Agency)

1- Story starts in wrong place (confused about where the action is)
2- Too much set up or data dumping in the beginning
3- No sign of the main conflict (where’s this going?  Seems to me this ties in with the first one)
4- Story isn’t big enough (this isn’t about word count but rather stakes.  Are they high enough?)
5- Mechanic mistakes (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc… It smacks of rough draft.  BTW, Chicago Manual Style is the preferred writing guide)
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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