Real or Fiction

Real or Fiction: Where does one begin?

by Shirley Hailstock


I recently read an author’s blog about writing from or about real life. Many authors do this, myself included. However, until I read her blog, I thought most of what I wrote was fiction, made up, not associated with the real world, but of a world I created. I never use people I know in my stories. I tried using the name of a relative once and found I was making the character that person.


This is not to say that the attributes of characters I write about are not from real people. All of them are. But shortly after introducing a character, they take on a life of their own and the author can only record what they say and do.

The stories I write come from the heart, from past experiences or from emotions that I’ve experienced or can tap into, empathize with. They reveal a lot about the writer. This is why the stories we find most endearing are the ones that have an underlying truth to them. It’s not “in your face” truth, but subtle, the kind that touches the emotional nerves and basically rings our bells. As readers, they draw us in, identify the same emotions the reader has, giving the reader an experience that is safe while it can make the heart beat faster, return them to the memory of a first love, or have them living vicariously through the pages.

We all have favorite authors. For several of mine, I’ve done binge reading of their books, usually fifteen titles in a row. I do this to learn about writing, but the by-product of this method is I learn a lot about that author, their views on the world, what they read, what political stand they have and what kind of person they are.

This may seem like an audacious comment since most authors are introverts and do not want to put their lives out in the world.  However, as an author, our stories reveal that we’ve opened a vein and poured our blood into the stories. This is honesty. It’s real. It’s the truth. And it makes for vivid stories that glue the reader to her/his chair as the author takes them on an adventure. And within that adventure, in between the lines and pages and chapters, inside the world created by the author, is the truth of the author’s conscious, her/his values, her/his life.

So the next time you pick up a book to read, handle it carefully and remember you’re holding the author’s heart in your hands.


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Influenced by the Movies

by Shirley Hailstock

I loved my high school. And while my chemistry teacher was the most important influence in my life, it’s my English teachers that I have the most stories about. This blog is not about teachers, but about influences that some of my teachers instilled in me – mainly it was a need to read and learn, to research the people, places, and things that interested me.

Recently, I watched a movie about J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye. I never read this book. Like most people, my high school had plenty of classics for us to read and I read all of them (being an avid reader, this is no surprise). I also exhausted the summer reading list every year. However, there were books that never made the lists I was given. Catcher in the Rye being one of them.

Anyway, the movie (Rebel in the Rye) is a biography of J.D. (Jerome David) Salinger’s life and specifically the writing of his only published novel. I watched the movie twice and then wanted to read the book. I read some reviews that don’t really tell me why this book became a classic. So hearing my Sophomore English teacher’s voice in my head telling me (before the age of the Internet) to “go look it up,” I got the book and I’m reading it. At the moment, I’m finding it hard to separate this first-person point of view from the man I envision. J.D. Salinger has said he and Holden Caulfield, his main character, are not the same. The book is a work of fiction. However, we writers and readers know there is a certain amount of the author in every story.

This is not the first time I’ve been intrigued by a version of Hollywood that had me rushing out to find the truth. Years ago, I watched Amadeus, the biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life. After seeing that, I read three or four books on his life, and he’s not even my favorite composure (that would be Chopin & Rachmaninoff).

Since reading The Great Gatsby in high school (it made the list), I’ve been fascinated by both the story and the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.



One year for Spring Break, I convinced my children to go north instead of to the place we went every year. We visited Newport, RI. I wanted to see the mansions built during the Gilded Age, but mainly I was interested in the house where they filmed the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby. Then I watched Beloved Infidel, the story of Fitzgerald and columnist Sheliah Graham.


Of course, I had to know more about Fitzgerald. First I re-read The Great Gatsby. I wanted to know if the book would hold up in today’s world. It’s always on the bestseller list when a new school year begins. My opinion, yes it works, even today. After that, I scoured bookstores and the library for stories about Fitzgerald.

This is a short list of movies that have influenced me enough to send me in search of sources to see what I could learn about a character or an author.  I could go on for several more pages.


For my own book, Promises to Keep, the idea also came from a television program, Route 66.  Since there were so many stories that the characters brought to the screen, I was always in the library looking for books to support those stories.

Am I alone in this? Have any of you ever gone in search of a book after seeing a movie? Tell me about it.

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St. Patrick’s Day will be here in a few days. Blythe’s Book Group has been reading books about leprechauns, the Emerald Isle, and all things Irish. This month the group of hardy Martha’s Vineyard year round residents are discussing a Callahan Garrity Mystery by Mary Kay Andrews. You are invited to join them.

The Storytellers-Unlimited book for March is on sale for 40% off at KOBO. The book group decided to read it along with the St. Patrick’s day choice. Grab your copy and enjoy. If you don’t have a KOBO reader, get the app and read along.



Dangerous Secrets will grip you to your chair with the three full-length novels. SECRETS…become lies…become novels by three stellar writers. Find out what SECRETS they can tell.

In this Callahan series novel, Irish Eyes, find out what the Irish fraternal police organization might be brewing up that’s far more lethally potent than green beer.


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Selling a Book with its Cover

by Shirley Hailstock

We all do it. We judge a book by its cover. Since most of the bookstores closed where we used to browse the shelves of life-size images, we now see cover after cover online and choose what we want to click on and read.

So I was playing around with Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud). I should be writing, reading a book I promised to provide a quote for, or icing those cupcakes that I have to take to school tomorrow. Instead I’m creating book covers.

I thought I’d share some of my fun with you. Many readers ask authors about the covers that appear on their releases. I’m not a professional and the process will be the basics, but you’ll get the gist.

It’s a good thing if you have an idea of what you want the cover to look like. I have books set in Washington, DC, so I began there. And additionally, I thought of the color I wanted the background to be. I experimented with several covers. 
And decided on this one.

In the foreground, you can see that the grass is very dark. What you can’t see is the reflection of the Capitol in the water that’s in the front of the building. So through the magic of Photoshop, I added it.

Notice the color changed a little. That’s because I have a background behind the entire scene that is not visible.  It’s white and changes the color a little. I liked the change, so I kept it. The reflection is also clearly visible.

Now, I have to add people, mainly because I like to see the people who are in the story. The couple I chose are clearly on a beach.

 There’s no beach in my story, so I cut it away and only left them.
Now it’s a matter of combining the two images. Each image is its own story, so I needed to blend them. 
Initially, when you put the two images together, you can’t see through them. Using a blending technique, I expose part of the couple in the background.
The photo comes out looking like this.

Now, it’s time for the text. The fonts for the author’s name remains constant on all their books if the publisher chooses to do that. On self-published books, the author generally chooses a font she likes and uses it as part of her brand.  I chose the font Anastasia for my name.
The font used for the title presents another area that needs to be addressed. Not only the font itself, but the color(s) needs to blend with the other colors and the words need to be clear enough to see, especially as a thumbnail (very small image). Notice that my name is huge on the cover. That’s a branding technique. The author’s name will remain the same (exceptions are not addressed here) while book titles will change. And we want readers to remember our names.
That’s just about it. Since this is a December blog, I hung a candy cane on the title. Using another method I painted out (not the technical term) part of the candy cane image so it appears to hang from the letter T in The.
As I said, this is very rudimentary. The process can take many more images. I used 8 here, including the text which is also an image. Each word is separate, allowing me to place them where I want them or move them around to see if it looks better.
Finally, we get to the point where the cover is done. It relays the story at a glance. This cover would say the book is a contemporary romance, set in Washington, DC with a light plot. You wouldn’t expect to find a dark paranormal or a dark suspense from the makeup and title of the cover.
As a note, I do not have a book called The Promise.  I used it to demonstrate the color and fonts that complement the total artwork. All the images used were either free for use or I purchased the intellectual property.
So next time, you browse or look at an author’s cover, you can see that there’s branding and communications through the images and fonts.
Happy reading…
P.S. Check out some of the covers on the Storytellers Unlimited pages and let us know if you’re intrigued enough to read the cover copy and see if you want to read the book. Click here for the book page. 
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Things You Didn’t Know About Martha’s Vineyard

Books that the Storytellers write are set in the fictional world of Blythe Cove Manor on Martha’s Vineyard.  During this past summer, I visited the island and while there, I noticed things that were new to me, unexpected, and interesting.

22 Points about Marth’s Vineyard

  1. The Island is made up of six cities (Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Chilmark, Tisbury, Vineyard Haven, Aquinnah). Each has its own mayor, fire department, police, etc. and its own character.
  2. The island is referred to as either up island or down island.
  3. The city buses are white – #13 runs through Oak Bluffs.
  4. The decorative houses on oak Bluffs are called Painted Ladies.
  5. Annually in August, there is a Grand Illumination celebration. All the lights in the historic Oak Bluffs area are turned off and only Japanese Lanterns light the area.
  6. The Inkwell on maps is known as Ocean Beach.
  7. Edgartown is where all the action is. Day life and night life.
  8. There are wild grapes growing on much of the land, but the land is too expensive for vineyards.
  9. As to whom the island is named after, there are still two versions. Either the captain who discovered (Bartholomew Gosnold) the island’s infant daughter or his mother in law. Both were named Martha.  At the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, there was a card stating it was name for his mother in law, yet the guide who told us the island’s history, said it was the infant daughter.
  10. Edgartown is name for a Captain named Mayhew who wanted to be Mayor for life of part of Martha’s Vineyard. He thought the king (of England) wouldn’t allow it, so he offered to name the area after the king’s nephew and future heir to the throne, Edgar, who was a 4-year old child at the time. The king allowed it and Mayhew proclaimed himself Mayor for life. Edgar died shortly after this and was never king.
  11. The houses are practically all done in cedar shakes. The size of the shakes vary from 6 to 12 inches wide and 3 to 4 inches tall.
  12. There are some very large and expensive homes on the island, but you can’t see them. They are behind large amounts of foliage, fences and have dirt driveways. We asked about rainfall and were told it rained a normal amount. In fact, it rained while we were there, but during the night. I think the driveways are to deter people.
  13. There are no paparazzi on the island.
  14. There are no chain stores or fast food places on the island (no McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, etc.). We did see a sign for a Clarion Hotel, but never saw the building. They have three Stop & Shop Grocery stores on the island. They are very small inside.  Food in the grocery stores was not that much more expensive than in NJ — maybe a dollar or so more than usual.
  15. Everyone was so friendly. There was no blowing of car horns, or anger at people who aren’t paying attention. There are also NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS. There are lots of four-way stop signs (and they need them for traffic control).
  16. The streets are very narrow, so you have to turn slowly, even for a right turn.
  17. A lot of the homes have fences around them, some are short picket fences, others are tall wooden fences or tall hedges. The Painted Ladies are rarely fenced. There are some houses you can see with beautiful landscaping.
  18. The soil is very sandy.
  19. The vegetation looks like most trees I see in my area, except for the wild grapes growing up island.
  20. If you’re going to the island and taking a car, make a reservation in January or earlier. The ferry fills up fast.
  21. One area of the island (up island) was concerned about all the rich people coming in and building huge homes. The city of Chilmark enacted a law that homes could be 3,500 square feet or less. The other areas of Martha’s Vineyard don’t have that rule, so you can build 18,000 square feet homes if you want.
  22. In 1694, Jonathan Lambert came to the island as a deaf man. Through years of intermarriages, 25% of the population was born deaf (most lived in Chilmark). The American Sign Language was begun on Martha’s Vineyard.

If you get the opportunity, visit this wonderful place, but you have to plan it if you want to take a car. The island is not HUGE, but you can’t walk it. Bicycles are prevalent, but if you’re not experienced cyclist, you’re limited to buses.

I loved being there, and would love to have a house on the island. Just as soon as I win the lottery jackpot, it’ll be high on my list.

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Comfort Reads

I write contemporary novels, but back in the day, I was and am still a history buff. I could answer the entire column of history questions on the old Jeopardy program.

I’m also good with numbers and dates, (math minor in college). This came in handy with the timeline question on exams. I even remember the date of the Friendship 7. (That was spaceship that took John Glenn up in 1962.)

So you would think that all this looking backwards would endear me to comfort reads– going back and revisiting ole haunts, plots, characters and stories.
Nope, not me.

Comfort Reads is a concept I don’t subscribe to. There are so many books and so little time as the saying goes. 


I’d rather read a new book than re-read a past one. This doesn’t mean I don’t understand the need for familiarity, for knowing what the outcome will be in a novel. I read romances and I expect a happily-ever-after. So I know the hero and heroine will overcome all obstacles in their way and find love.

This also doesn’t mean I have a TBR (to be read) pile and no keeper shelf. Like all readers, I have both. And both could fill their own room.

The keeper shelf gives me comfort without re-reading. As I look over the titles and remember the characters I befriended and who allowed me to share their world and their adventures, I feel the same warmth as my friends who pull down a story to re-read. I can participate in discussions on the Bridgertons, the Madaris’s, the billionaires and their babies.

My TBR pile hides gems that I only need to open a cover to find. 

I suppose the point of all this is we love to read and books hold wonders for us from visiting other worlds to finding a kindred spirit. And on that note, on my keeper shelf is Morning Glory by LaVryle Spencer. I love this book so much I won’t read the last page, because I never want this story to end.

What’s on your keeper shelf? What special book do you re-read year in and year out?

As always, keep reading…

Shirley Hailstock
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Unknown Author

By Shirley Hailstock

I want to be an unknown author.  I went to Barnes and Noble last night, admittedly to buy a new book by one of my favorite authors.  And of course, I came home with more than the one book.  As any reader knows, books are like potato chips – you can’t buy just one. So I was walking around the superstore, scoping out the books and looking at the guys to see who was just there to hang out.

There were a lot of tables and free standing book carousels and I found myself looking at the titles and authors.  I’m a sucker for a good title, so I look at those first.  These are the tables that publishers pay money to have the titled featured.
I consider myself fairly well read and well informed about books – all books not just romance or women’s fiction.  But what I noticed on these tables were books by people unknown to me.  Of course, I can’t know everyone, no matter now hard I try, yet on many of those tables, I didn’t recognize a single name.
I did recognize the publishers.  And I decided that is who I want to be.  I want to be one of those names that people come in the store find.  My book and my name prominently displayed.  I want to be the books they go home with, spend the night in bed with, and read from Page One to The End.
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