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Introducing Janis Wilson

October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween – or, if you prefer, Scary Halloween. As a special treat, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Janis Wilson. Not that Janis is a scary person. Just look at that face. Have you ever seen a sweeter smile? She really is as nice as she looks. I have to tell you, though, she knows some pretty scary stuff. Read on.

Janis Wilson is a retired trial lawyer and expert in Jack the Ripper.  She was a delegate to the 2013 Jack the Ripper conference in Whitechapel, London.  Last year, she was a co-organizer of the American Ripper and true crime conference, RipperCon.  She will be a featured speaker at next year’s RipperCon.  Information is available at  Janis used her expertise to teach a course on the famous serial killer at Temple University in Philadelphia.  Her first novel, “Goulston Street,” answers many questions about this famous 130-year-old unsolved case.  Her protagonist, Lady Sarah Cartwright, will undertake another investigation in her work in progress.  Janis lives without incident in Baltimore with her husband and two rescue cats, who are her muses.  You may contact her at  

And now, from Janis:

A Marriage of Inconvenience 

We’ve all heard about what the daily routine of a working writer entails.  But have you ever considered the daily routine of the long-suffering spouse? Take the case of my poor husband.

What I do for a living follows him everywhere.  He was introduced to a woman the other day and they were making small talk.  She said, “What are you wife’s interests?”  Without hesitating, he fixed his gaze on her and said, “murder.”  The woman took a step back and asked, probably with a quivering voice, “what do you mean?”  “Murder,” he said.  “She writes about it. She lectures on it.  She watches it on TV.”  The woman either understood or pretended to, for she did not run away screaming for help.  Perhaps she is one of us who watch Investigation Discovery, on which I sometimes appear as a true crime commentator.

That wasn’t the only time my job has made my husband ill at ease.  I told him about a woman who, with murder on her mind, had ordered a book on how to make a silencer.  I thought that was a silly waste of money.  “All she had to do was tape a plastic bottle to the end of the gun to make a silencer.  Everybody knows that.”  My husband calmly drew in breath, exhaled, and said, as calmly as he could manage, “Honey, not everybody knows that.”  He relayed this exchange to a friend, who advised, “you’d better sleep with one eye open.”

Then there was the time he picked up the phone and spoke with a world-renowned pathologist, who gave his name and asked for me.  When my bewildered spouse gave me the message, he said, “you know, other husbands might find it alarming if their wives got a phone call from a pathologist.  But not me.  Not anymore.”

Not him, indeed.  And it extends beyond our day-to-day lives, too.  Because I write Victorian-era mysteries, I told him we needed to go to England on vacation.  My protagonist is an aristocrat, so we had to stay, not at a hotel, but at a castle.  It wasn’t just a working vacation for me, but for hubby, too.  I made him measure the length and width of every room in the castle so I could describe them credibly and cogently in my next novel.  He also was tasked with videotaping me walking from the castle to the nearby village while I gave running commentary I could later use in a book.  He was a model of sangfroid.

To his credit, he has not objected to these little intrusions. Rather, he has become an enabler. Maybe that is why he did not complain when we were walking with a young couple to a local restaurant.  The woman was a physician, so I took advantage of the opportunity to ask a question essential to my work in progress.  “I have a character who eviscerates women,” I said.  I asked her to describe what she would feel in a woman’s interior and whether she could describe the uterus for me in terms of size and feel.  My beloved sped up to walk with her husband and said, “I think we need to talk about sports.” “Yes, we really do,” the chap agreed. With a look of relief on his face. When my husband said later that this was not ordinary table conversation, I insisted anyone in my place would have done the same.

I am not certain, but I believe that soft sound that followed was his helpless weeping.

Thanks, Janis, for visiting Birth of a Novel and sharing something of your writing life with us.


Meet Donna Galanti

October 27, 2017


Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy and the children’s fantasy adventure Joshua and The Lightning Road series. She is a contributing editor for International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs with other middle grade authors at Project Middle Grade Mayhem. She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. Donna enjoys teaching at conferences on the writing craft and marketing and also presenting as a guest author at elementary and middle schools. Visit her at and She also loves building writer community. See how at

Element Triliogy twitter3

Mind Control: Would You If You Could?
by Donna Galanti
In my paranormal suspense novel, A Hidden Element, mind control is used by the Elyon cult community to get what they want – and its power can be taken away through punishment.

Yet, even while the Elyon community uses mind control to commit theft and murder they have strict rules about it being used on their own people. They know that uncontrolled use of it will lead to the very destruction of their community and the breakdown of rules.

The mission of a small “elite” group to control the masses is nothing new, in fiction or real life.

Dean Koontz uses mind control in his book Night Chills. By using a single phrase the antagonist can force innocent people into a hypnotic state to do whatever he wants. Even scarier is that this technique was created through an experimental government program.

And the very real CIA’s MK-Ultra mind control program from 1953 to 1964 was a government program that conducted a series of covert experiments carried out on unwitting subjects with the aim of producing mind-control techniques. In 1973 the then director of the CIA destroyed nearly all of the MK-Ultra’s records. Perhaps most disturbing of all was the fact that the extent of experimentation on human subjects was unknown.

What if this happened to you, an “unwitting subject”?  Would you just wake up missing time with no recollection of what you did during that missing time? Have you ever had missing time that you couldn’t account for? I have. Once I lost two hours of time. I was in my car to go shopping and when I looked two hours had passed and I had missed an appointment. I often wonder where did that time go? Did aliens kidnap me for an experiment? Was a government experiment conducted on me without my consent? Silly to think, but is it really?

In 1978 I was just nine years old and simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the story of Jim Jones in the news that shocked the world. Jones was best known for the mass suicide over 900 of his cult’s members in Jonestown, Guyana, by cyanide poisoning and the murder of five individuals at a nearby airstrip, including Congressman Leo Ryan.

As a child and now as an adult, I still can’t comprehend how so many could follow one man to their death. Yet, none of us are immune to mind control techniques. Peer pressure, hypnosis, sleep deprivation, fear, financial commitment, guilt, and isolation are just some ways we can be controlled to become people we never thought we might be. Here’s a post on mind control basics that details just how easy it can be.

Sadly, I know there will be more Jim Jones stories to come along. For as long as humans pursue power over the masses, mind control will be conducted by those who study human behavior in order to bend large populations to the will of a small “elite” group.

In writing about mind control in A Hidden Element, I tried to find my own way to explain how this could lead someone to do the unthinkable when presented with the choices before them.

Do you believe in mind control? And would you control others if you could do it?

P.S. I’m also giving away a $25 Amazon gift card below!

 About A Human Element:
One by one, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–redeem him or kill him.

Praise for A Human Element:
“A Human Element is an elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart.  Highly recommended.” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author

Praise for A Hidden Element:
“Fascinating…a haunting story about just how far parents will go to protect, or destroy, their children in the name of love.”—Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times best-selling author

Purchase A Human Element here: On sale for just $0.99 10/27 – 11/2!

Purchase A Hidden Element here: On sale for FREE 10/27 – 10/31!

Connect with Donna:

Check out the Rafflecopter Giveaway here and enter to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card!




October 7, 2017

October is the month when everybody asks if we believe in ghosts. We probably all have a slightly different answer to that question. Mine is: Not really, but then again, I don’t NOT believe in them either. Whether you believe or not, it’s fun to talk about these mostly unseen souls. So … here’s a little something to add to the conversation.

A number of people claim to have seen ghosts at the Pearl S. Buck House. With that in mind, the Pearl S. Buck Volunteer Association has arranged a Ghost Tour to introduce you to some of the ghostly inhabitants of Ms. Buck’s home. I asked Cindy Louden, our resident expert, to tell you about it.

From Cindy:

Mortals who care to discover the REAL ghosts in the Pearl S. Buck House are invited to visit on Saturday, October 29, for a slightly spooky, yet family-friendly Ghost Tour. Visitors will encounter some of the many ghosts seen on the property by Pearl S. Buck, her neighbors, and house visitors.

Through the years there have been many documented ghost sightings at the Pearl S. Buck House, including: a ghost called “Devil Harry” who was a drunkard and well known for pinching bottoms of visitors to the House; a ghost called the “Shrubbqe Woman” who spoke with Pearl as she worked in her beloved gardens; a ghost called the “Colonial Children’s Nurse” who quieted people in the House because she was tending to babies on the third floor; a ghost called “Ole Hen” who comes in from farm work to line up for dinner; and a ghost called the “Repentant Preacher” who roams the property telling people to repent.

Real people in the life of Pearl Buck will be brought back from the dead for this one special night. Portrayed by actors, they will host the event, keeping up the tradition set by Pearl who hosted a Community Halloween Party every year. Mrs. Loris, housekeeper to Pearl Buck, will lead daring mortal visitors through the tour of the house and grounds. Richard Walsh, Pearl’s husband will show off his personal office. Pearl S. Buck herself will also make an appearance, as well as a character from the Dickens’ books she loved to read. At the end of the tour, the former gardener, George Gala will offer his fresh-pressed cider made with an original antique apple press

This will be the 6th year of the Ghost Tours. It is a project of the Pearl S. Buck Volunteer Association.
WHEN:                  Sunday October 29, 2017

Tours start at 4:00, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00 – duration approximately 40 minutes

WHERE:                The Pearl S. Buck House, 520 Dublin Road, Perkasie, PA

WHO:                    Family friend! Suitable for middle school ages through adults.

       $15. Pre-registration required.

Thanks, Cindy.

Though I can’t say I’ve ever actually seen a ghost in the house, it’s easy for me to imagine Ms. Buck’s ghost sitting at her desk, her fingers skimming over the keyboard, creating the characters who so vividly inhabit the pages of The Good Earth.

Places of Vision

September 28, 2017

For some people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “museum” is stuffy. They think of  old, dusty objects and tributes to dead ideas and deeds. That may be true of some museums, not certainly not all. Some, I would even say most, are places where we honor and help preserve mankind’s highest ideals. One such place is Green Hills Farm, the home of the writer and humanitarian, Pearl S. Buck.Historic-House-Tours-Photo

One of the things I love most about Ms. Buck’s house is that, impressive as it is, it doesn’t feel like a museum. It is a home – warm and welcoming. It brings to life the story of a talented, energetic woman who saw injustice and didn’t turn away. Instead, she used her talent and energy to break through barriers and nurture understanding. I have always admired Ms. Buck, both as a writer and a humanitarian, but being in her home, seeing the objects that were part of her life, I see her as a human being. Two of my favorites of 21740579_10155686751232692_3843948112621252102_nthose objects are the desk and typewriter on which she wrote The Good Earth.

As with many, my introduction to Pearl Buck was The Good Earth. I first read the book sometime in my teens and was caught up in the story of struggling Chinese peasants who battled obstacles more fearsome than their legendary dragons.  The sweep of the story, the characters whose lives were so different from mine, but whose dreams were so much the same, taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten. I went on to read other books by Ms. Buck, some set in China, some in other Asian countries, some in the United States. These stories are peopled with characters whose lives are as diverse as their settings, but, always, it is their humanity that drives the story.  I remember the first time I saw the desk and typewriter. I stared in awe. I imagined her sitting there, tapping away on the old-fashioned, round keys. I still get a thrill when I tour the house and point them out to guests, especially students. I wonder what they feel and hope they are inspired to reach beyond themselves as Ms. Bucks always did.

The feeling of the Pearl S. Buck House is much the same as her stories. I’ve been a volunteer for about two years, not nearly as long as some (it seems this is a job no one wants to leave), but already it’s an important part of my life. Before becoming a volunteer, I knew that Ms. Buck did more than write about the plight of people whose choices in life were restricted by the circumstances of their birth. I knew that she had founded Welcome House and that it has helped change the fate of many children born into seemingly hopeless situations.  What I did not fully comprehend was that the legacy did not die with the woman. Pearl S. Buck International, the organization that evolved from Welcome House, helps to make sure that it goes on.

Hearing about lives that have been changed by this organization is inspiring, so inspiring that it would be easy to think of Pearl S. Buck as a superwoman. Walking through her home changed that for me. Imagining her with her husband and children, being a wife, a parent, a member of a community, I am reminded of one of her favorite quotes: “All, under Heaven, are one family.” It’s a message I’m proud to pass along to visitors to Ms. Buck’s home, especially the many groups of school children who come. People nod in recognition when they hear this. I have the feeling that they take something of her vision with them when they leave, ensuring that her legacy will continue. Her vision will prevail.




The Book I Never Meant To Write

September 18, 2017

It’s funny how writing works. You never know where a story will lead or when a tiny brain tickle will begin to pulse. After writing five books about Jennie Connors and the folks at Riverview Manor, I felt the need to try something different. I loved spending time with the characters in the Jennie Connors mysteries and had a good time inventing new adventures for them, but I didn’t want to fall into the trap of writing the same book again and again. In other words, that tickle was getting stronger. I started looking around for new characters and a new setting.

I didn’t have to look far for a setting. Just up the hill from where I live, there’s a print versionwonderful castle-like museum. Perfect. All I needed was a plot and some characters. Peace Morrow introduced herself. I didn’t know much about Peace when I started, but, little by little, she revealed herself to me. I learned there were questions she desperately needed to have answered. Together, Peace and I began to plot the journey that we called LOVE AND NOT DESTROY.  By the end of the book, those questions were answered. End of story, right? Not quite.

In life, even fictional life, there is no permanent happily ever after. After even the most satisfying resolution, life goes on. New problems, new questions, arise. Peace wouldn’t let me rest. She kept asking: “What’s going to happen to me now?” Needing to know the answer myself, I began the story that became AN UNCERTAIN PATH, the book I didn’t intend to write. LOVE AND NOT DESTROY was supposed to be a Cody Uncertain Path Coverstandalone but I couldn’t ignore Peace’s query. I’d barely begun to answer Peace’s question when a new character, Rachel Woodard, stepped in with problems and questions of her own. Her problems became entangled with Peace’s.

This latest Peace Morrow book is the story of two young women, linked by tragedy. Their lives and the lives of everyone they love are affected by their responses to the tragedy. What happens when good intentions go bad?

AN UNCERTAIN PATH, more than anything I’ve written, grabbed my hand and led me down a path that was often uncertain, but that took me where the story needed to go. It’s a departure from my other books in that it’s not a traditional mystery. Readers know from the beginning whodunit and they are asked to decide for themselves what constitutes good and evil.  People who are supposed to know about such things tell me this is a mistake. Readers don’t like it when a writer steps outside their box. I disagree. I have more faith in readers than that.



FINDING PEACE, a short story that introduces Peace Morrow –

A Brand New Baby

August 21, 2017

The new baby has finally arrived. Yes, another Peace Morrow novel. I never intended for Love and Not Destroy to become part of a series, but the characters demanded that their story be continued and, truth be told, I wanted to know what happened next in Peace’s life.

An Uncertain Path explores the relationship between Peace, who was abandoned as an infant, and the birth family she finally meets at age 22.  This one is a bit of a departure from my usual “Whodunit”. It’s more of a “Whydunit” and a “Will she get away with it?” Don’t worry. There’s plenty of suspense. If you’re interested in family relationships, you’ll like this one.

A tragic accident links the lives of two young women, unrelated, unknown to one Cody Uncertain Path Coveranother, causing each to question things she thought were certain, and setting each on a path neither could have imagined.

Peace Morrow, abandoned as an infant, is about to meet the birth family she’s always longed to know. Raised as a Pennsylvania Quaker, she wonders what her Virginia aristocrat family will think of her. What happens when a careless action by one of them takes the family to the brink of disaster?

Rachel Woodard, longing to break out of the safe world she’s always known, takes a drastic step that results in the death of a young man and sets off a chain of events that swirls outward like a pebble dropped in a pool. Can she live a lie to preserve her own life and save everyone she loves from heartbreak?

Happy Independence Day

July 3, 2017

tags: Declaration of ndependenceFounding FathersFourth of July,George WashingtonLiberty BellThomas Jefferson

by Sandra Carey Cody

July 4After basics like food and shelter, I can’t think of anything more precious or more essential to the human spirit than independence. And there’s probably nothing more taken for granted by those who posses it. That’s too bad, a grievous sin. It’s also probably true that we here in the United States are more guilty of this sin than most. However, once a year we at least try to redeem ourselves; we set aside a day to remember our heritage and to celebrate it. Tomorrow is that day: the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document that condenses into six paragraphs the ideals on which our nation was founded.

Many of us memorized the Declaration of Independence sometime during our school years and promptly forgot most of it. But some phrases are so powerful and so evocative of what we as a nation hope to be, that they remain locked in the recesses of our brains–phrases like: “decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” “self-evident that all men are created equal” and, of course: “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

I don’t think there’s ever been a time when it’s been more necessary to remember those words. At the moment, our country is so divided that the crack in our Liberty Bell seems ominously appropriate. I believe that differences in opinion are good and even necessary to create a society that embodies the ideals of that brilliant Declaration. If only we could remember the phrase “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” and listen to all opinions, even those with which we disagree. Not just listen, but actually consider that there might be some truth in a viewpoint different from our own. If all men are created equal, shouldn’t all men (and women and children) be allowed to express their opinion? But perhaps not quite so vociferously. A little civility goes a long way.

The times may seem bleak, but history reminds me that this is not new. There has always been conflict among men, especially during periods of change. I understand that even the men we so lovingly call our Founding Fathers lost their tempers and shouted at each other from time to time. The story goes that George Washington wondered if he was witnessing a rising or a setting sun. So, maybe things are not as bad as they seem.

Go forth and celebrate your Life and Liberty. Pursue Happiness.