John M. Wills

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Meet Author Jackie Taylor Zortman

Please introduce yourself, when you began writing, your background, where you live, etc.

I began writing, mostly poetry, back in 1990.  Poems would come to me intact and I couldn’t just sit down and write one because I wanted to.  These soon evolved into articles and short stories and now, into a book.  I am a Kentucky native who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and moved to Colorado’s western slope 32 years ago.  I live in a beautiful little tourist town in the mountains where I once was a bookstore owner.  I am married to a 42-year veteran law enforcement officer and we are both now retired.  Prior to my bookstore, I worked in advertising, travel and medicine and spent a good many years being a stay-at-home Mom.Me

Do you write every day, and are novels the only things you write?

When I am in throes of a project, I do write every day.  Of course, I write every day answering e-mails, marketing my book or participating in social media.  I normally do not write fiction and have also written a great deal in genealogy, history, poetry and have had numerous short stories and articles published over the last 23 years.

I know you have a new novel just released. Please tell my readers about it.

My book We Are Different Now was born when my 21-year old grandson, Pete, fell to his death in the pitch black of night while celebrating July 4, 2010.  He lit a firework of some magnitude and dropped it, so instinctively jumped backwards, falling straight to the canyon floor and riverbank below.  It took just three seconds and killed him instantly from a skull fracture.  This happened in the wee hours of July 5th, his mother and my daughter’s, birthday.  He had been born on my son’s birthday.  Being our oldest grandchild, he was the absolute apple of my eye.  My book tells the story of my journey with death on the mountain and I invite my readers to come along with me to discover what has been revealed to us since we lost this young man with the angelic face and who was born possessing an old soul  His death has changed my life in many ways.  It has, amazingly, been selling to people of all ages and in all walks of life, to my delight and amazement.

What other writing interests you?

For several years, I wrote the police report for the newspaper, which was an experience in itself, mostly because people are not familiar with cop jargon.  That can result in someone who decides to edit your report completely changing the context of what you are saying.  I also have a novel that is fiction based on fact that I will soon rewrite and attempt to get published.  This book took me three years to write, due to the violent nature of the cases involved.  Having to read so many different reports and files, there were times when I had to stop writing for a few weeks because it became overwhelming.  I’ve also written for several anthologies in the law enforcement genre and also history and genealogy are fascinating subjects for me.  Poetry and I seem to have parted company for now.

What is your most rewarding writing experience?

At this point in time, I would have to say that my book We Are Different Now has been my most rewarding experience.  It took 16 months after Pete’s death before I was able to begin writing and another full year to complete.  Luckily, I immediately had a publishing contract with Oak Tree Press and my book was on the market six months later.  Therefore, I believe that I must have had some major help along the way to accomplish that so quickly.  I simply had a deep gut feeling that this is what Pete would have wanted me to do – create something positive out of that which is so painful for me.  My goal was merely to have my book be “out there” and it certainly is.  That has been a huge reward for my heart and soul.

Do you belong to any writing groups, or critique groups?

In 1994, I became a member of the Police Writers Club, which evolved into the Public Safety Writers Association later, and I am still a proud member of that organization.  Living remotely, as we do, I do not know of any nearby critique groups.  I do have a group of far-flung friends who will read and critique my work for me.Cover 300x444

Are you working on any new projects?

Yes, I have three different projects partially written and they are all different.  One is the rewrite of my novel Footprints In The Frost that is fiction based on fact and will be a romantic mystery.  Another is a compilation of stories I’ve written over the years that remains untitled.  This is the one that I’d just love to steal your “Nightstand Collection” title for, but will not.  And the third will be called “Bullets, Badges and Me” and will be a cop tale.

I read that your writing has won awards. Can you tell us about those honors?

After entering my very first writing contest, I was very surprised to win two third place awards in the 2013 Public Safety Writers Association Contest in July for two articles I’ve written.  One is in the non-fiction, non-technical, non-published category called “Amache”.  This is about a WWII government internment camp for Japanese/Americans located in eastern Colorado.  My husband had seen this place intact as a little boy, though it was then empty.  We had looked for it for years and finally found mostly concrete foundations, a few houses and a playground still intact.  We were totally alone and it was eerie to view.  My second award was in the non-fiction, non-technical, published category titled “The Siege At Cortez,” that I wrote at an editor’s request and is about the horrible butchering of law enforcement officers in the Four Corners area years ago.  That article was the very first time I received a sizable check for my work, rendering me a bona fide professional writer.

Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?

Yes, I doubt that anyone can possibly understand how much blood, sweat and tears are involved in writing/publishing/marketing a book.  It has been a huge revelation to me to discover how many different facets there are between first sitting down to write and actually holding the finished book in your hand.  It has been and continues to be a tremendous education for me.  So, to those of you who are seasoned book authors, I applaud your months and years of hard work to provide quality entertainment for your readers and your willingness to help those of us with less experience find our way.  Along this path, I have been introduced to so many wonderful people and gained really good friends and view that as part of the gift that we are given when we discover that we can write.  To those of you who buy and read our books, blogs and websites, we are eternally grateful because when we get a letter or comment from you, that’s the ultimate prize.  You are the reason we do what we do.  Thank and bless you all.  And thank you, John, for allowing me to be a guest blogger on your site.

Please provide the readers with a link to your website, and a link to your book.

My blog is:  My book is called “We Are Different Now” and can be purchased at,, or in Barnes & Noble stores.









Try A Novella

Nightstand Cover low resI’ve had conversations with fellow writers who tell me they dream of writing a book. However, some of these aspiring novelists always seem to have a reason why they have yet to realize their dream. They insist their wonderful, unique storyline is sure to be widely accepted,  but then moan that the task of writing a book is just too demanding. Is that a valid excuse? I guess it might be. On the other hand, writing a book might also be a wonderful cathartic exercise.

In lieu of writing a 300 – 400 page novel, might I suggest writing a novella? It has many of the characteristics of a novel, yet lacks some of the structure and requirements. A novella is basically a long short story. If you research novellas, you will find varying opinions regarding what length they should be. The most common answer is probably somewhere around 20,000 words.

The novella is an interesting piece of literature because it doesn’t seem to fit well in conventional publishing mediums—magazines and books. It’s too long to be included in some online publications, yet it’s too short to be deemed appropriate for print.

Nevertheless, a novella is a great way for a writer to develop characters and plots. It’s also a good way to flesh out a writing portfolio. While there are no chapters in novellas, there can be distinct breaks to divide sections. Novellas contain protagonists and antagonists, conflicts, and more than enough space to fully develop settings.

So, where is the market for this type of writing? Some publishers may consider a novella as a print piece or ebook. However, Amazon recently introduced “Kindle singles” in their online store that specializes in standalone works like novellas. Writers follow simple instructions to upload their work and, voila, a best seller may be born.

I took a test drive at the Amazon Kindle store and created my own anthology, “The Nightstand Collection.” It’s a collection of my short stories and poetry. The process of self-publishing was straightforward and easy to understand. Amazon even provides a video demonstrating the steps involved in an easy to understand tutorial.

My recommendation? Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you’re reluctant to commit to a novel, try the novella. If you have success with writing a novella, you may have discovered your writing niche. Or . . . the novella may just be the springboard that launches your book career.


The Online Critique Group

English: Hands collaborating in co-writing or ...
English: Hands collaborating in co-writing or co-editing or co-teaching in online education. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post, I discussed the importance of having one’s writing critiqued. In order to improve, constructive criticism is a necessity. That short story, poem, or novel may seem perfect to you the way it is written, but with a little help it may become fabulous and worthy of publication.

If you do not have a critique group in your area, consider joining one online. Make sure that it truly is a critique group, and not merely a writing group. The difference is that a writing group will be just that: a group of writers who form together to produce a story or other work. The problem is they never critique, they just write.

Once you’ve begun researching online critique groups, consider the group’s makeup before making a decision to join. Who are the members, are they writing in the same genre as you? You may not get the feedback you need if you are a novelist, and you join a group consisting primarily of poets. How many other members are in the group? If there are more than a dozen or so members, that may be too many.

What are the guidelines regarding how much a writer can submit, and what’s the turnaround time? Be prepared to have your email inbox filled with questions and comments from group members. Depending on the group’s rules, you may easily become overwhelmed answering queries.

You may find the first group you decide to join is not a good fit. Members may be excessively harsh in their criticism, or the number of submissions may be too burdensome. If your search for an online group results in failure, it may be time to start your own. Just make sure the makeup of the group includes a good mix of established writers and newbies.

The bottom line—don’t be afraid to put your work out there. If you want to be successful, writing is like any other discipline, it’s best learned from those who have succeeded, and by trial and error.

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