CJ Murphy

Not all that long ago, a friend of mine, A.E. Cavalieri, asked me if I’d be willing to read a book a friend of hers was working on. What a gift A.E. gave me, when I met CJ Murphy. We made a connection on FB. She explained that although she liked her story, she knew it needed some work. She wondered if I’d read it for her and give her an ‘honest’ opinion. I tend to cringe when I hear that expression, because I’ve learned, over the years, that people are rarely happy when you give them one. However, I told CJ I’d read the first few chapters and make some observations, and we’d go from there. She sent me her story and I discovered I was in for a fantastic experience. Yes, there were some issues she needed to address. However, she had a raw talent and an uncanny gift of expression that I fell in love with. I make no claim to be an editor, since I get loads of help from my own editors. However, I was happy to share what I’ve learned so far. I sent back my corrections/suggestions, and we met on Skype where I explained a few things and pointed out a few areas she needed to work on, and promised her that if she was able to address those things, I thought her book would ultimately be ready for submission to publishers. I sent the MS back with my notes and figured it’d be weeks before I heard back. LOL, my computer barely had time to recharge, when her rewrite showed up in my mailbox. 

I’ve never met someone who works so hard and learns so fast. She has an endearing charm and biting sense of humor I enjoy. I’m now pleased to say that our relationship has grown from mentor/mentee to that of friend and colleague. 

I recently had the pleasure of reading her next book, The Bucket List, which will be out later this summer. I hope you will enjoy learning a bit about CJ and her writing from her guest blog below. Enjoy.

                                                         AJ Adaire

"It was a dark and stormy night." I love that Peanuts cartoon with Snoopy on top of his dog house pecking away on an antique typewriter as he aspired to write the great American novel. There are days I feel exactly like that as I sit and bring my characters to life by creating dialogue and detailed scenes.

Sometimes I can see them so clearly. I visualize exactly what they're wearing, what they're doing, even right down to how an eyebrow raises or a smile quirks. I can picture my main character taking her lover's hand and gently bringing it to her lips, kissing the palm and the soft skin of her wrist. My mind will drift to the character being touched. I see her eyes fluttering shut at the touch while she shivers with passion as the heat crawls up her neck and out the collar of her shirt. I see this in my mind as vividly as if it were playing out like a movie or television show.

Now, the tricky part is to write it in a way that is grammatically correct, in proper point of view, avoid over using any one phrase that will have to have a splenectomy performed on them by your editor. Do your best not to use the words but, so, just, and the dreaded 'she said'…over and over. OH and don't forget to make logical scene changes, put in chapter breaks, proper punctuation, and a host of other things I knew only the basics about when I wrote my first novel. Becoming an author is one of the hardest things I've ever done and I say that knowing how crazy some of my life has been.  I've spent twenty-five years in a job that included running in and out of burning buildings to pay the bills. I can do that without blinking and eye. Deciding to show my baby to the world…terrifying.

My story to becoming an author isn't unique, other than that I had some phenomenal help from amazing people along the way. I had Beta readers and friends who encouraged me and told me when something really needed work. More than once they told me the story had legs but it was so raw and far from being submission ready. The problem was, I didn't know what I didn't know.


I also have a woman I affectionately call 'my Yoda', the owner of this page who graciously asked me to write a blog for it- AJ Adaire. She taught me more than I could ever imagine, while wielding a sledgehammer with velvet gloves. She will slam me with, 'how many times do I have tell you this', then offer up that some line made her laugh or a positive comment on how I phrased something. She is phenomenal in my book, and exactly what I needed. EVERYONE needs a Yoda, trust me. That person who is willing to be brutally honest with you if something is crap. The truth is this- people spend their hard-earned money to purchase what you create. Give them their money's worth. Give them something worth telling their friends, 'Hey, I just finished a great book'.

I have to thank my eleventh-grade typing teacher for my current keyboard skills and level of words per minute. Yes, I am old enough to have had an actual TYPING class, not a computer class. Which means I learned to TYPE on a TYPEWRITER and not this snazzy laptop I work on now. Hey don't knock it! I have proper hand position and am not forced to watch my fingers as I hunt and peck through a one hundred and twenty-thousand-word document. I also have to curse that same woman because, no matter how hard I try, I am STILL putting two spaces after a period! Thank the heavens above for that nifty little feature of "replace all".

It makes my head hurt as I try to figure out how can I still have typos in my final product. I'm well aware of that squiggly little red line that shows up in my documents as I type. It's like a giant billboard yelling at me saying "hey genius, restaurant has two freaking a's in it."  It's maddening!!! It's also why it's important to have a critical eye on your manuscript. I actually read mine out loud to myself, which drives my wife crazy and forces me out to my front porch. Now before you think poorly of my wife, you haven't seen my porch. Trust me, it's no hardship-well, except when it's fifteen below zero. Yeah, then maybe it's not as nice. I'm probably having a hot flash anyway, so I doubt I mind.

I'm a voracious reader, and not just of lesbian fiction. The lesson I've learned is this, being a high-volume reader does not make me a great writer or expert on it. Trust me, I have very little formal education beyond high school that doesn't involve how to put something out when it's on fire. I was a journalism major more years ago than I care to admit. That style of writing is very different from the creative writing needed for short stories or novels. It did make me good at descriptors because it was important to have weekly readers feel the electricity travel through the stands on Friday night when the Devils took on their arch rivals, the Cougars. Steel and concrete allowed bad blood to cross over the swirling waters of the Ohio river that separated us. Players, dressed in armor of majestic purple and brown, wage battle on a freshly mown gridiron. That bad blood was as tangible as the dimpled leather and crisscrossed laces of the football. See, I rock the adjectives. Hard to make the Cougars sound tough in brown, but my team, the BLUE DEVILS were in purple and gold. It's a long story as to why we were the BLUE devils and our colors were something else. I'll save that for another day.

What makes me a writer at all, is my vivid imagination and my ability to transform what I 'see' in my head into words. I'm on a mission to get better and better in this endeavor. Journalism helped me learn how to describe things so my reader could see, smell, taste and feel what was happening with the words I wrote.

The other thing I've learned is to be much less critical of others. I am not an expert because I've written one book or I'm a voracious reader. I was given excellent advice as I got ready to publish. I was told that not everyone was going to like my book. Some would dislike it. Period. They would dislike it for a variety of reasons. I was told, they would express that 'dislike' of my work with reviews and comments on social media. "Grow thick skin", they said. "Being an author is not for the faint of heart." "Just do you." Because I am no expert, for me to get on social media and tear apart someone else's work, means that I better be good and ready for someone to tear apart mine. I won't do it. If I didn't like a book, I didn't like it. The other thing I won't do, is cost that person money or respect.

In one of my recent musing in my blog at www.cjsmurphyslaw.com, I used an analogy of apples. I like Honeycrisp apples. On the flip side, there are varieties that I am not particularly crazy about. I might not buy a Red Delicious, but my wife is a fan. Should I go on a campaign against the growers of the apple variety she loves? Let's just say, happy wife, happy life, so no. My point is, there are fans for everything. Share what you love and enjoy. Let others do the same. Our genre is small but powerful and fully capable of handling all shapes, colors, and kinds. My point is, be kind, it doesn’t cost a thing and it lets everyone enjoy the apples of their choice.  

Generally, I am a positive person. I look for the good, the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel. I can tell you that particular task is no small feat as a born Murphy. You see, I came into this world screaming my head off. The nurse put a name band on my arm and slipped a rolled-up scroll of Murphy's Law under the band. She then told me to deal with it and wished my mother well. You have to understand that born Murphy's and those who are unfortunate enough to fall in love with us, are bound by one overwhelming principal-shit's going to happen. Murphy's law has about a dozen bullet points tha t start with, 'Whatever will go wrong, will." I think I add several of points to it every year as I live up to my birth right. My wife, unfortunately has to suffer through with me. Our first few years together, I had three surgeries and more than one injury that required a visit to the emergency room. She threated to trade me in for a new model. I am beyond grateful she didn't. Fifteen years later, she's married me twice. I am a lucky woman.

My positive nature tells me to write happy ever after books. I want to know that my main characters fall deeply in love and live a wonderful life. They may have to swim through water that has a snapping turtle or two (I live in WV or I'd use an alligator analogy) but, they will find happiness before I type the words 'the end'. I try to write blogs that uplift people around me. I want to make you laugh or see something through a turning kaleidoscope-another word I can NEVER spell right. The thing I like about kale-i-do-scopes, (practice makes perfect) is that just a slight turn will change the perspective and make us see things completely differently. I try very hard to consider the opposing side as well. This occasionally drags me into political discussions that cause my blood pressure to rise as I scream at my laptop.(I usually have these conversations on social media because having them face to face too frequently might have me asking for bail money from all my very good friends.) I believe in fiscal responsibility, trust me. I believe in social justice, empathy and being the hand that helps those in need. Thanks to School House Rock, I learned the words to the Preamble almost forty years ago and I believe in them.

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." For us to be a more perfect union, we must be the change we want to see. We must vote into office those who will represent what we value and people that will run our government with mindful intent to be a nation governed for the people, by the people while ensuring the dignity and basic rights of all. (Drops the mic and steps down from the soapbox.)

As I told you, I'm a reader and I always have been. My six-year old self picked up Charlotte's Webb and got lost in the world of Fern and Wilber. My thirteen-year old self saw a magical world just beyond the heavy coats in the wardrobe. After that it was on to the years to all the classics my American Literature and English Literature teachers put on my reading list. My twenty-year old apparition was caught up in Tom Clancy and Patricia Cornwell thrillers until finally I found Fried Green Tomatoes. My world, would never be the same. With this one book, the feelings I'd tried so hard to deny, came pouring out and I came into my own. I was a woman that liked other women and I finally started living it. It took several more years to get it right and for the caterpillar to finally make its transformation into the happy butterfly I am today. I have a wonderful wife who helped me make a wonderful life. My point is- books and the characters within, showed me worlds that in my small-town life I would never have experienced. They opened an entire new reality to me and left me asking the question, 'what if'?

That life and the one I live now allow me to call on the emotions, good and bad, happy and sad, that I use to build my characters. My wife once commented that while she was reading one of my stories, she'd forgotten I'd written it, until I used something from our life. I'm fairly sure, most stories have an element of the author. Our lives are the well from which we draw the ink to write the words that may just fall into the hands of an impressionable twenty-one-year-old that may be asking the question, 'what if' or 'am I'. I certainly hope that if it's my book she holds in her hands, that I've given her hope for a world full of possibilities and the encouragement to be EXACTLY who she is.

As a writer, I have the chance to influence my readers. What I want is to give them something to root for, to believe in, and to look forward to. I'm going to write a story that will tug at your heart and in the end leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling of love conquering all.

Take my debut novel, 'frame by frame'. Valkyrie Magnusson is a photojournalist traveling around the nation as a two-wheeled nomad, fighting demons from her time on the Iraqi battlefield.  Her journeys lead to some of the most beautiful places in the United states.  The majority of those destinations she’ll visit only once, except for a small tourist trap in West Virginia that calls her back time and time again.  Cool Springs offers more than what’s advertised on the sign, as inside members are members of Val’s chosen family. 

Laurel Stemple is co-owner and operator of the combination store and diner. Laurel, a fiercely protective woman, has her own fears about tomorrow. She and her octogenarian grandmother, Ree, have taken a special interest in Val.

Val and Laurel are fighting a growing attraction, fearing the potential destruction and pain their pasts could inflict.  Can both women overcome those fears and find the happiness they are so deserving of, or will they continue to let their past rule their futures?

I wrote 'frame by frame' drawing from my own emotional trauma from years in the emergency services, and on the realism of the scars that aren't visible. It's the love of those close to us that help us heal those wounds so we can continue to live productive lives. 'frame by frame' is up for a 2018 Goldie award in the debut novel category, another unexpected event in my life. You can purchase 'frame by frame' at any of your favorite points of sale. I'll even help with the links.





My next book is an adventure, a quest if you will. It was inspired by friends of mine that received a devastating diagnosis of terminal cancer and what they decided to do about it. Instead of pulling away from living in the face of death, they took a line from Tim McGraw's song and made the decision to 'live like you were dying'. They had adventures and traveled the world as they checked off items on their bucket list. My wife and I were blessed to be a part of those adventures and thus the idea for my second novel, currently at the editor. Sadly, my friend Chris lost his battle with cancer before I could show him that the book will be dedicated to him and his wife Kelly, for showing us that those thoughts are just a list unless you put check marks by the items.

"The Bucket List" has Professor Jordan Armstrong on a quest to find the elusive Professor Noeul Scott, who disappeared after the unexpected death of her wife, Aggie James. Jordan believes that Noeul holds the key to a missing piece of agricultural research needed to create a super food. Jordan stumbles on a coded "bucket list" Aggie created.

With the help of her cryptologist sister, they decode the messages that will lead her on a journey through several National Parks in search of the next cipher. All along the expedition, Jordan finds she is being directed by voices, things, and unexplainable happenstance that lead her to the next clue. Noeul, on the other hand, is being contacted by Aggie on the other side telling her that life is about to change. When the two do meet, there is an attraction, but life has jaded both of them. Can they overcome what they can't change for a chance at what can be?

I don't have a date for "The Bucket List" release, but I am beyond blessed to be in the Desert Palm Press stable with Lee Fitzsimmons as my publisher. To her, I owe many thanks for taking a chance on this novice writer whose wife said, "why not"?

As I come to the end of this long and winding musing, I would be remiss if I didn't pass on my other mantra to you. I am a firefighter by trade and I know that this makes a difference. Make sure you have working smoke alarms in your home and have a plan for an emergency. Yes, it IS that important. My final thoughts are this, never stop looking for the possibilities. Hold Fast regardless of how stormy the sea may be and keep climbing, no matter how steep the mountain. Dream as big as you want to, because you hold the power to make it happen. Believe it.

Now…with all that being said…."It was a dark and stormy night"….

CJ Murphy


© JEN 2014