Thursday, October 24, 2013


The "Original Sin City Sampler" has been ranking in Amazon's Top 10 of the Mystery Best Seller Free list for the last two days! It's been as high as #4 on the Noir list!

There's just one day late to this giveaway!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Starting today, October 23rd and through October 25th, samples of our hard boiled crime fiction ebook novels are available on Amazon for FREE!

"Original Sin City 20,000 Word Sampler" contains the first 9 chapters of our Barry Award Nominated novel "Little Mexico" and the first 3 chapters of its sequel "In the Name of the Father." 

We hope that if you enjoy having a taste of our storytelling, you will buy the complete novels. Only $3.99 each.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


John, here. I am hundreds of miles away from my home in Kentucky, working at an animation studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is the job that is paying most of our bills. For the past 14 months, I have been working away from home for stretches of six weeks at a time.

This separation from Cathie puts a damper on our daily collaboration. No matter how much time we spend on the phone or Skype, it's not the same as being next to a warm body. We work best when we are together in one room, bouncing ideas off each other...challenging one another...and then, kissing and making up.

Fortunately, we are at the stage on our present writing project where I concentrate on the basic structure of the story. Our Original Sin City novels each have a basic historical event, theme, and major plot through which multiple character story arcs are woven. This enables us to present a textured reading experience.

In essence, our novels are multiple novellas that are interwoven.

For the past week, I've been pulling together the first novella's three act structure. I'll use this structure for all the novellas. It enables us to control the pacing of the novel's overall story arc.

This is exactly how I plan my animation—I plant guideposts to hit. I then time my actions and create my individual drawings/words/sentences.

In both cases, I give the characters (drawn and verbally created) room to organically grow. Hopefully, the result will surprise the audience with the reality of the world we've created.

Check out our 3 Act Structure Outline.

Act One
Setup: Location/Relationships
1) What character wants/goals:
a) Start in the middle of struggle
b) Emotional need/want: hate, love, jealousy, respect from others
c) Physical need/want: hunger for sex, money, food, shelter

2) What's in the way:
a) Other person(s)
b) Self--lack of talent, knowledge, common sense, impatience, arrogance, self delusion
c) Confrontation

Act Two
3) Tries to overcome obstacles
a) Initiates personal actions towards goal(s)
b) Family members attempt to thwart success--ratchets up the negative feelings--feeds the desire for revenge
c) Outside opportunity from 3rd party appears
d) Tries to grab for it

Act Three
4) Climax
a) Confrontation between all involved
5) Resolution: Success/Failure
Points to future conflicts (both external and external)

For those who want to see how we interweave several story arcs, check out our "Original Sin City Sampler". Only $0.99 on Amazon.  

Friday, October 11, 2013


We reached #1 on Amazon's Free Best Sellers List of Noir novels, and #28 on the Free Hardboiled novels.
The giveaway is over, but the price of the sampler is only $.99! (We would make it permanently free, but Amazon wouldn't allow us to so at this time.)

We produced this large sampler because we didn't feel what Amazon is providing gives potential readers enough to judge before making a purchase.

Check it out and tell us what you think.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


It's 20 hours into the 2-day long Amazon giveaway and the "Original Sin City 20,000 Word Sampler" has hit #3 on Amazon's Noir List and #38 on the Hardboiled Mystery List!

Great! Please pass the word around and tell your friends about this free offer! Our novels are very cinematic in content!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


From Today, October 9th to October 10, ebook samples of our hard boiled crime fiction novels are available on Amazon for FREE!

"Original Sin City 20,000 Word Sampler" contains the first 9 chapters of our Barry Award Nominated novel "Little Mexico" and the first 3 chapters of its sequel "In the Name of the Father." 

We hope that if you enjoy having a taste of our storytelling, you will buy the complete novels. Only $3.99 each.

Friday, October 4, 2013

We've just released this 20,000 Word Sampler on Amazon of both "Little Mexico" and "In the Name of the Father." It's DRM free, so anyone can buy it once and pass it on as many times as you want. We wanted to make it permanently free, but Amazon does not allow normal pricing below $0.99


In a past post, we told you we'd parse through some of our first (but no cigar) versions of our logline for our novel "Little Mexico".

So here goes. When we first tried our hands at this, we thought we had to really paint a full picture of what the story was all about. Our tenth attempt gave us this (of which we were very proud—didn't think we could do better).

"In a gritty Kentucky river town, Carl and Pearl Jules fight to keep their glamorous supper-club casino from falling into the hands of the Cleveland Syndicate. Bullets fly and bodies are dumped into the Ohio River in a 25 year long battle until, finally, the rules of coexistence between the mobsters and independents are hammered out and written in blood, giving birth to the Las Vegas casinos of the swinging Rat Pack era."

Yep, our chests were bursting with pride at having given verbal birth to our "little darlings"…each squawking and shouting out "Aren't I picturesque?" We thought it was a little long, but justifiable. The first sentence focuses specifically on the "small KY family-owned business versus major crime syndicate" aspect of the series. The second sentence describes the scope and length of that battle/war and reveals the little-known historical result and significance of its outcome.

Well after a day of letting that logline lay around, it became obvious to us that it was too verbally fat and needed to be trimmed.

We are both very passionate about our ideas and what would normally take a single writer an hour to rewrite, takes us two or three as we argue and defend what the other is trying to chop out. But we get over the emotional attachment to our words, put on our professional hats and get on with the process of pruning, which is the necessary thing to do—all part of the process.

So, we whacked away at the log line. Thought we'd done a solid butcher job of trimming the fat. When the dust settled, we had:
“In the gritty Northern Kentucky town of Newport, where bullets fly and bodies are dumped into the Ohio River, one family is determined to hold on to the glamorous Oasis casino as all the major mob families wage a bloody war to take over.”

Once again, our chests were puffed up! A few weeks later, we realized the knives had to come out again!

Let's go through this phrase-by-phrase, word-by-word. Really look at each element of the log line: The Opening Set-Up, the Protagonist(s), the Action of the story, the Antagonist(s), the Goal, the Antagonist(s) Action.

The opening set-up:
John's little darling was “In the gritty Northern Kentucky town of Newport…"
Cathie's darling: "where bullets fly and bodies are dumped into the Ohio River…” (she is very verbose)

This setup is cumbersome. It gets in the way of telling the story. Diverts the focus.

We agreed to sacrifice each our darlings for the sake of the project and came up with the alternative: “In the premier gambling hotspot before Las Vegas…” This sets up a unique locale without specifically naming it, but definitely states this is not Las Vegas. It should pique one’s curiosity as to where the story is taking place.

The protagonist(s): "one family" is too vague and not focused enough, should be a person(s). The word “family” is also confusing as it implies a smaller "mob family" as compared to "major mob families".

The alternative is: “a determined husband and wife”.

The action of the story: “hold on to” is not proactive enough. We can use it later in the log line as the goal.

Remember, a logline must convey the action of the story and carefully chosen words must be used to give the logline momentum.

Let's use the word “struggle” because it presents the goal (and scope) of the story and conveys drama. Conflict is the basis of drama. The word "struggle" implies both external and internal conflicts.

So, we use the words “struggle against”.

The antagonist(s): “major mob families”. This stays as is.

The goal: “to hold on to the(ir) glamorous Oasis casino” stays.

The mob’s action: "wag bloody war to take over" is unnecessary to the logline. OUT!

Putting all this together, we come up with:

“In the premier gambling hot spot before Las Vegas, a determined husband and wife struggle against the major mob families to hold on to their glamorous casino.”

The final change came with the focusing on Pearl as the spark that is the catalyst for the entire premise. We hadn't really taken into account that her husband Carl is in a coma for the major part of the book, and our logline wasn't spotlighting what was really unique about this story: a woman is leading the battle against the mob.

“In the premier gambling hot spot before Las Vegas, a determined woman struggles against the major mob families to hold on to her glamorous casino.”

And that's it! A lot of red ink was spilled carving out those words…but rewriting is a part of the creative process…much like Michelangelo chipping away all that wasn't David in that block of raw marble.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


What is a successful Logline? What's its purpose?

The answer remained a mystery to us for a long time. In fact, we didn't even think about its necessity during the time we wrote our first five crime fiction novels. Afterwards, we played around with TV Guide style descriptions, but didn't fully understand the importance of a logline until we were approached by a local film maker who wanted to work with us on developing a Cable TV series based on our historical crime fiction novels...which is a story for another time. But this experience introduced us to the value of having a logline to describe what a story is all about.

A logline is the basic story seed which describes the core conflict that blossoms into a story. It is probably the toughest sentence you'll write for your project be it novel, short story, TV series or motion picture.
Basically it's "who wants what and who/what stands in the way of getting it."
For example: "Small dog wants bone and must fight bigger dog for it."
All stories have a basic protagonist, goal, and antagonist.
This is not simplistic storytelling. But the elements ARE simple. It's the talent of the writer that creates something unique with them, much like a chef uses basic ingredients to create a satisfying meal.
The logline for our novel Little Mexico is: "In the premiere gambling hotspot before Las Vegas, a determined woman struggles against the major mob families to hold on to her glamorous casino."

it all sounds simple, right? Well, it took us almost 30 rewrites to pare it down to this. Usually, a writer first starts with the logline and then develops the project. However, we had written our historical crime fiction novels 13 years ago without a logline and had to remember what had fired us up about doing them.

The inspiration for these stories came while researching Northern Kentucky history for our third "Journals of Kate Cavanaugh" mystery. In that novel, Kate discovers the existence of a long lost uncle who was intimately involved with the illegal casinos in Newport, KY back in the 1940s and 1950s.

We were shocked and surprised at what we found in our research. But back to our point---what was the basic idea on which we built our story of a family running an illegal gamblng establishment? It was the little guy versus the big guys---simple as that. But we had to give it a creative twist that was relevant to the world we wanted to write about, at the same time relatable to a present day audience. The basic idea became Small (mom and pop) Business surviving against Big (mob family) Business in a literally cut throat world. Then "mom and pop" became a "determined woman" since "Pop" has been shot and lies in a coma for most of the book.

Creating a novel is very much like building a house. John is very good at putting up the basic structure using post-it notes instead of 2 x 4s to block and frame the novel. He writes simple sentences on these scrapes of paper describing the characters' motivations and plot twists, moving them about in a timeline of events until the novel begins to rise up from this solid foundation. Cathie is more inclined to decorating the walls and windows and mulling over what kinds of ornamentals to plant around the foundation. We BOTH enjoy doing that, which makes the task of writing a logline even more difficult.

Back to our present day task: To compress all the elaborate development we had done to that basic idea and restructure the description to shine a light on our unique but still simple story. We had to strip it all back down to its bare bones to show that the idea is solid, then add one or two decorative words that strengthen the concept---not just because they were our "little darlings". For example: John wanted to use the phrase "gritty riverboat town" to describe Newport. Out it went! Cathie wanted "where bullets fly and bodies are dumped into the Ohio River"---gone!  

In a future post, we'll parse through our better (but no cigar) versions. Until then, anyone want to try your hand at writing your own?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Snapshot of History

One of the fascinating aspects of doing historical research for a particular time period, is getting a glimpse back into time. There's a great deal of satisfaction in being able to use the information to set the stage for a fictional story that is woven into that by-gone world. Here is a photo of the notorious Glenn Rendezvous club, which plays a prominent rule in "Little Mexico". In the novel's opening scene, the prostitute Claudette takes a break from servicing her clients, looks out her window at this very club and describes the seedy existence she wants to escape from.

Friday, August 30, 2013

We're Back!

As some of you may already know, we are John and Cathie Celestri blending our writing talents into the voice that is Cathie John. We've been together as husband and wife since late 1979; and have been writing together on and off since 1996. We authored and self published five crime fiction novels back in 1997 through 2003.

A lot has changed in publishing since we were last active in the crime fiction community. We are starting to catch up on the new realities of the literary marketplace. When we self published back in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, the process was looked upon as "vanity press", writers not good enough for the major publishers and book chains…except we actually were a small independent publisher. We handled our own writing, editing, layout, cover art, etc, and used a service to print our books in trade paperback and hardcover. We were distributed through both Ingram and Baker & Taylor, and were stocked in brick and mortar stores such as Barnes & Noble, many independent mystery bookstores, and on Amazon.  Our novels got great reviews in The Chicago Tribune, Cincinnati Enquirer, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and all the mystery review publications. Our crime fiction novel "Little Mexico" was a finalist for the Barry Award in 2001 as Best Paperback Original.

Circumstances forced us to stop in late 2003, but we are now ready to relaunch our writing careers, publish our efforts as ebooks, write our crime fiction stories, and re-issue our five novel back list over the next year or so.

Our first re-issue will be "Little Mexico." When it was first published, the thought of being accepted as real writers was a dream --- now self published authors are on The New York Times and USA Best Seller lists. It seems the playing field has been changed by ePublishing.

"Little Mexico" should be available on Amazon in four weeks.

Instead of us blowing our own horn about this novel, here is what was said when it was originally published:

"This series explores Newport's reign as 'Sin City, U.S.A.' ... historical grounding is excellent and provides a fascinating look at how a little city found notoriety as a haven for gambling, prostitution and other crime." 
—Bob Hahn, Cincinnati Post

"Strong on conflict. It's no insult to describe Little Mexico as Dynasty meets the Phenix City Story. There are beautiful, sexy, willful women, strapping, determined young men, sleazy henchmen, calculating villains, and an indomitable matron who will go to any lengths to protect her family and their casino. Throw in ambushes, call girls, corruption, assault, murder, tarot cards and a variation of the cement overcoat called a Newport Nightgown and you have a funky, lowlife pleasure. Cathie John does a good job with a variety of characters, the action is swift and uninterrupted and the final scene puts one character in an entirely shocking new light that will bring readers back for subsequent volumes." 
—Drood Review


We will use this forum to share our knowledge about what makes for entertaining storytelling. We'll talk about how you get started putting together the elements of a story. For example, which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Do you start with plot or character? How does the setting play an integral part in the dynamics of the story? When do you show? When do you tell?

These are just a few of the topics we will explore. Hope you come back.