When Liz’s ex-husband plans to stage her suicide by pushing her off the balcony of her high-rise home in order to collect on a life insurance policy, he topples to his death instead. When the police arrive, Liz, the potential victim, becomes the prime murder suspect. She meets Pittsburgh Police Detective Jim Shannon, who may threaten her freedom or possibly gain her love. Her swirling feelings are complicated by the simultaneous appearance of a talented, familiar-looking intern at her workplace. Although Liz is finished with a past that included a botched meeting with her biological father, the past is not done with her, for the intern and Shannon link to that past. Internal conflict is soon compounded by external threats created by her ex-husband’s mother as well as someone seeking revenge on Shannon and his fellow detective. Will Liz be destroyed by this vortex, or will she use the crisis to open the door to a second chance at love and family?
About the Author:
Val Stasik shares a home in eternally sunny Santa Fe, NM, with her aging mixed terrier, Sugar, who allows her to sleep in his queen-size bed as well as sharpen her culinary skills for his benefit. Stasik spent many years as a writing teacher, helping other writers find their voice and tell their stories, and is a consultant for the Northern Virginia Writing Project. INCIDENTAL DAUGHTER is Stasik’s debut novel.
Stasik studied drama and English at the University of Pittsburgh and then transferred to the University of Maryland, College Park, graduating with high honors and a B.S. in Secondary Education, Communication. The year she attended graduate school was filled with student protests, bomb threats, and military helicopters.
Stasik became an editorial assistant for THE PHARMACOLOGIST in Bethesda. She then moved to Harpers Ferry where she taught for five years and participated in the Old Opera House Theatre onstage and behind the scenes.
In Harrisburg, PA, she became a groom and mutuels clerk at Penn National Race Track and, later, a commercial lines underwriter for Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company. Right before her son was born, Three Mile Island happened. So far, neither glows in the dark.
In Virginia, Stasik enjoyed the enriching experience of teaching writing and literature in the Loudoun County Public School system, instructed other teachers in assessing student writings, and helped develop various English curricula. She also participated in the Fauquier Community Theatre on and off stage. From 2002-2004, she developed a part-time hypnosis practice. She then retired to Santa Fe where she has been writing—a few film scripts that have been produced (Café Destiny, on the Web, Spring 2013, www.cafe-destiny.com ) and a couple of award-winning play scripts.
Stasik is currently a member of the New Mexico Book Association, the New Mexico Book Co-Op; Southwest Writers; the Independent Book Publishers Association; the Small Publishers’ Association of North America; the Small Publishers, Artists, and Writers Network; and Pennwriters.
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Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I lived in Pittsburgh until I was twenty and have lived in Maryland; Harpers Ferry; Harrisburg, PA; and Virginia. I’ve been an editorial assistant, a commercial lines insurance underwriter, a racetrack groom and mutuels clerk, and a teacher. I’ve also dabbled in theater. I took early retirement from teaching a few years ago and moved from Virginia to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve never looked back. In addition to Incidental Daughter, I’ve written a couple of film scripts and award-winning play scripts during this time. However, I’ve been writing since I was in the seventh grade.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
When I was quite young, my grandmother regularly took me to the movie theater. This was the era of double features and some truly great films. I was enchanted with the medium and decided that I wanted to become an actress. When I was in seventh grade, we had an English teacher who encouraged us to write, and I fell in love with creating stories and characters. As a result, I vacillated between wanting to be a writer and wanting to be an actress throughout the rest of my life.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My friend Sunny Fader, who has spent her entire life writing and producing documentaries, has encouraged me to keep writing, telling me I had the talent to produce a good read. She has offered me helpful criticism and pointed out all the things she found good in my writing. A few years ago, we co-wrote a short film script. I have learned a great deal from her.
What inspired you to write Incidental Daughter?
Growing up, I learned there were a few of us who might be termed WWII collateral damage—the offspring of women and innocent young men who went off to war. None of these women expected to become mothers; the stresses and uncertainties of war spurred them to compassion for the men who feared they would not return. Some men did not return, but others did. A few mothers, because of a feeling of betrayal or for whatever reason, chose to turn their backs on the men who in one night had drastically changed their lives.
Some of the children of these single mothers grew up to live normal lives while others faced challenges that either crippled them or honed them into very successful people. The years following WWII harbored secrecy; many of these children were told their fathers died in the war. When they grew old enough to see through the lie, they could still elicit very little information about their fathers. Such were the times.
In Incidental Daughter, I chose to tell the story of one child, Liz Michaels, who overcame her trials with the help of compassionate friends. I decided to explore what might happen if at the peak of her career, she loses a child and her marriage fails. Then I decided to throw in a few curves from the past that could ironically lead to the love and family that has always been out of reach. I’ve been asked if this story is autobiographical. No, it’s pure fiction, but many born into the same circumstances as Liz will see themselves in it and, perhaps, be inspired.
Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?
Incidental Daughter is the story of publisher Liz Michaels, born Liz Migielski, who, through a series of incidents surrounding her ex-husband’s death, comes to terms with a past filled with abandonment. In doing so, she finds the family and the love of an honorable man that has eluded her for so long.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
Women’s fiction and romantic suspense seemed the best way to tell this story. I had difficulty deciding how to classify it because it involves so many themes—family, abandonment, the loyalty of friends, the pain of losing a child, a failed marriage, discrimination, a crime, the paranormal, success despite the odds, and love.
What was your greatest challenge writing this book?
The analytical left brain (the part I’ve personified as “Lefty”) gets in the way of the early stages of my writing and slows me down. It takes me a long time to get out a first draft because of this interference. There’s a time for Lefty in the later stages of the writing process when analysis helps weed out what gets in the way of the plot and pacing and what needs to be added or changed.
Do you write an outline before every book you write?
I have struggled with creating detailed outlines and often found them to be so confining that it stops my writing (My left brain can really get in the way when I should be allowing my Muse to create the story). I generally keep notes as plot ideas occur to me (I “percolate” the story even when I’m not writing). I find it more helpful to keep a very loose outline and focus in detail on character development including character interviews. It’s the characters who drive the plot after all.
How did you come up with the title?
My critique group and I brainstormed several titles. My working title was The Boating Party because of the protagonist’s fascination with the Mary Cassatt painting of the same name. It represented family to her. I then ran a contest asking people to vote on the title that appealed to them the most. (I randomly selected three winners from the pool of entrants.) The majority of entrants voted for our favorite, Incidental Daughter. The protagonist has been incidental to so many people in her life.
How did your book get published?
There is a revolution happening in publishing these days that gives an author more creative control and bigger royalties—self-publishing. I found the process quite challenging and would not recommend it to every author. I had the support of an exceptional critique group, beta readers, editing help, and used a print-on-demand company that was best for me (CreateSpace). I was able to create my own cover and design the interior myself. I enjoy the graphic side of the process. The real work, however, is promoting the novel. It’s as much work as writing the book. I find, though, that other authors who have gone the traditional route or hired PR people if they’ve self-published are doing as much as I am and are not as happy with the results. I have enjoyed every stage of writing and publishing—learning all the aspects of publishing, developing new skills, and sharing my knowledge with fellow authors. I will definitely continue self-publishing.
What are your current projects?
Most people would say I’m shooting myself in the foot with my next project and that I should continue to build my platform by writing in the same genre. However, true to my habit of rebelling against expectations, my next novel will be a young adult science fiction novel, working title Catching Air. Young Chet Hain, saddled with phobias because of a car accident that took the lives of his older brother and later his father when they were driving him to a skateboarding contest, must, seven years later, deal with the mystery of who is watching his home. His discovery of the mystery watcher leads him into a world where appearances are not what they seem, where a powerful and dangerous conspiracy continually strives to derail research and development into free energy. There will likely be a sequel to this book.
What is your favourite genre and why?
I enjoy reading mysteries, especially the works of James Lee Burke. I also enjoy paranormal and science fiction novels. I plan to write more young adult sci-fi and paranormal novels in the future. I like to read books that make me think. I want to write really good YA sci-fi and paranormal novels because these genres are open to whatever your imagination can conjur. Also too many YA books seem to talk down to this audience. They are more sophisticated than many adults realize.
What themes do you like to explore in your writing?
How fear motivates negative choices. Family relationships. Secrets. Misconceptions. Narcissism. Social classes. Conspiracies (in my next novel).
What do you think makes a good story?
A good story moves, and as one famous writer says, leaves out the parts readers would skip. It needs to create suspense and surprises so that the reader keeps reading and wanting more. It should have intriguing characters who capture the reader, characters the reader can love or hate. And the details should be so vivid that the reader feels a part of the world of the book.
Do you have any suggestions to help one become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Do some amateur acting. You will learn a great deal about character motivation, dialogue, and the action and reaction dynamic between characters. In addition, physically participating in the unfolding of a story with a live audience may instill an instinctive sense of story in you that will help with plotting. Read and write poetry. Focusing on imagery will carry over into your prose writing, making word choices to convey vivid details easier. Read as a writer; read the good, the bad, and the mediocre. You’ll learn something from all of them. Be open to criticism, but allow yourself to be the final judge of what’s right for your story. Write many, many drafts and use Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King before you send your manuscript to an agent or out to someone for editing. You’ll save yourself a lot of embarrassment if you follow their advice.
If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?
Something I wish I’d done was to begin promoting my book long before I published it. I think building expectations before the book comes out goes a long way to ensure that you have a ready audience once the book is out.
Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
Visit me at
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