Ebook Prices Reduced

My publisher realigned their pricing structure and decided to reduce the cost for all their ebooks that have been released for at least six months.  This includes the e-versions of both Painted Black and Bend Me, Shape Me! The books will now sell at $2.99, a price which is already reflected on the Amazon.com site and will soon show up on Kobo, iBooks, and B&N.

This is a PERMANENT price change, not just a limited sale. Enjoy!

Ebooks NOW selling for $2.99 STARTING TODAY!

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Download from the following e-stores:

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Praise for Painted Black

Jo Sullivan’s search for a missing street kid unearths a bizarre collection of freeze-dried corpses.

“Full of suspense and intrigue.”

“The characters were true to life and leapt out of the page at me, at times their pain was tangible.”

“There isn’t a part of this book you don’t feel, it reaches into your core.”

“Dark, gritty and suspenseful this is a seat of your pants ride that you won’t soon forget.”


 Praise for Bend Me, Shape Me

Meet Snow Ramirez.  She’s convinced psychiatrist Mordechai Levinson is responsible for one kid’s suicide, and may be targeting her brother Alley as his next victim.

“A fantastic follow up to the first ‘Street Stories’ book.”

“Another heart wrenching look into the life of kids on the street.”

“Borys is quite the master at not only creating believable environments, but thrilling tales.”

“Bend Me, Shape Me is definitely going to deliver a jolt.”

“Snow is strong, brave, troubled and incredibly fierce.”


How Location Influences Fiction

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For the reading I did last night at the Princeton Public Library, I was asked to speak on how setting and location influences crime fiction.  Below is what I intended to say, though I was so nervous, who knows if I got it all out in an understandable form.


When I first started thinking about how setting influences story, I wasn’t sure there was a whole lot to say.  Then I started looking back at stories and manuscripts I’ve written over the years and noticed a pattern.

When I was a young married woman living on a small Midwestern farm, most of the book and story ideas I wrote were set in the rural Midwest.  The two early exceptions I found were set in Europe, one in England and one in France. Those countries, however, were ones that I’d visited as a teen on an extended study tour and, guess what, the heroines in them were from the Midwest.

Those stories were suspense and mystery, just like almost all my work is, but the stories were simpler plots filled with romance, and always ended happily.  Partly that was because I was younger and more romantically inclined, but the events happening around me during those Midwest days were also, for the most part, lighter and easily solved, and those events are what sparked my imagination when coming up with story ideas.

I conceived the idea for my Street Stories books which are set in Chicago while I still lived in the country, but only after experiencing a life changing few days working with an inner city Chicago church.  And it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago that my first novel, Painted Black, really became fully formed.   The plot for it was sparked by an article I read in the Chicago Tribune, and the characters and their mindset was greatly influenced by the people I met on the streets, people and attitudes I would never have encountered in my small town life.

As I was plotting the second Street Stories novel, Bend Me, Shape Me, I moved to Seattle, which influenced me to give my main character a partly Native American background and an uncle from the Pacific Northwest who wants to bring her back to her roots.  I wanted to explore a bit the contrast between the two lifestyles, which paralleled in some ways my own change from country girl to city slicker.

And as I was deciding to move back to Illinois to be closer to friends and family, I developed an idea for a cozy mystery series set in towns eerily similar to Tiskilwa and Princeton.  I found myself back to simpler plots, more heart-warming characters, and a lighter humor and tone than anything found in my Street Stories books.

Now partly these “coincidences” of my books matching my location happened because I was doing what all the writing books teach: write what you know.  I believe giving your reader a sense of place is as important as giving them action, adventure, romance, etc.  How better to do that than by setting your story in a location you know intimately?  It’s also true, however, that the place that I was in inspired me (almost pushed me subconsciously, even) to write a certain story, in a certain way, filled with a certain type of character.

Using setting correctly is a vital element in making your story realistic. You have to be subtle yet fine-tuned in the details.  Too much minutia and explanation and you end up writing a travelogue.  Too little and you end up with talking heads against a disorienting green screen.  The trick is in picking only those details that immediately ground your reader and/or set the tone for the scene.

Click here to see an example from Chapter 1 of Bend Me, Shape Me

Picking a place that matches a scene’s mood is one way to use setting to influence story, but another option is to pick one that is the exact opposite.  If you do that, the trick is to emphasize the contrast between the physical world and the emotional one, like this scene where I show kids enjoying a record snow storm and contrast that with an old woman and her shopping cart.

Click here to see an example from Chapter 30 of Bend Me, Shape Me.

In Chapter 10 of Bend Me, Shape Me, I also try to subtly emphasize the differences between Chicago’s gritty urban lifestyle and the slower, nature based life of the Yakama Reservation, and not in a way that paints either as preferable other than based on individual choice.

Click here to read that example.

The three books I currently have published are good examples of how the locations I lived in affected my writing. Painted Black shows Chicago’s dark gritty personality, Bend Me Shape Me contrasts that same Chicago personality with the slower pace of the Pacific Northwest, and Chasing Nightmares, a romantic suspense novel, makes use of the remote, stark areas around the abandoned gold mines of Colorado.

“Often chilling, always entertaining”

It’s good to know Painted Black is still pulling in new readers and admirers.

Painted Black

5 star review Timing is everything.  During October, reviewer Angie Mangino is giving away her print reviewer’s copy of Painted Black in a contest on Facebook.  Then today, I received notice that Gary Stout posted a review of Painted Black on Amazon.  A five-star review, no less!  So after you read HIS five-star review, go to Angie’s Facebook page to read HER -five star review, and then comment in her post to possibly win your very own print version of the book.

Here’s What Gary had to say:

5.0 out of 5 starsOften Chilling, Always Entertaining, October 5, 2013
This review is from: Painted Black (Kindle Edition)

Borys has written a story from the streets of Chicago. She has developed consistent characters, used excellent imagery, and captured a glimpse of youth viewpoint of life on the streets and lost innocence. It’s easy to get behind the plot and want to follow along…

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What’s in a Title?

titlesYou may have noticed that the titles of the novels in my Street Stories suspense series, Painted Black and Bend Me, Shape Me, are similar to or exactly like the titles of  rock songs popular during my youth.  I carefully chose the titles for several reasons.  In the first place, having titles tied together with a similar theme adds cohesiveness to a book series: the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries come to mind as in M is for Malice and V is for Vengeance.

I thought of 60s and 70s song titles as the consistent element because my protagonist’s father, with whom she has a rocky relationship, would have listened to the songs in his youth.  I doubt whether most people will get this reference, however, because I never tie this fact or the song itself in the book contents.

The titles are chosen primarily because they relate to the main street kid in each book.  Painted Black is about a homeless graffiti artist who paints in shades of black and gray because it reflects the way he sees the world.  Bend Me, Shape Me is about a psychiatrist who twists his patients’ minds to mold them any way he wants to because they are homeless and have no one to stand up for them.

Titles can’t be copyrighted, so there is nothing illegal about using these titles, but some might question my intent.  Am I just lazy or unable to come up with original content?  Leaving aside the fact that I’ve written and published two other books under Deb Donahue with original titles, I’d like to point out that each book is filled with an average of 60,000 words of completely original content.  Surely that outweighs the use of a few words initially coined by others.

Was I hoping that the use of these titles would spark a curiosity that might bring people to read the synopsis and possibly buy the book?  Of course, but what book isn’t titled with that same hope, whether it is based on a famous song title, a hackneyed cliché, or an original inspiration?

Did I think of the possibility that someone searching the internet for information on the song itself might come across my book or its website and click on the link to see what the book was about?  Again, of course. Marketing campaigns are often targeted hoping to produce similar results. SEO linking in online articles blatantly promotes that idea. But since the plotlines and characters in my books have nothing whatsoever to do with the song lyrics, the title by no means unduly influences them to buy the book once they find it.

Do I want to earn money with these books?  I would love to.  Do I expect to get rich doing this?  Never in a million years.  To me, the Street Stories series isn’t about fame or fortune.  I have two goals in mind: to build an enjoyable story for my readers, and to show the humanity behind the invisibility of people without homes.  If either of these happens, I will be thrilled. If BOTH things happen, well, doing the Snoopy dance won’t come close to covering how excited I’ll be.

“Authentic and Moving”

I got a nice 4-star review on Amazon.com and Goodreads. Judith compares the book to Willard Motley’s Knock On Any Door. Pretty cool!

Jo Sullivan helps a homeless boy, Chris, look for his missing girlfriend, carrying us deep into the Chicago’s underbelly where street kids struggle to survive. Their quest carries them deep into the macabre, where the homeless are fed into the sick ambitions of the rich. The stories of neglect and abuse that people her world are as real as the mystery of Lexie’s disappearance, and in the end, Borys creates not only a page turning mystery, but an authentic and moving picture of a bitter, harsh and cruel world, reminiscent, for me, of Willard Motley’s 1947 Chicago epic, Knock On Any Door, a story that moved me greatly back in the Fifties.

–Judith Kirsch, author of The Inheritors

via 4-star Review | Painted Black.

A Test Book Trailer


I’ve been playing with PowerPoint and YouTube to figure out how to put a book trailer together.  It’s been an interesting afternoon to say the least!

Here’s what I came up with.  What do you think?

Author Interview on Morgen Bailey’s Writing Blog

Painted Black

MorgenI’d almost forgotten about this interview I did for Morgen Bailey.  Morgen is a prolific writer with a website that offers fresh material daily.  You should check it out.

Most of Morgen’s questions are related to the writing process itself so if you want to see my take on that, here’s a small excerpt from the interview:

Creating main characters usually just happens–I often have a character in mind before I really know what their story is.  If a name doesn’t just come to me, I might go to a baby book, but that’s only if I’m really stuck or need a name for a less important character.  For developing and keeping track of those characters, I find some kind of form helps–one where you fill in things like hair color, strengths and weaknesses, what kind of car they drive, etc.  For more in-depth characterization I like free writing…

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The Importance of Libraries

In today’s digital age, some people may never even go into a public library.  Never experience the awe of standing in a huge room filled with hundreds of books that go all the way up to the ceiling in some cases, and down long rows of shelves in others.

I remember sitting on the floor in the corner of my public library as a child with A Wrinkle in Time in my hands, lost in the world Madeleine L’Engle created while I waited for my Mom to pick me up.  The yellow brick building was just a block away from my grade school and sometimes when she was not able to meet me right as school let out, I would go there to wait instead.

I could have waited for hours.  The place held almost as much awesome holiness to me as the church I attended on Sundays.  It was certainly filled with just as many mysteries.

Today I found out a friend requested my novel Painted Black from their local library.  Due to his initiative, his library system purchased a copy and told him it was ready to borrow.  I know my book doesn’t approach the appeal and mystique of A Wrinkle In Time.  But there is an intense satisfaction in knowing that somewhere within the walls of the Kitsap Public Library, someone could be sitting in a corner flipping through the pages of a novel that I’ve written.

The thought fills me with as much pleasure as my first Madeleine L’Engle books did.

If you want to read Painted Black, ask your local library if they have a copy.  Or you can buy a copy of your own by asking at your local bookstore or going to Amazon.com.

Why I Write

Darian Wilk recently posted a wonderful review of Painted Black, and also gave me an opportunity to write a guest post for her blog.  In it, I explore what it was about the streets of Chicago and the people who live there that inspired me to tell this story.  I hope you will click the link to read the whole article.

There is also a week left to WIN A FREE COPY of Painted Black by entering the giveaway on her site.

I have always felt an affinity for the disenfranchised, the outcast, the underdog. Volunteer work with the homeless seemed a natural outlet for this calling. Fully intending to pursue this option, I researched before relocating and discovered The Night Ministry in Chicago had a mission statement that spoke to me. Their goal is to build relationships that empower people to meet their own needs. They do that while “recognizing the uniqueness, dignity, and value of each person.”

This was exactly what I wanted to do: to “be” there when someone needed to talk, laugh or share their tears. To try to feed their hunger, physical and otherwise.

I’m not good at preaching, debating social issues, or advocating political change, although there is a place for all of those. I am good at writing. Storytelling. And the alienated and overlooked in our society are filled with stories that deserve to be heard.

The problem is no one wants to listen. Not to them, not to anyone standing on a soapbox trying to make everyone listen. There are many reasons why people want the homeless to remain mute and invisible. Most commonly it is because it makes us uncomfortable to think something as horrible as homelessness could happen to good people. It’s so much easier to think a homeless person is there simply due to some deficiency on their part: mental illness, addiction, lack of ambition. Those issues are often factors but the person who is homeless is in many ways, at some level, no different from anyone else.

So my effort to tell the important tales, to spread the lessons I learned on my journey, needed to find a voice that people could hear without being reminded of their own vulnerability. For me that voice is found in fiction, and in this particular case, suspense fiction.  ….read more

via Darian Wilk.

What a Way to Make a Living

I’m pretty sure Rebecca O’Connor and I would be great friends if we knew each other.  The sentence quoted below is enough to make me think so (she’s a tequila advocate, people!–go Rebecca) but the sentiments she expresses in her post makes me positive it’s true.

I read this post right after my morning walk with my dog, Sophie where I was conversing with myself about my future.  It’s been almost a year since I decided to go part time at work so that I could concentrate on my writing.  The part time work has dwindled down to next to nothing, and some weeks is nothing.  Freelance writing is not going to support me in the foreseeable future. Without a college degree or technical knowledge which would make me an expert in some field, it could be years before that would be possible. If ever.  There are a lot of people out there vying for writing jobs who are willing to do it for next to nothing.  “Next to nothing” does not pay the electric bill.

As for the income potential of my novel Painted Black, unless I’m lucky–and I’ve never been very lucky–a first novel is more about establishing the foundation of a career rather than earning a living.  I don’t expect to see any measurable income made from the book this year.  Maybe not ever.  The income potential lies in getting book two out.  And three, and….  If I’m a very good girl and live long enough, I may actually see royalty checks one day.

So why am I still doing it?  Because I’m mad at myself for not doing it earlier in my life when I had more time to build a reputation.  Because I love not having a full time job to go to.  Because I love my characters and the message I’m trying to convey. Because this is what I want to do with my life, damn it, and I’m tired of being too timid to go for it.

And if that means I may find myself forfeiting my mortgage or selling most of my worldly possessions, then all I have to say is, “Hi, Mom.  Is the guest room ready yet?”

So now you are thinking, “Okay, Little Miss Glass-Is-Pretty-Much-Empty-So-Bring-Me-Some-Tequila. So what do you say to someone insane enough to walk away from her day job to write for a living?”

via A Letter to My Friends and Family | Rebecca K. O’Connor.

Podcast Interview at WiseBearBooks

I am always grateful when given an opportunity to publicize my novel Painted Black, especially when it includes a chance to talk about the issue of homelessness which is so integral to the book.  But Quinn Barrett at WiseBearBooks made this interview especially gratifying by saying some very complimentary things about my writing and the book.  Listen to the whole interview to hear more, but here are  a few quotes from Quinn:

“I was impressed by the quality of the storytelling and found myself immersed immediately.”

“Fiction can be a great vehicle for exposing the darker side of the human experience in ways that are both important and meaningful and I think that Painted Black fits into that category.”

Love is the Reason

Carolyn Green and Mike Choby were playing folk music in a Barnes & Noble Cafe in Schaumburg, Illinois the weekend after I moved to the city.  I hadn’t yet signed up with The Night Ministry, so when Carolyn took a moment at the break to talk about Emmaus Ministries, it sounded like an opportunity I had to explore. Her husband was the founding director of the program.

Emmaus reaches out to men in prostitution on the streets of Chicago, a group that is even more marginalized than most in the homeless community.  Through them I had the opportunity to actually walk the streets in the wee hours of the morning learning more about their mission, and meeting the men they serve.

Chapter 1 in Painted Black arose from this experience and reflects the world I found there–a world they are fighting against.  Here is Carolyn singing a song that I feel expresses one of the motives behind Emmaus and their participants.

Q&A With Shelagh Watkins

This opportunity happened so quickly there wasn’t time to give anyone an advance heads up.  She has a variety of interesting authors highlighted on her site so after you take a peek at what I had to say, I suggested browsing a bit to see what else she has to offer.

The original idea for the Painted Black suspense plot came from a news article I read years ago in the Chicago Tribune. It was about a new method of preservation being used by taxidermists who freeze dried people’s pets to produce lifelike replicas that would last indefinitely. One person they interviewed stated that freeze drying could be used on people as well, and compared the process to cooking pizzas in an oven. He sounded so bizarre and unconcerned about it. In my research, I actually found an article in a mortuary magazine about a firm that did preserve a man in this manner.

via Literature & Fiction.

The Beauty of the Printed Book

I’ll be honest and say that I would have been happy if Painted Black had only been released as an ebook.  For me as a writer, the importance of publishing was so that people would read what I have to say.  I want my readers to know Jo and Chris and all the others the way I do.  Because these characters, to me, are representations of the real people I met and grew to appreciate while volunteering on the streets of Chicago.

But as a reader, like most readers, there will never be anything that replaces having an actual printed book in hand.  Something you can put on your shelf and look at.  Something that smells like paper and ink when you open it.  That is what transports me to my childhood joy of reading and adds depth to the characters and stories because it touches that chord of discovery I felt then.

That’s why I am so pleased that Painted Black is finally available to order as a print book now.  Both Barnes & Nobel and Amazon have links up now and people can actually have my book on their library shelf much sooner than I originally thought.

Whether you read the e-book or the print book, I hope you enjoy discovering the lives of the people whose story I have tried to tell.

Some things seem to designed to do their jobs perfectly, and the old-fashioned book is one. What else could be quite as efficient at packaging so many thousands of words in a form, which is sufficiently sturdy to protect them, yet so small and light that it can be carried around to be read whenever its owner wishes? The pages, type, binding and jacket of a traditional printed book do all of the above, as well as giving its designer just enough scope to make the result look beautiful, witty or intriguing.

via The Beauty of the Printed Book – NYTimes.com.

Author Interview on Kris Wampler’s Blog

Kris Wampler, author of Love Train, has a blog that highlights indie authors, which includes books that were self published or released by small presses.  Which means Painted Black qualifies!

Check out my author interview on the site.  I was also able to talk a little bit about the short stories I published and what I am doing to promote my work.

Debra Borys stays busy with a number of writing projects: from freelancing to writing novels. Having experience working with a start-up press, she gives insight about the amount of promotional work all authors must do, and some of the methods she’s already adopted.

via Debra Borys « Kris Wampler’s Blog.

More info on Kris’s book, Love Train, can be found here.

Light In A Dark Place |

If you are a fan of my novel, Painted Black, or an advocate for changing the negative perspective many people have of the homeless, I encourage you to check out the book below.  It is a recounting of one person’s experiences working with Emmaus Ministries, an organization in Chicago serving those who are often considered the lowest of the low:  men who sell themselves for money.

Emmaus was the first volunteer opportunity I was a part of when I moved to Chicago and made a major impact in how I think, feel, live and write.  I hope Light in a Dark Place can give you at least a taste of that kind of life-changing experience.

When looking at these men, or anyone for that matter, it is important that we find common ground with them lest we be tempted to judge them. As our minds are filled with stereotypes and presumptions of someone that we know nothing about, it is easy to look at them with disdain. I think we do this to make things easier on ourselves. Their situations help us feel better about ourselves, perhaps even superior. Seeing their lot helps us to forget for a moment the brokenness in our own lives.

via Light In A Dark Place |.

Raw Honesty

I caught an interview on NPR yesterday of Cam Penner, a singer/songwriter from Manitoba that caught my attention because he describes so exactly my own experience.  Penner, raised as a Mennonite, went to Chicago and lived with the Jesus people there, working with the homeless.

He speaks about the raw honesty he found there, and about how their ghosts live inside him telling their stories through his songs.

That’s what it was like for me, also.  That raw honesty is so unaffected, so real, it strips through all the bullshit like a cold rush of white water through a mountainside.  And leaves ghosts inside.  Painted Black is filled with the ghosts of some of those people whose raw honesty made such a big difference in  my life.

PENNER: Well, the thing about it is it’s raw honesty, which is sometimes the most beautiful thing. And I never saw it as working with the homeless. I just I was just hanging out with these people who had something to say and they lived it out. And it brought me direction to my life listening to these people. And I think that’s what it was for me – you were listening and you responded. And it’s like I have 10,000 stories inside me ’cause I’ve met so many people that got these ghosts living inside me. And now it comes out in my songs and my lyrics

via Cam Penner Spins Road Stories On ‘Gypsy Summer’ | WBUR & NPR.