The Craft of Writing — January 2022


The Mike Romeo Series with James Scott Bell


I’m excited to begin a new year of the CRAFT OF WRITING blog. This year we are focusing entirely on mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels.

James Scott Bell is not only a best-selling author of books on the craft of writing. (I counted about twenty books, including the #1 Best-selling Plot and Structure). He is also an award-winning fiction author. His legal thriller Final Witness won the first Christy Award for suspense, and Romeo’s Way won the International Thriller Writers Award.

Jim’s Mike Romeo thriller series, is one of my favorites. He has created a memorable character and put him through some very trying times!

You can find the series at


Thanks to all of you for stopping by the Craft of Writing blog today. You have a great opportunity to learn from and interact with one of the masters of the craft. So fasten your seatbelts. You’re going to meet the creator of Mike Romeo.

James Scott Bell talks about the Mike Romeo Thriller series. Click To Tweet

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Welcome James Scott Bell and thank you for joining us! You’ve written many novels. Can you tell us how you got started writing thrillers?

Well, I had to do something to justify being a lawyer! I started my writing journey when legal thrillers were starting to take off. Scott Turow and John Grisham were leading the way. So I wrote a courtroom thriller and got a five-book contract. That started things. The genre began to get really crowded, so I asked myself how I could do some books that would be a little different. I came up with the idea of a series of historical legal thrillers in a setting not covered much in fiction, early 1900s Los Angeles. I decided to have my protagonist be a woman, as women were just getting started in the profession. That’s how my Kit Shannon legal thrillers were born.


What inspired you to write the Mike Romeo Series? Did you know it would be a series from the start?

Yes, I knew I wanted to write a series, but outside the strict legal thriller genre. Of course it had to be a character I would enjoy writing about book after book. Still, I retained the law aspect this way—Mike Romeo’s only friend is a lawyer, and Mike does investigatory work for him.


Mike Romeo is one of my favorite characters in fiction. Can you tell us more about Mike Romeo and how you came to create him?

I’ve always been a fan of the “lone wolf” genre of crime writing, whether he’s a Private Eye like Philip Marlowe, an independent like Travis McGee, or a criminal himself, like Parker in the Richard Stark novels. My guy would have to be someone who could handle himself in fight, so I landed on the idea that he was a former MMA cage fighter now living off the grid in Los Angeles. But the key with a series character is having something unique, an aspect that sets him apart. I started to think about opposites. What’s the opposite of what a reader might expect of a tough-as-nails fighter? Two things jumped out. First, he’d be a genius, a real intellectual genius, who was admitted to Yale at age 15, when he was a rather introverted butterball. Then something happens (which I won’t reveal hear) that changes the course of his life and leads him to the cage. His wide-ranging mind gives me the opportunity to include observations from my own interest in philosophy.

The second unique thing is I made him a lover of flowers. Fair warning: do not disturb his petunias.


Of all the Romeo books, do you have a favorite?

Romeo’s Way won the International Thriller Writers Award. I’m proud of that one because it took me out of my usual Los Angeles setting and up to San Francisco and Oakland. I went there with my wife for hands-on research, and got unique details that were woven into the book. I’m pleased with how that turned out.


Do you have plans for future Romeo books?

I’m always at work on the next one, with idea sketches for the one after that. I’ve tried throughout my career to think like a movie studio, with one project on the front burner, and several more “in development.”


What advice would you give an aspiring author of mystery, suspense, or thrillers?

Know the conventions of your genre, but figure out a unique twist you can give them so they’re fresh. Readers don’t need the same old, same old. This is especially important for your series Lead. Create a compelling backstory for the protagonist, keep working on it until you are excited to weave it into the plot. And weave is the key here. You don’t want to dump all that material in one, fell swoop (what is a fell swoop anyway?) Keeping things below the surface creates nice ripples of mystery up top.


In addition to your successful thrillers, you’ve written a library of books on the craft of writing, and you teach at various writers conferences. Although many conferences have been canceled in the last couple of years because of the pandemic, do you have plans to speak at any writing conferences in 2022?

I will be doing a 5-hour early bird workshop at the ACFW Convention in St. Louis, on Sept. 8. Info can be found here:


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

The main hub is

I can be followed on BookBub:

Those who enjoy short fiction can try out mine at

For writers, I offer a complete course at

And of course people can join you and me and our colleagues each day at our group blog:


Thank you, Jim, for being with us today.

My pleasure.


James Scott Bell talks about the Mike Romeo Thriller series. Click To Tweet


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James Scott Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books). His thrillers include Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way and Romeo’s Hammer (the Mike Romeo thriller series); Try Dying, Try Darkness and Try Fear (the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series); and stand-alones including Your Son Is Alive and Final Witness (which won the first Christy Award for Suspense). He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written several popular writing books, including Just Write, Conflict & Suspense, and The Art of War for Writers (all from Writer’s Digest Books). He’s also published How to Write Dazzling DialogueWrite Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structureand How to Make a Living as a Writer


  • Good morning, Jim & Kay!

    What a great kickoff to 2022. I was excited to get the early edition email announcing this interview last night. Kay, your focus for Craft of Writing this year is remarkably timely for me because my third novel (in progress) is in the Christian suspense genre. I selected this genre early last year after realizing that the entertainment I enjoy the most, whether movies, series, or books, are suspense. I’m having fun writing this book, even though it’s new to me and I’m feeling my way. I look forward to learning more about the Christian suspense authors you’ll interview this year.

    Jim, I scooped up a kindle edition of Romeo’s Way because you said it’s your favorite, even though it’s Book 2 in the series. (Of course, now I’ll have to go back and read Book 1 when I finish to find out who cut off Romeo’s finger in a knife fight – ouch!) Jim, you are an encourager and an example to many writers, far more than you could possibly know, I’m sure. I do have a question. Can you expand a little on what you mean by “know the conventions of your genre?” In other words, what are a few of the most important conventions of Christian suspense that a new writer in that genre should keep in mind?

    Thank you!

    • Good morning, Lisa! Thanks for being here.

      I knew you were working on your third novel, but didn’t know it is a suspense. Now I’m intrigued and eager to hear what you’re up to.

      I’ve read all the Romeo books. I learn something from each one, and I’m trying to glean lessons in how to keep a series going.

      Have a great day!

      • Thank you, Kay! I haven’t said specifically about the genre because this one was like the third mss I started working on last year and I just wasn’t sure how it would go. Maybe you’ll read it for me when it’s ready…I would cherish your thoughts!

      • I’m “all in.” Just let me know when it’s ready. 😊

    • Lisa, thanks for the kind words…and the book purchase! Enjoy.

      As far as conventions in the suspense genre (whether Christian or not) the readers expect: a compelling and likable Lead to root for; trouble starting on page one; increasing tension throughout; something fresh in the setting or vocational aspect (readers love to learn something new if it’s entertainingly presented).

  • Thank you for this interview, Jim and Kay. I especially enjoyed hearing how you created your lead character–and the very unique traits you gave him! This is indeed good advice to remember for characters!


  • I’ve enjoyed every book JSB has written and got something out of each one. The Mike Romeo books are my favorites and I’m looking forward to the next one, but I also love the Force of Habit stories with Sister Justicia Marie. When is the next one of those releasing?

  • Jim, thank you very much for giving Kay (and us) such an informative interview. I also enjoyed your online visit with the Cherryhill Book Club in Memphis last year. Your comments there and here stimulated lots of questions, but I’ll keep them to two.
    How vivid a description of the murder(s) or corpse(s) do you think most readers want?
    Which genre of your writing have you found most satisfying: suspense fiction or writing techniques?
    Very nice job!

    • Great question, Frank. Everything is fair game these days, including very graphic descriptions. But I tend to think more people are turned off by that, so if you do it more suggestively you can still satisfy a wide swath. I don’t think there is a huge group clamoring for MORE graphic detail!

      I love both fiction and nonfiction, as they use different parts of my brain chemistry. I can work on a fiction project and, when I get a little tired, bounce over to nonfiction without much effort. Asimov used to do that, and he wrote a few books.

  • Mr. Bell, thanks for coming back here. Your visits to this site are always fun to read about–and very educational. I’ve read several of your books, but was unaware of the Mike Romeo series. I think if he’s a former mixed martial arts and cage fighting champion, my older son Josh would like the series too. Can you tell me how you researched the MMA portion of the story, and how it fits into the plots? I can see him using an arm bar or some “tactical hugging” if a bad guy comes after him, but is there more to it than that?

    • I did the MMA research like I do for any subject. I have several books, talked to some experts, etc. In the series there is a specific set of circumstances for Mike going there…best left for the books to explain. And yes, these skills come in handy in every book!

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