The Craft of Writing — March 2022
THE CRAFT OF WRITING — MARCH 2022
The Tawny Lindholm Series with Debbie Burke
I’m excited to continue this year’s CRAFT OF WRITING blog where we’re focusing entirely on mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels. Today’s guest is my friend and fellow Partner in Crime, Debbie Burke, author of the Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series. You can find the series at: Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion and each of the ebooks is on sale today for 99¢!
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Debbie Burke is a suspense novelist, award-winning journalist, and blogger at The Kill Zone website. Her thriller series plunges crime-solver Tawny Lindholm into fast-paced twisty plots with quirky characters and snappy dialogue, set against the rugged scenery of Montana.
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Welcome Debbie Burke, and thank you for joining us!
Why did you decide to write thrillers?
I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett (loved The Thin Man movies), Ian Fleming, etc. Crime fiction was always my preference.
The first ten books I wrote were mysteries. None was published. I wasn’t very good at keeping the murderer’s identity hidden.
Mysteries are who done it?
In suspense/thriller, the bad guys aren’t necessarily hidden from the reader. Instead, the questions are: Will they get away with it? How can they pull it off?
With my first thriller, Instrument of the Devil, I discovered it was great fun to get inside the head of the villain and write from his/her point of view. They have reasons they believe their criminal actions are justified. In their own minds, they’re doing the right thing. It’s been said, the villain is the hero of his own story.
Instrument of the Devil won a couple of contests and was picked up by a publisher. I’ve stayed in thrillers ever since.
You call your series Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. Did you always intend to write a series?
When I wrote Instrument of the Devil, I didn’t envision a series. After decades of rejections, I was just thrilled to finally get a novel published, even though it didn’t happen until after I was on Medicare!
But readers responded positively and it became a bestseller in women’s adventure fiction. People asked what was next. As a reader, series have always been my preference so it was easy to slide the same characters into new adventures.
Can you share a little about your main characters Tawny and Tillman?
Tawny is a shy recent widow in her fifties who has more grit than she gives herself credit for. In Instrument of the Devil, she trusts the wrong man who entangles her in a terrorist plot to bring down the electrical grid.
In the last quarter of that book, a brilliant, cynical, arrogant attorney named Tillman Rosenbaum defends Tawny and saves her from prison. Then he offers her a job. Although she’s grateful to him, she can’t stand him, knows nothing about the law, and can’t spell because of dyslexia. But she desperately needs the money.
Tillman is an intimidating 6’7” with a James Earl Jones voice, whose grandmother was Ethiopian Beta Israel. He hires Tawny as an investigator because he says, “You get clients to tell you secrets they’re too afraid to tell me.”
Despite their extreme differences, they make a great team professionally. Spoiler alert: By the end of the second book, Stalking Midas, the relationship turns personal. Gee, who woulda guessed?
You live in the beautiful state of Montana, and most of your books are set there. Can you give us an idea of what it’s like to live there and how it affects your stories?
It is beautiful but also rugged. You can drive miles on desolate roads and never see another rig. If you break down, you’re on your own because many areas outside of towns still don’t have cell service. Black ice is treacherous. Four-wheel-drive is a necessity. Bears and mountain lions keep you on your toes if you’re hiking or picking huckleberries. Avalanches in winter and drownings in summer kill a number of people every year.
While most Montanans are very nice people, we have our share of crazies, grifters, and desperadoes.
The 550-foot high Hungry Horse Dam is a dandy place to throw someone off, as are the Rimrocks (cliffs) in Billings. I haven’t even started on ghost towns, abandoned mines, or underground cities, so I don’t foresee running out of Montana locations anytime soon.
Do you have plans for future Tawny Lindholm books?
The seventh book, Until Proven Guilty, is being edited now with spring publication planned. Here’s the cover, designed by the talented Brian Hoffman (another member of The Kill Zone’s community).
I know you’re interested in honing your craft. What resources do you use to become a better writer?
I joke that I earned my MFA from TKZ (The Kill Zone). I followed the blog for many years and learned from masters like James Scott Bell, Jordan Dane, P.J. Parrish, Joe Moore, and many others. When they invited me to join as a contributor, I was gobsmacked and honored.
Jane Friedman, Randy Ingermanson, Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris all have terrific blogs I never miss.
Critique groups are a huge help, as are writing conferences. Anytime you can interact with other serious writers, it’s valuable. There are many excellent craft books I’ve studied and recommend to others.
What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?
Pacing is huge. You have to grab readers by the throat and not let them go. Keep the tension high. They have to be constantly wondering what’s going to happen next. Twists and surprises are important.
Create interesting antagonists. Make them three-dimensional characters, not cartoonish. They’ll scratch their cat under the chin even as they’re ready to launch a bio-weapon to kill millions.
Many thrillers are set on a global stage with the fate of humankind at stake. Mine are set in rural small towns, which aren’t usually associated with perilous danger. But greed, envy, jealousy, treachery, lust for power, and other dangerous forces are present anyplace there are people.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Thanks for asking!
My website: https://debbieburkewriter.com has sneak previews of each book and sales links.
Especially for Kay’s readers, all ebooks are on sale for $.99.
Amazon: Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion
Thank you, Debbie, for being with us today.
Thank you for hosting me, Kay! One great benefit of blogging at The Kill Zone is meeting lovely new friends like you!Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion - Today on the Craft of Writing blog Click To Tweet
Enjoy learning more about Debbie! When I hopped over to Amazon, I discovered I had four of the six books! Now I have all six!
Thanks so much for your interest, Patricia! Hope you enjoy the series.
Good morning, Patricia, and thanks for dropping by. I’m going to round out my copies of Debbie’s series today. There are a couple I haven’t read yet.
Have a great day!
Great post, Kay and Debbie. As a fan of the Tawny Lindholm series I can vouch for the fact that Debbie’s books keep you turning pages and reading late. I look forward to those future books with ghost towns, abandoned mines, and underground cities.
Good morning, Steve. I know what you mean — I’ve lost a few hours sleep because of Tawny and Tillman. I’m looking forward to ghost towns.
Have a great day!
Aw, Steve, you’re too kind.
A reader needs seat belts for your Mad River Magic series 😉
Good morning, Kay & Debbie!
I downloaded the first book of the Tawny series this morning. (Thank you for the sale price!) I read the first few paragraphs and have to say Debbie put me “in scene” right away. I’d probably spend this cold, blustery day reading if other obligations didn’t beckon.
Thanks for sharing your work, Debbie. And special thanks for sharing your journey. I’m a Medicare girl too, yet still early in building a second career as a novelist. I loved what you said about writing mysteries vs writing suspense. I don’t think the difference has ever been described clearly in such a few words.
I’m looking forward to spending some mental time in Montana once I get a chance to settle in with Instrument of the Devil.
Thanks so much, Lisa! Hope you enjoy IOTD. The parts about the smartphone are autobiographical but the rest is pure fiction.
The best part of writing is you don’t peak at age 25 or 30 like an athlete. We only improve with age…like wine.
Good morning, Lisa and Debbie!
Lisa, I believe you told me the novel you’re working on now is a mystery. Looking forward to it.
I like what Debbie said: “The best part of writing is you don’t peak at age 25 or 30 like an athlete.” Coming to writing later in life means we have a lot of life’s experiences to contribute to our writer’s tool box.
Have a great day!
Read the blog and enjoyed meeting Debbie Burke. I ordered all the Tawney series at the great price so am set for a few days. I love mysteries, especially with older ladies (as I am one). The younger gals don’t get to have all the fun
Vivian, It’s great to “see” you here on the blog! I know you’ll enjoy reading about Tawny and Tillman. Keep having fun!
Thank you, Vivian! Hope you enjoy the books.
When my contemporaries and I go out to lunch, our conversations are always stimulating and interesting. Younger people around us are frequently fixated on their phones and often don’t look particularly happy. A lot more laughs at our table!
I enjoyed the blog interview very much and have two unusual questions for you. What are your ‘outside’ interests (very appropriate activity for a Montanan), and have you gotten many good ideas for your stories while partaking in them?
Btw, I bought a sailplane in Bozeman MT a couple decades ago and once sailed up to 25,000 feet above sea level into commercial airspace.
I was with Frank when he bought the sailplane in Bozeman. What a perfectly gorgeous place! (But I wasn’t in the plane with him when he made that flight to 25,000 feet!)
Hi Frank, thanks for the great questions.
In nice weather, hiking; in winter, snowshoeing. Let’s not forget that snow shoveling is great exercise (snort!).
Nothing is better inspiration for ideas than nature. Clean air, quiet, the scent of cedars, the chill of a mountain stream, the cry of an osprey, the scary beauty of a high scenic overlook. It’s like deep cleaning for the mind and body. I come home energized, full of new ideas, and solutions for existing problems.
You and Kay should come for a visit!
An offer hard to refuse! Thanks, Debbie.