The Craft of Writing — May 2022
THE CRAFT OF WRITING — MAY 2022
WITH TERRY ODELL
I am thrilled to welcome romantic mystery author Terry Odell to the Craft of Writing blog today as we continue our year-long interviews of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy authors. Terry is the author of over thirty novels that she calls “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her newest release is In the Crossfire which is a Triple-D Ranch book. Book 1 in the series, In Hot Water, is permafree in ebook everywhere.
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Meet Terry Odell
“I love getting into the minds of my characters, turning them loose in tight spots and seeing what they do. Too often, they surprise me.
My published works include the Pine Hills Police Series, the Blackthorne, Inc. covert ops series, the Triple-D Ranch series and the stand alone, What’s in a Name? — all Romantic Suspense, as well as the Mapleton Mystery series, which has been described as a blend of police procedural and cozy mysteries. Heather’s Chase is a stand alone International Mystery Romance, which I had a blast researching on a trip through the British Isles. I’m currently working on a book set in Croatia after my trip there last October. My mystery short story collection, Seeing Red, is a Silver Falchion award winner. I also have a collection of contemporary romance short stories.
When I’m not writing, or watching wildlife from my window, I’m probably reading.”
Terry Odell shares her writing journey on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet
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Welcome Terry Odell, and thank you for joining us!
Thanks so much for having me, Kay.
Please give us some background – have you always wanted to be a writer?
Absolutely not. I made up stories in my head from time to time, but they were usually variations on a book I’d read or a movie or television show I’d seen and wanted to adjust to my liking. I was a card-carrying AARP member well before I tinkered with writing. Rather than go into the entire story of how I became a writer by mistake, you can find it here.
Why did you decide to write novels that you call “Romance with a Twist of Mystery?”
Another long story. I’d been toying around with writing a mystery (the genre I read) and sent chapters to my daughters who both said “Mom, it’s a romance!” And both referred to the same paragraphs. Now, I’d never read a romance, had no desire to read romance, so I wondered why they thought I was writing one. Like many others, I had the misconception that “romance” was the equivalent of Harlequin category romances. Then I discovered romantic suspense, and discovered a “romance” didn’t have to follow those “rules” about hero and heroine meeting on the first page, having to start out hating each other. I realized that the mysteries I preferred to read were series, and I enjoyed following the character arcs as much as I did the crime solving. Side note: a columnist for Orlando Magazine read books from 4 chapter members, and I was fortunate to be one of them. His comments about my book, Finding Sarah said that unlike the other 3, my characters didn’t start out hating each other, but it was clearly a romance, and he quoted the same passage my daughters had pointed out.
Tell us about the first novel you wrote and how you came up with the story.
It started as a writing exercise for an online group. “Write a hook in under 200 words.” I threw something together and everyone said, “What happens next?” I had no idea, so I started writing. The story grew more or less at random. I knew nothing about writing, so it was a learn as you write experience. Eventually, I had enough “story” to know it would be about a cop whose job was ruled by black and white rules. How much would it take to push him into the gray? And the heroine was determined to be independent. How much would it take for her to accept help? I think I spent a good year working on the book, applying what I was learning. It ended up being published by the now-defunct Cerridwen Press, and was a finalist in the Volusia County Laurel Wreath contest in the romantic suspense category, so I must have been doing something right.
You’ve written four different series. Can you tell us a little about each one of those?
Pine Hills Police
This series grew out of my first attempt at a novel, Finding Sarah. I had no intention of it becoming a series, but the characters demanded more page time. The series (really connected books rather than a true series with a continuing protagonist) focuses around the small Oregon town of Pine Hills and its police department (obvious, right?) and its citizens.
This is my action-adventure, covert ops, romantic suspense series. I wrote the first book in the series, When Danger Calls, after I finished Finding Sarah. Again, I had no intention of writing a series (and these are also connected books), and since Finding Sarah was with Cerridwen Press, I knew no traditional publisher would want a book 2. I think the inspiration for the series came from Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series. I created my own high-end security company so I could give them all the toys they needed and send them wherever I wanted. When Danger Calls was published by another now-defunct press, Five Star/Cengage, but I did get three books in that series published before they stopped publishing romantic suspense. I’m working on book 11 now.
This is my only true series, where a single protagonist runs the show. It’s also my only straight mystery series. It’s set in a small Colorado mountain town and features (in the first book, Deadly Secrets,) a reluctant Chief of Police, although over the course of the series, the character has grown into his job. Deadly Secrets came out right as indie publishing was getting attention. When traditional publishers couldn’t figure out how to sell a book that was part police procedural, part cozy, I decided to take it to readers myself and I’ve never looked back.
Cattle ranching is big in Colorado, so I wanted to set a book on a ranch. In Hot Water is a spinoff from my Blackthorne series, and the overall series theme is “Rangers Turned Ranchers” where the cowboys on the ranch are all former Army Rangers. It’s another romantic suspense series, with each of the four cowboys having a turn at being the hero. My newest release, In the Crosshairs, is the fourth book in the series. Once I started writing, I knew I needed to do some hands-on research, so I spent two weeks on a working cattle ranch. Great fun!
Of all your works, do you have a favorite?
That’s like asking me which of my kids is my favorite. They all have places in my heart and for different reasons. It’s usually whatever book I’m working on at the moment.
What’s your writing process? Do you start with plot or characters or some combination?
Short answer: Yes. It’s different for each book, but most of the time, it’s characters first, then the problem they have to solve, then their GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) for that book. But the order can vary. If it’s a Mapleton book, then I’m relatively “locked in” with my protagonist, a police chief in a small town, and I have to find a mystery/crime for him to solve without turning Mapleton into Cabot Cove. For my romantic suspense books, they’re not “series” in the true sense of the word, but rather connected books, so it’s a recurring cast of characters with a secondary character from a previous book taking center stage in a new one. My Blackthorne, Inc. series can be set almost anywhere, so there’s a little more flexibility with those stories. The others have their own limitations and challenges. The Triple-D Ranch series is set on a cattle ranch in Colorado. There’s some leeway, but I can’t ignore the ranching. Pine Hills is a small town in Oregon, so it has some of the restrictions of the Mapleton series, but since the Pine Hills books are romantic suspense, the central characters will vary. (Except for Hidden Fire, because nobody told me that the romance genre rarely continues with the same hero and heroine in a second book, because they’ve already had their happily ever after.) But definitely, plot is never first. That shows up as I write.
What are your plans for future novels? Do you have another series in mind?
Right now, I’m working on a book set on a cruise in Croatia. It was going to be a stand alone like Heather’s Chase, but the reality of setting a book in another country where the characters have no jurisdiction is a challenge, so it morphed into a Blackthorne novel, because Blackthorne, Inc., can go anywhere. It’s a bit of a departure at the moment, because the protagonist isn’t a covert ops agent; he’s from Security and Investigations. Not sure where it’s going yet, as I’m only about 40,000 words into it. (Can you tell I’m not a plotter?)
What advice would you give an aspiring author of romantic suspense / mystery?
Read. Join writing groups. Read. Go to conferences. Read. Attend workshops. And read some more. Learn the craft, but most of all, have fun. It’s not an easy business, so if you don’t enjoy the process (and it’s more than the writing—marketing is part of the game), you’ll burn out in a hurry. Don’t quit your day job.)
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Best place is at my website. I also have a blog, Terry’s Place where I talk about writing and anything else that strikes my fancy. I’m a regular contributor at The Kill Zone Blog as well. You can also find me on Facebook, and I have a monthly (more or less) newsletter. Sign up and get a free read.
Thank you, Terry, for being with us today.
My pleasure, Kay.Terry Odell shares her writing journey on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet