THE CRAFT OF WRITING — APRIL 2023
I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING blog by focusing on authors who write series. This month, we welcome back my good friend, Debbie Burke, the award-winning author of the Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series.
* * *
In addition to the wisdom Debbie brings to us, we’re also doing something fun for today’s post. The name of each person who enters a comment today will be put into the drawing for a hand-crafted 1815 Left Behind Walnut pen, made from trees that were growing before the Civil War. Many thanks to my good friend, author and craftsman, Steve Hooley, for donating the pen for today’s post. I will post the name of the winner after 9 o’clock pm CDT tonight. Please be sure I have your email address for the drawing.
Win a handcrafted pen when you visit the Craft of Writing blog! Click To Tweet
* * *
Now, here’s a look at Debbie’s Thrillers with Passion series:
Welcome, Debbie, to the Craft of Writing blog and thank you for joining us!
Kay, many thanks for inviting me back. I always enjoy connecting with your interesting group of readers!
Before we begin, I can personally attest to the beautiful quality of Steve Hooley’s pens. He’s an artist and master craftsman!
Give us a little background. When did you first start writing?
About age eight when I learned cursive writing. Throughout my life, stories always went on inside my head although I didn’t have time to write during my business career. But after retirement and moving to Montana, the dam burst and all those collected stories poured out.
This year we’re concentrating on writing series, and I love your Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series. Why did you decide to write it?
Thanks for your kind words, Kay! When I wrote the first book, Instrument of the Devil, I didn’t envision a series. But reader response was wonderfully encouraging. Many people identified with the struggles the main character Tawny Lindholm endured with her new smartphone. The two leads, Tawny and attorney Tillman Rosenbaum, had more stories to tell and the series grew.
Can you give us an overall description of the series?
Tawny is in her fifties, a widowed mother of two grown children, who lives in small-town Montana. She’s an everywoman like your next-door neighbor, someone most people can identify with. She’s dyslexic and doesn’t have an advanced education but she’s smart, intuitive, and is good at putting puzzle pieces together. People trust her because she’s kind and doesn’t judge them. Therefore, they reveal secrets to her they wouldn’t normally share.
In stark contrast, the male lead, Tillman, is a brilliant, cynical, sarcastic attorney. His family background is complex—his paternal grandmother was an Ethiopian Jew (Beta Israel) and his maternal grandparents survived the Holocaust. He intimidates most people, and hired Tawny as his investigator to counterbalance his aggressiveness. He tells her, “Clients tell you what they’re too scared to tell me.”
Their yin-yang chemistry makes them an effective team at solving crimes. It also leads to (spoiler alert!) romance.
Although the books are set in Montana, a rural state with a relatively low crime rate, there’s plenty of nefarious activity and, shall we say, unusual characters. After all, the Unabomber made his home here.
There are seven published books in the Tawny Lindholm series. How do you keep the series fresh, book after book?
In real life, when you first meet someone, you know very little about them. But, as you become better acquainted and watch them deal with various problems, you learn about their deeper character and how they react under pressure. Someone who seems ordinary and easy-going on the surface may show an entirely different side when faced with a crisis, for instance, betrayal by a person they believed was a close friend, or a threat to someone they love.
Tawny and Tillman are fairly well developed in my mind, but, in each book, they meet a new daunting problem—covert surveillance by drone (Eyes in the Sky), elder fraud (Stalking Midas), the pandemic (Flight to Forever), etc. How they deal with those challenges reveals new sides of their personalities and background that surprise me and, I hope, the reader.
How do you handle the situation where a reader jumps into the middle of a series without reading the first book or two?
Another excellent question!
Each book must stand on its own with a beginning, middle, and end. Each contains mysteries or crimes that are resolved by the end of that story.
There is also an overarching evolution in the ongoing relationships among the characters. While I mention incidents that happened in previous books, a reader doesn’t need to know about them to understand the current book. Of course, I hope hints about prior events will interest them enough that they go back and read earlier books.
The hardest trick is to refer to prior events without giving away surprise twists.
I know you have an eighth book that will be out soon. Can you tell us about it?
Thanks for asking. The new book is called Deep Fake Double Down and is available for pre-order by clicking on the title. The story is about artificial intelligence software that can create videos where people appear to do or say things they didn’t. When you see something with your own eyes, it must be real, right? Not anymore.
Deepfakes have been in the news a lot lately with politicians, actors, and celebrities (view examples at this link). Software can shape-shift a person’s face, body, gestures, and words into synthetic reality that’s almost impossible to distinguish from actual reality. Deepfakes are used for entertainment (like Queen Elizabeth boogying down) but can also be used to manipulate elections and perhaps even world events.
Being a thriller writer, I wanted to explore the potential abuse of deepfakes. In this book, a female corrections officer is framed for crimes she didn’t commit by a corrupt warden who’s trying to cover up fraud and murder at his prison. He leaks fake videos of her allegedly helping an inmate (who’s supposedly her lover) to escape. When the videos go viral on social media, she is tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. To save her, Tawny and Tillman must separate illusion from reality.
How far do you intend to take the series?
With each book, I think this one is the last. But pretty soon a new idea starts nagging at me. As long as readers remain interested, I’ll keep writing.
What advice would you give an author who’s considering writing a series?
As mentioned before, I didn’t realize this would turn into a series. Had I known, I would have done some things differently.
Even if an author believes a book is a standalone, consider what happens to the main character(s) after the book is finished. How do their lives go on? What might they be doing a year from now, five years from now? If the character is compelling enough, they will encounter fresh crises and have new adventures to share.
Just be careful whom you kill off—you might need that character in the future!
Tell us more about you. What interests do you have outside of writing?
Since writing is a sedentary activity, I need to balance that with lots of exercise. I enjoy Zumba, air-boxing, and hiking. I also like to cook and bake bread so that means even MORE exercise to undo the calorie damage. Additionally, I love to read—too many books, too little time.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
My website is debbieburkewriter.com. There are sample chapters for each book so readers can try them out for free. Also, there’s a bonus free short story for people who join my mailing list. My books are available on Amazon and major online booksellers, as well as independent bookstores.
And drop by The Kill Zone where Kay and I have fun talking about murder and mayhem.
Thank you, Debbie, for being with us today.
Kay, I’m honored to be your guest and to call you my friend.
As a special “thank you” to Kay’s readers, currently published books in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series are on sale today for only $.99 each at this link.
Win a handcrafted pen when you visit the Craft of Writing blog! Click To Tweet
Debbie Burke writes the Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series. She is a regular blogger at The Kill Zone, a popular website about crime writing. Her nonfiction articles have won journalism awards and appear in national and international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers
Thanks for interviewing Debbie and putting together this article.
Hi Terry, Nice to see you here at Kay’s blog. Thanks for stopping by.
Good morning, Terry, and thanks for stopping by. I’m delighted to have Debbie as my guest today. She’s given us an entire course on writing a series.
Tawny and Tillman sound like a great duo. Excellent interview! The pen is beautiful. pbettis at gmail period com
Hi Priscilla, I have a lot of fun with those two characters. Steve’s pens are really works of art!
Hi Priscilla, those two characters are a lot of fun to write. Steve’s pens are works of art.
Morning, Priscilla! Yes, Tawny and Tillman are quite the couple.
I’m the proud owner of one of Steve’s pens, and it is beautiful. A real treasure.
Have a great day.
Debbie Burke is a favorite author of mine. I have the entire “Tawny Lindholm Thrillers” book series. I also love her books “Deep Fake Double Down” and “Glissando: A Story of Love, Lust and Jazz”. Excellent!
Good morning, Audrey. Thanks for stopping by.
Debbie is a wonderful author and a good friend. I’ve pre-ordered “Deep Fake Double Down” and I’m looking forward to reading it. The whole subject of AI-produced video is scary.
Don’t forget to check back in tonight after 9 PM for the results on the drawing for the pen.
I was struck by the daily relevance of Kay’s question, “How do you make each book fresh”. It seems keeping life fresh and renewed applies to a person’s challenge in every aspect of life —marriage, family, work, politics and even religion.
I found Debbie’s answer revealing, “ How they deal with those challenges, reveals new sides of their personalities…” it may be as simple as that. Freely choosing how to relate to what comes at us. That is, being open to a fresh way of looking at things rather than simply automatically responding from what we’ve seen or said in the past. That’s an art worth mastering, and a life worth refreshing, huh? Thank you both.
Good morning, Vincent, and thanks for stopping in. Your comment is so perceptive. Every day is a fresh and exciting opportunity, eh?
Don’t forget to stop by after 9 PM CDT to get the results on drawing for the pen. Ciao!
Definitely going to check out this series. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Good morning, Christine! I like reading series. It’s always interesting to see characters develop from book to book as they’re presented with new challenges.
thanks for stopping by!
So glad to hear each book stands alone. I’m always leery of starting in the middle of a series, afraid I need the earlier books to understand what’s happening. This makes it easier to find your books at my local library, they don’t always have the older ones. Thank you!
Good morning, Caren!
Debbie does a good job of having each of her books stand on its own merits, so you can start with any of them. (And it’s a wonderful benefit to an author when a reader asks their library to order the author’s books.)
Have a great week, and stop by after 9 PM CDT to check on the results of the drawing.
Hi Audrey, Appreciate your kind words. But I need to make one clarification: There are TWO Debbie Burkes. The other Debbie lives in Virginia Beach, is an editor, writes articles about jazz, but also writes novels (including Glissando which you mention). We’ve become long-distance pals. Even if you mix us up, we hope you’ll enjoy whichever books of ours you read.
Kay, your site accepted my first reply to Terry but then started flipping to “Leave a comment.” That’s why two comments to Priscilla. I’ll respond even if the replies aren’t next to the person’s comment.
Yikes. I’ll see if I can figure that out, Debbie.
Hi Vincent, What an insightful observation. For me, the best way to keep life interesting is to keep learning. Reading, whether fiction or nonfiction, is a never-ending education.
Christine, Thanks for your interest. I hope you enjoy getting to know Tawny and Tillman.
Caren, Reaching the end of a book only to discover I must read the next book to find out what happens annoys me. I don’t want to do that to my readers. Thanks for stopping by.
Hi, Kay and Debbie ( two of my favorite authors)
Wonderful blog post. Great ideas for dealing with series.
I have read all of your books, Debbie, including DEEP FAKE DOUBLE DOWN. It kept me reading well past my bedtime, and I recommend it to everyone here. It’s scary what A.I. could bring. Fantastic book!
Good luck with your book launch, Debbie!
Good morning, Steve! And thank you again for donating the beautiful pen as this morning’s special gift.
For those of you who don’t know, Steve has his own “Mad River Magic” fantasy book series. I’ll be interviewing Steve soon, and I hope I can talk him into donating another pen for that interview.
It’s a deal.
Hi Steve, You’re an extraordinary artisan. I love the Deep Fake Sapphire pen you created for the launch of Deep Fake Double Down. I’ll be holding a drawing for that pen and a signed paperback soon so anyone interested, please visit https://debbieburkewriter.com
BTW, I was up at 3 a.m. this morning reading your exciting new book, Perfect Strand. Thanks for the bags under my eyes 😉
Thanks for the mention, Debbie! I was just returning the favor for DEEP FAKE DOUBLE DOWN keeping me up several nights until I finished your book. It’s great!
That was really interesting…I need to read more of these…thanks for whetting my appetite. And as has been said: too many books, too little time.
Good morning, Jan, and thanks for stopping by. I know what you mean. There are so many good books to read that it can be hard to choose. Debbie has a special perspective that I think you’ll enjoy.
Have a great week and stop by after 9 PM to check on the results of the drawing.
Hi Jan, thanks for your interest. Hope you enjoy the series!
Thank you. I definitely learned something from this post. I would love to stop genre-hopping and write a series.
Hello Star Lady! Glad you’re here. IMHO, writing a series adds a dimension to the craft. Finding a way to make each book stand on its own but also contribute to a longer saga is challenging. Good luck with it!
“In real life, when you first meet someone, you know very little about them.”
This is a great interview, Kay & Debbie! The above really caught me. It made me think about how long it takes to get know real people well. I guess it should be the same with those other “real” people in my head.
Hence, a series is born . . . hmm, maybe . . .
Hi Deb! Thanks for stopping in.
I’ll be looking for that series from you!
Have a great week.
What great insight and advice. Thanks so much for this great opportunity for shining me onto new authors and new books to add to my TBR list!! And what a gorgeous pen!! I’d be honored to own such a magnificent piece of history!!
Hello Kris! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Debbie is a wonderful author, and the gift of Steve’s hand-crafted pen is a real bonus. I’ll enter your name in the drawing. Be sure to stop by after 9PM tonight for the results.
Have a good week!
Hi Star Lady, Readers enjoy series because characters become like old friends. When I was a kid reading Nancy Drew, I couldn’t wait for the next one to come out.
If you’re going to stay with a particular genre, be sure to create series characters you want to spend a lot of time with!
Hi Deb, Great to see you here at Kay’s blog. One of the best ways to become acquainted with a character is to throw them into a swamp and see how they react.
Hi Kris, Thanks for your kind interest. Nice to meet new folks here on Kay’s great blog.
Hi Kris, WordPress apparently swallowed my first response to you. Or now you may receive two replies! Thanks for your kind interest in my books. Great to meet new folks here on Kay’s blog.
What an interesting interview (and great responses!) I love the richness of the characters you described here, Debbie. And I LOVE this advice, “Just be careful whom you kill off—you might need that character in the future!” Beautiful!
I also love that advice about not killing off characters–even if they’re not your favorite people. They still may come in handy.
Have a great week.
Hi Lisa, Glad you enjoyed the interview. Kay asks excellent questions! There’s a certain character in the series who really deserves a harsh comeuppance–I’m keeping her in reserve as a future victim!
Great interview with two of my favorite authors! I just preordered Debbie’s new book!
Hello, my friend! So nice to see you here on the blog. I can’t wait to take a deep dive into Deep Fake. Debbie’s timing is impeccable!
Don’t forget to check back in tonight at 9PM to see who won the drawing.
I’ve never felt the urge to do a series, but if I do, I’ll follow the advice here. Except for my Jung-meets-Hitler thriller, I’ve yet to kill off a villain, so maybe.
Hi JG. Thanks for stopping by! “Jung meets Hitler” Now that’s a story I need to read!
Have a great week.
Thanks! I heard from a reader last week who enjoyed Mouth of the Lion. She’s the grandniece of one of the main characters, Allen Dulles, who was Carl Jung’s OSS boss. Jung was OSS Agent No. 488 IRL.
Dorian, How great to see you here! Thanks so much for your kind words and the pre-order. Hope you enjoy it.
Hi J, Thanks for stopping by. Always enjoy our discussions at The Kill Zone.
Hi everyone. Thank you all for being here to share the conversation with Debbie Burke today. I just calculated the winner of Steve Hooley’s hand-crafted pen, and here’s how I did it:
I listed all the people who commented today, and gave them a number that corresponded with the order that they commented in. (I didn’t include Steve and Debbie for obvious reasons.) Here’s the list:
1 Terry Whalin
2 Priscilla Bettis
3 Audrey Stewart
4 Vincent DiBianca
5 Christine Walker
6 Caren Luckie
7 Jan Lerner
8 Star Lady
9 Deb Gorman
11 Lisa Simonds
12 Dorian Box
Then I ran a random integer generator to pick an integer between 1 and 13. And the number that came back was 11.
Congratulations to Lisa Simonds, the winner of the 1815 Left Behind Walnut pen! Lisa, I have your email and I’ll be in touch shortly to get mailing instructions.
Thanks again to everyone. And special thanks to Debbie and Steve for such a fun day!
Sounds like the series is a lot of fun.Thanks for telling us about it. 🙂
Hello Linore! It’s good to see you here. You are a writer of series yourself, so I know you appreciate the hard work that goes into keeping stories and characters fresh.
Hi Linore, Just checked back after a few days and saw your comment. Thanks for your kind interest!