Your favorite word

words

WORDS. Writers love ’em. And what power they have. Power to inspire, comfort, engage, infuriate. They can cause war. And bring peace.

Words refine our thinking. They give us pause to examine ourselves. They are the machinery that runs the enterprise of civilization.

Consider this: God spoke the world into being. Not a bad advertisement for the power of words.

Do you have a favorite word? I do. Mine is kinestatic. You won’t find it in the dictionary because it hasn’t made its way into popular usage. Yet. The word was coined by my husband several decades ago when he invented and patented an imaging device and named it the Kinestatic Charge Detector. (You can google it.)

Of course, I’m proud of Frank’s work, but I’m also amazed at the word he came up with. You see, kinestatic is an adjective describing something that is moving in one frame of reference, but at rest in another one.

Think of walking up a down escalator. Or running on a treadmill. In both cases, you’re moving in relation to the escalator or treadmill, but you’re still in relation to the surrounding area. That’s pretty interesting, but it gets better.

The word kinestatic describes so much more. Have you ever thought that you spent all day rushing around, but didn’t get anywhere? That’s a kind of kinestasis (using the noun here). How about climbing the corporate ladder, but never succeeding in accomplishing your goals? Same thing. You can probably come up with quite of few examples of kinestasis yourself. What a great word!

Do me a favor and post your favorite word or words below and let us know why you like them.

The Craft of Writing — January 2023

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JANUARY 2023

James Scott Bell on writing a series

 

I’m excited to begin a new year of the CRAFT OF WRITING blog. This year we’re focusing on writing series, and we’re starting off with a master of all things writing, James Scott Bell.

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.

Today we’re going to talk about the series Jim’s written, so sharpen your pencils. You won’t want to miss anything he says.

 

 

Writing the Series with James Scott Bell Click To Tweet

Happy New Year, James Scott Bell. Welcome back to the Craft of Writing blog and thank you for joining us!

Great to be here!

 

This year we’re concentrating on writing series, and you have several series you’ve written over the years. Which of your series was first and why did you decide to write it?

My first series was historical-legal thriller-romance. How about that? I had the idea for a series featuring a young woman who came to Los Angeles in 1903 to practice law…when there were virtually no women in the profession. That period of L.A. history has not been done very much, and I love it. The city was growing up, but there was still a bit of the Old West vibe, even in the courtroom.

That’s how The Trials of Kit Shannon series was born.  Bethany House publishers loved the idea, and had the good sense to team me up with one of their star authors, Tracie Peterson. We did the first three books together, and I did the next three on my own. It was a great collaboration, we got along famously, and learned from each other.

 

Can you tell us a little about each of the series you’ve written?

I wrote a contemporary legal thriller series featuring lawyer Ty Buchanan. I drew upon my own courtroom experience practicing criminal law in L.A. It’s three books. I’ve been asked if I’d continue it, but the last book ended so perfectly I don’t want to mess with it.

Then I got a crazy idea. Another Los Angeles legal thriller series…only this time, the hero would be…wait for it…a zombie! Yes, zombies were “hot” back then, but they were always the monsters. I thought, what if my lawyer, Mallory Caine, was turned into a zombie as a curse, and spends the series trying to get her soul back? I love how the books came out. Legal thrills featuring vampires, werewolves, and shape shifters, but with a spiritual arc for the hero. That’s how the Mallory Cain, Zombie-at-Law series came to pass.

 

You have a very successful series going now with Mike Romeo. What inspired you to write the Mike Romeo Series?

I love classic pulp fiction. Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, John D. MacDonald. There’s a “lone wolf” tradition there I wanted to try, only not with the standard PI. So I came up with a character who is living off the grid in L.A., a former cage fighter with an even more curious past—a portly genius kid who went to Yale when he was 14. How the heck did he end up a fighting machine, living with his only friend in the world, a rabbi and lawyer, in L.A.? There’s a whole reveal in there that I will not divulge here!

 

How do you keep a series fresh after readers become familiar with the stories?

The key is characters. Put interesting, colorful, unique characters in your twisty plot, and you’ve got freshness. In Romeo’s Way, the book that won the International Thriller Writers Award, Mike has to go to San Francisco and falls in with a sub-world of “little people.” Some great characters came out of that.

 

How do you handle the situation where a reader jumps into the middle of a series without reading the first book or two?

Each book can be read and enjoyed on its own. Important backstory is summarized, and then there’s always the option to pick up the earlier books if one wants to. But for a long-running series, I do think each book’s individual plot should be wrapped up.

 

Do you have plans for future Romeo books?

I plan to keep riding this train. I always have one book I’m writing, one I’m developing, and various ideas that spring up. I’ve got at least 20 titles ready to use. After that, I’ll break out the thesaurus and find 20 more.

 

What advice would you give an author who’s considering writing a series?

I wrote a whole blog post about this. Here’s a clip:

 

I see five qualities in the best series characters. If you can pack these in from the start, your task is half done. Here they are:

 

  1. A point of uniqueness, a quirk or style that sets them apart from everybody else

What is unique about Sherlock Holmes? He’s moody and excitable. Among the very staid English, that was different. Jack Reacher? Come on. The guy doesn’t own a phone or clothes. He travels around with only a toothbrush. Funny how every place he goes he runs into massive trouble and very bad people.

 

  1. A skill at which they are really, really good

Katniss Everdeen is killer with the bow and arrow.

Harry Potter is one of the great wizards (though he has a lot to learn).

 

  1. A bit of the rebel

The series hero should rub up against authority, even if it’s in a quiet way, like Miss Marple muttering “Oh, dear” at the local constabulary. Hercule Poirot is a needle in the side of Inspector Japp.

 

  1. A vulnerable spot or character flaw

Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian has a vicious temper that sometimes gets the better of him.

Sherlock Holmes has a drug habit. Stephanie Plum keeps bouncing between two lovers, who complicate her life.

 

  1. A likable quality

Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe has some of the greatest quips in the history of crime fiction. We like them because Marlowe is also vulnerable—to getting beat up, drugged, or otherwise manhandled by forces larger than himself (like Moose Malloy). Wit is one of the great likability factors. Another is caring for others besides oneself. Stephanie Plum has a crazy family to care for, not to mention her sometime partner Lula.

 

For the rest of the article, go to: https://killzoneblog.com/2017/08/ingredients-of-great-series-character.html

 

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. Do you have plans to speak at any writing conferences in 2023?

I’ll be speaking for the Historical Novel Society in San Antonio, in June. But I’m not going out on the road as much anymore. That’s because I’ve done a complete, 12-hour course for Wondrium.

 

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

The main hub is JamesScottBell.com

I can be followed on BookBub: bookbub.com/authors/james-scott-bell

Those who enjoy short fiction can try out mine at patreon.com/jamesscottbell

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

 

Thank you, Jim, for being with us today.

My pleasure!

 

Writing the Series with James Scott Bell Click To Tweet

 

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.

 

The Craft of Writing — November 2022

I am thrilled to welcome Anthony and Agatha Award-winning mystery author Elaine Viets to the Craft of Writing blog today as we continue our year-long interviews of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy authors. Elaine is the author of several series from cozies to dark mystery, so it will be fun to get her perspective on the different sub-genres. And she’s a fellow contributor to the Kill Zone Blog.

Elaine’s latest novel, Late for his Own Funeral, was released in 2022, and her short story We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About won a silver at the Florida Writers Association. It appeared in the anthology The Great Filling Station Holdup.

 

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Meet Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written 34 mysteries in four series: the bestselling Dead-End Job series with South Florida PI Helen Hawthorne, the cozy Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mysteries, and the dark Francesca Vierling mysteries. With the Angela Richman Death Investigator series, Elaine returns to her hardboiled roots and uses her experience as a stroke survivor and her studies at the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course. Elaine was a director at large for the Mystery Writers of America. She’s a frequent contributor to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and anthologies edited by Charlaine Harris and Lawrence Block. Elaine won the Anthony, Agatha and Lefty Awards.

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Welcome Elaine Viets, and thank you for joining us!

Please give us some background – have you always wanted to be a writer?

At first, I wanted to be an artist, until I realized I didn’t have any artistic talent. In high school, my teachers steered me toward a career in writing and encouraged me to go to Journalism School at the University of Missouri. I worked my way through college proofreading medical books, Missouri Supreme Court briefs and phone books. That last job was incredibly boring. I was hired by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after graduation, as a fashion writer. Later, I became a feature writer and finally a humor columnist. I was syndicated by United Features in New York. Working for a newspaper was good training to be a novelist. I learned the importance of deadlines and also how to write realistic dialogue. You never want someone to quote you absolutely accurately, with every um, uh, and hesitation.

 

Why did you decide to write mystery novels?

I love reading mysteries. I had my mother’s set of Nancy Drews, the red-backed ones. Nancy drove a roadster. I had no idea what that was, but figured it was sort of like a Miata, which was definitely cool. I graduated to Agatha Christie and by then I was hooked. I had a three-book a week mystery habit. When the newspaper business began to fall apart in the mid-1990s, I quit to write mysteries.

 

Tell us about the first novel you wrote and how you came up with the story.

My first mystery was called “Backstab.” It was a newspaper series featuring a six-feet-tall columnist named Francesca Vierling. Since I am six-feet tall and had been a columnist, it wasn’t much of a creative stretch. I enjoyed satirizing the newspaper life of the time and killed off a number of editors. (Especially the ones who butchered my copy.) I wrote about the quirky side of my hometown of St. Louis, and some of my favorite people and places, including a bar and restaurant called Dieckmeyers, which served the city specialty, brain sandwiches. Brains – usually cow brains – were breaded and deep-fat fried.  In “Backstab,” two of Francesca’s good friends die suddenly. She’s convinced they were murdered, though the police are not. She investigates their deaths.

 

You’ve written four different series.  Can you tell us a little about each one of those and how they differ from each other?

The first series, the Francesca Vierling series, is a newspaper mystery, set in the mid-1990s. It stopped after four novels, when Dell ended its paperback mystery division.

The Dead-End Job mysteries came second. Helen Hawthorne, a St. Louis woman on the run from her greedy ex-husband, winds up in South Florida, working low-paying jobs for cash under the table. I’ve written twelve books in this series, and Helen had a different dead-end job for each mystery, from hotel maid to cat groomer. I worked many of those jobs. The worst was telemarketer.

My publisher asked me to start the Josie Marcus, mystery shopper series featuring Josie, a single mom and mystery shopper. My own mother was a mystery shopper, so I knew a little about that profession. I wrote 10 Josie books before I ended that very cozy series.

My current series is the Angela Richman, Death Investigator mysteries. I’ve just turned in book seven in that series, “The Dead of Night,” based on a legend from Transylvania University. (And yes, that’s a real university in Kentucky.) All these series are available as e-books.

 

What’s your writing process? Do you start with plot or characters or some combination? Are you a plotter or pantser?

Some combination. I always know the killer and the victims when I start a mystery, and I have a good idea of the story. I used to be a dedicated plotter, and worked out every scene in advance. My outlines were often 80 pages. But now that I’ve written more than thirty mysteries, I’m turning into a pantser. I’m letting the story develop. It feels freer that way.

 

What are your plans for future novels? Do you have another series in mind?

I have one more Angela Richman mystery on my contract with Severn House, and then I’ll have to decide my next move.

 

When you’re not writing, what do you do for fun?

I live in Hollywood, Florida, right on the ocean, and I love to go for long walks along the water. These walks are not only peaceful, they’re a good way to work out plots. Plus, I see so many quirky people, like the man who rides a bike with his cockatoo on the handlebars. I enjoy going out with my husband Don and our friends. I also enjoy reading. My condo has a 24-hour library, so if I need a mystery in the middle of the night, I can get it.

 

What advice would you give an aspiring mystery author?

Read. Whether you are traditionally published or indie, know who the leaders are in your subgenre. Read the masters and the emerging writers. Check out the Latina and Latino writers, writers of color and LGBTQ+ writers.

Study your craft. Know the basic rules of grammar, and the “rules” of mystery writing. You may want to break every one of them, but know them first. If you have problems with grammar, hire an editor or ask a friend for help.

Join. Writers understand other writers. Join the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime. There’s also the Short Mystery Fiction Society if you write short stories. Join local writers groups, too. I belong to the Florida Writers Association.

Attend the conferences. The  Bouchercon World Mystery convention, ThrillerFest, SleuthFest and Malice Domestic are just a few. These conferences are good places to find editors and agents, discuss the issues currently affecting writers, or find a writing partner.

And last but not least.

Write. Every day if you can, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Writers write. As much fun as it is to hang out in the bar at writers’ conferences, you still have to sit alone at the computer and write.

 

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

Check out my Website at elaineviets.com. Here’s also a TV interview about my new mystery, LATE FOR HIS FUNERAL. https://www.youtube.com/embed/_m9mPIOpRpY.

 

Thank you, Elaine, for being with us today.

And thanks, Kay, for interviewing me.

The Craft of Writing — October 2022

As we continue our year-long interviews of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy authors, I’m excited to welcome fellow Memphian and award-winning author Andrew McClurg. Andrew writes fiction under the pseudonym Dorian Box, and his Emily Calby thriller series has won numerous awards.

 

   

 

Award-winning author Dorian Box on The Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet

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Meet Andrew McClurg (aka Dorian Box)

Dorian Box is an award-winning author and former law professor. His nonfiction books include an Amazon Editors’ Favorite Book of the Year. In fiction, he likes to blend dark themes with heart, hope, and humor.

His novels have received honors and awards from Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest, IndieReader, Readers’ Favorite, Feathered Quill, BestThrillers.com, and the National Indie Excellence Awards.

In his academic life, Box won numerous awards for both teaching and research and wrote thousands, possibly millions, of scholarly footnotes. He’s been interviewed as a legal expert by National Public Radio, the PBS Newshour, the New York Times, and many other sources.

Dorian spent the last decade living out his childhood rock star fantasies singing and playing in cover bands that earned tens of dollars sweating it out until two a.m. in Memphis dive bars.

 

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Welcome Andrew McClurg, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay! It’s great to be here, especially with one of my favorite Memphis authors.

 

Please give us some background – have you always wanted to be a writer?

I really have. My mother was a newspaper reporter who raised me to love the written word. I was editor of my high school newspaper and went on to get a journalism degree from the University of Florida, always intending to follow in my mighty mom’s footsteps. Then in my last semester it sunk in she barely earned a living wage despite having won numerous awards and being nominated for two Pulitzers, so I took the LSAT and went to law school.

As a law professor in the “publish or perish” world of academia, writing was big part of my job. I published a lot over the years, including several nonfiction books. But all along my dream was to be a novelist.

My first effort at fiction was a Grisham-type legal thriller. I sent it to only one agent and she said I should use it as a “learning bike.” So I junked it and began working on a mystery/thriller in the “wacky Florida fiction” vein à la Carl Hiaasen, but with a dark side, like all my books.

This was back in the nineties. I had an agent for it, but nothing ever happened. So I stuck it in a drawer. From time to time, I’d think about revising it, but so much had changed technology-wise I couldn’t figure out how to do it. The advent of the internet, smartphones, etc. ruined mystery writing! Then one day a light went on. I dug out the Word document, typed “1995” in large bold font on the first page and problem solved. I published it in 2015 under the title Psycho-Tropics, and the feedback I got amped up my desire to write more fiction. I began working on the Emily Calby Series as a side-hobby and recently retired as a law prof to pursue writing fiction fulltime.

 

Why did you decide to write thrillers?

I’ve always loved suspense, but my books aren’t typical thrillers. There’s plenty of action and plot surprises, but my biggest strengths are probably character development and relationships. I like to compose compelling human stories that evoke emotions. One of the best compliments I ever received was from a reviewer of The Hiding Girl (Emily Calby Book 1) who said, “My husband kept asking me why I was crying.” But other reviews of the same book talk about the humor in the relationship between Emily and her mentor, Lucas. So my books are a mixed bag of dark and light. I appreciated it when IndieReader awarded The Hiding Girl its 2021 Discovery Award for Fiction (second place), rather than in a subcategory like thrillers/suspense. They saw it as more than just a thriller. I like to think of Emily’s journey as a coming-of-age story, albeit a sometimes dark and grisly one.

 

How did you come up with the story for the The Hiding Girl?

I wish I understood better how my stories come about. For The Hiding Girl, different parts probably came from different places. In general, I’ve always been a fan of sympathetic underdogs who face overwhelming odds in high-stakes situations.

The seed for The Hiding Girl was a horrific true crime home invasion against a family, a couple with two daughters, that received national media coverage. It was the worst crime I could ever imagine. It stayed with me for years. I started the book with a similarly awful home invasion set in rural Georgia, with 12-year-old Emily as the only survivor. Everyone thinks she was killed, burned up in a fire, but she survived and went on the run.

She ends up in Memphis where she meets Lucas Jackson, a hardened ex-gang member who lost his own family to violence. That part of the story probably came from living in Memphis, along with years of academic research into gun violence, including gang violence. Lucas takes her in off the streets and they become unlikely allies and ultimately family. Their unusual relationship—the rural, religious White girl and the much older inner-city Black male—is the heart of the entire series. Lucas teaches her a lot, including what he insists on calling “self-defense” skills, but which Emily sees as tools to obtain justice.

Emily’s psyche is fractured from the trauma and a central thread in the book is her fighting to cope with her psychological disintegration. That part is probably related to my own trauma and grief issues, which, while certainly not as extreme as Emily’s, gave me a basis for writing about them honestly.

But this is all speculation. I don’t really know for sure where my stories come from.

 

The Hiding Girl was a great success, and you’ve turned it into a series. Can you tell us a little about each one of the other books in the series?

It’s a trilogy that tracks Emily’s life forward from the day of the home invasion to her first semester of law school. The books are spaced four years apart in Emily’s life. She’s twelve years old in The Hiding Girl, sixteen in The Girl in Cell 49B (book 2), and twenty and starting law school in Target: The Girl (book 3). So readers basically get to watch Emily grow up. Although probably best read in order, they’re designed as standalones. Each title involves a distinct plot and setting.

Book 2, The Girl in Cell 49B, finds Emily—the notorious “missing Calby girl”—arrested for murder on her 16th birthday and extradited to a corrupt juvenile detention center in Louisiana where she battles a vindictive prosecutor willing to resort to any means to convict her. Thwarted by the law at every turn, she discovers a hidden prison law library and buries herself in the books, determined to fight back, in effect casting her destiny. All the while, the dark secrets behind the prison walls are closing in. Much of the book focuses on Emily’s explosive trial, so it’s an unusual legal thriller.

In book 3, Target: The Girl, Emily, now twenty and firmly established as a justice-seeker, starts law school in Florida after Lucas made her give up violence as a path to justice and rely on the law. But trouble follows Emily wherever she goes. Someone appears to be stalking her, but because she lives in a constant state of hypervigilance from her trauma, she thinks she’s imagining it. She’s not, and there are plenty of suspects along the way.

 

What’s your writing process? Do you start with plot or characters or some combination?

I read about authors who plot everything out in advance. I’m the opposite. I just start writing. I have a protagonist in mind and a vague notion of a plot, but most of my plotting and characters spring to life organically as I write. It’s what I love most about fiction writing compared to all my years of scholarly writing. I love sitting at the keyboard wondering what’s going to happen next. I’ll be typing along and, “Oh, no! I can’t believe that happened. Poor Emily!”

But I don’t just write straight through from beginning to end like some author friends of mine. I frequently hit a wall where I’m not sure what should happen next. What a lot of people call “writer’s block,” I call “plot block.” Writing is easy when you know where you’re going. So I’ll often pause to figure things out. Sometimes it takes several days.

As I’m sure you can attest, it’s impossible to just stare at a keyboard and make ideas pop into your head, so I create documents as I go along titled, “Plotting from page ### forward,” and dish out as many ideas as I can. Often the puzzle piece I’m seeking will come to me when I’m taking a walk, or a shower, or lying in bed. I’ll text it to myself so I don’t forget it. I’m constantly adjusting characters and plot, both forward and backward. Fiction writing is very polycentric. When you change one thing, it usually affects other things.

Maybe it’s my academic background, but I research everything as I go. Not that I’m above taking literary license when necessary, but I find that seeking factual accuracy, even about small things, not only enhances credibility, but creates new ideas all along the way. I wrote a blog post about it.

As an example, in The Hiding Girl Emily has to get from Memphis to Lafayette, Louisiana by bus. It would have been easy to just have her board a direct bus ride. Few people, including me until I researched it, would have known that the only Greyhound route from Memphis to Lafayette leaves at 3:20 a.m. and first goes to Little Rock, then Texarkana, and then Shreveport. Sticking to this seemingly insignificant actual schedule ended up stimulating one of the most important plot developments in the book.

 

I’m fascinated with your pen name. Why did you decide to write under a pseudonym and how did you come up with Dorian Box?

It was a difficult decision. After all, one of the pleasures of writing a book is seeing your name on it. I was still a law professor when I published Psycho-Tropics and also The Hiding Girl. As you know from reading The Hiding Girl, some of the content is edgy and profanity is common. I wrote to a lawyer who had penned a blog post on using pseudonyms, explained my dilemma, and asked what he thought. His good advice was if you’re thinking you should use a pen name, you probably should. So I did it to keep my fiction-writing life compartmentalized from my public persona as a law prof. I only came out as Dorian Box after I left law teaching. Even some of my close friends didn’t know about it, which certainly made it harder to market books!

As for how I came up with the name, I wish I had a better story. I started with A.J. McNash, which at least had my initials in, but it sounded generic and bor-ing. I read a blog post that said if you’re going to use a pen name, you might as well make it something memorable. That made sense.

One evening I was lounging around with a then-girlfriend talking about pen names. It’s possible we were in a slightly altered state. She said, “What’s the pen name going to be?” I paused, stared at the wall and said, “Dorian Box.” She laughed and said, “B-O-X-E?” I said, “Nope, just B-O-X.” She asked how in the world I came up with that. I wish I had a more inspiring explanation. In front of me was a doorway (Ding! “Dorian”). Next to it was a square speaker (Ding! Box). Dorian Box was born, haha.

 

What are your plans for future novels? Do you have another series in mind?

Emily fans keep asking if there will be a book 4 and if I were wiser, that’s what I would be working on. But after book 3, I was feeling kind of Emily-ed out. So I took a break and wrote a couple of middle-grade books which I actually like a lot. But I did it without first researching that you need a traditional publisher with middle-grade books because they all go through the school/library pipeline and only traditional publishers can accomplish that. I sent out some slush-pile email queries to agents and you know how that goes. I’m too impatient to spend years chasing needles in haystacks, one of the things I love about indie publishing.

So I set them aside for now and started writing a sequel to my first novel, Psycho-Tropics. It’s another wacky Florida fiction thriller. I grew up in South Florida and have always been a huge fan of the three giants of the genre: Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, and Laurence Shames. I’m approaching the end of a first draft. It’s amazing how much faster I can write now that it’s my fulltime job!

But I can’t imagine not returning to Emily at some point. She’s part of me.

 

What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?

Understand that thrillers is a tough market to break out in because there’s so much competition. With more than a million new books published on Amazon every year, that’s probably true of all genre fiction. Added to that, surveys show about a quarter of adults admit to not having read a single book in the past twelve months. So write because you love to write, not with the expectation that you’re writing the next Gone Girl. Of course, always keep that hope!

Thrillers are difficult to market for the same reason. It’s much easier to target an audience and find a traditional publisher for a nonfiction book.

Read every book out there that resembles the writing style, genre, and protagonist you have in mind. In writing the Emily Calby Series, I learned so much from reading and studying the craft of thriller authors like Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott, Tana French, Lisa Jewell, and Lisa Wingate. And my overall writing style is strongly influenced by Elmore Leonard, who taught me two valuable lessons for writing fiction: try to leave out the parts people skim over and if it reads like writing, rewrite it. The latter is particularly true with respect to dialogue. I always read it out loud, even imitating the characters’ voices, as I write and edit it.

 

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

The easiest way is to just Google “Dorian Box.” That’s another good thing about an unusual pen name. My website is dorianbox.com. People can also find me on Goodreads and on Facebook at “dorianboxbooks”. If you want to learn more about my alter-ego, Andrew McClurg, Google the name and you’ll find way more than you’d ever want to know.

 

Thank you, Andrew, for being with us today.

Thank you, Kay! It’s a been a pleasure.

Award-winning thriller author Dorian Box on The Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet

The Craft of Writing — September 2022

As we continue our year-long interviews of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy authors, I’m excited to welcome Sue Coletta, a colleague from the Kill Zone Blog. Sue is an author of psychological thrillers and true crime, and she has a large backlist of titles.

Her latest novel is HALOED. Click the image to go to the Amazon detail page for the book.


 

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Meet Sue Coletta

Sue Coletta is an award-winning crime writer and an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. Feedspot and Expertido.org awarded her Murder Blog with “Best 100 Crime Blogs on the Net” (Murder Blog sits at #5 — 2018-2022). She also blogs at the Kill Zone, Writer’s Digest “101 Best Websites for Writers” (2013-2022), and Writers Helping Writers.

Sue teaches a virtual course about serial killers for EdAdvance in CT and a condensed version for her fellow Sisters in Crime. She’s appeared on the Emmy award-winning true crime series, Storm of Suspicion. In the fall she’s slated to appear on another true crime show for CineFlix. Learn more about Sue and her books at www.suecoletta.com.

 

Thriller Author Sue Coletta shares her writing journey on the Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet

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Welcome Sue Coletta, and thank you for joining us!

Happy to be here, Kay!

 

Please give us some background – have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes and no. I worked as a paralegal and owned/operated a hair salon for years. In my 20s I wrote children’s books, believe it or not, but not for publication. Only for friends’ kids to enjoy. But I quickly learned the power of the written word. Through these children stories I could hide a point that I’d tried to get across verbally to no avail. When my boyfriend (at the time) read each story, he understood what I’d been trying to tell him.

 

Why did you decide to write crime novels?

For several years I longed to write psychological thrillers with underlying mysteries, but I never believed I could do it. Then my husband and I put an offer on a house two hours north in a small, rural town. From the very first moment we strode through the door the house became my muse. While waiting to pass papers, I envisioned myself writing. Sounds bizarre, I know, but it’s true. Something told me I was meant to fulfill my destiny in this house. Later, after we moved in, we’d cruise the backroads, admiring the tranquil beauty while finding our way around, getting familiar with our new area, and I couldn’t help but notice all the perfect spots to dump a body. And that finally lit the spark for my first novel.

 

You’ve written several different series.  Can you tell us a little about each one of those?

Sure. My Grafton County Series focuses on a crime writer, Sage, who barely escaped a serial killer’s clutches in Boston. After the attack, Sage and her husband Niko left Boston and headed north to New Hampshire, where Niko accepted the position of Grafton County Sheriff. They both carried scars from that fateful night in Boston.

The Grafton County Series includes detailed investigations that run alongside Sage’s sleuthing, and often the two overlap and cause conflict. There’s an underlying mystery in each novel, a whodunnit. Fast paced and emotional, with alternating POVs from Sage, Niko, and his snarky deputy, Frankie.

The main themes for the series are…

  • Family first. Breaking this rule makes you vulnerable to predators.
  • Love conquers all.
  • You can’t outrun the past.

The Mayhem Series novels are textbook psychological thrillers, where the reader knows who the bad guy is right away. They’re cat-and-mouse, with a mind-numbingly fast pace. The main character is Shawnee Daniels, who runs the Cybercrimes Division for the police by day, cat burglar by night. She straddles the line of legality, but her heart’s in the right place. By targeting white collar criminals, she steals to repay the people who the criminals ripped off. Shawnee has a knack for breaking into the wrong home at the wrong time, making her the target of some brutal killers over the years.

Without destroying the reader’s journey, all I can say is the Mayhem Series has transformed from Book 1 to Book 5 into a spiritual awakening for Shawnee, with deep roots in Native American culture, tradition, and folklore. She’s still snarky and badass with a knack for getting into trouble. But now, she uses her cat burglar and hacking skills for a different reason. Can’t say more than that without spoilers.

What’s your latest book?

My latest book is HALOED, the final Grafton County novel. Though it’s book five, HALOED can easily be read as a standalone without feeling lost.

Description:

She may be paranoid, but is she right?

A string of gruesome murders rocks the small town of Alexandria, New Hampshire, with all the victims staged to resemble dead angels, and strange pink and red balloons appearing out of nowhere.

All the clues point to the Romeo Killer’s return. Except one: He died eight years ago.

Paranoid and on edge, Sage’s theory makes no sense. Dead serial killers don’t rise from the grave. Yet she swears he’s here, hungering for the only angel to slip through his grasp—Sage.

With only hours left to live, how can Sage convince her Sheriff husband before the sand in her hourglass runs out?

 

What’s your writing process? Do you start with plot or characters or some combination?

Since my characters are already well-established, I start with plot and one burning question—how can I outdo the previous book?

 

What are your plans for future novels? Do you have another series in mind?

Right now, I’m concentrating on the Mayhem Series. For a while I batted around an idea for a different series, but the characters in my Mayhem Series fit the plot. Hence why the series keeps twisting and turning. Just when readers get comfortable in the story world, everything flips on its head. 😉

 

What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?

My advice would be to master the fine art of misdirection. You have to play fair. In hindsight, all the clues must be visible. Psychological thrillers require mind games, lots of twists, lots of turns. Becoming one with your characters is vitally important. You need to know them as well as yourself. Even your villains. Nailing characterization, emotion, and a deep point of view are key areas in making psychological thrillers work. If the reader’s mind wanders, you’re toast. Grab them by the throat in the first chapter and don’t let go till the end, then leave them wanting more.

 

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

The best place is my website: https://suecoletta.com

Murder Blog (where you can join my newsletter): https://suecoletta.com/murder-blog/

 

Thank you, Sue, for being with us today.

Thanks, Kay. J

Thriller author Sue Coletta shares her writing journey on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet

The Craft of Writing — August 2022

The Craft of Writing — August 2022

with Patricia Bradley

I am thrilled to welcome romantic suspense author Patricia Bradley to the Craft of Writing blog today as we continue our year-long interviews of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy authors. Patricia is the author of several series. Her latest novel, Deception is book #4 in the Natchez Trace Park Rangers series.

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Meet Patricia Bradley

 

Patricia Bradley is a Romantic Suspense Selah winner, Carol and Daphne du Maurier finalist and the winner of an Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award. Three anthologies that included her stories debuted on the USA Today Best Seller List.

She and her two cats call Northeast Mississippi home–the South is also where she sets most of her books. Her romantic suspense novels include the Logan Point series, the Memphis Cold Case Novels, and the Natchez Trace Park Rangers. She now hard at work on the second book in her new Pearl River series set in the Cumberland Plateau area above Chattanooga.

Writing workshops include American Christian Fiction Writers, the Mid-South Christian Writer’s Conference, the KenTen and Scrivener retreats where she was the keynote, Memphis American Christian Fiction Writer group, and the Bartlett Christian Writers group. When she has time, she likes to throw mud on a wheel and see what happens.

 

Romantic Suspense author Patricia Bradley is my interview guest on The Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet

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Welcome Patricia Bradley, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you for having me on your blog, Kay.

 

Please give us some background – have you always wanted to be a writer?

Until I turned thirty-five I was a reader. Writing a novel had not crossed my mind. Then one night when I couldn’t sleep, a man appeared in my vision. He stood staring out a window with smokestacks billowing in the background. Then he turned toward me and said, “This isn’t the way my life was supposed to turn out.”

That blew me away, and I began to tell myself stories about what had happened in his life to make him say that. Soon other people came to live in my head and they weren’t content with me telling their story in my mind. They wanted printed matter. I bought a subscription to Writers Digest Magazine and began my writing journey on an old Hermes portable typewriter. If computers hadn’t come along I’m not sure I would have ever tried to write a novel.

 

Why did you decide to write romantic suspense novels?

That’s all I’ve ever read. Originally, Mary Higgins Clarke was my favorite author along with Patricia Highsmith, Lawrence Block, and Agatha Christie, of course. Oh! And the one that started me on that path—Walter Farley with his Black Stallion series.

 

Tell us about the first novel you wrote and how you came up with the story.

The very first novel I wrote will never, ever see the light of day—it was shredded years ago. However, I did take several of the characters over to my first published novel—Shadows of the Past. The idea came after I had put aside writing fiction for six years to work in the abstinence program. RISE to Your Dreams, the abstinence curriculum I’d cowritten was finished, and I’d cut my hours back.

One morning in my quiet time a woman appeared in my thoughts. She told me her name was Taylor and someone was trying to kill her. I was jumping-up-and-down happy. God had given me my suspense stories back—for six years I hadn’t had one single romantic suspense thought. But now that the curriculum and a workbook were finished, I was free to go back to my mysteries!

 

You’ve written several different series.  Can you tell us a little about each one of those?

The Logan Point Series is set in a fictional town just outside of Memphis. I actually took the area where I live now—Corinth, MS and the Tennessee River around Pickwick and moved them down to Memphis. I even asked my editor if I should note that in a foreword and she said, “No, it’s fiction.”

 

What’s your latest book?

Deception, Natchez Trace Park Rangers, Book 4 released August 2nd.  Here’s the back cover copy:

After being forced to kill an FBI agent gone rogue in self-defense while working in the violent crimes unit for the Investigative Services Branch, ranger Madison Thorn is comfortable with her move to the fraud and cyber division. At least numbers don’t lie. So she’s less than thrilled when a white-collar crime investigation in Natchez, Mississippi, turns violent. She could also do without being forced to work with former-childhood-enemy-turned-infuriatingly-handsome park ranger Clayton Bradshaw.

When a woman who looks just like Madison is attacked on the same night Madison’s grandfather is shot, it becomes clear that there is something much bigger going on here and that Madison herself is in danger. Madison and Clayton will have to work together–and suppress their growing feelings for one another–if they are to discover the truth before it’s too late.)

 

What’s your writing process? Do you start with plot or characters or some combination?

I usually start out with an image of a character in my mind, involved with a crime. Then I have to know why the crime happens now. Why not last year, or six months from now. And it goes from there.

 

What are your plans for future novels? Do you have another series in mind?

I’m working on a series set in the Cumberland Plateau up around Chattanooga—the Pearl River Series. But I’m not one of those authors who has a bag full of ideas. Usually while I’m working on a current series, ideas will pop into my head for another series. For my fifth series, I’m thinking about a skip tracer—that’s someone who finds people who are living off the grid.

 

What advice would you give an aspiring author of romantic suspense / mystery?

I would give them the same advice I give any new or aspiring writer—learn the craft—things like show, don’t tell, learn how to write dialogue, how to ask what if. And don’t publish the first thing you write. Let it rest, then go back and work on it again. Writing is rewriting.

 

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

I love to connect with my readers on my blog. Every Tuesday I post a Mystery Question—four scenarios, usually crimes. Three are true and I make one up and ask my readers if they can figure out which one I made up. We have a lot of fun with that one. Then on Friday I post a review of a book I’ve read along with the first line and invite my readers to share the first line of the book they’re reading.

You can also find me on social media:

Blog: www.patriciabradleyauthor.com/blog
Twitter: @ptbradley1
FaceBook: www.facebook.com/patriciabradleyauthor
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ptbradley1/
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/ptbradley/

Thank you, Patricia, for being with us today.

Romantic Suspense author Patricia Bradley is my guest today on The Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet

The Craft of Writing — July 2022

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – JULY 2022

With Garry Rodgers

I am thrilled to welcome Garry Rodgers to the Craft of Writing blog today as we continue our year-long interviews of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy authors. A Canadian living in the beautiful city of Vancouver, BC, Garry is a former detective with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He’s currently in the midst of writing a twelve-book series of true-crime thrillers.

 

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Meet Garry Rodgers

Garry Rodgers is a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police serious crimes detective who went on to a second stint doing sudden and unexplained death investigations for the Province of British Columbia Coroners Service. In his younger years, Garry served as a marksman (sniper) on British Special Air Services (SAS) trained RCMP Emergency Response Teams. He’s also a recognized expert witness in Canadian courts on the identification and operation of firearms.

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The Craft of Writing blog welcomes former Canadian Mounted Police detective Garry Rodgers. Click To Tweet

 

Welcome Garry Rodgers, and thank you for joining us!

Pleasure’s all mine, Kay. Thanks so much for hosting me.

 

Your background in law enforcement sounds fascinating. Can you give us any additional details that aren’t in the bio?

I’ve spent over three decades being the guy no one wanted an appointment with. I was Dr. Death. My first twenty years were with the RCMP’s Serious Crimes Section where we spent 90+ percent of our time on homicide cases. Once I had enough of the injustice system, I retired and took a position as a coroner. And once I tired of body snatching, I reincarnated as a crime writer which has served me well (so far). One little detail of my policing background, I spent fourteen of those twenty years attached to the Emergency Response Team (SWAT in US terms). This was a volunteer role as an addition to regular duties. It kept me in shape.

 

What made you decide you wanted to write about some of your own true-crime experiences?

I’ve always been an avid reader and writer. As a detective, over half of the time was spent on paperwork. Report writing, drafting search warrant applications, wiretap authorizations, and prosecutor guidelines. Because I was okay with written words, I got a lot of critical work sent my way. Legal stuff has to be letter perfect or it gets tossed. And as a coroner, there’s an equal amount of paper. I liked writing, and I thought in my later years (I’m now sixty-five) I could pass-on some of the true stories I encountered and tell it the way it really is—unlike some of the phoniness that’s out there.

 

Tell us about your twelve-book Based on True Crime Series.

I have eight books in this series written and published; In The Attic, Under The Ground, From The Shadows, Beside The Road, On The Floor, Between The Bikers, Beyond The Limits, and At The Cabin. I was about to start the ninth when I suddenly got sidetracked to develop a different series concept for a netstreaming company which is titled City Of Danger. While I was in the research phase for City Of Danger, I was approached by a different producer who optioned the film rights for my Based on True Crime Series. So, I’m back to that again and working on adopting the book manuscripts into screenplays. BTW, the true crime series has expanded from an initial twelve to now thirty storylines.

 

You’ve also written other titles.  Can you tell us a little about those?

My first novel was No Witnesses To Nothing with a sequel No Life Until Death. I think they’re my best work but, then, who am I to judge? I did one historical non-fiction on the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the real reason Custer lost it. Then, I’ve done a few sidelines like writing guides and one spiritual piece called Interconnect—Finding Your Place, Purpose, and Meaning in the Universe. I wrote that more to myself in trying to make sense of the big picture. I also did a screenplay called The Fatal Shot which is based on a true case I investigated where a woman killed her sleeping husband and used the Battered Woman Syndrome as her defense. It was much like The Burning Bed that Farrah Fawcett starred in years ago.

 

What’s your writing process? Do you start with plot or characters or some combination?

I’ve gone full circle with my writing process, Kay. My first go, No Witnesses To Nothing, was planned out like the Invasion of Normandy—a true plotter. I loosened up a bit as I progressed and did the Based on True Crime Series as a pantster. I was introduced to the Writing Into the Dark method (Dean Wesley Smith) which I found to be liberating—allowing me to get right into the zone and let the words flow at over 1,000 per hour. That style worked well for the true crime stuff because I knew the stories inside and out. I just had to get them down on paper. However, with City Of Danger I’m back to outlining because this is pure fiction and it has to make sense whereas many true crime stories make no sense at all. They just are. As for character vs plot, the more I do of this the more I see how crucial characterization is. Here’s a quote taped to my writing desk, “Audiences purchase your work because of your concept, but they embrace it because of your characters”.

 

What are your plans for future books after you finish your current series?

For the foreseeable future, I’m committed to producing content for the film industry. In fact, I just formed a support company called Twenty-Second Century Entertainment which is separate from my indie publishing business, DyingWords Digital and Print Media. Currently, I have four film projects underway, City Of Danger, Occam’s Razor (which is the working title for the true crime series), The Fatal Shot, and a co-produced screenplay titled Lightning Man.

 

What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?

I’ll pass this on from my writing friend and mentor, Adam Croft, who says, “Butt in chair. Fingers on keys. Write more books.” And this one from Stephen King, “Read a lot. Write a lot.” And from me. “Be a life-long learner.” I feel every aspiring author should absorb these books; Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, On Writing by Stephen King, Elements of Style by Strunk & White, Wired For Story by Lisa Cron, Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us by Jessica Page Morrell, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

 

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

My website is DyingWords.net where I have most of my books linked. I have an active blog where I post fresh meat every second Saturday morning at 8:00 am PST precisely. I also have a page on the site with many links to writing and forensic resources. I’m not much for social media. Facebook has hugely gone downhill. I have a Twitter handle @GarryRodgers1 and an Amazon Author page. Oh, and I’m a regular contributor to the Kill Zone blog.

 

Thank you, Garry, for being with us today.

Again. Pleasure’s all mine. Thanks for hosting me, Kay!

 

The Craft of Writing blog welcomes former Canadian Mounted Police detective Garry Rodgers. Click To Tweet

The Craft of Writing — June 2022

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JUNE 2022

with FRANK DIBIANCA

As we continue our year-long dive into mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels, I’m especially excited and proud to introduce today’s interviewee, Frank DiBianca. Frank’s debut novel, Laser Trap, releases today! Click the image to go to the Amazon page.

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Meet Frank DiBianca

Frank DiBianca is a former medical physics and biomedical engineering teaching and research professor. He has written numerous novels and short stories in the suspense, romance and sci-fi genres. His first traditionally published novel is LASER TRAP: A SUSPENSE NOVEL, Iron Stream Fiction (2022) a romance-laden suspense. Frank and his award-winning wife, Kay, are both full-time writers who assist each other in their manuscript development.

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Debut author Frank DiBianca shares his long and happy journey to publication. Click To Tweet

 

Welcome Frank DiBianca, and thank you for joining us!

Kay, it’s wonderful to be on your blog! Thank you.

 

Please give us some background – have you always wanted to be a writer?

Well, my first “official” publication was in fourth grade when the publisher of the class newspaper asked me for a story. I wrote him “The Unknown Element” a sci-fi story about a new atomic element that had devastating properties. When all the teachers said they didn’t understand it, I knew I was off to a career in elementary particle physics! So. I suppose the answer to your question is “yes,” as a career in retirement.

 

What got you interested in writing novels?

I promised the Lord that I would use my later years to create and publish stories that magnify Him in a gentle, non-evangelizing manner, using compelling ideas and language.

 

How did you come to write Laser Trap, your first novel, which is being released today?

In 2013, I wrote a 9,000-word romantic short-story called The Love Coach (TLC). Then, I went through a long period of literary development and attendance at numerous writing conferences, which both helped me and discouraged me at times (because I had so much to learn). My main writing focus moved from TLC to a 120,000-word sci-fi novel called Centaur, and then back to TLC, by now a full-length novel with considerable suspense added. It was contracted in 2021 by Iron Stream Media and, by 2022, it had been further edited, rewritten, and rebalanced into a 78,000-word suspense romance novel by my publisher, Iron Stream Fiction, an imprint of Iron Stream Media.

 

What were the main obstacles and successes that allowed you to go from a writer with good ideas but shaky writing techniques to one with a debut novel that the book’s endorsers and reviewers are excited about?

Let’s hope this continues, but the short answer is a lot of prayer, seven outstanding editors (eight, including the editor who passed my manuscript on to the person who would become my Managing Editor at ISM), and a multi-published, award-winning novelist wife who was always there for me. A longer, and much more complete, answer can be found in my recent ACFW blog, The Long but Happy Path of a Debut Suspense Novelist.

 

Do you have plans for future books?

Yes. I’m writing a book that uses very simple math and geometry to magnify the Lord. I’m also working on a sequel to Laser Trap.

 

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

I could have cut my start-up time by more than half (several years!) by doing three things much earlier:

  • Get a developmental editor or writing coach long before you finish the first draft of a novel. If she will allow it, send her your synopsis or plot summary and as soon as you write them, sections of your novel. There are many stages of editing you will need later to be successful.
  • Even if you have a degree in English Composition, you still have to learn the structure, style, and much more of modern fiction, and this depends on the genre you want to write in. How-to-write-fiction books, YouTube videos, writing conferences, and so on, are very helpful.
  • Read, read, read in your genre. Choose highly-rated, well-recommended novels. Record and store in binders your impressions as you read (How you do this depends on the format: paperback, e-book . . . !). You should give serious consideration to writing a short review and (a) filing it, as well as (b) publishing it (on Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) This will be very helpful to you, the author, and potential readers of the book!

 

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

Because of multiple rewrites of Laser Trap, I have had scant time to update my author’s website frankdibianca.com, but after today’s June 7 book release, I will list all the unpublished prose and poetry I’ve written, as well as the new novel, now being published by Iron Stream Fiction.

 

Thank you, Frank, for being with us today.

It’s been a pleasure being with you, Kay, and in the shadows of some impressive predecessors.

 

Debut author Frank DiBianca shares his long and happy journey to publication. Click To Tweet

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.

Blackthorne, Inc.
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.

Mapleton Mystery
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.

Triple-D Ranch
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

The Craft of Writing — April 2022

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — APRIL 2022

WITH JOHN GILSTRAP

Today the CRAFT OF WRITING blog continues its 2022 deep dive into mystery, suspense, and thriller novels by welcoming thriller author John Gilstrap. John is the author of over twenty-five novels, including one of my favorites, Nathan’s Run.

In addition to his popular Jonathan Grave series, John is developing the Victoria Emerson series of thrillers. A few of his books are shown below.

If you’re interested in thrillers – either reading or writing them – this is your opportunity to interact with one of the masters.

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When John Gilstrap’s first novel, Nathan’s Run, hit the market in 1996, it set the literary world on fire. Publication rights sold in 23 countries, the movie rights were scooped up at auction by Warner Brothers, and John changed professions. A safety engineer by training and education, he specialized in explosives and hazardous materials, and also served 15 years in the fire and rescue service, rising to the rank of lieutenant.

More than twenty books and seven movie projects later, it’s been a good run, and it’s still running

Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, hazardous materials, and fire behavior. John lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia.

Please visit John’s website, www.johngilstrap.com for more information.

 

Interview with thriller writer John Gilstrap on the Craft of Writing blog Click To Tweet

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Welcome John Gilstrap, and thank you for joining us!

Thanks for having me.

 

 Please give us some background – have you always wanted to be a writer?

Perhaps this is a distinction without a difference, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve always enjoyed writing and telling stories—but I can’t say that I always wanted to be a writer, at least not as a profession. In high school, I was the editor of the school newspaper, and I was enamored with the notion of being an investigative reporter. The reality of that work, however, runs counter to my nature. I don’t like to stick my nose into other people’s business.

I ended up pursuing other avenues as a profession—safety engineering with a specialty in explosives and hazardous materials—and I continued to write stories in the way that knitters knit sweaters and blankets. It was a way to relax. I didn’t think of those efforts as leading to any sales until I wrote Nathan’s Run in 1994 and I realized that it was a special story.

 

Why did you decide to write thrillers?

I’m not sure that I ever consciously decided to write thrillers, per se. I wanted to write exciting stories. It wasn’t until after I’d sold Nathan’s Run that I was told by my publisher that it was a thriller. Twenty-six years after the publication of that first novel, I still try to write exciting stories, and now I know what the genre is.

 

I loved reading Nathan’s Run. Can you tell us how you came up with the story?

Thank you. I wanted to write a story in which the protagonist had to make a binary choice between doing his job and doing the right thing. That’s about all I had. I thought the protagonist should be a cop because I was deeply into my fire service years at the time, and I knew (and continue to know) many cops.

At the same time, I was named to chair a committee in Prince William County, Virginia, where I lived and worked at the time, whose responsibility it was to review the budgets of human service agencies with an eye toward trimming costs.

The first facility I visited was the juvenile detention center, where I saw a boy who was about 12 years old sitting by himself in a corner. He looked sad and terrified. I have no idea what he’d been accused of, but to me, he looked like a kid who could have been my own.

Another piece of the story fell into place. Suppose a kid escaped from a juvenile detention center and a cop had to chase him down? That felt about right. A lot of details needed to be filled in—all of the whys and therefores—but I knew there was enough story to chew on.

The final story took shape in my head as I was driving across Montana in a rental car whose radio was broken. In those eight hours, I had the beginning, middle and end all locked down in my head.

 

You’ve had great success with your Jonathan Grave series, and you have a new series, the Victoria Emerson thrillers. Can you tell us about each one of those and when the next books will be released?

Jonathan Grave is a former Special Forces operator who now runs a very special private investigation agency. The overt part of Security Solutions helps some of the biggest corporations in the world solve problems through very unconventional means. It’s the covert part of the company that is featured most in the books. Jonathan and his team perform freelance hostage rescue operations. It’s not uncommon for Uncle Sam to ask him to perform tasks that governments can’t legally ask people to do. The next Grave book, Lethal Game, will hit the stands on the last Tuesday in June.

My Victoria Emerson series imagines the aftermath of Hell Day, a nuclear war that kills hundreds of millions of people yet leaves hundreds of millions more to cope with the challenges of rebuilding something that looks like a society. A former member of the House of Representatives, Victoria and her family are preppers and are uniquely suited to survival under harsh conditions. When they wander into the little town of Ortho, West Virginia, their intent is merely to spend the night and move on, but conditions don’t allow that. The people of the town are in a panic in the aftermath of the Hell Day attacks, and when they turn to Victoria for leadership, she can’t say no.

 

What’s your writing process? Do you start with plot or characters or some combination?

I can’t separate plot and character in my head. When I write, I write the story, which by definition to me is interesting people doing interesting things in interesting places. Thus, plot, character and setting are not separate things in my mind.

 

What are your plans for future novels?

I am currently under contract for one more Victoria Emerson novel and two more Jonathan Grave novels. In addition, I would like to dabble in more short stories in the coming years, and I’m collaborating with two other writers to crank out an old-school Western. That one will be a long time coming, simply because it’s not at the top of any of our lists of things to do.

 

What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?

Never lose sight of the fact that you’re writing a thriller. Hopefully, it’s a well thought out thriller populated with strong, compelling characters, yet remember that readers will be attracted to you work primarily for the thrill ride. In this genre, pacing is everything. That doesn’t mean an explosion on every page, necessarily, but those long descriptive scenes of happy people doing happy things happily probably need to be cut.

 

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

My website is always a good place to start. There, you’ll find links to the books, biographical information, my YouTube channel and Facebook page, and pictures of Kimber, the cutest puppy on the planet—and the newest addition to the Gilstrap family.

 

Thank you, John, for being with us today.

Thanks for having me.

Interview with thriller writer John Gilstrap on the Craft of Writing blog Click To Tweet

 

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.

 

Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion - today on the Craft of Writing Blog Click To Tweet

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Welcome Debbie Burke, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay, for hosting me. As a special howdy to your readers, all books in the Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series are $.99 for today only (March 7). Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, and major online booksellers.

 

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!

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