Category Archives: Craft of Writing


The CRAFT OF WRITING BLOG continues in September with its 2023 focus on authors who write series. This month, the tables are turned, and I’m being interviewed about my series, The Watch Mysteries, by my good friend and colleague Debbie Burke.

Did you notice the pen in the image with the books? That’s the magnificent “Beginning of Time” pen that was hand-crafted by my good friend, author and craftsman, Steve Hooley. Inspired by the theme in The Watch Mysteries, the pen is built on 1870 Clocktower Pine, covered with black-as-night-sky dye, then coated with golden-stars glitter paint, and finally coated with a wet-gloss finish.

Here’s your chance to win the pen. The name of each person who enters a comment today will be put into a drawing, and I will post the name of the winner after 9 o’clock pm CDT tonight. So join the conversation and earn a chance to win. Many thanks to Steve for donating the pen for today’s post.

Former winners are excluded from the drawing. (But not from commenting!)

The fascinating subject of time. An interview with Kay DiBianca about her series, The Watch Mysteries. And a chance to win the beautiful Beginning of Time pen. Click To Tweet

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Now here’s Debbie:

I met Kay several years ago when she submitted an anonymous first page for critique at The Kill Zone. Her story featured two young wannabe detectives who charmed me and made me laugh. That promising first page turned into the book Time After Tyme. Kay and I have since become trusted colleagues and good friends. I’m honored to interview her today.

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Time is a major theme in your “Watch” mystery series. What inspired you to explore that topic?

I was out running when I decided to write my first novel. I was jogging past a long fence at the time, and I thought I could begin the novel by having the main character find a mysterious object on a fencepost while she was out running. (Ha!) I can’t remember why I decided on the watch as the “mysterious object,” but it may have been a subconscious desire to delve into my fascination with the subject of time.

From the perspective of writing, mysteries are usually a race against time. Find the killer before he/she can kill again. To emphasize that, a timepiece is always central to the stories.


What did you learn about time while writing your books? Are there insights that you hope readers will realize?

I’ve read some good books on the subjects of clocks, watches, and time. One thing I had fun learning about was the need for a reliable clock that could be used aboard ships so that the early explorers could pinpoint their position at sea. It’s a fascinating story told by Dava Sobel in her book Longitude. I wrote a post for the Kill Zone Blog on the subject.

As for insights, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that time is an equal-opportunity dimension. Rich or poor, everyone gets 24 hours in a day, and the way we choose to spend those hours is up to us. Although we may have constraints (jobs, family, obligations), our individual responses to the demands of time belong to each of us. Only we can decide.


Do you plan to continue the “Watch” series? Want to give readers a hint about what might be ahead for Kathryn and Cece?

Although I took a break for the last year or so to pursue a couple of other writing projects, I do plan to continue the Watch series. I think the main characters, half-sisters Kathryn and Cece, have a few more adventures to work on before I let them go. (And I want to know where they end up in their relationships with Phil and Ben.)

I’ve been playing with a few possible plot ideas. Maybe you or the folks who read this can help me think through them: 1) I’ve thought about sending the two young women off to Scotland when Kathryn is informed she’s one of the beneficiaries of a will left by a Scottish relative where some old mystery is smoldering. 2) Another idea is to have Kathryn run a marathon in an interesting world city where a murder happens during the course of the race. 3) A third possibility is to have Kathryn and Cece involved when a book reviewer is murdered after writing a scathing review of a mystery by author Purity Carp. Let me know which one you think would be most interesting in the comments!


The two young detectives in Time After Tyme stole the show, earning an award for “Young Adult Fiction.” When you wrote the book, did you have a YA story in mind or did it evolve into that? Does the book have a crossover audience of both adults and young readers?

I had wanted to write the young girls, Reen and Joanie, as secondary characters to add spice to Time After Tyme, and they were very good at their job! They had me laughing every day with their crazy antics in an attempt to “help” the police solve a murder mystery. I only entered it as a YA book in the Memphis Awards contest because I had friends who were entered in the Adult Fiction category, and I didn’t want to compete against them. I was truly surprised when the presenter called my name, but I think it’s confirmation that a book can straddle categories and appeal to a wide audience.


Do you have future plans for Reen and Joanie in upcoming books?

Shortly afterTime After Tyme was published, I was encouraged by several of my writing colleagues to start a middle-grade series featuring the two young girls. The result is the first-in-series novel The Other Side of Sunshine: A Reen and Joanie Detective Agency Book. I hope it will be published early in 2024.


You’re a licensed pilot and your upcoming book is about a female pilot who solves mysteries. How long have you been flying? What is the most thrilling experience you’ve had in the air? What is the scariest?

Lacey’s Star: A Lady Pilot-in-Command Novel is the story of Cassie Deakin, a young woman pilot who lands in the middle of a mystery with every flight. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Cassie and Deputy Frank White, a man she doesn’t trust, but whom she has a strong attraction to. I’m hoping it will be published later this year.

I received my pilot’s license in 1995. When I told my husband I was going to take flying lessons, he wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. But since then, he got his license in sailplanes (gliders), and we’ve had some good times flying together.

Our most thrilling experience was when we went to Nevada on a “flying vacation” around the year 2000 and I piloted a small aircraft out of the Carson City airport and over the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe. It was an absolutely gorgeous trip in perfect weather.

The scariest experience was on the same trip. I always file a flight plan or request flight-following from Air Traffic Control when I fly. As we were flying around the mountains, ATC in Reno contacted us to say they couldn’t follow us on radar because of the mountains, so we went VFR (Visual Flight Rules). I think we were somewhere over Pyramid Lake when I looked out the right side of the plane and spotted another light aircraft flying directly toward us. We were never in any danger – I immediately turned and descended to a lower altitude – but it wasn’t an experience I’d ever want to repeat.


Recently you attended the Killer Nashville writing conference. What were the most interesting and/or important takeaways from that event?

Killer Nashville is a conference that focuses on mystery, thriller, and suspense writing that I’ve attended several times. One of the great things the conference offers is a group of Agent Roundtables where authors can have the first two pages of their work-in-progress read in a small setting of five authors and one agent. Each author receives feedback from the others, and if you’re lucky, an agent will request your manuscript.

I presented the first two pages of The Other Side of Sunshine at one roundtable and Lacey’s Star at another one. I was fortunate that two agents showed interest in the books.


Where can readers find your books?

Each of the individual ebooks is on sale for 99¢ on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google Play. The virtual boxset of the three books is also on sale for $1.99 on all of the same sites. Click on each image at the bottom of the page to go to the Amazon detail page.


Is there anything else you’d like to share that I haven’t asked you about?

Just to say many thanks to you, Debbie, for interviewing me. It’s interesting to sit on this side of the desk for a change. Also, equal thanks to Steve Hooley for supplying the gorgeous Beginning of Time pen for today’s post.

The fascinating subject of time. An interview with Kay DiBianca about her series, The Watch Mysteries. And a chance to win the beautiful Beginning of Time pen. Click To Tweet







I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING BLOG by focusing on authors who write series. Last month I interviewed an author writing his first series. This month I’ve gone to the other end of the spectrum, and I’m interviewing a master craftsman in the series-writing area, Patricia Bradley.

Patricia has written three series, and is currently working on the first book in a fourth, so she has a wealth of information and advice for the rest of us.

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Once again, we’ll do a drawing for a beautiful hand-crafted pen made by my good friend, author and craftsman, Steve Hooley. (Look for Steve’s comment about the history of the pen in today’s post.)

The name of each person who enters a comment today will be put into the drawing, and I will post the name of the winner after 9 o’clock pm CDT tonight. So join the conversation and earn a chance to win. Many thanks to Steve for donating the pen for today’s post.

Former winners are excluded from the drawing. (But not from commenting!)

Multiple award-winning and best-selling author Patricia Bradley shares her insights for writing series on The Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet

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Welcome back to the Craft of Writing blog, Patricia Bradley, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you for inviting me! I love being on your blog.

What was your first series, and why did you decide to write it?

My first series was the Logan Point series, and Shadows of the Past is the first book in it. In fact it is my first published book and when I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking series. I was thinking, God, just one book…that’s all I’m asking. That shows how great our God is—I was thinking one, He was thinking three, which is what my first ever contract was for. I sent in two paragraphs describing what the other two books would be about and they accepted them. Then they added a fourth book.

I will add that none of the other books ended up being what I submitted. As I wrote one book, a minor character would demand to have their own story instead of the one I proposed. But my editor was fine with that.

As for why I wrote that first book, I’d taken a break from writing fiction in 2001 to work fulltime in the abstinence program. While there, I co-wrote an abstinence curriculum and a workbook, and never had a fiction thought in those eight years. Once those tasks were completed, I cut back to part time, and one day a woman popped in my head and told me someone was trying to kill her. I was ecstatic that I could kill people again…well figuratively.  And that was the first book in the Logan Point Series.

Can you tell us about the other series you’ve written?

After Gone Without a Trace, the third Logan Point book, my editor asked if I wanted to send in a proposal for another series. Is the sky blue??? I love cold cases and proposed a four-book series set in Memphis, and my editor accepted, and the Memphis Cold Case Novels were born. Again, I went off script and used only one of the ideas in the proposal.

When I proposed my third series, The Natchez Trace Park Rangers Series, I envisioned writing a story set around the Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee part of the Natchez Trace, but my editor fell in love with the idea of it being set in Natchez. Not a problem. I’d never been to Natchez and I immediately thought Research Trip!  I visited Natchez four times, loving every minute.

You’re beginning a fourth series now. Tell us what this one is about.

The Pearl River Series is set in the Cumberland Plateau near Chattanooga. I love the mountains and was familiar with the area since my sister lives near Chattanooga. Alexis Stone is a detective in Chattanooga when the first book, Counter Attack, begins. Her goal is to become Chattanooga’s first female chief of police, but takes a temporary (she thinks) side road to Pearl Springs in Russell County, after her grandfather, Sheriff Carson Stone, has a heart attack. He asks her to become his chief deputy. Here’s the back cover copy:

No sooner has Alexis Stone been sworn in as the interim sheriff for Russell County, Tennessee, when a serial killer dubbed the Queen’s Gambit Killer strikes again–this time in her hometown. Pearl Springs is just supposed to be a temporary stop along the way to Alex’s real dream: becoming the first female police chief of Chattanooga. But the killer’s calling card–a white pawn and a note with a chess move printed on it–cannot be ignored.


Pearl Springs chief of police Nathan Landry can’t believe that his high school sweetheart Alexis (he refuses to call her Alex) is back in town, and he can’t help wanting to protect the woman he never stopped loving. But as the danger mounts and the killer closes in, can Nathan come through on the promises he makes to himself to bring a killer to justice before it’s too late.

I’m now working on the third book in this series, and I’m talking with my agent about where to set the next one, assuming my publisher will want another series from me. I already have a heroine in mind and she’s an investigative reporter and a minor character in the Pearl River series.

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

I’m not sure I have the answer to that question. After Counter Attack, each book features different protagonists with the characters in Counter Attack playing secondary roles, so the reader becomes acquainted with new characters. And every book has a different crime.

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

All of my books are stand-alones, although there are spoilers in the later books. A stand-alone is a book that doesn’t require a reader to have knowledge provided in a previous book. Each of my series is connected mostly by the setting, and I think it helps that there is a fresh crime to be solved with different characters.

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

Keep a series bible with the pertinent information about each character and the setting. I write in Scrivener, and the program has all the characters where it is easy to look back and check details like eye color, age, that sort of thing. Before I had Scrivener, I had a spread sheet where I kept that information, but that meant I had to leave my writing page to go look it up unless I’d printed it out. Which I never seemed to remember to do.

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

You can find out more about me on my two websites: and, where I have blog twice a week. On Tuesdays I have a mystery question for my readers to figure out, and on Fridays I blog about books I’ve recently read. I also blog at Christians Read and the Suspense Sisters.

And you can find me at these social media sites:

Twitter: @ptbradley1





Thank you, Patricia, for being with us today.

Thanks for having me! It was fun.

Multiple award-winning and best-selling author Patricia Bradley shares her insights for writing series on The Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet


USA Today best-selling author, Patricia Bradley is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award in suspense, a Selah suspense winner. She was a Carol and a Daphne du Maurier finalist. Her romantic suspense novels include the Logan Point series, the Memphis Cold Case Novels, and the Natchez Trace Park Rangers. She is now hard at work on the third book in her new Pearl River series set in the Cumberland Plateau area above Chattanooga. The first book in the series, Counter Attack was released May 16, 2023. The second book, Fatal Witness, releases on February 6, 2024.
Patricia Bradley teaches writing workshops and has been the keynote speaker at several writing conferences. She and her two cats call Northeast Mississippi home–the South is also where she sets most of her books, and when she has time, she likes to throw mud on a wheel and see what happens.








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 award-winning author Randy Ingermanson. Randy is known for both his novels and his writing craft books on the Snowflake Method.

Randy has three series, but I’d like to concentrate on the two that cover the subject of ancient Jerusalem: The City of God series and the Crown of Thorns series. He has won two Christy Awards for excellence in Christian fiction.


Once again, we’re doing something fun for this interview. The name of each person who enters a comment will be put into the drawing for an ebook copy of Transgression, the Christy award-winning first book in the City of God series. So join the conversation and earn a chance to win.

(Former winners are excluded from the drawing.)


A chance to win one of Randy Ingermanson's Christy Award-winning novels on the Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet


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Welcome back, Randy Ingermanson, to the Craft of Writing blog and thank you for joining us!

Hi Kay, thanks for having me back!


What was your first published book, and why did you decide to write it?

The first book I published was a nonfiction book titled Who Wrote the Bible Code? Back around 1997, a journalist named Michael Drosnin published a best-selling book, The Bible Code, which alleged that Jewish mathematicians had unlocked a secret code in the Torah that contained information about current events, such as the Persian Gulf War and a nuclear apocalypse that would be coming in 2004. Drosnin was an atheist who believed that the Bible code had been inserted into the Torah by time-traveling space aliens. Yes, really.

A lot of people believed in this “Bible code,” although I think very few were on board with the bit about time-traveling space aliens. Jeffrey Satinover, a Jewish psychiatrist, then wrote a best-selling book, Cracking the Bible Code, in which he told the story of the small group of Jewish mathematicians who had allegedly discovered the codes. A major claim of the book was that the Torah contained unlimited amounts of information.

I wrote my book to examine this extraordinary claim. There’s a branch of math called “information theory” that tells you how much information is in a text. So I wrote a computer program to measure the amount of information in the Torah that might be embedded in the way claimed by the Bible code people.

I found nothing remarkable. My book, Who Wrote the Bible Code?, explained my conclusions and how I arrived at them.

About the same time, I finally sold my first novel, Transgression, a time-travel novel about a rogue physicist who goes back in time to kill the apostle Paul. I have a PhD in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley, so I read up a bit on what physicists were saying at that time about wormholes and time-travel. Kip Thorne and Michio Kaku were two prominent physicists who had written quite a lot on the subject.


I was captivated by your City of God series. Why did you choose ancient Jerusalem for your time travel novel, and did you always intend it to be a series?

The City of God series was born out of my complete failure to sell a historical novel set in first-century Jerusalem. I began writing fiction in 1988 and I spent years writing a very heavily-researched novel, Blood Avenger, set in Jerusalem in the last few years before the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-70.

This was a critical period in world history, and the repercussions of that revolt have lasted right down to the present day. It led to the birth of rabbinic Judaism as we know it. The revolt changed the direction of Christianity. And the geopolitics of the Middle East is still driven by the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 and the exile of Jews from Jerusalem.

Blood Avenger went to editorial board twice at a major publisher and failed both times. It got fairly far at a second publisher, who finally declined it. An editor at that publisher told my agent that they had three reasons for saying no: 1) Most of their readers were women, and all my characters were men, 2) Modern readers are not interested in ancient characters, 3) The book was 160k words, and that was just too long.

My agent called me with the bad news, and I immediately told him I had an idea for a new novel that would evade all those problems. The lead character would be a female archaeologist from the 21st century. She time-travels back to the first century and must find some way to rescue the apostle Paul from assassination by the physicist who created the wormhole. And I thought I could write the novel in about 100k words.

My agent told me to go for it, and I immediately got to work. Unfortunately, my agent died about a year later, so he never got to see the book in print. But I sold the book without an agent to an editor I met at a conference. And the book, to the complete astonishment of my editors and myself, won a Christy award in the Futuristic category.

One lesson I learned was this: Failure is only failure if you let it have the last word. I succeeded because one editor cared enough to tell me what was wrong, and because I found a way to eliminate the negatives and try again.

But I didn’t really imagine a series until the book won an award. By that time, I had a new agent, and he asked if I had a series in mind.

I thought about it and decided that the character my readers loved most was actually the setting—ancient Jerusalem. I had researched Jerusalem so much that my readers felt like I took them there. At that moment, the City of God series was born.


Can you tell us a little about each of the books in the City of God series?

Yes, but that entails some spoilers. I’ll keep them to a minimum.

Book 1 is titled Transgression. Rivka Meyers is an American archaeology student who grew up in a very unusual religious environment. She’s both Christian and Jewish—a Messianic Jew—and she’s now studying at UC Berkeley and she feels extremely uncomfortable. How can she reconcile her faith and her studies? She goes to Israel for the summer to work on an archaeological dig. There, she meets an Israeli theoretical physicist named Ari Kazan and his American experimentalist colleague, Damien West.

Damien is building a wormhole based on Ari’s theory. Against all odds, Damien succeeds. He, Rivka, and Ari end up in first-century Jerusalem. Damien’s secret plan is to assassinate the apostle Paul. When Rivka figures this out, she does all in her power to stop him. Ari is the odd man out. Ari hates what Christianity has done to his people for 20 centuries, and part of him would like Damien to succeed.

But Ari has a serious problem. For no good reason, Ari is in love with Rivka. Which is absurd. Ari is an atheist and hates Christianity. But there’s no explaining love. Against his will, Ari is crazy for Rivka. He’ll do anything to keep her from being killed in her nutball quest to save the apostle Paul.

Book 2 is titled Premonition. Damien has been neutralized, but the wormhole has collapsed, with no hope of it ever being reconstructed. Rivka and Ari are stuck on the wrong side, in first-century Jerusalem.

And they’re now married, despite extreme religious differences. Ari uses his knowledge of physics to become the best construction engineer in Jerusalem. Rivka has an eidetic memory (sometimes called a “photographic memory”). She’s read the history of the first century. She knows what’s coming. War will break out in the year AD 66.

But before that, in the year AD 62, a certain man James will be arrested by the high priest and executed. James is the brother of Jesus of Nazareth. He is the head of the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. And Rivka knows him. She loves him as a father figure. She doesn’t want him to die. Ari claims that the laws of physics say you can’t change the past.

Rivka doesn’t care about the laws of physics. She aims to save James, by hook or by crook, whatever the cost. Her problem is that she’s a woman, and in patriarchal first-century Jerusalem, the premonitions of a woman are not considered believable. If Rivka is going to save James, she’s going to have to do it alone.

Book 3 is titled Retribution. Rivka now knows that she can’t change the past. The history books she read in the 21st century tell her that war is coming in AD 66. She knows she can’t prevent that. But the books also say that the Jesus Movement in Jerusalem will abandon Jerusalem shortly before the war.

The only problem is that the followers of Rabbi Jesus in Jerusalem show absolutely no urge to leave the city. And they won’t listen to a woman, because what does she know and how would she know it and why should anyone trust her?

And in the meantime, Ari’s knowledge of physics has brought him to the attention of certain young men who see a war coming. They want the war, and they intend to win. But they need war machines, better than the ones Rome has. So they need Ari’s extraordinary knowledge. Ari knows the coming war is doomed. And anyway, he’s a pacifist. But these young men are his friends. What’s the right, ethical, honest, intelligent thing for a physicist to do?


Your second series about ancient Jerusalem is Crown of Thorns. Please tell us a little about each of the books in that series.

First, I have to speak to the elephant in the room. Crown of Thorns is a series about Jesus of Nazareth. People have strong opinions about Jesus, and I can’t make everyone happy. I have to choose some point of view. My choice is to tell the story as known to us from the New Testament, with the viewpoint that the ancient Christian creeds about Jesus are true. The Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed. All true. But that’s a problem.

These creeds were written in part to oppose Gnosticism. And many gnostics claimed that Jesus was all God and not a bit human. But the creeds insisted that yes, Jesus was God, but he was also human. One hundred percent human. Fully human, like us.

As I look around today, I see a lot of people who view Jesus through gnostic lenses. For them, Jesus is a Superman who has no kryptonite. He never worried, never sweated, never forgot anything. For these people, Jesus was fully omniscient. He knew Fortran without studying. He knew quantum mechanics. He knew tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal. All inside his three-pound brain. In fact, he knew it all as a newborn baby. As a developing fetus. As a one-celled embryo.

In my Crown of Thorns series, I’m trying to get back to the ancient creeds which insist on the full humanity of Jesus. A man who sweats. Who has real fears. Real tears. A baby who has to learn to talk. A boy who has to learn to read. A man who has to find his way in the world. A man deeply immersed in the Presence of God, yes. But a man with a body and a brain, and all the human limitations that go with having a body and a brain.

For this series, Jesus is not omnipresent. Not omnipotent. Not omniscient. What he does and what he knows are gifts from God, just as the things we all do and know are gifts from God.

Some will be offended by that. Maybe they want a more gnostic kind of Jesus—only God, not at all human. Maybe they want a modernist kind of Jesus—only human, not at all God. They are not my target audience.

Some will be intrigued by the creeds. They want to know if the creeds can make sense—that Jesus was fully God and fully man, both at the same time. I’m writing Crown of Thorns for them, and only for them.

Now I can answer your question:

Book 1 is titled Son of Mary. Yeshua of Nazareth has grown up in a village that loves him and honors him because he’s a righteous man. But the village believes that Yeshua’s mother Miryam seduced some man of the village before she was married. That unknown man must be the true blood father of Yeshua. Which man of the village was enticed into sin by the wicked Miryam? The scandal has rocked the village for 30 years.

Miryam claims she’s innocent. But the village thinks otherwise, and one man of the village wants her stoned. That man also insists that Yeshua is no legitimate son of his father.

Yeshua believes his destiny is to rule the kingdom of God on the throne of his ancestor David. But that’s not going to happen if his own village rejects his claim to be descended from David.

Yeshua’s father is now dead. If Yeshua wants to clear his mother’s name and clear his own path to be acclaimed as the son of David, he needs to do something. Drastic. Now.

Book 2 is titled Son of David. Yeshua has cleared his name and is free to pursue his goal of sitting on the throne of his father David. He’s got a small group of men who follow him, most from the village of Capernaum. Yeshua’s big problem is that the ancient prophecies don’t explain how the kingdom of God will come in. The Roman empire stands in the way. The entire Jewish world believes there will be no kingdom of God unless Rome is destroyed—by military might. But who will do the destroying?

One theory says that a military leader, a Mashiach, will rise up and lead an armed revolt against Rome, and God will bless the efforts of this man.

Another theory says that the Angel of the Lord will come down from heaven and destroy the enemies of God’s people. Then the Angel of the Lord will choose the anointed king of Israel to rule on the throne of David.

These two theories can’t both be right. Yeshua sees that if he follows the wrong one, his dream will fail. But he’s also beginning to question the basic idea he’s grown up with all his life—that the kingdom of God requires violence—either by a human Mashiach or a war-like Angel of the Lord.

How will Yeshua bring in the kingdom of God? He must make a decision. The fate of his people depends on it.


Do you have plans for future books in either of your series?

Yes, I expect that the City of God series will eventually have 7 or 8 or 9 books, and the Crown of Thorns series will have 4.


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

It’s easy when the stories are driven by real history because the story of the world never ends. One problem gets solved, and then life moves on and some new problem leaps up.

Also, in my case, a major component of my fiction is the setting. For City of God, that setting is first-century Jerusalem. For Crown of Thorns, the setting expands to cover all of first-century Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. My readers absolutely love that setting, and it will never grow stale for them.

The reason readers love my setting is because of my research, which I began back in the 1980s. I’ve been to Israel several times and I’ve worked on archaeological digs in both Jerusalem and Galilee. I’ve got thousands of pictures that I took all over Israel. And I’ve read a crazy number of books about the history and archaeology and religion of first-century Israel.


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

I try to prevent that. I only promote Book 1 in each series, and I try to make it crystal clear that these books are in a series. If people ignore my excellent advice and start in the middle, that’s on their heads.


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

Do it! The great thing about a series is that your marketing simplifies. You don’t have to promote all your books. You only need to promote Book 1 in each series. Then that book promotes the rest of the series.

Also, story development is a lot easier when you write a series. You’ve already worked out the characters and the setting in Book 1. Now all you need is a new plot for each book, and new character arcs (if your story has a character arc).

There is a key decision you have to make in writing a series. You must decide whether the series is:

  • One long story in several parts (like The Lord of the Rings)
  • Several complete stories that all combine to form a larger story (like Harry Potter)
  • Several complete stories that each stand alone (like the Jack Reacher series)

If the books in your series are part of a larger story, then you need to map out what that story is before you publish any of the books. And that takes a lot of work. It also requires the right sort of brain, because not all writers are wired to love planning. Some great writers hate planning and some love it, and you can’t change who you are and how you’re wired.

If the books in your series are not part of a larger story, then you can just write the books as they come to you. They don’t have to be in any particular order. You should maintain some sort of “story bible” to help you keep track of what happened and who the people are. Consistency matters. But you don’t have to worry about some overarching story arc.


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

For those interested in my books on how to write fiction, I have a website at where I blog when the spirit moves me.

For those interested in my novels, I have a website at where I blog for those interested in first-century Israel, and I run an email newsletter for those interested in my books.


Thank you, Randy, for being with us today.

Thanks for having me, Kay!


A chance to win one of Randy Ingermanson's Christy Award-winning novels on the Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet


Randy Ingermanson wants to take you on an adventure to ancient Jerusalem. He has worked on archaeological digs in both Jerusalem and Magdala and thinks it’s fun to swing a pick, sift dirt, haul buckets, move stones, fill sandbags, wash pottery, and sweat like a pig with dozens of other crazy people. A favorite memory is facing down two pickpockets in a back alley in Jerusalem. On his bucket list is a wish to someday windsurf across the Sea of Galilee.

Randy likes to mix science, religion, history, romance, philosophy, and adventure into his novels. That’s just asking for trouble, but he doesn’t seem to know any better, and his friends are too kind to explain the matter.

He has a PhD from UC Berkeley in theoretical physics and has won two Christy awards for excellence in Christian fiction. Library Journal has called him “one of the best authors of biblical fiction today.”

Randy lives in the Pacific Northwest and works as a manservant to two surly and demanding cats. Visit Randy at

For a limited time, you can get a free e-book: “7 Tales About Jesus & His Family” at You can’t get this e-book anywhere else.



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, Steve Hooley, physician, craftsman, and author of the Mad River Magic fantasy series.


Again this month, we’re doing something fun for this interview. The name of each person who enters a comment will be put into the drawing for one of Steve’s hand-crafted pens made from wood that was around before the Civil War, so join the conversation and earn a chance to win.

(Because of the expense to mail internationally, only people with mailing addresses within the United States are eligible to win. Former winners are excluded from the drawing.)

I’ll post the name of the winner in the comments tonight around 9 PM CDT, so don’t forget to stop by to see if you won!



Here’s a look at Steve’s Mad River Magic fantasy series::


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Welcome back, Steve, to the Craft of Writing blog and thank you for joining us!

Thanks for inviting me, Kay. It’s good to be back.


Give us a little background. When did you first start writing?

I got a taste of the fun of fiction in high school, when we had a new English teacher, created a ghost student, and turned in assignments that pushed the limits of acceptability. It was great fun hearing her read the stories and entertain the class.

I got truly serious about writing in 2009, when my father was turning 90, had dementia, and had an unedited copy of his memoirs that had not been published. I spent that summer editing and organizing his book, self-published it, and presented a box of his books to him on his birthday. He didn’t understand what was happening, but the joy on his face as he autographed his books was priceless.

That hooked me on writing, and I began taking correspondence courses, reading every craft book I could get my hands on, and attending writer’s conferences.


This year we’re concentrating on writing series, and I know a little of the history of your work. Please share why you decided to write the series.

I had two unpublished books (adult thrillers). A small press had accepted the first book, then went bankrupt before it was published. I found an agent, who promptly forgot me. I had been following The Kill Zone, and decided it was time to go indie. I also realized that what I wanted to do was write for my grandchildren. The oldest were just starting school and kindergarten. I thought I would aim for 6-10 books and write middle-grade fantasy, hoping to have the series finished by the time my grandchildren were old enough to enjoy them.


Can you give us an overall description of the series?

The Mad River Magic series is “clean teen” fantasy, set in rural western Ohio, where I live. Each story is set in a different fantasy “organ system” (heart, skin, DNA, skeletal, immune system, etc.). Seven to nine cousins fly magic barrel carts (55-gallon oil drums with “turbo-levitators”), practice magic based on the Shawnee language (the Native Americans who lived in this area), and set out on missions to solve problems that are destroying the Mad River Valley.


There are six published books in the Mad River Magic series. How do you keep the series fresh, book after book?

Using different organ systems with each book means that the gang will have a new fantasy world to explore with each book. The number of grandchildren has grown as I’ve written, and each book has a different group of cousins going on the adventure to create different personality dynamics. Each book has a new major ally that is crucial in their survival and success. And the books are full of hidden symbolism for older readers who care to look for it.


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

That is a significant problem with so many cousins in the stories. I had asked the experts at The Kill Zone for their opinion of a “series update” – a chapter or a section of the appendix with a summary and background. The overall consensus was, “Don’t do it.” But with my last book, Perfect Strand, I lost a beta reader because of her frustration. I decided to depend on my own judgement, and added a section in the appendix with a description of each cousin, the family tree, and a tease about each of the previous books. I placed a very brief Preface as chapter one, letting readers know that a series update was available in the appendix, then got out of their way. I still introduce each cousin, when they appear in the story with a brief summary and background.


The latest book in the series is Perfect Strand. Give us an idea of what this book is about.

The theme is the Covid “religion.” An ancient wizard, Vid, at the end of the dark ages, learns that he can pass traits from one generation of dragon flies to the next with his primitive genetic experiments. He determines to pass his genetic code into the future and become immortal by freezing dragonfly larvae and storing them from 1313 to 2020 high in the Transylvania mountains, ready to be unleashed on the world by his descendant, Vid VII.

The Mad River Magic cousins become involved when mammoth Nautilus shells begin popping up in the Mad River Valley, each shell filled with prisoners who have been captured to further spread Vid’s genetic code. When Scout, member of the Mad River Magic group, is captured, the gang goes into action.


How far do you intend to take the series?

My next book, based on the underground world of Central American fentanyl trafficking, may be my last book of the series. I am eager to start an adult thriller series that has captured my imagination.


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

First, make certain that is something you are really passionate about and will hold your interest for years. Look for an arc for the whole series that will hold it together, but still give you freedom to keep introducing new elements. Don’t make the mistake I did of having too many characters to confuse the reader. Consider a “series update” in the appendix, announced with a very brief note at the beginning. And use the brief description of each book as a tease to interest readers in going back and reading earlier books. Consider who your beta readers will be. I have found that it is very difficult to get teenagers to find the time to beta read, when they are involved in sports and other after-school activities. Also, consider giving away a novella or short story, that introduces and gives some of the history of the main character. This can be delivered free by BookFunnel.


Tell us more about you. What interests do you have outside of writing?

I have always been intrigued by the inventive process, working with woodworking, landscape design, graphic design, house design, and finally writing. My current interests are writing, woodturning (legacy pens), and caring for my wood lot – my enchanted forest.


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

My website is – – where you can learn more about my books, and see some of the legacy pens I have made from historical wood and offer for sale.

If you sign up for my newsletter, you can get a free novella, Bolt’s Story, that is a prequel to the Mad River Magic series.


Thank you, Steve, for being with us today.

Thanks for inviting me!

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Steve Hooley is a physician/writer. He has published seven short stories in four anthologies, his father’s memoirs, and is currently working on a middle-grade fantasy series, Mad River Magic. Each of the six books in the series finds a group of young cousins in a new adventure. The books are:

THE HEMLOCK, a middle-grade fantasy set in rural Western Ohio. THE TETRA-CHROME SPIRAL-SKYWAY is set in a giant DNA molecule above the Mad River Valley. CRYPTOFLUX CALCIUM CAPER takes place in a large cavern along the Mad River Valley. HEART BRAIN 180 plays out in a giant circulatory system inhabited by giant chess pieces and playing cards. UNITED WE STAND, DUDE! takes place in the skin and subcutaneous world. PERFECT STRAND is set in a giant Nautilus shell and is centered around the Vid religion.

Steve’s other works include entries in the anthologies OUT OF THE STORM, DANCING UP A STORM, and FAITH LIKE A MUSTARD SEED.

He also contributed to CHILDHOOD REGAINED, a charity anthology to raise money for and awareness of child labor in Asia.

Steve lives with his wife, Cindy, in rural western Ohio. They have five children and nine grandchildren. When not writing, he makes legacy pens and takes care of his enchanted forest. To learn more, please visit


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.


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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.


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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?

Great question!

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 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.


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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

The Craft of Writing — March 2023


I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING blog by focusing on authors who write series. This month is special because we welcome Reavis Wortham, an award-winning author of Westerns!

Reavis’s books in The Red River Series and The Sonny Hawke Series have received many accolades, including starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal. Kirkus also listed his first novel, The Rock Hole as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.”

To celebrate our first Western series on the Craft of Writing blog, we’re going to do something fun: The name of each person who enters a comment today will be put into a drawing to win an ebook copy of The Rock Hole, the first book in Wortham’s Red River Series. I will post the name of the winner after 9 o’clock pm CDT tonight. Be sure to check back tonight to see if you won, and please make sure I have your email address for the drawing.

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Award-winning western author Reavis Wortham on the Craft of Writing blog Click To Tweet

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Welcome, Reavis Wortham, to the Craft of Writing blog and thank you for joining us!


What was your first published book, and why did you decide to write it?

My first novel was The Rock Hole, which released in 2011. It was listed as a Starred Review and one of the Top Twelve Mystery Novels of that year by Kirkus Reviews.

Like most authors, I’ve always wanted to write, and while talking with my wife, Shana, I mentioned that a lot of history was fading away as the old folks passed on. I wanted to preserve and record a way of life that was fast disappearing in the early 1960s, and the changing world that came at the end of the decade.

The Rock Hole is based on my grandfather who was both a farmer and constable in a tiny rural community located up on the Red River in Northeast Texas. I grew up hearing stories of his work in law enforcement, and wanted to relate a tale I’d heard.

I had no idea my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press (now Sourcebooks), would like that standalone novel so much. They offered me a series, requiring me to rewrite the ending because I’d killed everyone off. That cast of characters has continued through nine books, ending with the most recent that released in January of 2022, The Texas Job, which is a prequel and takes place back in 1932.


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

As I said, the Red River series is set in the 1960s. These historical mysteries began with 1964, with The Rock Hole, and follows the Parker family. We see life in that decade through the eyes of ten-year-old Top Parker and his near-twin female cousin, Pepper. Cody Parker and his girlfriend (then wife) Norma Fay provide a second view, representing a couple in their twenties and younger residents. Constable Ned Parker and his full-blood Choctaw wife are the elders of the clan who survived the Great Depression and WWII. They see the world from experience. Finally, Deputy John Washington serves the African-American residents of Chisum, Texas, and brings in a different viewpoint of life in that time period.

My second contemporary series featuring Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke is published by Kensington. Set in the Big Bend region of Texas, these high octane thrillers also utilize family as a foundation upon which everything rests. It features Ranger Hawke, who is the officer we all want to know, but he’s impetuous and not the greatest shot in the world. He often walks in that gray area between absolute right and wrong, but always acts in the best interest of the law and those innocent people around him.

Backed up by civilians and ex-military vets Yolanda Rodriguez and Perry Hale, he always finds himself drawn into situations we see each night on the news. Beginning with Hawke’s Prey in which the tiny West Texas town of Ballard is taken over by terrorists, it continues through a total of four books, two of which won Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America Association, Hawke’s War and Hawke’s Target.


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

Each day of life is fresh, and often dictated by events out of our hands. I put my characters into play dealing with whatever is thrown at them, much like real life, and we watch their reactions to these situations.

Readers like to watch characters evolve, and those in my books grow with each novel. Unlike some authors who write similar human characteristics from one title to another, those people I’ve created have the same fallibilities as real people, including fears, concerns, ailments and faults. They face these, as well as the plot that drives them forward.

For example, in the Red River series, Top and Pepper grow older with each book, and experience all the trials and tribulations that adolescence and puberty throws at them. They move through each grade level in school, and endure all the same things we recall that happened to us, or those in school.

In the Sonny Hawke novels, he’s a tough-as-nails Ranger who can deal with all the horrors of the job, but at one point his emotions swell and he has a brief collapse when he runs over a cat in his truck. He’s as human as I can make him, and his relationship with his wife, kids, and community drives the story, keeping it all crisp and exciting.


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

Each of my novels are standalone, though the ensemble cast of characters remain essentially the same, except for the bad guys. I quickly bring readers up to speed with only a few references from earlier books. It’s my hope that when they finish a title, they are driven by the need to know the characters even more, and as my late father-in-law said, “I look forward to each book, because they’ve become family and I want to know what’s happening them.”

Then they, hopefully, go back and read the earlier books, but it’s not necessary.


Do you have plans for future books in either of your series?

I do!

My contract for the Red River series is ongoing, so I work on them all the time. I’ve started the tenth in the series, but have no title as of yet.

The Sonny Hawke books ended with the fourth novel, Hawke’s Fury. At this time there are no further books in the works, but that could change.

A new series from Kensington begins in May of 2024, with the first Cap Whitlatch novel, The Journey South. I’ve always wanted to write pure westerns, and this one fills the bill. It begins in the Oklahoma territories when Whitlatch sells a herd of horses to a crooked Missouri lawyer. On the way back to Texas, he arrives in a small town and finds his boyhood friend facing a lynch mob. To save Gil, Cap agrees to take the prisoner back to Texas for trial. Renegade Comanches, a trio of murderous Cherokee brothers bent on revenge, and two outlaws intent on robbing Whitlatch of the gold in his saddlebags bring a sense of the old west to these pages.

This story about honor, right, and wrong is in the can, and I’m working on the second novel that as yet doesn’t have a title.


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

Create a multidimensional cast of characters that readers value and can relate to.

Look at each novel as a standalone and don’t get overwhelmed by the thought of what’s to come. When they were growing up, I told my daughters to approach such tasks the same way you would eat an elephant. You do it by taking one bite at a time, and not looking at the massive beast itself.

They still roll their eyes at that one.


In addition to your successful series, you have a new book, Hard Country. Can you tell us a little about that one?

And that brings us to still another new series from Sourcebooks. Hard Country is the first novel in the Tucker Snow series, featuring a contemporary cattle inspector. These guys and gals are an offshoot of the Texas Rangers and have the power to enforce rural law in both Oklahoma and Texas. They investigate rural crimes for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), and go after cattle rustlers, thieves, and any online crime that has to do with farming and ranching.

Tucker Snow is as tough as they come, hardened by decades working as an undercover narcotics agent for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Through special dispensation from the governor, he and his brother Harley cut a wide swath through the criminal element of Northeast Texas. But tragedy comes calling after taking a dream job as a special ranger with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, when Tucker’s wife and toddler are killed in a horrific traffic accident caused by a drug addled felon. Close to breaking, Tucker sets his badge aside to move his surviving teenage daughter outside of Ganther Bluff, a quiet town with enough room for them to mourn their unexpected loss.

But peace doesn’t last long for a man like Snow. Instead of settling into small-town life to heal from such an unimaginable loss, a fresh kind of hell hits them with full force.

Crimes and secrets strangle this rural community, and when a new form of meth with the street name of gravel gets too close to home, it’s enough for Tucker to put his badge back on and call Harley for help. The town will ultimately be better off with him as a resident lawman, but this unforgiving landscape will threaten everything Tucker holds dear.


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

Please visit my website at

Lots of folks follow my Reavis Wortham Facebook page where I post nearly every day about life, family, fun, entertainment, history, books, and never politics.


Thank you, Reavis, for being with us today.

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Spur Award winner Reavis Z. Wortham retired in 2011 and now works harder than before as the author of the critically acclaimed Red River historical mystery series. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel, The Rock Hole, as one of their Top 12 Mysteries of 2011. True West Magazine included Dark Places as one of 2015’s Top 12 Modern Westerns. The Providence Journal writes, “This year’s Unraveled is a hidden gem of a book that reads like Craig Johnson’s Longmire on steroids.” Wortham’s new high octane contemporary western series from Kensington Publishing featuring Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke kicked off in 2017 with the publication of Hawke’s Prey. The fourth Sonny Hawke thriller, Hawke’s Fury, was published in June 2020. In 2019, the Western Writers Association presented Hawke’s War with the Spur Award in the WWA Best Mass Market Paperback category



Kristy Montee (P.J. Parrish) on writing a series


I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING blog by focusing on authors who write series. This month, we welcome P.J. Parrish, the award-winning author of the Louis Kincaid thriller series.

For those of you who don’t know, P.J. Parrish is the pseudonym of the writing team of sisters Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols. Kristy is a fellow contributor to the Kill Zone Blog, and she is my guest today. (You can read more about these exceptional sisters in the author bio below.)

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Welcome, Kristy, to the Craft of Writing blog and thank you for joining us!


First things first: Why did you and your sister decide to co-write books? Do you have a process for writing (e.g., alternating chapters) so you don’t get in each other’s way?

We decided to join up mainly because my career in romance was dead and my agent suggested I had a good sense of mystery and that I should try that. Ha! What hubris I had. My first effort was abysmal and my agent told me to go home and read some Connelly and PD James. (I hadn’t read a mystery since Nancy Drew.) Unbeknownst to me, my sister Kelly was trying to write her own first novel and was struggling (raw talent but no grounding in craft). My husband suggested we team up and it worked from the start.

Our process is to brainstorm together (we’re pantsers) and work out basic plot about 3 chapters forward. (the famous E.L. Doctorow method: You’re driving down a dark road with only your headlights to guide you, but you can get to the end that way). Then we “take assignments” based on who might have a better feel for the chapter’s needs (i.e., Kelly loves doing the action scenes; my forte tends toward character development and description. Though over the years we’ve both gotten stronger vice versa, although Kelly still considers doing description to eating broccoli. I force her to do it! We write our chapters, exchange them, edit them, discuss and rewrite if needed then move on down the dark road.


Why did you choose P.J. Parrish as your pseudonym?

Ha! Try to make a long story short. Our editor at Kensington suggested we come up with one because two names on a cover take up a lot of space and readers tend to be suspicious of books written by committee. We tried Kris Kelly. Editor said it sounded too Irish. (Ah, aren’t they great storytellers?). And because we write a male biracial protag, they wanted us to use a gender-neutral name. Remember, this was back in the dark ages of 1999 – women writing crime fiction, let alone with a male hero, well, it wasn’t as accepted as it is now. We were under contract with a pub deadline looming when Kelly and I went off to England. We were tooling around the Cotswolds, getting frantic calls from our agent. We bent a few elbows at a pub one rainy night and came up with the name PJ Paris (because we were flying there the next day). We ran out to one of those red phone booths and called our agent. She loved the name. When we got the contract it said “PJ PARRISH.” I guess I slurred my words during that phone call. True story, I swear.


This year we’re concentrating on writing series, and your Louis Kincaid series has been very popular. Why did you decide to write it?

Louis is Kelly’s creation. The book she was trying to write was a very rough version of our first published book “Dark of the Moon.” Louis was born of her own experience living in a small town — Philadelphia, Mississippi  — and having biracial grandchildren. I think of Louis as my adopted son.


There are eleven books in the Kincaid series. How do you keep the series fresh, book after book?

It is difficult, as any series writer knows. Doubly so since we age Louis with each book and we pay strict attention to his character arc over the course of each book and the entire series. I think that is what keeps readers coming back – that they have been witness to Louis’s life journey.


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

Good question. It’s a tightrope walk. You have to give a new reader just enough backstory so they don’t feel lost, yet not bore loyal readers who’ve been with you for the whole ride. This would make a good post for The Kill Zone.


Do you have plans for future Louis Kincaid books?

Well, this is as good a place to announce this as any. Right now, we have no plans for another Louis book. There are many reasons behind this decision, but foremost is that the changes in the industry in the last five years or so have not been kind to any author who is not a bestseller, especially for series. Publishers are very reluctant to pick up a series in midstream because they can’t access your backlist. Which is partly why we did our stand alone thriller “She’s Not There” with Thomas & Mercer. And you know, going back to the keeping a series fresh question: We feel that with our most recent Louis book “The Damage Done” that we left him in a very good place as far as his arc goes. As TKZ readers know, I’m not a fan of prologues. Bad epilogues are even worse.


What other books are you working on?

Working on a sequel of sorts to “She’s Not There” involving the secondary protagonist. He wasn’t supposed to be such a dominant force, but, well, sometimes characters surprise the hell out of you. Our editor (and readers) have asked us to tell his story. Problem is, he’s rather recalcitrant. And I’m getting old and am easily distracted by things like gardens, my dogs and pickleball.


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

  1. Give your protagonist a lot of thought before you write one word. Figure out if you’re going to advance him or her in age with each book. Work out details of age, background, family, etc. and give yourself enough latitude for growth over the course of a series. It’s a marathon.
  2. Keep a record of every trait you give your protagonist. Every detail you commit to paper, record it somewhere: height, weight, siblings, where he was born, shirt size, how he takes his coffee. Record all the dates and years. BELIEVE ME, you will need this record. You will go insane trying to go back and find these details in your books. And your readers will be quick to call you out for errors. (“Hey, you said his middle name was Alvin in book 3, so why’d you call him Ervin in book 5?”)
  3. Keep similar records for all characters in each book. Because you will probably find they show up in future books. You don’t want to waste time getting to know them all over again.
  4. Give great thought to the character arc of your protagonist that you would like to cover over the course of the series. I know this isn’t always possible from the start, but the sooner you begin weaving this into your plot process, the more compelling your hero will be.
  5. Find a great co-author. Just kidding.


Tell us more about you. What interests do you have outside of writing?

Well, I’m blessed to have retired to two homes: Tallahassee FL (Nov.-May) and Traverse City MI (May to Nov.). In Florida, I am obsessed with tending my garden and watching my birds. In Michigan, I switch to active mode and do a lot of hiking in the woods, biking, kayaking, and pickleball every morning. We’re traveling a lot now – just back from France and gearing up for Italy and we go for about a month at a time. So, I’m also into languages big time, getting pretty proficient in French but now just learning how to order a coffee in Italian. Io sono di Florida! (Learned that today.) Am also trying to find more time to read just for pleasure.


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

PJ but be kind. We’re awful about updating it.


Thank you, Kristy, for being with us today.


Writing the series with P.J. Parrish Click To Tweet


P.J. Parrish is actually two sisters, Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols. Their books have appeared on both the New York Times and USA Today best seller lists. The series has garnered 11 major crime-fiction awards, and an Edgar® nomination. Parrish has won two Shamus awards, one Anthony and one International Thriller competition. Her books have been published throughout Europe and Asia. Parrish’s short stories have also appeared in many anthologies, including two published by Mystery Writers of America, edited by Harlan Coben and the late Stuart Kaminsky. Their stories have also appeared in Akashic Books acclaimed Detroit Noir, and in Ellery Queen Magazine. Most recently, they contributed an essay to a special edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s works edited by Michael Connelly.

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:


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

I can be followed on BookBub:

Those who enjoy short fiction can try out mine at

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


Thank you, Jim, for being with us today.

My pleasure!


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