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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.



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.



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 Here’s also a TV interview about my new mystery, LATE FOR HIS FUNERAL.


Thank you, Elaine, for being with us today.

And thanks, Kay, for interviewing me.

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.



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 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


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



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.


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:

Murder Blog (where you can join my newsletter):


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.


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



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:

Twitter: @ptbradley1

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 — June 2022



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.


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.


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, 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 — 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: has sneak previews of each book and sales links.

Especially for Kay’s readers, all ebooks are on sale for $.99.

Amazon: Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion


Thank you, Debbie, for being with us today.

Thank you for hosting me, Kay! One great benefit of blogging at The Kill Zone is meeting lovely new friends like you!

Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion - Today on the Craft of Writing blog Click To Tweet


The Craft of Writing — February 2022


The Mad River Magic Series with Dr. Steve Hooley


I’m excited to continue this year’s CRAFT OF WRITING blog where we’re focusing entirely on mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels. 

My guest today is Dr. Steve Hooley. Steve is a retired physician who has written the Mad River Magic YA Fantasy Series and has agreed to share his journey with us. So grab your magic wands, hop in your barrel cart, and get ready for a wild ride into fantasy land!

You can find the series at



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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.

Steve lives with his wife, Cindy, in rural western Ohio. They have five children and seven grandchildren. When not writing or practicing medicine, he likes to do woodturning and care for his enchanted forest.


Flying barrel carts, magic wands, and YA fantasy today on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet

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Welcome Steve Hooley, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you for the invitation.

A physician’s life doesn’t sound like it would leave a lot of time for writing. Can you tell us why you decided to write?

I became interested in high school, but set aside the humanities for science and math in college, so that I could pursue medicine. When my father was 89 (with severe dementia), and our family was planning a 90th birthday celebration for him, I edited a memoir he had written years before and never published. I gave him a box of his books on his birthday. Even though he didn’t understand, the look on his face gave me the desire to get into writing again. I took a correspondence course, began going to writers’ conferences, and reading everything I could get my hands on. Until retirement about a year ago, I wrote on Wednesdays and weekends. Now, I am excited to be able to writer every day.


What inspired you to write a YA fantasy series? Did you know it would be a series from the start?

About four years ago, I became frustrated with the direction children’s literature was going. I had six grandchildren at that point (seven now, and another one on the way) and I wanted them to have some clean and wholesome literature to read when they became middle-grade and teen-young adult. I also wanted to give them something that would last generations. I call it leaving a legacy.

I did plan for a series from the beginning. (See below.)


You have some very interesting characters in Mad River Magic. How did you create them?

The main characters are based on the seven cousins (my grandchildren), and it has been fun watching them grow up and see what kind of personalities they are developing. The main character, Bolt, is the “red-headed daredevil on crutches.” I noticed that many of the fantasy series gave the main character a handicap. I gave Bolt Becker Muscular Dystrophy, a form with late onset and possible sparing of the shoulder muscles. This allowed him to function on crutches and provided a need for magic flying barrel carts. Other recurring characters are allies who embody wisdom, knowledge, healing, etc. The really strange characters that are unique to each book are “created” according to the need of the theme and plot – the stranger and more unusual the better.


How do you incorporate your knowledge of medicine into your books?

Each book is set in a biological/anatomical system. For example, the first book is set in the conscience (abstract), the second on a giant DNA molecule, the third in the skeleton, the fourth in the cardiovascular system, and the 5th (not yet published) in the skin. The system is picked according to the theme of the book.


Do you have plans for future Mad River Magic books?

Yes. #5 is in editing and beta reading. I plan for another five or six. The next one will probably be set in the muscular system, with a theme of the dangers of sedentary (pandemic) lack of activity and exercise.


I know you’re interested in honing your craft. What resources do you use to become a better writer?

I read craft of writing books along with fiction. I’ve attended many conferences, and will probably resume going when the pandemic craziness has settled. I am fortunate to be associated with some very talented fellow bloggers at The Kill Zone blog, and learn a lot from them. I follow some writers’ blogs and newsletters. And I’m always on the lookout for new resources.


What advice would you give an aspiring author of YA Fantasy?

I would encourage them to read several of the successful series, ex. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc. Look for some of the most popular books on writing specifically for YA, and for Fantasy. Then look for general fiction writing classics. Start with James Scott Bell’s books on craft. And maybe follow a craft blog, like the Kill Zone, where they can interact and ask questions.


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

My author page is here 

My website is

And I write a blog at The Kill Zone every other Saturday.


Thank you, Steve, for being with us today.

Thank you for the invitation. It was a pleasure!

Flying barrel carts, magic wands, and YA fantasy today on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet


The Craft of Writing — January 2022


The Mike Romeo Series with James Scott Bell


I’m excited to begin a new year of the CRAFT OF WRITING blog. This year we are focusing entirely on mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels.

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.

Jim’s Mike Romeo thriller series, is one of my favorites. He has created a memorable character and put him through some very trying times!

You can find the series at


Thanks to all of you for stopping by the Craft of Writing blog today. You have a great opportunity to learn from and interact with one of the masters of the craft. So fasten your seatbelts. You’re going to meet the creator of Mike Romeo.

James Scott Bell talks about the Mike Romeo Thriller series. Click To Tweet

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Welcome James Scott Bell and thank you for joining us! You’ve written many novels. Can you tell us how you got started writing thrillers?

Well, I had to do something to justify being a lawyer! I started my writing journey when legal thrillers were starting to take off. Scott Turow and John Grisham were leading the way. So I wrote a courtroom thriller and got a five-book contract. That started things. The genre began to get really crowded, so I asked myself how I could do some books that would be a little different. I came up with the idea of a series of historical legal thrillers in a setting not covered much in fiction, early 1900s Los Angeles. I decided to have my protagonist be a woman, as women were just getting started in the profession. That’s how my Kit Shannon legal thrillers were born.


What inspired you to write the Mike Romeo Series? Did you know it would be a series from the start?

Yes, I knew I wanted to write a series, but outside the strict legal thriller genre. Of course it had to be a character I would enjoy writing about book after book. Still, I retained the law aspect this way—Mike Romeo’s only friend is a lawyer, and Mike does investigatory work for him.


Mike Romeo is one of my favorite characters in fiction. Can you tell us more about Mike Romeo and how you came to create him?

I’ve always been a fan of the “lone wolf” genre of crime writing, whether he’s a Private Eye like Philip Marlowe, an independent like Travis McGee, or a criminal himself, like Parker in the Richard Stark novels. My guy would have to be someone who could handle himself in fight, so I landed on the idea that he was a former MMA cage fighter now living off the grid in Los Angeles. But the key with a series character is having something unique, an aspect that sets him apart. I started to think about opposites. What’s the opposite of what a reader might expect of a tough-as-nails fighter? Two things jumped out. First, he’d be a genius, a real intellectual genius, who was admitted to Yale at age 15, when he was a rather introverted butterball. Then something happens (which I won’t reveal hear) that changes the course of his life and leads him to the cage. His wide-ranging mind gives me the opportunity to include observations from my own interest in philosophy.

The second unique thing is I made him a lover of flowers. Fair warning: do not disturb his petunias.


Of all the Romeo books, do you have a favorite?

Romeo’s Way won the International Thriller Writers Award. I’m proud of that one because it took me out of my usual Los Angeles setting and up to San Francisco and Oakland. I went there with my wife for hands-on research, and got unique details that were woven into the book. I’m pleased with how that turned out.


Do you have plans for future Romeo books?

I’m always at work on the next one, with idea sketches for the one after that. I’ve tried throughout my career to think like a movie studio, with one project on the front burner, and several more “in development.”


What advice would you give an aspiring author of mystery, suspense, or thrillers?

Know the conventions of your genre, but figure out a unique twist you can give them so they’re fresh. Readers don’t need the same old, same old. This is especially important for your series Lead. Create a compelling backstory for the protagonist, keep working on it until you are excited to weave it into the plot. And weave is the key here. You don’t want to dump all that material in one, fell swoop (what is a fell swoop anyway?) Keeping things below the surface creates nice ripples of mystery up top.


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. Although many conferences have been canceled in the last couple of years because of the pandemic, do you have plans to speak at any writing conferences in 2022?

I will be doing a 5-hour early bird workshop at the ACFW Convention in St. Louis, on Sept. 8. Info can be found here:


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

For writers, I offer a complete course 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.


James Scott Bell talks about the Mike Romeo Thriller series. Click To Tweet


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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

The Craft of Writing — December 2021


Social Media


SOCIAL MEDIA! Many of us have a love/hate relationship with this enormous influencer in our world. While there are positive aspects to keeping up with our friends and family, there are negatives when it comes to spending hours skimming posts or witnessing heated discussions. There’s even evidence that too much social media is detrimental to one’s mental health.

However, as authors, we can use these platforms to make the world aware of our books. Navigating the waters of which platforms to use, how often to post, and how to best use their resources is the subject of today’s post.

I have long wanted to have Edie Melson as a guest on The Craft of Writing blog. Edie is an acknowledged expert on social media, and her advice can enhance our use of those tools to sell books and change the world. Social Media for Today’s Writer, which Edie co-authored with DiAnn Mills, is my go-to guide for using social media.

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Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. No matter whether she’s talking to writers, entrepreneurs, or readers, her first advice is always “Find your voice, live your story.” As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. Connect with her on her WEBSITE, through FACEBOOKTWITTER and on INSTAGRAM.

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Social Media with Edie Melson on the Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet


Welcome, Edie, and thank you for joining us!


When did you first get involved with social media?

I fell into social media by accident. I became the managing editor of an online magazine for young Christian men in 2008. It didn’t take me long to realize that to grow the magazine readership—and communicate with my co-workers—I had to learn social media. At the time I didn’t have a blog or any social media accounts and my phone was an old-style flip phone.

I learned how to ask the questions I needed answers for in search engines, took online workshops and read every marketing blog I could. What I learned was how to do social media efficiently and effectively. That training has translated to helping myself as a writer and other writers how to utilize this valuable tool without losing important writing time.

Are there particular platforms you recommend for authors to use?

It’s important for an author to understand where your audience hangs out. I find Facebook and Twitter to be the most valuable for the books I write. But Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube are all valuable options.

It’s also very important for an author to be active on more than one platform regularly. Things happen on social media, accounts get suspended and even deleted. If you’re only on one platform and something goes wrong, you have to have another place where your audience can find you.

Also keep in mind that if you love Facebook and Instagram—those two only count as ONE platform because Facebook owns Instagram. So if Facebook suspends your FB account, chances are good that they’ll also shut down your Instagram account.

What benefits do you see social media having for authors?

I’m on social media as an extension of my mission as a writer. I use social media to serve my audience. That service—giving without expecting anything in return—is what also grows my audience. Trying to use social media as a place to ONLY advertise books is the quickest way to fail. No one like commercials and if your social media account comes across as only advertising, no one will be interested.

Social media is also a great way to network with other industry professionals. I’ve developed some solid friendships through social media with editors, agents and other writers.

How does an author go about establishing a presence on social media?

The most important thing is to give something valuable. Other writers follow me on social media because I share solid information about being a writer—from how tos, to industry news, to tips. Readers follow me because I share spiritual encouragement—devotions, Bible verses, interesting articles about living out your faith in our world today. I also have a small following of those interested in photography and creativity—I share how to articles for all sorts of crafts, as well as tips for photographers.

I do all of this without expecting anything in return.

This proves to my audience that I’m more interested in helping them than promoting myself. Once I’ve gained their trust, then when I have something I need help with—like launching a new book—they’re happy to help.

So a good rule is to give first and often, long before you begin asking favors.

How often should an author promote his/her own work on social media? What other things should they consider posting about?

I recommend what has come to be called “Edie’s 5 to 1 Rule.” For every 5 social media posts I share, I allow myself 1 post about myself—that promotes something I’m doing—like a blog post I wrote or a new book.

Using this guideline helps our social media feeds NOT look self-serving.

How important is it to build a large following on social media? How do you go about doing that?

An engaged following is much more important than large numbers. Publishers want to know that an author has a connection with the readers they’re trying to reach. So an author with a Facebook group of 1,000 where seventy-five percent of those are actively posting and engaging is much more desirable than a Facebook page with 10,000 followers who never see or comment on what the author posts. Different publishers have different expectations and guidelines for authors.

The most important thing is to have a growing presence—better this month than last month. That takes small CONSISTENT commitment. I recommend spending 30 minutes a day 4 – 5 days a week.

I often hear about new platforms for social communication. What can you tell us about them?

TikTok is continuing to gain popularity, as is MeWe. TikTok is video driven, almost like a video version of Instagram. Of course that’s a generalization, but I think you get the idea. MeWe is similar to Facebook, but with a lot less rules and a lot less people on it. But it also is showing promise. Parler is another one that’s gaining ground.

What topics do you cover in Social Media for Today’s Writer?

This book covers how to engage on the most popular social media platforms. We share recommended practices, and some things that can get authors in trouble. It’s written so that beginners can understand it and more advanced users can pick up new tricks and streamline the process.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors about the use of social media?

We recommend that writers begin using social media BEFORE they become authors. It takes time to build a solid social media platform and having one in place can make launching a book much easier. You don’t have to spend hours a day to create a good following. It’s more important to be consistent than to spend huge blocks of time.

We also suggest you have an account on all the major networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, & TikTok. Having an account means you have your name, bio, and link to your website. Then find two or three networks where you enjoy hanging out and spend your time there. You don’t have to be active on all the platforms, but it is good to reserve your account in case it becomes the next big thing!

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

My blog for writers is and my website is I’m also on social media as Edie Melson!

Thank you, Edie, for sharing your expertise with us!

Social Media with Edie Melson on the Craft of Writing Blog Click To Tweet


The Craft of Writing — November 2021


The Conflict Thesaurus


CONFLICT! We avoid it in our personal lives, but as authors, we embrace it. And today, I am thrilled to welcome Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi to the Craft of Writing blog to talk about their new thesaurus: The Conflict Thesaurus.

For those who may not be familiar with Angela and Becca, they have produced nine thesauri to help us write our books. From the very first one, the wildly popular Emotion Thesaurus, they have provided us with the tools we need to keep our readers turning the pages.

In addition, Angela and Becca host the Writers Helping Writers website, at

The last time they appeared on the Craft of Writing blog, we played a game where readers could test their skill at identifying a particular emotion based on description. This time, they’ve created an interactive game for you to go on an imaginary journey with the two of them. It’s called The Conflict Challenge, and your result will depend on the choices you make along the way. There’s a link in the last question of the interview to take you to the game.


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Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are writing coaches, international speakers, and co-authors of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Available in eight languages, their guides are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold 750,000 copies.

Long-time writing partners, Angela and Becca are passionate about helping others, especially writers. To this end they co-founded the popular site Writers Helping Writers, a description hub for writers and One Stop for Writers, an innovative creativity portal for one-of-a-kind tools that give writers exactly what they need to craft unbelievably rich stories and characters.

Please visit them at the sites above because they love to connect with people in the writing industry. And if you’re ready to see your writing skills take a giant leap, give the free trial at One Stop for Writers a spin.   

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Join the conversation about The Conflict Thesaurus! Click To Tweet

Welcome, Angela and Becca, and thank you for joining us!


What prompted the two of you to develop the series of thesauri?

Angela: After the response to our flagship thesaurus and book, The Emotion Thesaurus, we realized that writers needed help with more than just describing emotions. Their struggle in this area was a part of something much bigger: understanding what show-don’t-tell truly meant and how to apply it across all elements of storytelling via description.

What was the first book, and when did it come out?

Becca: The Emotion Thesaurus was actually first, and it started at our blog. When we began Writers Helping Writers (then, called The Bookshelf Muse) in 2008, we started posting about a new emotion each week, highlighting the physical cues, thoughts, and internal sensations associated with each so writers would see how to show those emotions instead of telling them to their readers. We didn’t know at the time what a universal problem the telling of emotion was; this became clear as our following grew and people began clamoring for more. Based on the response to The Emotion Thesaurus, we decided to publish it in book form in 2012. An expanded and updated 2nd edition followed in 2019.

Why did you decide to write The Conflict Thesaurus?

Angela: Our mission is to show writers how to strengthen their storytelling, and this means diving into all elements that power great fiction and showing writers how to activate them better. Conflict is a primary, must-have story ingredient because it supplies resistance. For a story to be compelling, we need problems, challenges, and adversaries (outer conflict) that force the character to fight for what they want and cause the outcome to be uncertain. We also need personal struggles (internal conflict) that provides a chance to look within at the maelstrom of fears, beliefs, needs, desires, and pain that may be shaping their decisions and actions. As they say, knowledge is power, and the character understanding themselves better and making necessary changes can be the difference between success and failure. Written well, inner and outer conflict will hold readers captive until the last page is turned.

Tell us about The Conflict Thesaurus.

Becca: The Conflict Thesaurus explores different conflict options in a variety of categories from relationship friction to no-win-scenarios to moral dilemmas and temptations. Each conflict entry looks at the minor complications, potentially disastrous results, and internal struggles that could arise in that scenario, as well as exploring possible positive outcomes and attributes that could help the character cope in the meantime. These entries are what most authors are looking for, because they offer brainstorming options and explain how each scenario could wreak havoc in the story. But we believe that the instructive front matter is just as vital, because it provides a tutorial on what conflict is, its role in a story, and how it fits into the character arc. It even provides a database of possible adversaries that can help stir the pot. So there’s a lot here for writers wanting to either find possible conflicts or learn more about this important storytelling element.


Can you give us some examples of conflict that are included in your latest book?

Angela: There are 110 different conflict scenarios represented, and each can be endlessly adapted. It’s all about finding a complication that takes things from bad to worse. Maybe a character finds themselves fending off an Unwanted Romantic Romance, or they discover they’ve Been Manipulated. Possibly they Break Something Important, Cause an Accident, or Confide in the Wrong Person. It could be they’ve been Given an Ultimatum, their Deadline Has Been Moved Up, or they are faced with a painful choice: Sacrificing One Thing for Another. Whatever the conflict, we provide ideas on what the fallout would be, everything from minor complications to an array of disastrous results. The list of scenarios we cover can be found here, along with a few sample entries that you can see as an example.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Becca: My best piece of advice is for new authors to set clear goals. For most of us, writing started out as a hobby. I think this is why so many people want to write a novel but never do: because hobbies are low on the priority list. Make your writing a priority by deciding what you want to accomplish and setting reasonable but challenging goals. This could be a daily or weekly word count or time-based goal, a deadline for finishing your first draft, a certain number of query letters you’ll send out each week, or a five-year overall goal that clearly defines what success will look like for you. Knowing what you want and setting related objectives will put you on the path to getting where you want to go.

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

Angela: We love helping writers develop their skills, and we have two powerful ways to do that: our Writers Helping Writers site where we blog about writing craft and you can find out more about our books, and then One Stop for Writers, which is a bit of a writer’s utopia as we provide all the tools, resources, and step-by-step help a storyteller will need. to plan, write, and revise their way to a best-selling book. Even better? It shortens the learning curve as just by using our tools, you grow your writing abilities.

Okay. It’s time for the game. Please tell readers about The Conflict Challenge.

Becca: This challenge puts you in the hot seat as the main character in our fun and campy story. Like the protagonists in your own books, you’ll face a series of conflict scenarios and will be given choices about how to respond. Choose poorly, and you probably won’t make it. Choose wisely, and there are prizes to be won! Here’s the premise:

You’ve been invited to join Angela and Becca on a writing retreat in Alberta, Canada. They’ve rented out all the cabins of an old summer camp that closed down ten years ago only after a single season…which is sort of odd, but this remote Rocky Mountain location with no cell reception seems like a perfect place to get some writing done. Will you accept the invitation to join them at Deadwood Falls Summer Camp?

Readers, click here to take the challenge. Don’t forget to come back and let us know how you did!

Thank you, Angela and Becca, for sharing your expertise with us!


Join the conversation about The Conflict Thesaurus! Click To Tweet



Stork Bite


I’m excited to welcome author Lisa Simonds back to the Craft of Writing blog. Lisa first appeared on this blog in February 2020 when we discussed her debut novel, All In.

Lisa is back today as an award-winning novelist for her second work, Stork Bite, which won a 2021 IPPY Award. New authors take note: it’s possible to be recognized for your work even early on in your career!





L.K. Simonds is a Fort Worth local. She has worked as a waitress, KFC hostess, telephone marketer, assembly-line worker, nanny, hospital lab technician, and air traffic controller. She’s an instrument-rated pilot and an alumna of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas.

Her debut novel, All In, was released in August 2019. Her second novel, Stork Bite, released in November 2020.



STORK BITE with author Lisa Simonds Click To Tweet



Welcome Lisa Simonds and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay! Good morning to you and everyone who’s joining us. October is my favorite month, and I’m thrilled and honored to be this month’s Craft of Writing guest.


Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us about your journey to becoming an author.

Actually, no. The first career I really wanted was as a pilot. That was around the time I became a Christian and got my private pilot certificate. I wanted to be a missionary pilot with a group like Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). I have a friend, Nancy Cullen, who has volunteered in the Idaho and Indonesia MAF facilities. MAF uses small aircraft to help people who live in hard-to-reach locations.

Even though I didn’t always want to be an author, I always was drawn to stories. I lost myself in books when I was young, and I think all that reading nurtured my imagination. I made up stories in my head too, as far back as I can remember. I think fiction called to me a long time before I became self-aware as a writer.

You asked about becoming an author, which implies a readership. I think gaining a readership demands a submission to craft in order to write stories that other people want to read. Mastering the craft of writing, particularly the craft of fiction, is a never-ending quest. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, athletes who have their eyes on the prize submit to the discipline of training and run the race according to the rules. As a runner yourself, Kay, you know something about that. The prize for writing isn’t an award, it’s a readership.


Can you give us a brief synopsis of your second novel, Stork Bite?

Stork Bite is difficult to capture in a brief synopsis. The novel encompasses two interconnected books. “Book One” is about a young black man named David Walker, and I titled it with his name. David’s peaceful, pastoral life is suddenly and dramatically torn from him when he accidentally kills a white man. The year is 1913 and the man David kills is a Klansman. David hides the crime and flees the scene because he fears what the Klan will do to him and his family. “Book One” is the story of what happens to David in the wake of that terrible event.

“Book Two” is titled “Shreveport,” and it introduces a cast of characters who live in Shreveport, Louisiana. Cargie (rhymes with Margie) Barr; her husband, Thomas; Mae Compton; and Jax Addington. “Book Two” picks up in 1927, about a decade after we leave David in “Book One,” and it follows the lives of the Shreveport crowd over many years. These characters may seem distant from the boy David Walker and his story, but all of their lives, including David’s, intertwine—some more directly than others.

I like the idea of the secret lives people have. It’s interesting to me that two people can be right next to each other physically, but each can have whole worlds happening inside them that the other doesn’t know about. I touched on that idea a lot in Stork Bite. There’s one scene in which Cargie, who has been reading a lot of novels, thinks it’s strange that her husband, Thomas, doesn’t know all the goings on inside her head when she lays it on the pillow next to his. But then, Thomas has his own secrets that Cargie doesn’t suspect either.

In the early drafts, I played with interspersing David’s story with the Shreveport stories, jumping back and forth in time and place. This type of structure has been done effectively in some popular novels, but it didn’t work for Stork Bite. Based on feedback from some early readers, the intermingled narratives were disruptive and hard to follow. In the end, I decided to keep David’s story as a whole piece and place it at the beginning. The Book One/Book Two structure is unfamiliar to readers, and some are more than a little discombobulated by it. A few have had trouble getting past their initial disorientation to enjoy the novel. Others take to it just fine.

I want to say something here about the contract of trust between an author and a reader. I think it’s very, very important for authors to fulfill all the promises they’ve made by the end of a novel. That’s how we gain and hold readers’ trust, and it’s their trust that compels them to hang with us while we lead them through the labyrinth of our story. Trust is built over time, book by book. Part of a writer’s craft is learning to manage readers’ expectations throughout the story. We need readers to stay on the same page with us and not expect something we didn’t promise or didn’t intend to promise. That’s a huge part of craft as well.


What made you decide to write Stork Bite? How is it different from your first novel?

The genesis of Stork Bite was very different from All In. The novel that became All In grew from a desire to show the inner transformation when someone—in this case, a particular young woman—passes from unbelief through the veil to saving faith. All In was narrow and specific in its premise, and the story drove single-mindedly toward that end.

Stork Bite is a much more meandering, atmospheric novel. Before I wrote it, I had spent years thinking about how to capture some of my aunt’s life in a story. Aunt Mabel, my mother’s eldest sister, was a brave, decisive woman who endured more than her share of heartache. She lived in Shreveport, right across the street from Centenary College, and she was the inspiration for the character Mae Compton. During the writing, Mae became a very different person from my aunt, but I like to think Mabel would have understood Mae.

In the end, Stork Bite overflowed the boundaries of Aunt Mabel’s life, as I had imagined it, and became a story of my South. Many details in the novel came from my own tribal knowledge: a World War I diary, a dry-cleaning store, a juke joint on Lake Bistineau, cotton farming, squirrel hunting with a .22, a jilted beau, an abrupt marriage, a flight from a hurricane in the dead of night. A minor character is murdered by a jealous husband, and the killer is convicted because he reloaded and shot some more. That detail came from my great uncle, who did time in Angola for the crime.

I think Stork Bite’s strength is the world building that came from all those details. At least, that’s what readers who review or talk to me personally mention every time. They like the Southern vibe. Last week, I gave a copy to an acquaintance, and the first thing he asked was, “Does it have all the Southern…?” He didn’t finish the sentence because he couldn’t quite capture it in a word, but I think he wanted to know if he would be immersed in a Southern experience. I like to think Stork Bite gives readers that experience.


Tell us about the title, Stork Bite. How did you choose it and what does it mean?

I put a highlighted note on GoodReads about the title because readers are puzzled by it. I get that. There’s only one reference to a stork bite when a child in the story is born with one. For your readers who don’t know, a stork bite is a common birthmark on a baby’s forehead. They almost always fade with time.

The title is a metaphor for being born under the Adamic curse that is in this world. We all share an imperfect nativity. I love the shades of meaning in the Hebrew word we translate as nativity, as in Ezekial 16:4. They include everything about our entrance into this world: our family, our antecedents, our culture, our physical situation. We are all born, but the challenges our births entail are unique to each of us.

In one of the early manuscripts, I had David Walker considering all the joys and sorrows that accompany being born into this world. He thinks about how everyone is marked by trouble, like a birthmark. In the end, I felt David’s ruminations were a little too on the nose and I edited them out. In retrospect, I wish I had included some sort of epigraph at the beginning to explain the title, as Rebecca Makkai did with The Great Believers.


I love the cover of Stork Bite. Can you share how you came up with that?

Isn’t the cover beautiful? Actually, Kay, you had more than a little to do with that cover design. What I mean by that is you gave me a very good steer toward Kristie Koontz, your cover designer for Dead Man’s Watch. I contacted Kristie and we had a Zoom meeting to discuss the book and what I was looking for in a cover. I wanted an image of a stork and a cover that evoked a low country, Southern feeling. I had even gone as far as purchasing an image on Shutterstock and playing around with it myself.

I sent what I had done to Kristie, thinking she would dress it up and make it better. Kristie asked if I was open to something different if she came up with it. Of course I was! Soon she sent me back a few much-improved versions of my work and a design she had come up with on her own. There was no contest. I loved Kristie’s original design and it became the cover for Stork Bite. Incidentally, the stork image I bought from Shutterstock became a tiny icon on the spine of the print edition. Kristie suggested that little detail.


Did you find writing a second novel was as difficult as the first? If so, in what ways?

Stork Bite was more difficult to write than All In. For starters, Stork Bite has five POV characters versus All In’s one POV character.

I had to do a lot of research for Stork Bite too because so much of the novel takes place in a time before I was born. My research for Stork Bite was like an iceberg in that most of it never made it into the book. I spent hours upon hours on the internet and reading books, researching Shreveport’s history, Centenary College, Mooretown, Texas Avenue, Caddo Lake, the Klan, 1930s fashions and music and aircraft, bootlegging, Hot Springs, Irish gangsters, Al Capone, World War 1, Hurricane Audrey, cotton farming and ginning, and more. I have a 91-year-old friend whose family cotton farmed in Arkansas using horse-drawn plows when he was a boy. His memories of their life then were a great help.

Figuring out the structure of Stork Bite was a real challenge, requiring draft after draft of revisions and resequencing. I’m not just talking about how to position David Walker’s story, but how to sequence the chapters in the Shreveport section of the book to create a smooth narrative flow.


Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?

I entered for the added exposure. I felt that book contests were a necessary part of my marketing strategy. I entered Stork Bite in several contests, including the Texas Institute of Letters, the Eric Hoffer Awards, the IPPY Awards, and the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards. The IPPY Awards issued Stork Bite a bronze medal in the Best Regional Fiction – South category. That was a very nice honor, and I have some pretty stickers to put on print copies.

I want to remind your Craft of Fiction audience that The Watch on The Fencepost received an honorable mention in Mystery and Crime Fiction from the Eric Hoffer Awards, which was a very, very nice honor for an exceptionally well-crafted novel.

I vetted the contests as best I could. There are plenty of contests out there, but I only entered the ones that met two criteria: 1) Stork Bite seemed like a good fit, and 2) winning might bring the novel some recognition or credibility.


How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

In my opinion, not very much because you don’t have any control over winning. There are so many variables, not the least of which are the personal tastes of the judges. If you enter a contest that you think your book has a good chance of winning and it doesn’t, there’s probably value in examining the books that did win. What’s special about them? What stands out? What, if anything, can you learn from them?


What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

If you want to be read, learn to write for others, not only for yourself. I believe the more we learn to edit the self-indulgence out of our work, in other words “murder our darlings,” the more we’ll be in a position to broaden our audience.

There’s a wonderful book titled, Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings. The author did a tremendous amount of research into the Inklings, who were Tolkien’s and Lewis’s critique group. One thing she discovered was that J.R.R. Tolkien wore his buddies out by reading ad nauseam every week about hobbits and elves and Middle Earth. Had it not been for C.S. Lewis convincing his dear friend to edit, Tolkien’s work might never have been published. Wouldn’t that have been a great loss?

Getting the self-indulgence out of our work requires an objective, unsentimental approach to revision. I think maybe that’s why so many writing teachers and coaches recommend letting a first draft cool off for a period of time before editing.


What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel that I hope will snag some new readers. My first two novels focused on questions that I personally wanted to explore. In that sense, I wrote those books for myself first and foremost. With this third novel, I’m focusing on reader enjoyment rather than exploring life’s big questions. I’m trying to write quick scenes with plenty of humor and some suspense too. (Hopefully!) The target audience are readers who want a clean read—no language or other elements that might offend. The characters in the novel are Christians, so there is an opportunity to show the day-to-day life of a young Christian couple and their children.

This novel will be genre fiction. I’d call it Christian suspense. Something James Patterson said in his MasterClass really stuck with me. He advised writers to never condescend to the genre. I love that because it blasts away the highfalutin idea that only literary work contains great writing. Genre fiction can and should have great writing too.

I won’t tell you the title because it’s a working title that may not stick. But I do have a name for you to remember: Freddie Funderburk. Hopefully, you’ll see that name again. And again.


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

Please visit my website.

There you can find links to purchase my novels and to my social media. For years, I’ve written little essays called Leaves of Grace. You can get to those from my website too, or visit for a direct link.


Thanks again, Lisa, for being with us.

It was my pleasure, Kay!


STORK BITE with author Lisa Simonds Click To Tweet



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