Category Archives: Writing

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — SEPTEMBER 2023

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

 

               

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JUNE 2023

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – JUNE 2023

 

I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING blog by focusing on authors who write series. This month we welcome back 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 www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com where I blog when the spirit moves me.

For those interested in my novels, I have a website at www.ingermanson.com 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

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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 www.ingermanson.com.

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

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – MAY 2023

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – MAY 2023

I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING blog by focusing on authors who write series. This month, we welcome back my good friend, 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::

 

Win a chance for a handcrafted pen when you visit the Craft of Writing blog! Click To Tweet

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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 – SteveHooleyWriter.com – 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 SteveHooleyWriter.com.

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — APRIL 2023

I’m excited to continue this year on the CRAFT OF WRITING blog by focusing on authors who write series. This month, we welcome back my good friend, Debbie Burke, the award-winning author of the Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series.

 

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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.

 

Win a handcrafted pen when you visit the Craft of Writing blog! Click To Tweet

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Now, here’s a look at Debbie’s Thrillers with Passion series:

 

 

 

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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 debbieburkewriter.com. There are sample chapters for each book so readers can try them out for free. Also, there’s a bonus free short story for people who join my mailing list. My books are available on Amazon and major online booksellers, as well as independent bookstores.

And drop by The Kill Zone where Kay and I have fun talking about murder and mayhem.

 

Thank you, Debbie, for being with us today.

Kay, I’m honored to be your guest and to call you my friend.

As a special “thank you” to Kay’s readers, currently published books in the Tawny Lindholm Thriller series are on sale today for only $.99 each at this link.

 

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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 www.reaviszwortham.com.

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

The Craft of Writing — January 2023

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — JANUARY 2023

James Scott Bell on writing a series

 

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

James Scott Bell is not only a best-selling author of books on the craft of writing. (I counted about twenty books, including the #1 Best-selling Plot and Structure). He is also an award-winning fiction author. His legal thriller Final Witness won the first Christy Award for suspense, and Romeo’s Way won the International Thriller Writers Award.

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

 

 

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

Great to be here!

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Do you have plans for future Romeo books?

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Katniss Everdeen is killer with the bow and arrow.

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

 

  1. A bit of the rebel

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

 

  1. A vulnerable spot or character flaw

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

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

 

  1. A likable quality

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

 

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

 

In addition to your successful thrillers, you’ve written a library of books on the craft of writing, and you teach at various writers conferences. Do you have plans to speak at any writing conferences in 2023?

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

 

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

The main hub is JamesScottBell.com

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

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

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

 

Thank you, Jim, for being with us today.

My pleasure!

 

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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 — November 2022

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

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

 

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Meet Elaine Viets

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

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Welcome Elaine Viets, and thank you for joining us!

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

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

 

Why did you decide to write mystery novels?

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

What advice would you give an aspiring mystery author?

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

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

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

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

And last but not least.

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

 

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

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

 

Thank you, Elaine, for being with us today.

And thanks, Kay, for interviewing me.

The Craft of Writing — October 2022

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

 

   

 

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

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Meet Andrew McClurg (aka Dorian Box)

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

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

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

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

 

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Welcome Andrew McClurg, and thank you for joining us!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why did you decide to write thrillers?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Thank you, Andrew, for being with us today.

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

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

The Craft of Writing — July 2022

THE CRAFT OF WRITING – JULY 2022

With Garry Rodgers

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

 

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Meet Garry Rodgers

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

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

 

Welcome Garry Rodgers, and thank you for joining us!

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?

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

 

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

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

 

Thank you, Garry, for being with us today.

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

 

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

The Craft of Writing — May 2022

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — MAY 2022

WITH TERRY ODELL

I am thrilled to welcome romantic mystery author Terry Odell to the Craft of Writing blog today as we continue our year-long interviews of mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy authors. Terry is the author of over thirty novels that she calls “Mysteries With Relationships.” Her newest release is In the Crossfire which is a Triple-D Ranch book. Book 1 in the series, In Hot Water, is permafree in ebook everywhere.

 

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Meet Terry Odell

“I love getting into the minds of my characters, turning them loose in tight spots and seeing what they do. Too often, they surprise me.

My published works include the Pine Hills Police Series, the Blackthorne, Inc. covert ops series, the Triple-D Ranch series and the stand alone, What’s in a Name? — all Romantic Suspense, as well as the Mapleton Mystery series, which has been described as a blend of police procedural and cozy mysteries. Heather’s Chase is a stand alone International Mystery Romance, which I had a blast researching on a trip through the British Isles. I’m currently working on a book set in Croatia after my trip there last October. My mystery short story collection, Seeing Red, is a Silver Falchion award winner. I also have a collection of contemporary romance short stories.

When I’m not writing, or watching wildlife from my window, I’m probably reading.”

 

Terry Odell shares her writing journey on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet

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Welcome Terry Odell, and thank you for joining us!

Thanks so much for having me, Kay.

 

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

Absolutely not. I made up stories in my head from time to time, but they were usually variations on a book I’d read or a movie or television show I’d seen and wanted to adjust to my liking. I was a card-carrying AARP member well before I tinkered with writing. Rather than go into the entire story of how I became a writer by mistake, you can find it here.

 

Why did you decide to write novels that you call “Romance with a Twist of Mystery?”

Another long story. I’d been toying around with writing a mystery (the genre I read) and sent chapters to my daughters who both said “Mom, it’s a romance!” And both referred to the same paragraphs. Now, I’d never read a romance, had no desire to read romance, so I wondered why they thought I was writing one. Like many others, I had the misconception that “romance” was the equivalent of Harlequin category romances. Then I discovered romantic suspense, and discovered a “romance” didn’t have to follow those “rules” about hero and heroine meeting on the first page, having to start out hating each other. I realized that the mysteries I preferred to read were series, and I enjoyed following the character arcs as much as I did the crime solving. Side note: a columnist for Orlando Magazine read books from 4 chapter members, and I was fortunate to be one of them. His comments about my book, Finding Sarah said that unlike the other 3, my characters didn’t start out hating each other, but it was clearly a romance, and he quoted the same passage my daughters had pointed out.

 

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

It started as a writing exercise for an online group. “Write a hook in under 200 words.” I threw something together and everyone said, “What happens next?” I had no idea, so I started writing. The story grew more or less at random. I knew nothing about writing, so it was a learn as you write experience. Eventually, I had enough “story” to know it would be about a cop whose job was ruled by black and white rules. How much would it take to push him into the gray? And the heroine was determined to be independent. How much would it take for her to accept help? I think I spent a good year working on the book, applying what I was learning. It ended up being published by the now-defunct Cerridwen Press, and was a finalist in the Volusia County Laurel Wreath contest in the romantic suspense category, so I must have been doing something right.

 

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

Pine Hills Police
This series grew out of my first attempt at a novel, Finding Sarah. I had no intention of it becoming a series, but the characters demanded more page time. The series (really connected books rather than a true series with a continuing protagonist) focuses around the small Oregon town of Pine Hills and its police department (obvious, right?) and its citizens.

Blackthorne, Inc.
This is my action-adventure, covert ops, romantic suspense series. I wrote the first book in the series, When Danger Calls, after I finished Finding Sarah. Again, I had no intention of writing a series (and these are also connected books), and since Finding Sarah was with Cerridwen Press, I knew no traditional publisher would want a book 2. I think the inspiration for the series came from Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series. I created my own high-end security company so I could give them all the toys they needed and send them wherever I wanted. When Danger Calls was published by another now-defunct press, Five Star/Cengage, but I did get three books in that series published before they stopped publishing romantic suspense. I’m working on book 11 now.

Mapleton Mystery
This is my only true series, where a single protagonist runs the show. It’s also my only straight mystery series. It’s set in a small Colorado mountain town and features (in the first book, Deadly Secrets,) a reluctant Chief of Police, although over the course of the series, the character has grown into his job. Deadly Secrets came out right as indie publishing was getting attention. When traditional publishers couldn’t figure out how to sell a book that was part police procedural, part cozy, I decided to take it to readers myself and I’ve never looked back.

Triple-D Ranch
Cattle ranching is big in Colorado, so I wanted to set a book on a ranch. In Hot Water is a spinoff from my Blackthorne series, and the overall series theme is “Rangers Turned Ranchers” where the cowboys on the ranch are all former Army Rangers. It’s another romantic suspense series, with each of the four cowboys having a turn at being the hero.  My newest release, In the Crosshairs, is the fourth book in the series. Once I started writing, I knew I needed to do some hands-on research, so I spent two weeks on a working cattle ranch. Great fun!

 

Of all your works, do you have a favorite?

That’s like asking me which of my kids is my favorite. They all have places in my heart and for different reasons. It’s usually whatever book I’m working on at the moment.

 

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

Short answer: Yes. It’s different for each book, but most of the time, it’s characters first, then the problem they have to solve, then their GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict) for that book. But the order can vary. If it’s a Mapleton book, then I’m relatively “locked in” with my protagonist, a police chief in a small town, and I have to find a mystery/crime for him to solve without turning Mapleton into Cabot Cove. For my romantic suspense books, they’re not “series” in the true sense of the word, but rather connected books, so it’s a recurring cast of characters with a secondary character from a previous book taking center stage in a new one. My Blackthorne, Inc. series can be set almost anywhere, so there’s a little more flexibility with those stories. The others have their own limitations and challenges. The Triple-D Ranch series is set on a cattle ranch in Colorado. There’s some leeway, but I can’t ignore the ranching. Pine Hills is a small town in Oregon, so it has some of the restrictions of the Mapleton series, but since the Pine Hills books are romantic suspense, the central characters will vary. (Except for Hidden Fire, because nobody told me that the romance genre rarely continues with the same hero and heroine in a second book, because they’ve already had their happily ever after.) But definitely, plot is never first. That shows up as I write.

 

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

Right now, I’m working on a book set on a cruise in Croatia. It was going to be a stand alone like Heather’s Chase, but the reality of setting a book in another country where the characters have no jurisdiction is a challenge, so it morphed into a Blackthorne novel, because Blackthorne, Inc., can go anywhere. It’s a bit of a departure at the moment, because the protagonist isn’t a covert ops agent; he’s from Security and Investigations. Not sure where it’s going yet, as I’m only about 40,000 words into it. (Can you tell I’m not a plotter?)

 

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

Read. Join writing groups. Read. Go to conferences. Read. Attend workshops. And read some more. Learn the craft, but most of all, have fun. It’s not an easy business, so if you don’t enjoy the process (and it’s more than the writing—marketing is part of the game), you’ll burn out in a hurry. Don’t quit your day job.)

 

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

Best place is at my website. I also have a blog, Terry’s Place where I talk about writing and anything else that strikes my fancy. I’m a regular contributor at The Kill Zone Blog as well. You can also find me on Facebook, and I have a monthly (more or less) newsletter. Sign up and get a free read.

 

Thank you, Terry, for being with us today.

My pleasure, Kay.

Terry Odell shares her writing journey on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet
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