Category Archives: Writing

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

The Craft of Writing — April 2022

THE CRAFT OF WRITING — APRIL 2022

WITH JOHN GILSTRAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Welcome John Gilstrap, and thank you for joining us!

Thanks for having me.

 

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

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

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

 

Why did you decide to write thrillers?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

What are your plans for future novels?

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

 

What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?

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

 

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

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

 

Thank you, John, for being with us today.

Thanks for having me.

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