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:
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?
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