Tag Archives: thrillers

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