Saturday, September 24, 2016

J.A. Jance Interview


Bestselling novelist J.A. Jance knew from an early age that she wanted to become a writer after her teacher introduced her to Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz series. But, because of her gender, she was denied creative writing courses, and was forced to learn to write on her own. Determined and resourceful during her difficult life, she eventually made it to the bestseller list.

Judy, how did the J.P. Beaumont, Johanna Brady and Ali Reynolds series come about?

The first Beaumont book was published in 1985. When I wrote it I thought I was writing a one-time book. I was new to Seattle but the character was a Seattle native. I had to do a lot of research to write  that book, and writing from a male first person viewpoint was challenging. After writing nine Beaumont books in a row I was growing tired of the character.

My editor suggested that I come up with some other character so I could alternate. When I wrote the first Johanna Brady novel, Desert Heat, I knew that I was writing a series, but I could use my experiences of being a single parent and living in the Arizona desert, and working in a non-traditional job to create her character. 

Ali Reynolds grew out of seeing a longtime female newscaster pushed out of her job due to age factors.

What in your background prepared you to write grisly crime novels?

I have the dubious honor of spending sixty days of my life during the early seventies being stalked by a serial killer, someone who is still in prison. During that time I wore a loaded weapon and was fully prepared to use it. I used some of what I learned from that experience to create the background for Hour of the Hunter, Kiss of the Bees, and Day of the Dead.

Who influenced your own writing?

I started out reading Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene. I later read John D. McDonald and Mickey Spillane. Those were the people who showed me it was possible to write a series of books for adults.

What’s your writing schedule like and do you aim for a daily amount of words?

Since I’m on a two-book a year schedule, I write every day. I don’t have a set amount of words. I’m also a wife, mother and grandmother. I like having a life.

What are the basic ingredients in a bestselling novel, and how long did it take you to reach the list?

Characters and plots. As for when did I make the list, it was probably fifteen or twenty years ago, but making the list is entirely arbitrary and decisions are made far away from the author’s effort. I don’t think the books I wrote before making ‘the list’ were of any lesser quality than the ones that have.

When did you begin donating your bookstore earnings to charities?

Very early on. I don’t remember exactly. I’ve been involved with the YMCA, the Humane Society, the Relay for Life and ALS research.

Advice for fledgling writers?

When I bought my first computer in 1983, the guy who installed my word processing program fixed it so that every time I booted up the computer these were the words that flashed across the screen: A writer is someone who has written TODAY! Those were the words I clung to when I was a pre-published writer and still resonates with me.Today I am a writer.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Visit with Richard L. Mabry, MD


Richard L. Mabry writes medical suspense novels and was a semi-finalist for best first novel from International Thriller Writers; Medical Error; a finalist for book-of-the-year in its genre, by American Christian Fiction Writers; Diagnosis Death. He was also a finalist for RT Book Reviews Readers Choice in its genre; and Lethal Remedy, winner of the Selah award from Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference.

Dr. Mabry, how would you categorize your novels and what motivated you to write your series?

My tagline is “Medical suspense with heart,” by which I mean that the novels have a medical setting or feature medical personnel, there is an element of danger or uncertainty that threatens the protagonists, and the story line contains a certain amount of romance. Although the books bear the label of the “Prescription For Trouble” series, bound together by some aspect of therapy that causes the conflict, they are freestanding, rather than having the same cast of characters.

Because my background includes thirty-six years in practice, the last ten as a medical school professor, I felt competent to write about doctors and medicine. However, I must confess that I still have to research all the medical aspects of my books carefully, lest I slip up. I’ve learned by experience that there’s always someone among my readers who knows enough to catch my mistakes.
Each of the books began by my asking the question, “What if?” For instance, in the first one I wondered, “What if a doctor fled to her hometown when her life was falling apart, only to find that some of the people there didn’t want her back, and one of them wanted her dead?”
Tell us about your recent release, Lethal Remedy.
Lethal Remedy addresses the question, “What if a wonder drug proves more dangerous than the disease it’s supposed to cure?” On rare occasions, I read in professional journals retractions of published data, and wondered what would happen if someone—a researcher, a pharmaceutical company, some person or entity—falsified research data to emphasize the great potential of a drug while hiding severe side effects, in this case, possibly lethal ones.  And lest my readers throw away all their prescription bottles, I’ll hasten to add that in all my years of performing clinical research and serving as a consultant to various pharmaceutical companies, I have never personally encountered the manipulation of data I describe in Lethal Remedy.


How do you balance the thriller and Christian aspects of your work?
I don’t see these as mutually exclusive goals. Those with deep faith, those who have fallen away from their faith, those with none are all subject to problems. I simply try to weave the make-up of my characters in regard to their relationship with God into the fabric of the story. I don’t have altar calls and conversion scenes in my works, but do try to show how faith is demonstrated by some characters and rejected by others. Situations in which the characters are put in danger—and that’s the backbone of thrillers—are ideal for doing this.
Why did you decide to make your protagonist female?
My first four (unsuccessful) novels featured a male protagonist. As one of my medical school professors told us, “Hey, you can teach a white mouse in three times.” After I found that the vast majority of readers of Christian fiction are female, and most of them identify with female protagonists, I wrote a novel whose lead character was a female doctor. It clicked with a publisher, so I continued the practice with the next three. I have to quickly give credit to my wife, Kay, who is my first reader, for helping me write authentically from a female standpoint. Without her input, I’d be lost.
I am departing from this practice with my next novel, Stress Test, due for release by Thomas Nelson Publishers next spring. In it, a male doctor is kidnapped, escapes at the cost of a head injury that requires emergency surgery, and awakens to find he’s charged with murder. Of course, I’m hedging my bet, with a female co-protagonist, a fiery redheaded attorney who has just declared herself through with doctors forever when she gets the call to defend him.
You’ve received some great reviews. Which means the most to you?
I suppose I’m most pleased by the 4 ½ stars given my novels by RT Book Reviews, mainly because these are objective ratings by seasoned reviewers. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have rather glowing endorsements from some well-known authors, and this means a lot to me as well. However, probably the ones that count the most are the reviews that come from readers, because they are my true audience.
How do you react to undeserved one-star reviews?
I was fortunate enough to avoid one-star reviews for a while, but, as happens with every author, they eventually popped up. Most of these have been from people who took advantage of free e-book downloads of one of my books made available by my publishers, and their complaint was almost universally that there was a Christian element to my writing. I took those for what they represented—people who had no idea what the book was about, but were happy to get it free.
That having been said, if I see one or two low ratings that mention something in my writing that wasn’t up to par, I make a special effort to address that area in subsequent novels. No writer is perfect, and I think we all strive to get better with each book. If I defend myself against criticism instead of listening to it, I’m never going to improve.
And are you retired or still practicing medicine?
I retired from active practice almost ten years ago, but still maintain my license and work to keep up with the field. My practice was in the field of ear, nose, and throat and related allergic disorders, but my training before that was in both medicine and surgery, so I have an understanding of the broad field of medicine. Some of the scenarios I describe are loosely based on experiences of mine or my colleagues, some are products of my imagination as I wonder “what if?” but all are feasible.
Advice to fledgling authors.
Learn, write, revise, learn, write, revise, lather, rinse, repeat. I’ve read various statements that it takes a writer three books to “get it,” that writers have to put so many thousand words on paper to learn the craft, and I tend to agree. Beyond learning the basics of the craft, practice, based on valid critiques, remains the best way to improve. In my own case, it took me four years, writing four unsuccessful novels that garnered forty rejections before I got my first contract. During that time, I read books on writing, attended conferences and classes, but the most important thing I did was write, have my work critiqued by someone knowledgeable in the area, revise, write some more, and on and on.
The ease of publishing e-books has tempted many unpublished writers to rush their work into publication this way. I would encourage them to resist the temptation. Make sure the work is the best you can do. And if you choose to self-publish, get a professional to edit the work and another to do a book cover. If it’s going to carry your name, do it right.
You can visit Dr. Mably at his blogspot:  http://rmabry.blogspot.com, his Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/rmabrybooks  and his Twitter account: http://twitter.com/richardmabry

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Finding Time to Write


by Camille Minichino 

Everything in my life, from my day jobs, to volunteer work, to book touring, (both virtually and in person), takes large chunks of time. I'm sure it's the same with you—by the time you get through all the necessities of life, it seems there's little time left over. In fact, the older I get, the busier I get.

So when is there time to write? For those who might still be struggling with how to fit it all in, I have some tips to share.

1. Think small. No, not only in miniature, as I do for my hobby, but in terms of the time available to you. The best thing I've taught myself is to use small amounts of time productively.

If I have as little as a ten-minute window of "free" time at home or away I open my writing project notebook, or my computer file and make some progress. Even if it's just to tweak one sentence, change that character name I haven't been happy with, or flesh out those random scene ideas I had on my way to work. It's a way of keeping the story at the front of my mind no matter what else is going on.

Waiting for the perfect long stretch of quiet (which might be necessary at times), with the perfect temperature, and the perfect snack food, can stall the process. Any loss of momentum makes it harder for me to get started when that quiet evening does come along.

2. Sleep through household chores. I never use prime time for tasks like folding clothes or waxing the kitchen floor. (Does anyone do that anymore?) Those are labors for times when I'm least alert. So you might hear my clothes dryer going at one in the morning, which, by the way, is also better for the power grid.

3. Embrace technology. I know it gets a bad rap, especially when it's in the hands of rude cell phone users, but how great is it to be able to access calls on my home answering machine while I'm in line at Safeway? Headphones allow me to iron or write thank you notes while I'm on hold for my doctor. I say thanks to the geniuses who make it possible for me to screen my calls and TiVo my favorite crime dramas (for research of course!) for viewing at my own convenience.

Albert Einstein said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.” I interpret that as: take everything ten minutes at a time. Divide the day up like that, and I don't have only 24 hours, I have 144 ten-minute blocks of time to do something with!

Okay, so I'm only fooling myself, but isn't that all that matters?

(Excerpted from Mysterious Writers, Poisoned Pen Press)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Planning a Mystety Novel from Start to Finish


by Marilyn Meredith

That’s the topic Jean asked me to write about. I’ll modify the subject a bit because I’m going to tell you how I plan a Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery from start to finish.

I’m fortunate because I already know who the characters are going to be. The series follows the men and women who work at the Rocky Bluff Police Department. Though they each will show up in a book, a different person may play a more prominent role. That’s something I usually don’t decide in the beginning, it just happens as I’m writing.

 Because I keep newspaper clippings and notes I’ve taken at Sisters in Crime meetings and from the Internet of intriguing crimes, I go through them and see if anything pops out at me that I’d like to write about. Of course, what I write is never exactly what the original story was about. I think things like “What if it wasn’t the wife that killed him, but his very best friend?” and then I go from there. 

Though I don’t outline, I do write down a lot of notes. I think about things like who the murder victim is, who might have wanted this person dead, and alibis. More characters are being added to the story which means finding the right names and descriptions for each one. 

I know exactly what the town of Rocky Bluff looks like—but I need to describe new people’s homes, where the victim is murdered, all the details that make a mystery fun to read. Though I may not write all this down at first, I will keep notes. 

Beginning the story with a bang is important. The first sentence, first paragraph and first scene set the tone and often will be the reason a person keeps reading. 

I begin writing, and as I write more scenes and situations occur to me and I continue taking down more notes. Sometimes the characters themselves suggest what should happen next. I always want the reader to make the discovery of every clue right along with the detectives and other police officers. Of course, often things aren’t quite what they seem. 

In between the crime solving, my officers (yes, this is my police department so they are my officers) and their families have other problems that crop up just like it is with all of us. I need to be sure to continue something that has been going on in a previous book and has yet to be resolved.

I always like to have an exciting scene at the end, sometimes nail biting, where everything comes to a climax.

 As I’m writing, I’m often reading the manuscript chapter by chapter to my critique group who help make sure the dialogue sounds realistic, letting me know if what I’ve written needs more clarification, and mistakes I’ve made. The next day, I edit the chapter carefully, not always taking my group members advice, but usually fixing what they pointed out one way or another.

When the book is completed, I go over it again, looking for more mistakes including continuity errors. I do use the editing tool on WORD—though sometimes I ignore what it tells me.

When I’m sure I have the manuscript as clean as I can make it, I send it off to the publisher. In time suggestions may be made, and I’ll have a draft of the book to check for mistakes. I’ll send back a list of what I’ve found. Once they’ve been fixed, I’ll have another chance to check. Despite going over a galley proof carefully, sometimes mistakes still pop up in the book. I’ve decided there are gremlins out there whose only job is to plunk in an error or two, and sometimes more, in any published book.

Then I wait for a glimpse of the cover to give my approval. After that, the books are printed—and then it’s on to the promotion part.

That’s the way I do it, start to finish, it’s what works for me.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Conversation with Bestselling Author Lorraine Bartlett


Lorna Barrett is the nom de plume of bestselling novelist Lorraine Bartlett. Lorraine's other alter ego, L.L. Bartlett, writes psychological suspense and the Jeff Resnick mystery series. She's done it all, from drilling holes for NASA to typing scripts in Hollywood, and lives a life of crime in western New York. Her first sales were to the confession magazine market. In all, she's sold nine short stories, including one on Amazon Shorts.

Lorraine, why do you write under three names?

I write under the name L.L. Bartlett for my Jeff Resnick/psychological suspense series, because my agent at the time felt it would be better to disguise my gender. She felt (and it’s a known fact) that men often will not read books by women.

I write under the name Lorna Barrett because my publisher asked me to take a pseudonym. Some cozy readers don’t want to read books by authors who write darker fiction (like psychological suspense).

I’ll be writing under the name Lorraine Bartlett (yea! my own) because enough people now know that I write cozy mysteries under the name Lorna Barrett. What goes around, comes around.

Tell us about your three mysteries series and if you write them concurrently?

My Jeff Resnick series is currently on hiatus while I concentrate on writing cozy mysteries and building that audience. The first book, Murder on the Mind is out of print in hardcover and paperback, but is available as a Kindle download and on audio from Books in Motion. The second book, Dead in Red, is still available in hardcover. (It’s easiest to buy it from Amazon.)

The Booktown Mystery series features Tricia Miles, who owns a mystery bookstore, Haven’t Got a Clue, in the little village of Stoneham, also known as Booktown because of all the bookstores.

The Victoria Square Mysteries feature Katie Bonner, who takes over as manager of an artisans arcade after its owner has been murdered. The first book, A Matter Of Murder, was be released on Feb. 3, 2011.

You’ve had a varied background. Tell us about drilling holes for NASA.

After I got laid of from my first job as a secretary, the State of New York sent me out to a machine shop. I worked production for 18 months. We did contract work for NASA and I drilled and tapped holes on parts for the Shuttle. I was very picky about drill sharpness and didn’t let my parts go out of tolerance--so I got to do a lot of those NASA parts! Very boring work, but I had lots of time to plot out stories in between pieces.

Which genre of scripts did you write in Hollywood?

I didn’t write them, I typed them. I worked for 20th Century Fox in their Script Department. We broke down scripts, retyped them, and sometimes collated them. This was before computers. I’m sure one person now does the work of about 20 people. We worked on "Mash," "Trapper John MD," and typed lots of movie scripts. (This tells you how long ago that job was!)

What’s your writing schedule like and do you aim for a certain amount of words per day?

I try for (and often don’t make) 1250 words a day. Some days are better than others. When the writing is going well, I take weekends off. When it isn’t, I try to write seven days a week.

What’s it take to get on the bestseller list?

At least 10,000 sales the first week a book is out.

My second Booktown Mystery, Bookmarked for Death, made it to the extended Times list--starting at #33 and rocketing all the up to #30. My third Booktown Mystery, Bookplate Special, was #20 on the in-print list, which is a bit more impressive.

While I can't be certain how I made it at all, I have to believe it was the support of Barnes and Noble, and hundreds of independent booksellers that made it possible--and of course, my readers. Bookstores took to the series because the protagonist is a bookstore owner. A lot of handselling happened, and I will be eternally grateful.

How important is social networking online?

I’ve gained a lot of new readers because of social networking, so I consider it an important tool for promotion. That said, you can get sucked in and waste a lot of time. I try to log on in the morning, post something, and then log out. (Although I do go in to answer questions readers ask, or comment on their comments.)

How do you promote your books?


I don’t travel a lot, so I rely on the Internet and snail mail. I send out bookmarks, bookplates and postcards, I belong to a number of reader loops, I network with other authors, and I belong to several social networks. It all takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it if I can expand my reader base.

Advice to fledgling writers?

Read, write, rewrite. And rewrite a lot. Also, have patience--a lot of it. Surgeons don’t operate their first day out--most first manuscripts aren’t publishable, either. Don’t take the easy way out. Decisions you make because you’re antsy to be published can come back and bite you later. (Says she who has been severely bitten.) Join a writers organization. If you’re writing mystery, there’s no better place to be than the Sisters In Crime Guppies Chapter. sinc-guppies.org.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Comedian/Novelist Chris Grabenstein


A prolific novelist, Chris Grabenstein began his career in a comedy troupe with Bruce Willis. He also wrote for Jim Henson and the Muffets as well as television and radio commercials, his mentor James Patterson. He now concentrates on thrillers, children's ghostly novels and screenwriting.

Chris, what was it like to perform in the same comedy troupe with Bruce Willis during the early 1980s?

A lot of fun improv, like they did on the TV show, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" is a terrific way to force your imagination to come up with something wonderful right away. I still use improv techniques every day when I write. Back in the early 80s, Bruce Willis was just, well, a young actor named Bruce who had moved to New York City, like everybody else in the troupe, looking for his "big break." Agents and casting people would come to our shows, hoping to discover talent--like that scene in "The Goodbye Girl" where Richard Dreyfus is in that horrible production of Richard III down in a Greenwich Village basement. That was us. Bruce, as I recall, was tending bar. I was a temp secretary. Others were waiters. We all did our day jobs to make money and then came alive at night when we went to rehearsals or did our shows.

How did James Patterson discover your writing talent?

In 1984, tired of making ten dollars a show doing comedy while spending forty hours a week to make money to support my "habit," I decided to look for a job where I could be creative during the workday, too. Mr. Patterson at the time was the creative director of J. Walter Thompson Advertising in New York and ran a full page ad in The New York Times, headlined "Write If You Want Work." Two thousand people took the test. I was the first person hired. Jim took me under his wing and taught me how to write copy...techniques, which translated, later, into how to write books people can't put down.

Tell us about your writing background in advertising and screenwriting.

I spent seventeen years writing (mostly) television and radio commercials, ending my career as an executive vice president and group creative director at Young & Rubicam. In my early years of writing advertising, before it became an 80 hour a week kind of career, I also found time (following Mr. Patterson's example) to work on screenplays, etc. "The Christmas Gift," a made for TV movie I wrote with a college buddy, is still on the air every year. Starring John Denver, it premiered on CBS in 1986 but still earns residuals every year. In 2009, my partner and I split $26. We're talking big time. I also wrote for Jim Henson and The Muppets and took a lot of screenwriting courses. A lot of what I learned in all those writing experiences helps me in my day to day novel crafting.

A number of your mysteries have been published since 2006 when you won the Anthony Award for your first novel, Tilt a Whirl. Are you a rapid writer or did you have unpublished manuscripts in reserve when the first was published?

Well, they've been published since September, 2005 (right before my 50th birthday). Six Ceepak mysteries (Tilt a Whirl, which won the Anthony Award for best first mystery, Mad Mouse, Whack a Mole, Hell Hole, Mind Scrambler, and this month, Rolling Thunder), two Christopher Miller Holiday Thrillers (Slay Ride, Hell for the Holidays), and three middle grades ghost stories in my Haunted Mystery series: The Crossroads (winner of the Agatha and an Anthony), The Hanging Hill (winner of the Agatha), and, this August, The Smoky Corridor [and more]


I am, I think, a disciplined writer and, after all those years in advertising, used to sitting down and writing for a good long time every day. I also have a bunch of unpublished manuscripts as, it seems, I typically write three to four books, a short story, and a play per year.

How did your children’s ghostly novels come about? Did you plan in advance that your wife would do voice overs for the audio editions?

I wanted to write something that my nieces and nephews could read--since the adult mysteries and thrillers were all a little too adult. And, even though the stepmother, Judy Magruder, in the books, is based on my wife J.J. Myers, it wasn't our plan that she do the narration for the audio books. When, however, Random House asked me for suggestions, I gave them two: If they wanted a male, go with Jeff Woodman who does a brilliant job on the Ceepak books for Audible, or J.J. Myers, who knows the material inside out, because she is my first editor. They picked J.J. and she won a Headphones award for her work on The Crossroads. She is really, really good. Created not just voices but characters for all 42 people in that book.

You have quite a family of pets. Have they helped with your storylines?

Definitely. Fred, the dog, helps me on a daily basis because I use his dog walks to day dream about story lines. He is also the inspiration for much of what Zipper does in the YA books. My first dog, Buster, was the inspiration for Ceepak's dog Barkley. The cats help, too. Parker, the gray guy, became the crazycat Jinx, the back-from-the-dead feline in The Hanging Hill, and Tiger Lilly, who is always getting into everything around our apartment, was the inspiration for Curiosity Cat, the character Judy Magruder writes children's books about and who we brought to life this year in a play I wrote for the Children's Theatre of Knoxville, called, "Curiosity Cat", of course. That play, which had its world premiere last month and was a big hit with the kids in the cast as well as the audiences, will be available for production everywhere soon via The Samuel French Company.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you aim for a certain amount of words or hours at the keyboard each day? And do you write every day, including while you travel?

I try to write 2,000 new words every day, no matter how long it takes. Some days, I'm done in three to four hours. Others, 8 or 10! I try to write Monday--Friday and have found that trains and airplanes make great writing rooms, if I have my headphones and a good iTunes playlist. I take a week off between projects to recharge my brain and usually spend the time doing something that allows me to daydream--like washing windows or working on our roof garden.

What are the main ingredients in a bestselling novel?

Gosh, if I knew, maybe I'd be a best seller! I try to write the kinds of books I loved to read when I was working in advertising and flying around the country on shoots or to visit clients: Page burners. Compelling characters and stories that you can't put down. Conflict and tension on every page. Lots of reversals and twists. The longer I am in publishing, however, the more I realize becoming a true best seller requires the major support of your publisher to position you to become a best seller. Without it, you can write the best book in the world and very few people may ever know.

What’s the best way to attract an agent?

Write a story they can't put down. Something they haven't seen. Something with your own unique voice. When I was a group creative director, I always hired copy writers who had something in their portfolio that made me say, "Man, I wish I had written that ad!" With manuscripts, you need, now more than ever, to elicit a similar response. The best place to "meet" an agent, I think, is at a conference or seminar. I've heard agents say the same thing.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Keep writing every day. And--this was the hardest advice I was ever given--decide whether you want to be a writer or to write the one book you have written and keep rewriting because you know it will be a best seller just as soon as people stop rejecting it. To be a writer means becoming someone who is constantly writing something new, not constantly reworking the same idea until someone buys it. Eventually, you need to put that first book away and move on to the second or third. Tilt a Whirl, my "first" book, was my fourth manuscript.

Also, learn from others. Find a book you love and tear it apart. Strip it down and analyze its structure. Look for the ghost in the machine. What makes it tick? Learn the craft from a master craftsperson you admire.

Chris's website: http://www.chrisgrabenstein.com/

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dialogue Tags


by J. Michael Orenduff
(Lefty Award winner and author of the Pot Thief mystery series)

Robert Parker was one of the most successful crime writers of all time, having penned almost 70 books in the Spenser, Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone series. He wrote 1,000 words every day, no more and no less. His many books in the pipeline led me to quip a year after his death that he had published more books dead than I had alive.

In a review of one of Parker’s books shortly before he died, I was surprised by the reviewer’s criticism of Parker’s reliance on ‘he said’ and ‘I said’ in dialogue. I had read all his books and never noticed an overuse of dialogue tags. So I grabbed a Parker off the shelf and started reading. The reviewer was right. Parker ended most of his sentences of dialogue with “he said,” “she said,” or “I said.” I was astonished that I had never noticed. I finally put it down to Parker’s prose being so good that he could get away with it.

If I could miss that in Robert Parker, I could miss it in my own writing.  So I reviewed my own use of dialogue tags. I found that I didn’t use them as frequently as Parker. But I did notice in my review of my dialogue that my most successful ones used fewer or no tags at all. In the time since I read that review, I’ve given a lot of thought to dialogue tags. I always notice them when I read. I have come to believe the best dialogue has no tags:

“I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“It’s the restaurant syndrome, Hubie.”
“Restaurant syndrome? I’ve never heard of it.”
“Maybe you know it by its original name, le syndrome de restaurant.”
I groaned. “Please, no more French words and phrases.”
“But that’s it. That’s the syndrome. You start working in a restaurant, and you have to learn all those French terms. It begins to affect your thinking, like the twins thing.”
“The twins thing?”
“Yeah. You know, like how twins have this special language that makes it easy for them to communicate with each other, but it messes them up when they try to deal with normal people. Restaurant people are like that. We may start out normal, but after you begin using words like prix fixe, hors-d’oeures, a la carte, escargots, and raison d’etre, you get a little crazy.”
Raison d’etre?”
“I think it’s a raisin soufflĂ©.”

This passage is a conversation between my protagonist, Hubie, and his sidekick, Suzannah. The text makes it clear that they’re alone at a table in their favorite watering hole. How does the reader know the first speaker is Hubie? Because he is the one having problems. But even if the reader doesn’t make the connection, it is clear that Hubie is speaking because the response mentions him. I could have started the dialogue with, “I can’t believe this is happening to me,” I said. That would not be bad but I like it better without the tag. People don’t use dialogue tags when they speak, so keeping tags out of your dialogue makes it easier for the reader to fall into that perfect state when reading dialogue—thinking you are there listening to the characters.”

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers, where you can read J. Michael Orenduff’s interview.)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Why Isn’t Reality Enough?


by Sandra Parshall

The next time you’re in the fiction section of a library or bookstore, take a moment to really see what’s around you. Each of those novels holds between its covers a distinct world that was created inside someone’s head.

Every year thousands of fictional worlds, inhabited by nonexistent people living out imaginary lives, are written, published and sold. The hidden hunger for made-up stories is insatiable—and unique. No other animal feels a desire, a need, to live simultaneously in the real world and in a wild variety of alternative, imaginary worlds.

Why do people have such a strong compulsion to tell and to hear, to write and to read, fictional versions of human experience? Why isn’t reality enough?

Reading fiction is usually seen as an escape from reality—so much so that some parents worry their children read too much and don’t spend enough time with other children. They feel their children will be isolated and fail to develop the people skills necessary to succeed in society. A series of psychological studies done over the past few years, though, should set the parents’ minds at ease. In every study frequent readers of fiction were more understanding of other people’s viewpoints, better at reading the moods of others and more open to new experiences. They suffered less from loneliness and social isolation than people who primarily read nonfiction.

Fiction has social benefits even when it’s not in print form and bound between covers. In a 2010 study of pre-school children, a team of psychologists found that the more fictional stories the kids listened to, and the more fictional movies they saw, the better able they were to understand other people’s viewpoints and beliefs. Watching television, however, didn’t provide the same benefits. The psychologists theorized that TV shows are too simplistic and don’t challenge the mind and emotions the way complex forms of fiction do.

We need stories in order to make sense of human life. While we’re immersed in a fictional world, we set aside our own beliefs and concerns and adopt the point of view of the protagonist. The two worst things we can say about any fictional character are: “He/she didn’t seem real to me” and “I didn’t care about the characters.”

Most of us don’t read fiction out of mere curiosity, to watch characters we don’t care about move through a series of events we can never accept in the fictional world. We want to understand it, however different it is from our own experiences. Understanding fictional events and people makes us more open minded in the real world.

(Excerpted from The Mystery Writers, where you read Sandra’s interview and learn more about her.)


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Elmore Leonard Interview


“Dutch” Leonard’s overnight success began in 1951, when he flipped a mental coin to decide between writing crime novels and westerns. “Westerns won because I liked western movies a lot,” he said, “and because there was a wonderful market for western short stories. You could aim at the Saturday Evening Post or Colliers, and if you missed there, try Argosy, Blue Book, and on down to the lesser paying pulp magazines, the most prestigious being Dime Western and Zane Grey. Right behind them were Ten-Story Western and Fifteen Western Tales."

The late author had always been an avowed reader. “A bookworm, yes,” he said, “beginning with The Bobbsey Twins and The Book House volumes of abridged classics that included everything from Beowulf to Treasure Island. In the fifth grade I read most of All Quiet on the Western Front, serialized in the Detroit Times, and I wrote a World War I play that was staged in the classroom, my first piece of writing.”

His first nine years were spent south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the youngest of two children. He lived in Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Memphis before moving to Detroit in 1934 during the World Series. Raised a Catholic, he graduated from Detroit High School and the University of Detroit, both Jesuit institutions where he majored in English and philosophy.

A baseball player during high school, he acquired his nickname “Dutch” from teammates, who borrowed it from the Washington Senators knuckleball pitcher. The second Dutch Leonard served in the Navy during World War II with a Seabee unit in the South Pacific. Four years later, he acquired a bride and a new job with an advertising agency.

Leonard lusted for full-time writing, and remembered a letter from his agent in 1951, which attempted to discourage him from quitting his advertising copywriting job to freelance. He had concentrated on truck advertising for Chevrolet and, by that time, had a tank full of writing catchy ads. Rising at five o’clock, he wrote two pages of fiction before going to work “with the rule that I couldn’t put the water on for coffee until I’d started writing. I’ve been a disciplined writer ever since.”

While working for the ad agency, he supplemented his early morning writing by placing a pad of paper in his desk drawer. With the drawer partially open, he wrote fiction on the job. His first two short stories were rejected, so he decided to spend more time and effort on research. Although he had never set foot west of the Mississippi, he concentrated on the Southwest, Apaches, the cavalry and cowboys, while subscribing to Arizona Highways magazine to learn all he could about the arid terrain. His first sale the previous year was a novelette titled, “Trial of the Apache,” which sold to Argosy magazine for their December issue. His next story, “Tizwin,” earned him a rejection letter from Argosy and a sale to Ten Story Western, which eventually appeared in print in 1952 under the title, “Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo.”

Thirty of his short stories sold during the 1950s, four of them to Argosy and the Saturday Evening Post, while the majority appeared in Dime Western and Zane Grey. Leonard sold everything he wrote with the exception of his first two short stories and several with contemporary settings. By the end of the 1950s, television had taken over. 

“The pulps faded away and the book advances didn’t compare to what was once offered. It took nearly two years to sell Hombre, for an advance of $1,250.” Multiple printings followed, with the book listed among the twenty-five all-time best westerns. Hombre more than made up for its meager beginning, along with a film version starring Paul Newman, which earned the writer a modest $10,000.
Gunsight was his last western novel, written at the request of Marc Jaffe in 1979 for Bantam Books.

Leonard then flipped his genre coin again and found that crime can pay quite well. Stick and LaBrava made him an overnight success, nicely padding his wallet along with the 1985 film version of Stick, starring Burt Reynolds, a production he prefers to ignore. The writer’s innate humor is deadpan, he said, not slapstick.
Glitz sparkled for eighteen weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, ensuring him top billing on the literary marquee, but although the film rights were optioned by Lorimar, production stalled for more than two years.

His sudden popularity cut deeply into his writing time. “It’s nice to get fan mail,” he said, “a few letters a week, and being recognized on the street, but the interviews are wearing me out. I’m asked questions about writing, and about my purpose in the way I write that I’ve never thought of before. And I have to take time to think on the spot and come up with an answer. I’m learning quite a bit about what I do from recent interviews, and getting a few answers.

Interviewers asked Leonard for advice for budding writers. He usually responded with: “The worst thing a novice can do is to try to sound like a writer. I guess the first thing you have to learn is how not to overwrite.” His advice was simply to write. “Don’t talk about it, do it. Read constantly, study the authors you like, pick one and imitate him, the way a painter learns fine art by copying the masters. I studied Hemingway, as several thousand other writers have done. I feel that I learned to write westerns by reading and rereading For Whom the Bells Toll.”

A portrait of Hemingway hung on the wall of his office, reminding him that he studied the revered novelist’s work for “construction, for what you leave out as well as what you put in. But I was not influenced by his attitude, thank God. My attitude is much less serious. I see absurdities in serious situations, influenced in this regard by Vonnegut, Richard Bissel, and Mark Harris, and this shows in my writing. It’s your attitude that determines your sound, not style.”

Leonard wrote for many years in longhand on specially-ordered yellow sheets, rewriting and revising until he was ready to type his final draft.


“I’ll do a few pages this way and then put it in my Olympia manual office-model typewriter,” he said. “I hate to change ribbons, but have no interest in electronic advances. How the words are eventually reproduced is not my concern. I revise as I type, aiming for five or six clean pages a day. Then I continue to go back and revise and the pages begin to pile up. Sometimes I’ll go back and add a scene or shift scenes around, but most of the revising has to do with simplifying, cutting out excess words, trimming to make it lean or to adjust the rhythm of the prose.”

(The interview was excerpted from my book, Maverick Writers).

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Writing a Series


by Rhys Bowen

The truth is that the choice is often not ours to make. Many writers, including myself, find out that we’re writing a series when the publisher accepts the first book and asks, “Do you already have an idea for the next one?”

In fact most mystery writers get their start writing a series, and this has many advantages: you have a chance to build a readership over several books. You develop a presence on the shelves of the chain stores. You have a chance to develop an ever deepening relationship with your main character, rather like an ongoing friendship in which he or she reveals more and more interesting details about themselves and their pasts.

In many ways it's more comfortable to write a series. Each book starts with known facts, familiar characters, setting, subsidiary characters.

Of course there are disadvantages to writing a series: The biggest one is that you are stuck with your sleuth. Make sure you like him and find him interesting at the beginning. Agatha Christie came to loathe Hercule Poirot. You’re stuck with the environment. If you aren’t really fascinated with llama breeding, don’t make your sleuth a llama breeder. You’ll get mail from llama fanciers every day . You’l l be expected to go to llama shows and knit llama sweaters.

Certain crimes will never happen in your environment.

You are not free to try new approaches—alternating points of view, darker approach etc. Make sure you start off with the kind of book you want. If you start with a cozy series you can’t go dark in the middle, as I have found out. Your readers expect a certain type of book and will be angry if you change. My first Evan was deemed a cozy series. As I’ve come to know Evan better the books have become darker and meatier but they are still designated as cozy. There are some places I could never go with the stories. Likewise the readers of my Royal Spyness series expect to laugh and be entertained. They would be shocked by anything too dark happening.

And the last disadvantage: if the series becomes popular, you’ll be expected to go on writing it forever, which takes from you the chance to try something new. Or, as in my case, you want to try a new idea and find yourself juggling several books a year.It’s hard. A writer should be free to write whatever wonderful ideas come into her head, but writing these days is a business. I expect it always was. I expect Mr. Dickens’s publisher said to him, “Charlie, I told you, no regency romances.”

Friday, July 1, 2016

Julie Garwood Revisted

     Julie Garwood is the author of more than three dozen historical and romantic suspense novels, and 40 million copies of her books are in print. At least twenty  of them have appeared on the New York Times Bestsellers list. She also writes YA novels as Emily Chase. 
    
   Julie, tell us about The Ideal Man.
  
   It's a story of  a young woman who is facing two threats.  The first one has been with her from her childhood, and the second one comes from an incident that she is thrown into by coincidental circumstance. 
     
    Despite the fear she's faced since she was young, she's managed to become a dedicated surgeon. She's successful and self assured; yet, there's always that vulnerability inside. She's never really allowed herself to let go . . . until the second threat appears. She accidentally becomes a witness to a crime, and the FBI agent on the case not only helps her resolve her fears but also opens her up to emotions she's never felt before.
   
   How did growing up in a large Irish family lend itself to storytelling?
  
  The Irish are by nature great storytellers I think. It seems to come with the genes. They bring out all the nuances of a situation, and I loved sitting around the dinner  table listening to my family talk. Also, growing up in a family of seven children taught me that self-expression had to be quick and forceful.

   Why did you begin your novel writing with YA books and historicals?

   I had young children when I began, so I was drawn to that genre, but I was also interested in historical novels. I had taken a medieval history class in college that I absolutely loved, so I was following that passion as well. My first book, A Girl Named Summer, was published by Scholastic, and shortly after that, Gentle Warrior was published by Pocket Books. The historical novels found a growing audience, and the publishers asked for more of them, so that's that direction my writing has taken.

    While I really enjoy writing the  adult books, I'm hoping to find the time to write a few more for young  readers someday.

    How have your books evolved over the years?

    I haven't changed my themes much. I still write about family and loyalty, and I try to insert some humor into my stories. There's always an element of intrigue or suspense and the romance between the hero and heroine is absolutely key. The setting has changed somewhat. I started with historical novels and I've moved into contemporary settings in the last few years. I enjoy each of them, so my goal is to find the time to write both.

   What's your writing schedule like?

   I like to begin writing early in the morning. It's a routine I started when my children were young. I'd get up early and work on my book before they were awake. I usually have the TV on, though I'm not watching it. It's just background noise. This is a habit that developed when I was a child doing my homework around a table with my siblings. In order to concentrate, I learned to block out the distractions.

    Do you outline your novels and do you aim for a certain amount of words each day?

    I know where the story is headed, but I don't follow a rigid outline. I find that if I let the story evolve, there will always be some surprises along the way that make it more fun. I can't predict how much I'll produce. There are times when the words just flow and I'll write one or two chapters in a day. Then there are times when I can't seem to get a scene right and I may spend two or three days on one page.

    In your opinion, why do some books make the bestseller lists while other equally well-written books fail?

    That's a million dollar question. If I had the answer to that, I'd be a genius. I do believe, though, that there are a great many elements involved. They include some marketing, some talent, and a great deal of luck.

   Advice to fledgling novelists?

   First, stay focused and set aside some time each and every day to work on your writing. It's important that you get into a rhythm and have the discipline to finish your manuscript.

   Second, let your voice be heard in your writing. If your reader can  hear you talking to them in your words, they're more likely to listen to what you have to say.

   Third, develop a network. Writers' organizations and conferences and conferences give you opportunities to meet agents and editor, and that will help you learn more about the publishing business and perhaps give you a leg up in getting published.

    How would you occupy your time if you weren't writing?

    Family would probably take up most of my time. I have a large extended family, so there's always something going on.

   Thank you for an enjoyable visit.

   You can visit Julie Garwood's website at: http://www.juliegarwood.com/
    At Facebook: www.Facebook.com/juliegarwood
    and at Twitter: @JulieGarwood

  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Award-winning Author Julie Kramer




Julie Kramer moved from fellow journalist to novelist. She writes a mystery series set in the desperate world of television news—a world she knows well from her career working as a freelance news producer for NBC and CBS, as well as running the WCCO-TV I-Team in Minneapolis, where she won numerous national investigative awards. Her thrillers take readers inside inside the newsrooms and demonstrate how decisions are made  amid the chaos. 

She's won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, Minnesota Book Award and the RT Book Review's Best First Mystery. She's also been a finalist for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark, and RT Best Amateur Sleuth Awards.

Julie, tell us about Shunning Sarah.

Shunning Sarah pits two very different cultures against each other:  TV news vs. the Amish. I grew up on a family farm in rural Minnesota near some Amish and later spent a career in television news. Writing this book allowed me to incorporate both experiences and live my research. It is a very topical story dealing with real life issues amid the closed society of the Amish - including hair cutting by a rogue Amish sect.

Here’s the story basics:  A sketch of a homicide victim’s face is broadcast on the news, but when she is identified as Sarah Yoder, a local Amish woman, the police have difficulty investigating because her family believes in forgiveness rather than prosecution. Because of the biblical ban on graven imagines, they also object to her picture being used by the media. But when a TV reporter finds a clue the cops miss, she uncovers a dark web of fraud and deception - driven by motives as old as the Bible: sex and money.



How does this latest novel differ from the others in the series?

While each of my thrillers features the same protagonist - investigative TV reporter Riley Spartz - they are all self-contained, so new readers don’t have to start with my debut to make sense of the others. But each book delves into very different murders and news stories, so fans won’t feel they’ve read this before.  Besides incorporating Amish elements, SHUNNING SARAH also looks at how television newsrooms are changing - and not always for the better.

Why did you decide to use two word titles with the same letters for all your novels? 

While writing my debut, Stalking Susan was my working title. My editor loved it and didn’t want to hear any others. For my second book, my working title was Never Worn - after a wedding dress want ad. I thought it sounded mysterious and poignant. My editor thought it sounded dull and boring. In a smart-alecky moment, I asked, “So what do you want to call it?  MISSING MARK?” She said, yeah...and didn’t want to hear any other titles. That’s how my books became branded. The verb is actually more important than the name. Once I’ve locked in on the verb I figure out a title character name. For instance, I wanted to use “shunning” and I needed an Amish name, so I picked “Sarah.”

How did your protagonist  Riley Spartz come about? You gave your TV reporter an unusual name. How did it originate?

Her name didn’t seem unusual at the time. Spartz was my mother’s maiden name and I used it as a salute to her. I’ve always liked the name Riley, and had wanted to use it for one of my kids. But my husband didn’t. So they are named Alex and Andrew. But when the time came to name my heroine, I didn’t hesitate.  Neither my agent nor my editor ever suggested changing her name.

 Which character traits do you share with Riley Spartz?

I spent a career in television news, I like to think my protagonist and I are both smart, savvy and relish scooping the competition. But she is more ratings driven than I was....partly because it’s now become more of a necessity in TV news. I was always a news producer so my work was behind the scenes  - in the field and in the newsroom. I decided for storytelling purposes, my heroine needed the added pressure of being on camera.

You’ve had some great reviews. Which do you cherish most?

I’ve gotten fabulous national reviews from People Magazine, USA Today, and the Associated Press, but I cherish any positive review and especially enjoy hearing from readers.

Advice for fledgling novelists?

Don’t worry on page one whether or not your concept is believable or not. It’s your job as a writer to make it believable. That’s a better question to ask a hundred pages into your manuscript, otherwise you might talk yourself out of a cool premise. Remember truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes a reader will ask me, “That couldn’t really happen, right?” I reply that nothing in my books is as crazy as what they’ll see on the news tonight. 

What’s the biggest difference between writing fiction and writing news?

In fiction, books always have resolution. In real life news events, that doesn’t always happen.