Friday, November 18, 2016

Writing Advice from Some of the Best

Pulitzer winner, A.B. Guthrie, Jr., had this to say about the business of writing:

“I would give one piece of advice to would-be writers: if you don’t love the language, forget it! And second, study the established authors. Learn how they get their effects. Study the craft of fiction, know what it means, what it is.”

Loren D. Estleman, bestselling crime and western novelist:

“For me, a good mystery places story and character ahead of all else, yet never loses sight of the simple truth that in order to be a mystery, a question must be asked. It needn’t be a whodunit, and might be something as simple and maddening as why the murdered man had three left shoes in his closet and no mates. If the writer has done his job well, the reader will forget the questions as the story draws him in. But there had damn well better be a mystery involved if he’s going to call it one.”

Elmore Leonard, bestselling author:

“The worst thing a novice can do is to try to sound like a writer. The first thing you have to learn is how not to overwrite” He also said, “Write! Don’t talk about it, do it. 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 Bell Tolls.

“To me, the characters are everything. I begin with them, and if a story doesn’t come out of their incarnations, I don’t have a book. I imagine a type of character in a particular setting—South Miami Beach, Atlantic City—adding other characters in a very vague idea of a plot situation and making it up as I go along. Characters audition in their opening scenes. Some, who I think at first are going to be main characters, end up playing minor roles, while a walk-on character will now and again talk his way into a part that becomes the third or fourth lead.” Every writer I interviewed agreed that novice writers must read a wide variety of literature. No writer can succeed without extensive reading.

Will Henry, multiple award-winning author and screenwriter, offered this advice:

“Keep at it. That’s all. If it’s in you to write, it will come out. If it’s not, you will have a lot of fun thinking it is.” When asked how much money a young writer can earn, he said, “Not much! Not enough to keep life in the body of a single human being. You must have another source of income.”

Jeanne Williams, award-winning historical romance author:

“Write constantly and find a qualified writer to critique your work.” Emphasizing the importance of rewriting and revisions, she said new writers should expect to be as dedicated to their craft as a surgeon is to his. “Determination is all-important, for first-time writers do manage to sell. Write what you care about most and give it your best shot.”

Marlys Millhiser, mystery novelist:

Strange and exotic places trigger ideas for her novels. "I’ll look at a house and think, ‘That place needs a ghost. I like to travel because new places turn me on, and once I find a place, the characters kind of wander into the opening scene. So I normally know how I’m going to begin a book, but I don’t know where I’m going from there." Millhiser has rewritten the first ten chapters of several books before finding her direction. "Writing instructors tell young writers to outline their stories before they begin writing, but some of us—myself included--still sit at the computer with only a vague idea of what we’re going to write that day."

Irene Bennett Brown, award-winning novelist:

“A writer shouldn’t broadcast a story’s theme or wave it in front of a reader like a banner,” she said. “That’s too much like teaching and preaching, which readers hate. I give my characters strong goals, and tough problems. Theme isn’t something you plan, it just is. It’s what your story proves and falls into place when you’ve done everything else right.”

Chris Roerden, editor and author of Don't Murder Your Mystery:

The Agatha Award winning author says: "Dialogue is a form of action, a potent technique for expressing conflict. It is the mightiest power tool on the writer's workbench for making characters come alive. Instead of your stepping in like an overbearing parent to tell us about your characters, dialogue lets you let them reveal their feelings, attitudes, and personalities through their own words." (This book is a must read for all aspiring mystery novelists.)

Louis L’Amour, bestselling author:

L’Amour advised fledglings to “read and write everything you can. Keep writing, putting words on paper and learn to express yourself. One difficulty I find of people who write is that they don’t read enough. And our schools aren’t giving us enough background in American literature. I think you should have a pretty good idea of what’s been done before you try to do it. And you can learn some very valuable things by writing. I really learned how to write from Robert Louis Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, and de Maupassant.”

Janet Dailey, bestselling novelist:

“It’s not as free as it once was for new writers to break into print. Probably the greatest way for a writer to break into the business is to write in category, whether it be western, romance, mystery, or science fiction; that’s the place where the publisher has already learned there is an audience. That’s where fledglings can establish themselves and become a Stephen King, Mickey Spillane, Louis L’Amour or Agatha Christie. Excel and go beyond the so-called limits of the categories.”

Benjamin Capps, award-winning author:

Capps believed that a writer should imagine one reader and write for him or her, much as a television newsman speaks to one envisioned viewer. His own reader is like him, he said; “just about as realistic and romantic, cynical and sentimental, dumb and intelligent, simple and sophisticated, optimistic and pessimistic,” and who shares similar interests. “Do I manipulate the reader?” he said. “I sure do, for I’ve studied the fictional techniques of writers from Sophocles to Chaucer to Melville to Steinbeck for decades. However, probably no reader of mine ever felt so strongly or dropped a small tear unless I had already done so in the writing.”

Beth Franzese, mystery novelist, emphasized experience and research:

As a writer of amateur sleuth novels, I am always interested in the psychological experience of being a crime fighter. For my [work in progress], I have had the luck of being close to a detective who has constantly checked my work for authenticity. Also, questions about what death looks like, how a body falls when shot, etc. I have much martial arts experience, so I love writing my fight scenes, but I think a lot of authors need help with that, too.”

Brian Garfield, screenwriter and author of “Death Wish:”

Echoing reading and writing “a lot,” he said, “Make sure that you have a good command of the technicalities of the English language. I don’t care about spelling, but you’ve got to be able to write good sentences. You’ve got to be able to write them with a certain amount of grace. The main problem, I think, today is that everyone wants to be on the bestseller list without the apprenticeship first. No matter how boring, writers must learn the craft along the way, because “it does have to be learned.”

Bill Pronzini, bestselling author:

“Read as widely as possible in your chosen field, both fiction and nonfiction, then write something fresh with an unusual approach or slant. A Louis L’Amour imitation isn’t likely to launch any new writer these days . . . I learned my craft by writing stories for a score of different magazines. Today there are very few fiction magazines left—in effect, no real training ground for young writers to develop and hone their skills, which is very unfortunate.” 

Parris Afton Bonds, bestselling romance writer:

“Talent is cheap. The difference between a professional and an amateur writer is persistence. Selling is a matter of luck, really. If one has enough money (determination) to remain at the gambling tables, the dice will eventually roll in his favor. If a fledgling writer is aiming his work toward the market in demand at the moment, then the sky is the limit—assuming that he has perfected his craft and read a great many novels of that genre.” In other words, “persistence, patience, and all the while perfecting your craft.”

John Mantley, novelist, script writer, actor (and early actress Mary Pickford’s first cousin):

Mantley produced the “Gunsmoke” TV series for ten years and wrote scripts for “Rawhide,” “Kraft Theatre” and many other televised programs. He said, ‘’You have to be thick-skinned to survive as a script writer, because having your work rewritten by producers is bad enough, but you also have to expect to have it rejected for the most inane reasons.”

Don Balluck, television script writer:

Balluck, who wrote scripts for a number of TV shows, including “Magnum PI,” talked about the personality traits necessary for a successful script writer. “Courtesy and a sense of humor” are paramount, he said. “We have to deal with a lot of bleeding egos and it’s just plain prudent to maintain a certain amount of equanimity. There’s strength in getting what you want without hurting or humiliating anyone.”

Calvin Clements, television script writer:

Clements wrote for many well-known episodic programs and warned would-be script writers not to “protect the script” by registering it. “It’s the mark of a novice who registers the script with the Guild on a [certain] date.” When, as a producer, Clements received “such material and saw the Guild stamp, the writer’s ability—in my mind and other editors—suffers. Two writers, even three, can come up with the same idea and go to work on it. That’s when the accusations start if they are newcomers, that someone stole the script.”

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cheryl Kaye Tardif Revisited

Cheryl Kaye Tardif's work is called Canadian suspense with a killer twist. The bestselling suspense author from north of the border tackles sensitive and terrifying scenarios that most people wouldn't want to consider. From psychic investigations to serial  killers and assisted suicides, she delves into the human psyche and spotlights our worst fears.

Cheryl, how did your first novel, Whale Song, come about and had you written/published anything prior to it?

Whale Song was in my head for two years before I ever wrote down the title. In fact, I wasn't even sure I was going to write it. At the time, I had pretty much given up hope of getting published; I had tried for years. But the story of Whale Song haunted me. I couldn't shake the characters or the plot. Finally, a friend said, "Cheryl, don't worry whether it gets published.Write it for yourself. Write it because you have to." That was the best advice I've ever been given.

Since Whale Song, which was first published in 2003, I've had six more novels published  (Children of the Fog, Devine Intervention, Devine Justice, The River, Lancelot's Lady and Whale Song: School Edition), as well as Skeletons in the Closet, Other Creepy Stories, and Remote Control, a novelette. All my works are available in ebook editions and all but the novelette are out in trade paperback. I've also had a short story published in What Fears Become: An Anthology From the Horror Zone.

You've written in a number of genres and under a pseudonym. Which genre do you prefer and which has been the most successful?

Suspense is my forte. And any combination of suspense, mystery, paranormal has been  successful for me.

Why do you think all your novels have made the bestseller lists?

In general, readers don't like predictable, formulaic works. They'll never have that with my novels. I strive to be unpredictable and I don't use any kind of formula when writing my books. My stories are a mix of plot-driven and character-driven tales. And I bring emotion into each story, whether it's fear, sorrow, happiness, excitement or another emotion. I want my readers to feel  like they're right there in the story, seeing everything, feeling everything.

How do you promote your work?

I have two main websites and a blog, plus I belong to various social networks. Most of my marketing is done online through various websites and promotions. And my books are promoted via Imajin Books, my publishing company.

Why did you decide to go the indie route with your own publishing company and how long was it before you began publishing the work of other writers?

I began my career as an indie published author, self-publishing three titles from 2003-2005. With their success I was able to secure a New York agent and a traditional publisher. I recognized a lot of serious problems with my publisher early on and ended up removing my books just before they went under. My experience wasn't entirely negative though; I learned a lot from them--especially what NOT to do as a publishing company.

After leaving my publisher, I decided to return to indie publishing and set up my books again under my publishing company, Imajin Books. Over the next year or so I was approached by other authors who asked me if I'd consider publishing them. I said no, but it made me think. I realized there was a need for what I could offer.

So, on January 15, 2011, I opened Imajin Books to accept other authors. We now have a great group on board; some will be publishing their second book with us this spring/summer.

How does your publishing company differ from other small presses?

Imagin Books is an innovative company. We offer a hybrid form of publishing, kind of a cross between indie publishing and traditional. We offer a small advance and much higher than average royalties on ebooks and trade paperback sales. We consider ebooks to be primary rights, with print a subsidiary right. We only secure these rights so authors are free to purse film and other rights.

Our authors have more input into the creation of their books. We go through various editing stages, which they're part of, and they have input into their cover and trailer as well. We treat our authors like partners. Yet they pay nothing up front. We are NOT a subsidiary publisher. We focus on ebooks sales and market accordingly.

How do your print books sales compare with ebooks? And when did your ebooks begin outselling print editions in Canada?

Print sales are a small percentage of what we sell. Our ebooks far outsell our paperbacks. Last time I looked at the numbers we were selling 50 ebooks for every paperback. We have always sold more ebooks than print.

What's your work schedule like?

I work six to seven days a week. My hours vary, but I rarely work less than eight hours a day and often more. I love what I do and I take frequent breaks, so it doesn't really seem like I'm working that long. The great thing is that I can take days off when I need them.

My schedule is divided between answering email, reading submissions, coordinating editors and authors, assigning covers to designers, checking back with everyone, arranging our promotions, updating the website and blog, and anything else that comes up.

Advice for novice writers?

Facebook account BEFORE you query a publisher or agent. A book won't sell without consistent marketing on the part of the author.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Louise Penny Revisited




New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny lives and writes in a small village near Montreal, not far from the U.S. border. She's the multiple recipient of the Agatha Award as well as other honors for her work.

Louise, you've had a long career as a journalist and radio host in your native Canada. When and why did you decide that you would rather write novels?

Well, I've wanted to write since I was a child, and tried every decade of my life. But the sad fact was, I had nothing to say. I was way too callow and self-absorbed. And while I feigned interest in others, I really wasn't listening. These are not promising traits for a writer.

There's a wonderful line from Auden's elegy to Yeats in which he writes, 'Mad Ierland hurt him into poetry.' How searing, how true must that have been? And I feel the same was true of me. Not poetry, of course, but writing. I was finally buffeted and bruised and hurt enough by life that I started to empathize with and feel the pain of others. I understood loss and sorrow and aching loneliness. What it felt like to make dreadful mistakes. And what it felt like to be forgiven. And to forgive. And to love with all my heart. How friendship really felt.

And then I was ready to write.

Your work has taken you from Toronto to Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, Quebec City and Montreal. Have any of those cities served as a backdrop for your books?


My books are actually set, for the most part, in the fictional village of Three Pines, which is south of Montreal, near the border with Vermont. It's the area of Quebec I live in, called the Eastern Townships. However, Chief Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie live in Montreal, so I'm able to use my familiarity with that gorgeous city. 

I know that you’re a fellow dog lover. Have canines inhabited your novels?


Yes! I love writing about dogs, and have given almost every character, including Clara and the Gamaches, dogs. Clara has a Golden Retriever, like us - and the Gamaches have a German Shepherd. Both are adoption dogs. 

What did you find the most difficult when you made the transition from journalism to fiction?

There were actually a lot of challenges. In radio journalism I was used to a story being half a page long. Just the facts. No plot, no character development. Few adjectives. I was convinced that when I set out to write my novel it would be a page and a half long. What I found quite easy, though, was dialogue, since when I wrote for radio I wrote for the spoken word. And I had 20 years of listening closely to how people talk.

Did marrying later in life influence your work in any way?


Certainly finding love influenced it. My books are about murder and the terror that comes from a crime of such violation, but mostly they're about love. My husband is the first and only man I have loved. With all my heart. I know how Reine-Marie loves Gamache, and he her, because of how I feel. And Michael has also served as an inspiration for Gamache - a mature man, who is happy and content. Not because he's never known sorrow, but because he knows exactly how terrible the world can be, and chooses to stand in the light anyway.

What’s the best part of mystery writing and the worst? And what's your writing schedule like?


One of the great things about a career hosting a daily live radio show is I learned discipline. And perseverance. Two qualities I think are more important even than creativity. I write from January through until the book is finished...generally eight months for a first draft and re-writes. Though I am thinking of a book, and making notes, for about a year before I actually start writing.

Everyday I write at least 1,000 words. Even if they're stinkers...I can always take them out afterward. But I know myself. I can be very, very lazy. So I can't afford to even think about flagging!

In terms of mystery writing, there are so many great things beginning I think with the community of writers, editors, booksellers, bloggers like Jean and of course, readers. It is unbelievably supportive. What a relief not to be around people who smile to your face but stick a knife in when your back is turned.

And the people who read mysteries are the best! Genuinely interested in other cultures, in emotions. They're smart and thoughtful.

There really isn't a downside to writing mysteries--not that I've seen.Though the slight thorn might be when people - some other writers and some readers-look down on the books as 'simply genre' and don't see the depth and power of a well-written mystery. It saddens me a bit, and sometimes it angers me. But mostly I don't notice.

How did you celebrate your first New York bestseller?

First, I shrieked! My publisher and editor called on a conference call from New York to tell me. But Andy Martin, the great publisher at Minotaur, started by saying, 'Do you know why we're calling?'

I, of course, immediately presumed the book, A Rule Against Murder, which had just come out, was such a failure they were about to fire me. And it took two to do it.

When he said, 'You've made the New York Times Bestseller list!' I think there was a moment of silence - then a scream. Poor Michael, in another room, came running. Wow. I will never, ever forget that feeling. Then Michael took me out - we were in Quebec City researching an upcoming book-to a wonderful restaurant for dinner.

Advice to fledgling writers?

Believe in yourself. Never give up. Make sure your 'critic' isn't trying to write the first draft. And a bit of advice I got from an editor who turned down my first book. He said, 'New writers commonly make three mistakes, and you've made all three. The book is too long, too many characters and too many ideas.' I decided he was right. I'd tried to put everything I'd ever learned or thought into that first book. Every character I'd wanted to write showed up. And as a result, it was WAY too long.

But mostly, never forget what a privilege it is to write. I once heard a writer, after she'd won a huge award (not a mystery writer) say that writing is the hardest thing you can do. And I thought, Good Lord, has the woman never waited tables for minimum wages, serving people who sneer at her? Does she realize there are coal miners, daycare workers, teachers, firefighters, doctors who sit by sick children.

Writing is a blessing and a gift, and if you forget it you might win awards, but lose yourself.

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.”