Thursday, September 25, 2014


by Jon Land

Crafting solid fiction these days, especially thrillers, inevitably means relying on facts. But STRONG DARKNESS, the sixth entry in my Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series, has several crucial plot points drawn from the newspaper instead of purely my imagination. Let’s begin from where the book’s concept came.

Did you know that the Chinese built America’s 4G wireless network?

Hey, don’t feel stupid; I didn’t know it either, but they did. It was constructed by a Chinese-owned company called Shinzen based, coincidentally, in Plano, Texas. The night I saw that story on 60 Minutes, STRONG DARKNESS was born with the prototypical What if? question; in this case what if a powerful Chinese billionaire wins the contract to build the 5G network as part of a plot to seek vengeance against the United States? No way I could have pulled that off in fiction if it didn’t have an actual basis in fact, no way. But it did, lending the book added relevance and establishing the kind of credibility that’s crucial for a thriller to succeed. When somebody says, “You can’t make this stuff up,” they might as well be talking about that.

So why does Li Zhen, the book’s villain, hate America so much? Glad you asked! And to answer that question I went back into the past, incorporating a historical subplot based in 1883 when Chinese laborers were greatly responsible for expanding rail lines through Texas. That historical subplot features Caitlin’s great-grandfather, William Ray Strong, also a Texas Ranger, tracking the Old West’s first serial killer whose victims are all young Chinese women. But something else happened in that railroad camp somehow linked to Li Zhen’s motivation for revenge. Fiction from fact again, in other words, even before I decided to team the fictional William Ray Strong with the very real infamous hanging judge Roy Bean (who actually only hung a single man, but that’s another story).

And I didn’t stop there. The modern day, and very real, scourge of human trafficking plays a major role in STRONG DARKNESS through one of the major characters who was a victim of it herself. She’s after her own vengeance and that brings her across the path of Caitlin Strong. One of my favorite moments in the book is a simple phone call between the two of them, because it highlights Caitlin’s flaws and the darkness in her own past. But that scene is so effective because the pain feels real and to a very large degree it is. Fact into fiction again.

I also chose to open the book with a thinly disguised version of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a young veteran’s funeral. I did that simply to give Caitlin somebody to bulldoze into a drainage ditch (Hey, it beats shooting them!) But the scene played so well, and resounded so smartly, I decided to bring the evil preacher back for a well-placed encore later in the book and, again, the emotional resonance comes from the fact behind the fiction.

Want more? How about the Deep Web, cell phone technology, voting machines, the Cloud—whoa, I’m on the edge of my seat just thinking about what I wrote and I’m predicting you’ll have the same experience when you read it.

Now, that’s a fact.

What's your favorite example(s) of fact meeting fiction in a thriller? I'd love to hear from you. And, feel free to pick at least one from your own work!

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 37 novels, including the critically acclaimed series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong: STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, STRONG JUSTICE, STRONG AT THE BREAK, STRONG VENGEANCE and STRONG RAIN FALLING which won both the 2013 USA Best Book Award and the 2014 International Book Award in the Mystery/Suspense category. Jon lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on the Web at

Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes on a vengeful Chinese billionaire with a plot to murder tens of millions of Americans.

"Once again Jon Land outdoes himself! In BLACK SCORPION, the story of the charismatic Tyrant (introduced in The Seven Sins) unfolds across a wider canvass, revealing the breadth of Land's talent at storytelling and sheer bravado plotting. It's the exact sort of story I love: combining historical mysteries with ripped-from-the-headlines authenticity. If you've never read Jon Land before, do so now. Start with this book, and you'll know why I'm such a huge fan!"
--James Rollins, New York Times bestseller of THE 6th EXTINCTION

Thursday, September 18, 2014

5 Tips to Keep the Momentum of Thrillerfest Alive

by Ursula Ringham

It’s been two months since I attended ITW’s Thrillerfest. I’m back to my regular work routine in high tech and life with my kids and husband. So, is the energy and excitement of Thrillerfest gone? Not even close. Here are 5 tips to keep the momentum of Thrillerfest alive.

1-Download the sessions
What keeps me motivated to continue writing is all that I learned at Thrillerfest. Two of my favorite sessions were Creating Memorable Characters with Robert Dugoni and Themes and Symbolism with Steven James. I recommend downloading several Thrillerfest sessions because you’ll learn something new that will definitely improve your writing.

2-Review Feedback
If you attended Pitchfest or Master Craftfest you probably received some honest feedback about your book. Go back and review the comments. Maybe an agent told you to improve your pitch? Maybe the plot or some characters need to be reworked? William Bernhart told me to “Make your book bigger. There must be something of consequence. And you need to enlarge the stakes.” This advice has dramatically improved my storyline. Although you might not like the feedback, take the time to review it as I’m sure there is something to be learned.

3-Set Goals
If I did not set goals, I would never have completed my first novel nor attended Thrillerfest. So what are my goals now? Complete book #2 by end of 2014. I also want to attend Thrillerfest 2015 as it will motivate me to start book #3. And to stay connected with my new author peeps, I want to attend more writer conferences. I’m thinking about Bouchercon in November. Setting goals will make you accountable but also help you succeed.

Thrillerfest is filled with people from all walks of life: aspiring writers, self published, ridiculously famous, debut, and fans. The moment I stepped foot in that first session with the FBI, I realized I had found my tribe. A tribe that gets me, understands my need to write and wants to help me succeed. And I use social media to stay connected to this new network of writer friends. If you met writers at Thrillerfest, keep in touch with them and build out your network. You never know where a connection might take you…because we’re all in this together.

5-Pay It Forward
I attended the annual ITW member meeting during Thrillerfest. What a great organization of writers, run mostly by volunteers. I offered to lend my social media skills from my day job. And now I am on ITW’s Career School Committee. By staying engaged and helping others, I feel like I am paying it forward for the next generation of writers as I continue on my quest for success. If you possess a skill that can help fellow thriller writes, I encourage you to get involved.

So, there you have it. Five tips to keep the momentum of Thrillerfest 2014 alive. Where will I be when Thrillerfest 2015 rolls around? Who knows. All I can say is that attending Thrillerfest gave me the confidence and the support to move forward with my writing. And the thrill of it all has just begun.

Ursula Ringham was born and raised in Palo Alto, California with a family immersed in real estate development and local politics. She has been on the inside of some of the Valley's biggest tech companies including Apple and Adobe. For over a decade, she worked in Developer Relations helping start-ups and strategic accounts bring products to market. Today, Ursula stays actively engaged in the high tech industry helping software giant SAP build better brand identity. Her love for writing began when she was 13 years old and entered a short story contest. Ursula lives in San Jose, CA with her husband and two children. Visit her at

In Silicon Valley, product ideas are stolen every day. Hundreds of millions of dollars of intellectual property and countless hours of R&D lost in a millisecond. A high risk, high reward business, but is it worth risking your life? Young, ambitious Kate Crawford is about to make it as one of Silicon’s Valley overnight millionaires. She has her hands in a secret product that will catapult software company Obsidian to rock star status on the eve of its IPO. A week before the public offering, Kate realizes her company might be involved in illegal activity that could jeopardize the launch of the new product but also her life. With millions of dollars on the line, will Kate untangle the web of lies surrounding her career or will she become another casualty in a conspiracy that lies at the root of her very existence?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Writing with a Day Job

by Lori Rader-Day

Now that I’ve launched my first novel, The Black Hour, I have one thing to say to aspiring novelists.
Don’t quit your day job.
Before you start howling, give me a chance.
The hard truth in publishing is that hardly anyone makes a living from writing. That’s the bad news. There’s plenty of good news, though, including that a job and writing don’t have to be mutually exclusive endeavors. In fact, I think a day job can be a helpful complement to the writing life.

Want a job done? Give it to a busy person.
Look, there’s no question I’d like to have more time to write. But you’ve heard the adage about who gets the job done, right? If you want to write a book, you have to add it to your to-do list and then get it to-done. People who accept that kind of challenge more often are better equipped to check things, even writing books, off their list.

One word: Deadlines.
A long, languid day of writing sounds great right now, but have you ever tried it? Our squirrelly attention spans are probably only good for a few hours of writing a day, which is why even when you have all day to write, you probably don’t. I write during my lunch hours. One hour. That plan doesn’t always work, but when it does, the rest of my day is better.

Spend money to make money.
Time to be honest. One of the reasons I think day-jobbing and book-flinging work together is because I use one to pay for the other. Going to conferences, putting out bookmarks and other marketing items, hiring a publicist—you don’t have to do all or even any of them. But you have to market yourself somehow, and that requires investment. Your investment.

A different kind of support system.
There’s no question that being a full-time writer is the romantic dream. But when that dream hits a rocky spot—a lukewarm review, creative blockage, a low-energy day where you start to question every decision you’ve ever made—having a paycheck is reassuring. You don’t have to write. You don’t have to— but you want to! And then you’re back in the game, your head on straight. Writing with a day job is stressful, but I suspect it’s less stressful than, say, trying to pay the mortgage with a late royalty check.

Day jobs as inspiration?
The Black Hour would not exist without the day job I had while I wrote it. As much as spinning tales from up in your writer’s garret sounds like an introvert’s dream…how inspiring is the inside of a writer’s garret? A day job forces you out into the world, either literally or figuratively, and puts you into contact with life. All of it can turn into words on the page, as long as you’re paying attention.
As a writer, that’s your true job: paying attention. Can you do that while you work, pick up the kids, run to the store, all while your hair is on fire? The speed at which your life is moving isn’t always under your control, but we all have the same 24 hours. Just this one day. Pay close attention, before another one passes you by.

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014). Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives in Chicago with her husband and dog. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Time Out Chicago , and others. Her next book, the mystery Little Pretty Things, will be published by Seventh Street Books in 2015. Visit her at

For sociology professor Amelia Emmet, violence was a research topic—until a student she’d never met shot her. He also shot himself. Now he’s dead and she’s stuck with a cane and one question she can’t let go: Why her? All she wants is for life to get back to normal. Better than normal, actually, since life was messy before she was shot. Then graduate student Nathaniel Barber offers to help her track down some answers. He’s got a crush and his own agenda—plans to make her his killer dissertation topic. Together and at cross-purposes, Amelia and Nathaniel stumble toward a truth that will explain the attack and take them both through the darkest hours of their lives.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

September Debut Authors

It's the first Thursday in September, which means debut releases. Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

Rob Brunet - Stinking Rich (Down & Out Books) September 8, 2014

What could possibly go wrong when the backwoods Libidos Motorcycle Club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Plenty, it turns out. In a world where indoor plumbing’s optional and each local wacko is more twisted than the last, drug money draws reprobates like moths to a lantern. From loveable losers to gnarly thugs and law-and-order wannabes, every last one of them has an angle—their best shot at being stinking rich. And with their own warped ideas about right, wrong, and retribution, the Libidos aren’t far behind

Matt Cook - Sabotage (Forge Books) September 9, 2014

An extortionist commandeers a weapons technology that could irreversibly alter the international balance of power. Nothing is known about him, other than his alias: “Viking.” Pitted against terrorist conspirators in a bidding war for the technology, the responsible U.S. defense corporation can’t touch him as long as he controls a hijacked cruise ship in the North Atlantic.

The key to bringing the Viking down may lie in the disappearance of Stanford professor Malcolm Clare, celebrated aviator, entrepreneur, and aerospace engineer. Searching for Clare is doctoral candidate Austin Hardy, who seeks out the man’s daughter, Victoria—an icy brunette with a secret that sweeps them to Saint Petersburg. Aided by a team of graduate students on campus, the pair must devise Trojan horses and outfox an assassin in order to unravel the Viking’s scheme.

Austin and Victoria are not alone in their efforts. Former Air Force combat weatherman Jake Rove, one of three thousand passengers held hostage aboard the luxury liner, is determined to weaken the ship’s hijackers: He must evade detection, dive by night, and communicate intelligence to the Stanford team as they struggle to prevent international disaster and economic collapse in the United States.

Both on U.S. soil and thousands of miles away, the story roars into action at supersonic speed as Austin and Victoria race to uncover the Viking’s trail of deception, betrayal . . . and sabotage.

L.R. Nicolello - Dead Don’t Lie (Harlequin HQN) September 1, 2014

You can run from the past…but you can never truly hide…
Detective Evelyn Davis delves deep into the minds of monsters for a living. She's the best psychological profiler in the Seattle P.D., with a talent that comes from heartbreaking experience. When Evelyn was just eighteen, she received word of her family's murder in the form of a horrifying video. Fifteen years later, tracking down other psychopaths is the only thing that brings her some peace.
But now two local families have been wiped out. Though the chilling crime scenes suggest murder-suicides, Evelyn believes a serial killer is at work. So does Special Agent Marcus Moretti, whose easy charm and fiercely protective instincts are breaking down all her defenses. Evelyn needs to put aside her emotional attachment to find the madman stalking her city—but with each discovery, this case becomes more personal. She's starting to suspect the killer wants her—and he is edging closer with every step, ready to make Evelyn pay a devastating price….

David Swatling - Calvin’s Head (Bold Strokes Books) September 15, 2014

Life in Amsterdam isn’t all windmills and tulips when you’re homeless. Jason Dekker lives in a jeep with his dog, Calvin, on the outskirts of the city. A thesis on Van Gogh brought him to the Netherlands and the love of Dutch artist Willy Hart convinced him to stay. But Willy is gone and Dekker is on the brink of a total meltdown. On a sunny summer morning in the park, Calvin sniffs out the victim of a grisly murder. Dekker sees the opportunity for a risky strategy that might solve their problems. Unfortunately, it puts them directly in the sights of the calculating stone-cold killer, Gadget. Their paths are destined to collide, but nothing goes according to plan when they end up together in an attic sex-dungeon. Identities shift and events careen out of control, much to the bewilderment of one ever-watchful canine. Oscar Wilde wrote that each man kills the thing he loves. He didn’t mean it literally. Or did he?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Doing It My Way

by Les Edgerton

My latest novel, a black comedy crime caper titled THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING will be released by Down&Out Press in early October. This will be my 18th published book and is unlike any of my previous work.

And, that’s a problem. At least it’s seen as a problem by most agents and editors. Most of those folks greatly prefer their authors establish a “brand” and since I’m a dedicated contrarian, I guess I’ve disappointed those folks. It’s difficult to find more than three books of mine that fit the same category.

Do these gatekeepers have a valid point? Absolutely. No doubt about it. When a writer establishes a brand for his or her work, life becomes infinitely easier for both agents and publishers. For starters—and for the biggest reason—such a writer begins to create a group of followers, and that means dollars. They get this philosophy from THE MUSIC MAN. Here’s what Harold Hill had to say about branding (slightly paraphrased…):
               With a capital “B” and that rhymes with “G” and that stands for ‘Gelt.’

A vast number of today’s gatekeepers subscribe to Mickey Spillane’s famous philosophy: “I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers.” Overlooking the grammatical misstep, this is what drives much of publishing strategy these days. Customers. And, books basically are marketed like sanitary napkins. Kotex and Stay Free rule that aisle.

My problem is I don’t like that aisle. At least not exclusively. I like to roam all over the store. I enjoy cruising by the produce section, the meat counter, even the refrigerators with the frozen dinners. On a sweltering summer day, there’s nothing better than swinging the door open on the Swanson section and basking in the frosty air until the second assistant manager makes me close the door and come help clean up the spill on Aisle 3. Sometimes, I even like to get outside and walk the sidewalks or take a ride on the coin pony outside.

Agents and publishers don’t like mavericks so much.

I know that. I accept that. I have to—it’s reality.

Could I change? Yeah, I could, but I don’t wanna. I like being a writer and the fun of that for me is writing about the things that interest me. And, unlike Mr. Spillane, I don’t have many customers. It’s the tradeoff for not becoming a brand name and writing the same book, over and over. What I do have are readers. And, most of my readers are fellow writers. I’m real proud of that. It tells me I’m not seen as a one-trick pony and that’s important to me. I’m kind of like Nabokov—the only two genres I recognize are good writing and bad writing.

I was told that the thrust of this article should be to share tips and advice with my fellow writers on stuff I’ve learned through my own journey in publishing. The advice I offer is this: At some point, you have to decide for yourself which you want to be. The choices are basically two. One, you can focus on series or on stand-alone books which fit nicely into a particular niche on the bookshelves.
Or, you can roam the entire store. The first choice has a much greater chance of achieving financial success. The second choice has a good chance of not making so much money, but of perhaps having more of that “fun” writing used to represent when you began. Of course, for a lot of folks, having a lot of customers and making a pile of money represents that ol’ “fun” thing to them. And I’m not denigrating that in the least. It just doesn’t fit my own definition.

My only desire and goal in writing novels is that each one is better than the last. I achieved what I consider critical success with my last book, The Rapist. When a guy like Ken Bruen says it’s one of the best things he’s read and “cries out to be a movie,” the temptation is to write another book just like it. But I can’t do that. If I did that, I would be Mickey Spillane. And, unlike Mr. Spillane, it isn’t customers I’m after. It’s writing a better book than I ever have. And, for me that doesn’t mean to keep on writing the same book. I don’t see how one can do that by writing a similar book. I don’t feel I can go any deeper into that particular subject matter than I have. So, I decided to write the funniest book I was capable of. The book I’m working on now? Well, it’s very different from either The Rapist or The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping. I won’t talk about it here. I’ve found if I talk about a book I’m working on I kind of lose steam. I’ve already “written” it by talking about it to others. All I’ll say is that it may not appeal to the folks who liked Kidnapping. Then again, maybe it will. I don’t know and I don’t care.

Hopefully, without being pretentious, I compare myself to Miles Davis. For you jazz fans who are familiar with both Miles and Dizzy Gillespie, here’s the difference between them. Miles kept stepping outside his comfort zone and trying new forms of music. Dizzy took the other route. He found an area that appealed to lots of people and simply kept on making the same kind of music. He did keep getting better. But, he didn’t really step outside his brand. Miles did. Often with disastrous results. Both were hugely successful, but Miles may have become even more so if he’d only kept making the same kind of music. But, he didn’t. I don’t presume to compare myself talent-wise to either, but only in their approach to their art.

And that’s the choice I think most writers have to make for themselves. Should I write for sales or should I write what I want to write regardless of sales. If you choose my path, be aware that agents may not swarm to you. You have to be okay with that.

It’s your call.

And, either path is just fine.

Except, perhaps, to agents.

Les Edgerton has a bit of an unconventional background in that he’s an ex-con, having spent a bit over two years in prison for burglary, strong-armed and armed robbery, and possession with intent to sell. He’s all cleaned up now and you can invite him into your home for dinner and won’t have to count the silverware after he leaves. He’s also earned a B.A. from I.U. and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College. 

THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING: Pete Halliday is busted out of baseball for gambling and travels to New Orleans to make his fortune hustling. Five years later, he’s deep in debt to bookies and cohorts with Tommy LeClerc, a Cajun with a tiny bit of Indian blood who considers himself a red man. Tommy inveigles a reluctant Pete into one scheme after another, the latest a kidnapping caper where they’ll snatch the Cajun Mafia King and hold his amputated hand for some serious jack. Along the way, Pete is double-crossed by Tommy and falls in love with part-time hooker and full-time waitress Cat Duplaisir. With both the Cajun and Italian mobs after them, a chase through Jazz Fest, a Tourettes outbreak in a black bar and other zany adventures, all seems lost.

“THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING is a dark crime comedy that will have you laughing from page one. It crackles with manic energy and mad thrills. If you're looking for a different kind of edgy crime novel, this is the one to grab.” --Bill Crider, author of Compound Murder, Gator Kill and others.

“Les Edgerton serves up a gumbo of sexual deviants, small time hustlers, and serious criminals in a caper that reads like a deranged Damon Runyon tale relocated from Broadway to the French Quarter. "The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnaping" is not for the faint of heart, and that's just one of its selling points. If you like crime fiction that cracks wise while offering a peek into the darker recesses, this is the book for you.” Bill Fitzhugh, author, PEST CONTROL, TERMINATOR and others.

Visit Les's blog at

Thursday, August 21, 2014

It’s Your Baby

By Lynne Raimondo

Everyone remembers their first book launch. If you’re a parent, it probably ranks up there in excitement with the day your first child was born. If you’re a mother, the comparison to nine months of pregnancy, labor, and (thank God!) finally pushing that baby out is hard to resist. Everyone congratulates you. Your family and friends shower you with compliments. For at least a week afterward, you are floating on a wave of pure euphoria. All that hard work, the long, lonely hours at your keyboard, the rejection letters from agents and editors, the revising and proofreading and doing it all over again, have finally paid off.

Baby, you’re an author now.

Then the awful realization hits: your job is not done.

You see, having produced three kids and two novels, I’ve come to regard raising children and sustaining a writing career as involving pretty much the same level of commitment.

Publishing isn’t a game for the low of energy. Names fade fast. One-hit wonders are a rare commodity. Unless you are incredibly lucky or incredibly talented (think Harper Lee) after your first book comes out you can’t just sit back in your easy chair and wait for the royalties to roll in. Just as your precious infant needs to be fed, changed, comforted, and financially supported for the next eighteen years – or, heaven forbid, longer -- your writing career demands constant care and attention.

In publishing, usually this means writing another book every year. Got that? Every single year. Unless you are Stephen King, who doesn’t have to but does it anyway.

Maybe you got good advice and already had your second written when your first came out. If so, pat yourself on the back. And then start on the third. Because if you’re ever going to quit that day job and support yourself -- and maybe a family -- as a writer, you’re going to need a backlist. And it isn’t going to get any easier the second, third or even tenth time around.

I can say this now after having sweated blood over the second in my Mark Angelotti series. In all the flurry over landing a contract and polishing my first book until it shone like the proverbial jewel, I forgot about the fear and insecurity of staring down the white page. I had conjured up an image of myself as a successful writer, one in which the ghost of Henry James – or better yet, Raymond Chandler – whispered witty prose into my ear each morning and my only job was to get it all down on paper before it was time to take myself off for a well-deserved walk or lunch with a friend.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

What I also discovered was that my time was at a premium like never before. Between keeping up with social media, nurturing relationships with all my new author friends, attending conferences and events, revising, proofreading AND meeting deadlines, I hardly had time to breathe, let alone carve out the mental space I needed to write four or five pages a day.

Does this sound like running around after a toddler? It certainly felt like that to me.

My second book, Dante’s Poison, came out in May, and I’m now finishing up my third, which is a lot like having another child when your first is still in diapers. That is to say, I’m far better at juggling many different roles, and far more relaxed about getting it all done. Meeting my word count each day is still hard, but I’ve learned to sit back and savor the special moments that make it all worthwhile.

My books will never grow up to become responsible citizens, but the sense of accomplishment is the same.

Lynne Raimondo is the author of Dante’s Wood (Seventh Street Books, 2013). “Stunning” and “one of the best mystery debuts since V.I. Warshawski solved her first case.”—Mystery Scene. “A real keeper.” – Library Journal (starred review and mystery debut of the month). Before turning to writing, Lynne was a partner at a major Chicago law firm, the general counsel of Arthur Andersen LLP, and the general counsel of the Illinois Department of Revenue. Dante’s Poison, the second in her series featuring a blind forensic psychiatrist, was released in May. Visit her website at

Blind psychiatrist Mark Angelotti has just enrolled in a drug trial that holds out hope of restoring his eyesight when he again becomes entangled in a case that is rocking the Chicago legal community. After defending the manufacturer of the powerful antipsychotic drug Lucitrol against product-liability claims, attorney Jane Barrett has become somewhat of an expert on the controversial medication. So when her lover, investigative journalist Rory Gallagher, collapses from a fatal dose of the same drug, it falls to Hallie Sanchez, Barrett’s oldest friend, to defend her on murder charges. Amid growing doubts about her friend’s innocence, Hallie recruits Mark Angelotti to help her discredit the testimony of a crucial eyewitness. The pair succeeds in obtaining Barrett’s release, but at a dreadful price. Mark sets out to investigate who else may have wanted the journalist out of the way. As he gets closer to the truth, he realizes the killer is still on the loose. But two questions remain for Mark: Will the drug trial succeed in restoring his eyesight? More important, will he live long enough to see this case to its end?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Outlining: The Best Friend You've Never Met

by Grant Blackwood

For better or worse, stubbornness comes as a standard feature in a writer's brain. It's like that mysterious undercoating for your new car. You can tell the dealership you don't want it, but you get it anyway.

In my case, stubbornness was that welcome hand at my back, pushing me along. Stubbornness also kept me unpublished for more years than I care to think about. Stubbornness kept me away from outlining.

I wanted to be one of "those" writers, the kind that flies by the seat of his pants, churning out fantastic stories by simply dumping his imagination onto paper. Nine long years into the process I realized I wasn't one of "those" writers. I needed a plan for my novel, so I turned to outlining. And the first book I outlined got published.

Consider this analogy: A woodworker decides to build a beautiful armoire. He drives to the hardware store, grabs random boards and handfuls of nails, then returns home, dumps his supplies on the garage floor like a piles of pick-up-sticks and starts hammering away. What are the chances he'll end up with the armoire he envisioned? You know the answer. Had the woodworker followed a plan his chances of succeeding would have skyrocketed. The same goes for a writer tackling a novel — arguably a much more complex project than an armoire.

Let's look at why I resisted outlining and why most writers do:
  • Outlining is too formal, too restrictive.
  • Outlining will suck all the fun out of the process.
  • Outlining will rob me of the journey of discovery.
None of these are necessarily true. Let's look at what an outline can be:
  • A page of bullets highlighting the most critical parts of the story.
  • A mini-story that runs from five pages to forty pages.
  • A loose flow chart of scenes and chapters.
  • A formal outline with roman numerals and letters.
An outline is whatever you want it to be. It's simply the blueprint or roadmap of your story containing things like:

Character motivations and goals
  • Plot points large and small, from beats that drive your scenes along to pivot points that take the plot in a wholly different direction.
  • Bits of characterization or setting that further immerse the reader into your story.
  • Brief descriptions of a character's arc.
The benefits of outlining your story are myriad: It lets you identify small mistakes you can fix without having to rewrite hundred of pages; it lets you see the flow of your plot, from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end; it helps you smooth out continuity issues (imagine a twisting row of ten thousand dominos) that would otherwise turn into untamable monsters on page 500. (Forgive the mixed metaphor); outlining trains your mind to be an "on the fly" planner so in later years you can in fact be one of "those" writers.

Fear not outlining. To use yet another more literary metaphor from Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, outlining is every writer's Boo Radley, that scary neighbor that turns out to be your best friend.

The New York Times bestselling author of the Briggs Tanner series, (The End of Enemies, The Wall of Night, and An Echo of War) Grant Blackwood is also the co-author of the Fargo Adventure Series (Spartan Gold, Lost Empire, and The Kingdom) with Clive Cussler, as well as the co-author of the #1 NYT bestseller, Dead or Alive, with Tom Clancy, and the new thriller, The Kill Switch, with James Rollins.  A U. S. Navy veteran, Grant spent three years aboard a guided missile frigate as an Operations Specialist and a Pilot Rescue Swimmer. Grant lives in Colorado, where he is working his own standalone series starring a new hero.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

August Debut Releases

It's the first Thursday in August, which means debut releases. Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

Carrie Stuart Parks - A Cry From the Dust (Thomas Nelson/HarperCollins Christian) August 12, 2014

In the shadow of the Mormon church, a 19th-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a 21st-century forensic artist. In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children. The Mountain Meadows Massacre remains controversial to this day—but the truth may be written on the skulls of the victims.
When renowned forensic artist Gwen Marcey is recruited to reconstruct the faces of recently unearthed victims at Mountain Meadows, she isn’t expecting more than an interesting gig . . . and a break from her own hectic life. But when Gwen stumbles on the ritualized murder of a young college student, her work on the massacre takes on a terrifying new aspect, and research quickly becomes a race against modern-day fundamentalist terror.
As evidence of a cover-up mounts—a cover-up spanning the entire history of the Mormon church—Gwen finds herself in the crosshairs of a secret society bent on fulfilling prophecy and revenging old wrongs.
Can a forensic artist reconstruct two centuries of suppressed history . . . before it repeats itself?
In A Cry from the Dust, Carrie Stuart Parks utilizes her own background as a celebrated, FBI-trained forensic artist to blend fact and fiction into a stunning mystery.

Richard Torregrosso - Terminal Life (Oceanview Publishing) July 1, 2014
Luke Stark, a Special Forces veteran, returns home from his second tour in Afghanistan to learn that his wife has been mysteriously murdered and his son has disappeared. These tragedies, in addition to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, push him over the edge. He has also been diagnosed with an incipient form of cancer, but he forgoes treatment, a decision that is akin to a slow suicide. Although he languishes in a shelter, he wears an impeccable suit, an eccentric characteristic that sets him apart from his fellow down-and-outers and just about everybody else. He is nicknamed, somewhat ironically, The Suited Hero.
Revenge and the search for his son spark a kind of rebirth in him that is as cathartic as it is brutal. This leads him into the dangerous world of illegal prescription drug distribution, where nobody in this gripping mystery crime thriller- not even some family members-is who they appear to be.

And a special announcement for an alumni Debut Author:

Cathy Perkins - CYPHER (Red Mountain Publishing) August 12, 2014
Cara Wainwright thinks life can’t get tougher when her mother's cancer becomes terminal—until she returns home from the hospital and finds a courtyard full of police officers and her houseguests dead.

Greenville, SC Detective David Morris, is unsure if Cara is the suspect or the intended murder victim. As he searches for insight into her family, their mounting secrets, and the conflicting evidence from multiple crimes, his attraction to Cara complicates his investigation. Is the lure need, manipulation—or real?

While David pursues forensic evidence, Cara pushes for answers about her father's possible involvement, for at the center of the mystery stands Cypher—the company her father built and will take any measures to defend.

When the assassin strikes at the heart of the family, Cara and David have to trust each other and work together to stop the killer before he eliminates the entire Wainwright dynasty.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Writing about an Unloved Era

by Kay Kendall

In the opinion of Alan Furst, he was a hack writer until he found his grand passion, and pursuing it made all the difference. Beginning in 1988 he wrote his way to becoming the now-acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of 13 spy novels.

Furst concentrates on the years 1934 to 1942, when Hitler and the Nazis looked unstoppable. Asked if he would ever show his reoccurring characters coping in the immediate post-war period, he scoffed. “Absolutely not,” he answered—since after the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad, the mood changed among the anti-Hitler forces. Victory became assured, seen only as a matter of time. Lives were no longer lived on the very edge of defeat. Furst has no interest in that.

Write where you find your sweet spot, he said, and do not waver.

People read endless thrillers about World Wars I and II and the Cold War. Bestselling authors John le CarrĂ©, Philip Kerr, and Jacqueline Winspear place their mysteries against backdrops of great turmoil and danger provided by these wars or their tortuous aftermath. They inspired me to find my own sweet spot in the decidedly unsweet years of the Vietnam War—fraught with political and social upheaval.

Because decades have passed since the war ended in 1975, I felt readers would be interested in seeing that period treated historically.

Thus motivated, I set my debut mystery Desolation Row in 1968 among the draft resister community in Toronto, Canada. I knew the subject of draft resistance was problematic, but I felt compelled to
explore it anyway, choosing the point of view of a young Texas bride who followed her husband into exile.

What has surprised me is how deep the antipathy is to the late sixties. Since my book was published last year, I’ve heard many sentiments like this—“Living through that ugly time was enough, and I never read about it.”

When I dropped into the Mysterious Bookstore in New York City during my first ThrillerFest in 2013, I talked to a longtime bookseller there. He nodded sadly and confirmed my opinion. “The Vietnam War era is a tough sell,” he said. (His attire pegged him as an aging hippie.)

Yet there are people still suffering the aftershocks of the war itself—the wounded warriors and their dear ones whose psyches and/or bodies are scarred by fighting in that war in Southeast Asia. Their injuries are so deep and often still so raw that I am reinvigorated to persist in writing about the era.

I don’t think you should glaze over history, try to forget about it, or pretend it never happened. That way lies real danger. I have discovered, however, that readers most directly traumatized are relieved to discuss it. For them it is necessary, therapeutic.

So I was heartened when I heard Alan Furst’s advice: it’s imperative to stick with the subject that “turns you on”—to use a term from the benighted 1960s. I will not forsake those years merely because they are vilified by some. I only wish it were not so.

Who knows? Perhaps a few more of my historic thrillers will succeed in showing readers how fascinating that time was. Rock on, everyone, rock on.

In 1968 a young bride from Texas uses her CIA-honed skills to catch the real killer when her husband lands in a Canadian jail for murdering the draft-resisting son of a United States senator. “Desolation Row hooked me on page one,” says thriller author Norb Vonnegut. “Kay Kendall is one author who knows how to burrow into your heart."

Kay Kendall is an international award-winning public relations executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Growing up during the Cold War, she gew excited when an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) was installed near her hometown in Kansas. A fan of historical mysteries and the brilliant spy novels of John le Carré, she set her debut mystery during the Vietnam War, a key conflict of last century not already overrun with novels.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Don’t Do This: The 3 Most Common Medical Mistakes Writers Make

by D. P. Lyle, MD

The Quick Death: No one dies instantly. Well, almost no one. Instant death can occur with heart attacks, strokes, extremely abnormal heart rhythms, and cyanide and other “metabolic” poisons. But trauma, such as gunshot wounds (GSWs) and blows to the head, rarely cause sudden death. Yet, how often has a single shot felled a villain? Bang, and he drops dead. In order for that to occur, the bullet would need to severely damage the brain, the heart, or the cervical (neck) portion of the spinal cord. A shot to the chest or abdomen leads to a lot of screaming and moaning, but death comes from bleeding and that takes a while.

The One-punch Knockout: You’ve seen and read this a million times. The hero socks the bad guy’s henchmen in the jaw. He goes down and is apparently written out of the script, since we never hear from him again. It’s always the henchmen, because the antagonist, like most people, requires a few solid blows to go down. Think about a boxing match. Two guys that are trained to inflict damage and they have trouble knocking each other out. And when they do, the one on his back is up in a couple of minutes, claiming the other guy caught him with a lucky punch. Listen to me. Only James Bond can knock someone out with a single blow. And maybe Mike Tyson. Your car-salesman-turned-amateur-sleuth cannot.

The Bleeding Dead: Your detective arrives at a murder scene a half hour after the deed. Blood oozes from the corpse’s mouth and from the GSW in his chest. Tilt! Dead folks don’t bleed. You see, when you die, your heart stops and the blood no longer circulates and then it clots. Stagnant or clotted blood does not move. It does not gush or ooze or gurgle or flow or trickle from the body.
Don’t make these mistakes in your manuscript. I know. It happens all the time, and often readers and viewers don’t notice. But some do. Some cringe. Some walk away from the story. Some will not purchase your next book. That’s never a good thing. So get it right. Your readers expect it.

ORIGINAL SIN—a new Samantha Cody thriller
Dr. Lucy Wagner was on top of her game. The only cardiac surgeon on staff, a new pediatric cardiac unit dedicated to her, and an impeccable reputation not only put her at the apex of the local medical
pyramid but also garnered a few powerful enemies. Such is the nature of jealousy and greed. Turf wars can get ugly. Still all was good until the day old John Scully, the spiritual founder and leader of a local snake-handling church, died on her operating table. Fainting spells, nightmarish dreams, and patient after patient succumbing to some violent psychosis followed, putting her career, and her life, in jeopardy. Aided by long time friend and ex-boxer, ex-cop Samantha Cody, Lucy must reach deeply into her family’s past and into her own soul to find the strength to confront old and very powerful forces she never knew existed.

D. P. Lyle is the Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Silver Award winning and Edgar, Agatha, Anthony, Scribe, and USA Best Book Award nominated author of both non-fiction and fiction (the Samantha Cody and Dub Walker thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in series). Along with Jan Burke, he is the co-host of Crime and Science Radio. He has served as story consultant to many novelists and the screenwriters of shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars. He invites you to visit him at his website:; blog:; or Crime and Science Radio: 

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