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: 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Buddhism for Novelists

by John Burley

Around the time when I was finishing my first novel and embarking on the arduous road to publication, my wife began taking an interest in Buddhism. “It says here there are Four Noble Truths,” she advised me, offering some tidbit of impractical wisdom.

To be honest, I wasn’t paying attention. I was distracted, agonizing over how long it was taking to secure an agent, to edit the novel down to a reasonable length. I was submerged in the agony of decimating some of my favorite chapters and leaving them twitching in the dust, all for the sake of a more marketable product. “The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering,” Lorie quoted, but I was in my own private hell and not listening.

Eventually, I was lucky enough to find an agent who was enthusiastic about my work. But the pain didn’t stop. “The manuscript is still too long,” he told me. “You’ve got to cut out another fifty thousand words.” Impossible, I thought. It’ll destroy everything I’ve worked so hard to create. But I wanted the book to see the light of day, and so I picked up a machete and went to work on it, lopping off appendages and major organs until I barely recognized the massacred thing in front of me.

 “The Second Noble Truth is that suffering arises from attachment to desires,” my wife read to me one evening. I barely heard her as I sat there mourning my novel, knowing how altered it was from what I’d originally intended.

And so it went. We cut the length of the story almost in half, signed with a publisher, and the first thing the editors said was, “The pacing lags in the middle. The whole middle third of the book needs to be re-written.” I fumed in silence, continued to circle the drain of my creative demise.

“The Third Noble Truth is that suffering ends only when you let go of your desire,” Lorie reminded me, but I was too far gone for platitudes.

I re-wrote the middle section of the novel, did what my editors asked—not because I thought they were right, but because I was in too deep now and there was no other way. It was a dark and difficult crossing. And what I discovered on the other side was this: The story was much better because of it. My agent and editors had helped me make the novel stronger, not weaker. Despite my resistance, they’d saved me from getting swept away in the current of my obstinacy and inexperience.

“The Fourth Noble Truth is that freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path,” Lorie quoted that night as I climbed into bed. “It’s about changing the way you see things, changing the way you think. It’s not sufficient to simply believe. You’ve got to have enough faith in the process to walk the path.”

“Right,” I said, turning out the light. And, at last, I was at peace.

THE ABSENCE OF MERCY (William Morrow, 2013)
When a teenager is discovered brutally murdered in the woods of a small Ohio town, medical examiner Dr. Ben Stevenson becomes entangled in an investigation that will force him to uncover the dark secrets of his seemingly quiet community and ultimately to confront a truth that will haunt him forever. With its nerve-fraying plot twists and eerie portrait of suburban life, The Absence of Mercy is psychological suspense at its best.

John Burley grew up in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay. He attended medical school in Chicago and completed his emergency medicine residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center and Shock Trauma in Baltimore. He currently works as an emergency medicine physician at an urban trauma center in the San Francisco Bay area. His debut novel, The Absence of Mercy, was honored with the National Black Ribbon Award in recognition of an author who brings a fresh voice to suspense writing. You may visit John at

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Rules of the Fire Swamp

by Thomas Sweterlitsch

If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably just published or are about to publish your first novel: Congratulations!

My debut hasn’t hit the shelves quite yet—so while I can’t write about being a published writer, I can write what I’ve learned being an about to be published writer. In my case, I’ve been about to be published for about 18 months, from the moment I signed my contract to the moment when my debut novel will see daylight. The single most important thing I’ve been doing with that time has been to work on my second novel. And, yes, second novels are more difficult to write than first novels—but in addition to the specific struggles inherent with second novels, there are a few traps that the about to be published writer can easily fall into (I’ve fallen into all of these traps, by the way).

Here are my Rules of the Fire Swamp:

1.) Stop Googling yourself. Ask yourself “how many times did I Google the phrase ‘your name’ + ‘writer’ or ‘the title of your book’?” before your contract. Probably the answer is zero. That should be the approximate number of times you Google yourself now. Yes, you’ll gradually see your name resulting in more and more hits, and yes, it can make you giddy the first time you find someone writing about your book, but in the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” Googling yourself can unwittingly become a significant part of your routine as you check the 20th search page, the 25th…the 35 th. Instead, take that time to write your second book.

2.) Don’t read early reviews. In fact, maybe don’t read any reviews. Some of my earliest reviews came from participants in programs that give away a free ARC in exchange for their honest review—while I understand the utility in this, especially for an unknown writer like me, this does mean that anyone can be among the first (and permanent) voices talking about your book on-line. Seeing those five star reviews can be thrilling. If you get a negative review, however, your day—and possibly your week, or month—is wrecked. Oftentimes, if you click on the negative reviewer’s profile, you’ll find that just before demolishing your book, they were ridiculing the packaging of Slim Jims or deriding the texture of paper towels. There’s nothing you can do about it. So just…stay away. Stay far, far away.

3.) Social media? Set limits. The first thing you’ll hear about promoting your work is to establish your social media platform. I do think it’s important to have an inviting web presence to welcome and interact with fans of your work—but try not to confuse being on social media with your job as a writer. (In fact, I just spent ten minutes reading an article about drunken Taylor Swift fans vandalizing her Rhode Island beach house…Ten Minutes. Why? Why did I do this???).

It is ten years since the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ash. Today all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people. John Dominic Blaxton is a survivor, one of the 'lucky ones' who escaped the blast. Crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, he spends his days immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday. It is there he finds the digital record of a body: a woman, lying face down, half buried in mud. Who is she ... and why is someone hacking into the system and deleting the record of her seemingly unremarkable life? Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

Thomas Sweterlitsch lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and daughter. He worked for twelve years at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Tomorrow and Tomorrow is his first novel. Visit him at or on Twitter: @LetterSwitch

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