Thursday, February 26, 2015

Learning on the Road

by Rob Brunet

Long before I had an agent or a publishing contract for Stinking Rich, I pasted a map of the U.S. on the wall behind my desk. It listed cities where I knew someone well enough to have dinner. I played connect-the-dots and wound up with a ring around the country with a few long stretches of know-no-one-land in-between. I tallied up the miles, divided by the speed limit, and announced to my wife that when my book was published, I’d be on the road for nine or ten weeks promoting it. I imagine the main reason she didn’t whack me on the spot was I didn’t even have a completed manuscript at the time. As midlife crises go, dreaming of a road trip from behind a desk while writing a novel was pretty tame stuff.

Jump forward to two weeks before I left last September and she took to asking me a couple times a day, “How long are you going for?”

A better question may have been, “When’s your next trip?”

Setting aside all the friendships made and renewed, the best part of being on the road was non-stop opportunities to learn. Publishing is packed, end-to-end, with people inspired by their work. From authors to booksellers, librarians to editors, reviewers to agents and publisher’s reps. No one’s in the business to get rich—far too many easier ways to pull that off. And people who are passionate about what they do generally love to share the reasons why. Wear big ears and you’re bound to learn a ton.
As a debut author, I’ve been repeatedly overwhelmed by the willingness of industry veterans to share what’s what. If I simply listed the names of seriously helpful people I’ve met at conferences, Noir at the Bars, Sisters in Crime meetings, bookstore readings, library events, workshops, and launches, this post would run well past its word limit.

There’s never been an easier time to connect with people. Social media has smashed physical boundaries to the point even the most reclusive among us can reach out and meet strangers. Many of the people I spent time with on the road were Tweeps or Facebook friends first. And yet there’s nothing like meeting someone in person—over coffee or beer or a plate of ribs—to cement the connection and acknowledge what it means.

Did I lose time at my keyboard? Absolutely. And I learned how much more discipline I’ll need to make it in this game. Jon Jordan of Crimespree told me of one headlining author who only agrees to appear at conferences provided he can be kept off the morning schedule, because mornings he writes. Even on the road.

I didn’t have to spend a couple months in my fourteen-year-old car to meet people in the industry. I live in Toronto, a city where there are multiple literary events every night of the week, year-round. And anywhere there’s a bookstore, a library, or a local writers’ workshop, there are ways to find people who share a passion for reading, writing, publishing, and everything that goes with working with words and stories. I know my life’s been made richer since I started get out there.

A couple weeks ago, I took my road trip map from the wall. There’s a blank spot there beckoning. Wonder where I’ll go next.

Rob Brunet’s debut Stinking Rich was listed as a Best of 2014 by both Crimespree Magazine and The Ottawa Citizen. His award-winning short crime fiction appears in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (February 2015), Thuglit, Noir Nation, Shotgun Honey, and numerous anthologies. Brunet is co-host of the Toronto edition of Noir at the Bar and before writing crime, he ran a Web boutique producing sites for titles like Frank Miller’s Sin City and cult television series Alias. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires, and lives in Toronto with his wife, daughter, and son.

Called “deviously funny” by Canadian Mystery Reviews, Stinking Rich asks, 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.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When The First Book Started Answering My Questions

By Rich Zahradnik

Writing—the writing process itself—changed in a big way for me from my first novel to my second, and in a way I didn’t expect. This is fresh in my mind because the first book came out Oct. 1 and I turned in the manuscript for the second on Jan. 4.

Like many, my fiction career started while I was working full-time. The first book took a long, long time to finish, because, depending on the job, I might have an hour or a half hour to work on the manuscript. I’m actually embarrassed to say when I started that manuscript, but let’s just say the word “decade” is a fair count of the years. Then, after it was finished, there were the three years or so it took to get an agent and for my agent to secure a publishing deal. A long time.

Last spring, I sat down to write the second book in the series (the publisher contracted for four books). For the first time in my life, someone wanted the manuscript I was about to start. They’d set an actual deadline. And I was working close to full-time on writing (less time spent as stay-at-home dad). For all these reasons, I expected I’d go faster. Let’s face it, I kind of had to, given the deadline. But what surprised me was how much faster I was able to write.

I was a 500-words-a-day writer when I worked on the first book (and had the time). I know some people like goals, some don’t. I do. So I pushed myself and found to my great surprise I was turning out a 2,300-word chapter in a day. It was all messy first draft material, of course.

The why of this is what I really want to talk about. What changed between the first book and the second, aside from time constraints? I realized it was the questions, the thousands and thousands of questions I had to ask myself as I wrote the first book. Is this the right way to handle attribution tags? Too many chapters? Too few? Too many adjectives? Too few? Is the plot working? Is the mystery a mystery? And on and on. Pretty much every other word I typed brought up a question that needed considering and answering as I tried to turn myself into an author.

Some bit of magic happened after the first book was published. You see, now I knew the answers, either because I’d done the right thing in the first place or learned what the solution was during the editing process. You’d be amazed how much faster you can write when a question doesn’t pop up every other word, nagging at you, pulling you back. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t know all the answers, just the first 10,000 or so basic ones. It’s like I now understand the code. Book one gave me the gift of confidence—but not too much of it—and made writing my second manuscript a faster process, though I’d never say easier. Writing never gets easier. The confidence let me get down more words a day and take on bigger challenges in plot structure and character development.

And so came more questions.

Rich Zahradnik is the author of the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series published by Camel Press. LAST WORDS is the first novel in the series and was published Oct. 1, 2014. He was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter. In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by New York's Center for Fiction. Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where writes fiction and teaches elementary school kids how to publish newspapers. You may visit him at:

In March of 1975, as New York City hurtles toward bankruptcy and the Bronx burns, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs. He is looking for the story that will deliver him from obits, his place of exile at the Messenger-Telegram. Ever since he was demoted from the police beat for inventing sources, the 34-year-old has been a lost soul. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he's wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. A little digging reveals that the jacket belonged to a hobo named Mark Voichek and that the teen was a spoiled society kid up to no good, the son of a city official. Taylor's efforts to protect Voichek put him on the hit list of three goons who are willing to kill any number of street people to cover tracks that just might lead to City Hall. Taylor has only one ally in the newsroom, young and lovely reporter Laura Wheeler. Time is not on his side. If he doesn't wrap this story up soon, he'll be back on the obits page—as a headline, not a byline. Last Words is the first book in the Coleridge Taylor mystery series.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Short Story Solution

By L. A. Starks

What do you do when your characters talk too much, dwell too long on their histories, make a break for a random subplot, or merely interrupt the narrative flow?

Set aside the rogue paragraphs or pages. There’s a solution (besides the delete button) to corral straying characters and rogue plot twists: turn these pages into short stories or novellas. They can be published as stand-alones, as marketing giveaways, or in anthologies.

Taylor Stevens says about her novella, The VESSEL, “As a genre writer, I’m required to keep each story within a certain length. I ran into that situation with THE DOLL and so we ended up with a 5-month gap in the final pages in which we knew Vanessa Michael Munroe tied up a loose end but weren’t there to experience how it happened. A lot of readers wished they could have known the details—and I wanted to know them too!—which is how THE VESSEL came to be written.”

While certain story threads ultimately didn’t fit the books for which they were written, each focused on the interaction of my two Dayton series characters and an event that shapes them.

Subplot. “Robert and Thérèse Guillard: Choices,” in Amazon Shorts (Lynn Dayton #0.5) reveals more about 13 DAYS antagonist Robert Guillard. Robert’s exhilaration after high-tech wingsuit flying gives way to rage when he discovers his wife’s secret.

Prologue. “A Time For Eating Wild Onions,” in Amazon Shorts (Lynn Dayton #1.5) began as a prologue for two characters in STRIKE PRICE. Along with fry bread and grape dumplings, wild onions are a traditional Native American dish. The Cherokee language gives additional texture to the crucible that was San Francisco during the Vietnam War. The character named Mitch in this story I renamed Jesse Drum in STRIKE PRICE.

Back-story . “Josh Rosen and Bubbe,” in Kindle Direct (Lynn Dayton #2.5) about Josh and his grandmother was inspired by a former neighbor who was a Holocaust survivor.
Allison Brennan, who has written 24 novels and has two more in production, says, “The first time I wrote a short story was after being asked to contribute to the ITW anthology KILLER YEAR. I (now) write a short story or novella between nearly every full-length novel I write. The reasons: (a) It’s a challenge. I like to push myself to try something new and different within a set format. (b) It's fun. I won't say that short stories are easier, but they are less complex than novels and because there isn't an expectation for sale, they're freeing. (c) I've become a cleaner, tighter writer because I've learned to say more with fewer words. (d) Short stories are a good way to get into anthologies put out by established organizations to grow my readership.”

So the next time your beta readers or your editors suggest removing a character or a subplot, save those pages. You’ve earned the genesis of a new short story or a novella.

L. A. Starks is the winner of the Texas Association of Authors' 2014 award for best mystery/thriller for her second Lynn Dayton thriller, Strike Price. Working more than a decade for well-known energy companies in engineering, marketing, and finance from refineries to corporate offices prepared Starks to write global energy thrillers. Three of Starks' short stories have been published in Amazon Shorts/Kindle Direct. She is multi-published on dozens of energy topics at investor websites, energy trade publications, and major newspapers. She is the co-inventor of a US patent. Starks has run eleven half-marathons. She serves as board investment committee chair for the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, a fund-raising and advocacy group that supports Dallas' 28-branch library system.

When several people involved in bidding for an oil refinery are murdered, the situation becomes far more than a billion-dollar business deal. A self-made woman, Lynn Dayton fights to save lives after escalating attacks eventually reveal a hired assassin’s plan to draw another global power into dangerous confrontation with the United States over trillion-dollar oil stakes. Are the killers rogue civil servants challenging the Cherokees’ financial independence, Sansei operatives again wreaking violence, or sinister investors swapping the bidding war for a real one? Lynn Dayton and Cherokee tribal executive Jesse Drum must learn to trust each other so they can find and stop the killers. Can sobering up really be fatal? How have so many of the deaths been made to appear accidental? Who’s creating weapons with modern poisons and ancient Cherokee arts?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

February Debut Releases

It's the first Thursday in February and that means new releases. 

Please take a look and let’s celebrate these debut authors' success!

Susan Adrian - Tunnel Vision (St Martin's Griffin) January 20, 2015

Jake Lukin just turned 18. He's decent at tennis and Halo, and waiting to hear on his app to Stanford. But he's also being followed by a creep with a gun, and there's a DARPA agent waiting in his bedroom. His secret is blown.

When Jake holds a personal object, like a pet rock or a ring, he has the ability to "tunnel" into the owner. He can sense where they are, like a human GPS, and can see, hear, and feel what they do. It's an ability the government would do anything to possess: a perfect surveillance unit who could locate fugitives, spies, or terrorists with a single touch.

Jake promised his dad he’d never tell anyone about his ability. But his dad died two years ago, and Jake slipped. If he doesn't agree to help the government, his mother and sister may be in danger. Suddenly he's juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with 24-hour bodyguards.

Forced to lie to his friends and family, and then to choose whether to give up everything for their safety, Jake hopes the good he's doing—finding kidnap victims and hostages, and tracking down terrorists—is worth it. But he starts to suspect the good guys may not be so good after all. With Rachel's help, Jake has to try to escape both good guys and bad guys and find a way to live his own life instead of tunneling through others.

Sandra Block - Little Black Lies (Gran Central Publishing) February 17, 2015

She helps people conquer their demons. But she has a few of her own...

In the halls of the psychiatric ward, Dr. Zoe Goldman is a resident in training, dedicated to helping troubled patients. However, she has plenty of baggage of her own. When her newest patient arrives - a beautiful sociopath who murdered her mother - Zoe becomes obsessed with questions about her own mother's death. But the truth remains tauntingly out of reach, locked away within her nightmares of an uncontrollable fire. And as her adoptive mother loses her memory to dementia, the time to find the answers is running out.

As Zoe digs deeper, she realizes that the danger is not just in her dreams but is now close at hand. And she has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most. Because what she can't remember just might kill her.

Little Black Lies is about madness and memory - and the dangerous, little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What’s In A Name?

by Susan Israel

As a writer of fiction, I make up a lot of ‘imaginary friends’ and quite a few villains. I find myself wishing they were real more often than not- not the villains, of course- and hope that my readers will feel my main characters, the “good guys,” remind them of people they know or want to know. So when it comes to naming them,  I try not to get too exotic, unless it’s warranted.  I avoid names of anyone I’ve ever known, though there are several names of people I’ve known in the past that I’d love to use. Sometimes I draw a blank. A literal blank, like this: _________. The progress of what I’m working on takes precedence. But then pages dotted with blanks become disconcerting. I use the times when I hit a snag and am waiting for some research questions to be answered to go back and fill in the blanks. Some of them, anyway.  By then, I’ve compiled some possible names and play matchy matchy.  And quite often those names get switched around.  If authors changed their children’s names as often as they change their character’s names, those kids would have serious identity issues. 

I used to get some names from municipal white pages. I wrote columns and columns of them in a composition book. White pages are harder if not impossible to come by now. When I asked for a particular one at a reference desk, I was told to use online white pages. How do you find a name online if you don’t know the name you’re looking for until you see it? My back-up became names on magazine mastheads. Names on mailboxes in apartment lobbies when I was visiting somebody else. Names generated by an iPhone app even. And then I googled the names, to at least verify that no such person exists or at least bore no resemblance to the characters in my story.  I wrote down the first name of a  murder victim I read about in the paper years ago to be used later and I immediately changed the surname of a minor character after someone with the same surname committed a notorious crime. I can say with conviction that any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.  But I’ve had dreams about my characters; that’s imagination in overdrive.
Susan Israel's fiction has previously been published in Hawai'i Review, Other Voices and Vignette, and she has written for magazines and newspapers, including Glamour, Girls Life, Ladies Home Journal and The Washington Post. A graduate of Yale College, she lives in Connecticut with her beloved dog. You may contact her at   
Delilah is accustomed to people seeing her naked. As a nude model - a gig that keeps food on the table while her career as a sculptor takes off- it comes with the territory. But Delilah has never before felt this vulnerable. Because Delilah has an admirer. Someone who is paying a great deal of attention to her. And he just might love her to death.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Perilous Journey from Bureaucrat to Thriller Writer

by Sherry Knowlton
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to write a novel, specifically a thriller.  But, I could never quite get past those first few chapters. Work, family, inertia – life in general - got in the way.  A few years ago, I scaled back to semi-retirement and decided it’s now or never.  Without the pressures of a 50+-hour workweek, I actually had time to tackle that novel.  So, I sat down to write Dead of Autumn 

Constructing the story came easily. But, despite reading thousands of books in my lifetime, I’d never fully appreciated the painstaking work involved in: plotting; creating, naming and keeping track of characters; maintaining a coherent timeline; fact checking; and much more.  With perseverance, I worked though those aspects of novel writing, assisted by the eagle eye of a wonderful editor during pre-publication. What turned out to be my hardest task was re-learning how to write.  

I’ve cranked out a lot of written words in my lifetime.  I penned my elementary school’s first newsletter.  As a reporter for my high school and college newspapers, I wrote daily news articles. During my state government career, writing was a fundamental part of every job I held as worked my way up the ladder.  I wrote regulations, policy memos, legislation, testimony to legislative committees and more.  

After state government, I moved to the insurance industry. Even as an executive, I remained knee deep in writing proposals and other technical documents.  Today, in the “semi” part of my retirement, I do consulting work that relies largely on – you guessed it –my writing skills.

But expertise in professional writing does not guarantee an easy transition to thriller writing.  In government, a concept that takes twenty words to explain usually needs two thousand more to be memorialized in regulation.  When it comes to wordiness, insurance companies that contract with government operate in a similar environment.  I once worked on a bid for a state procurement that needed twelve three-ring binders to respond to the questions posed.  That’s right, four feet of narrative and supporting information. 

My intent is not to criticize government.  The nuances of public policy and decisions about billions in public spending often require massive amounts of explanation and detail.  But, the canyon between the conventions of a government document and the art of a suspense novel yawns deep and wide.

In trying to leap that canyon, my path toward an engrossing suspense novel introduced me to new challenges.  Choose compelling verbs.  Use action, not explanation.  Ditch the passive voice. Let dialog move the story. Rely on metaphor. Set the scene through sensory descriptors. Let readers draw their own conclusions.  Seasoned novelists use countless techniques to construct a taut thriller. 

I’m still a neophyte with so much more to learn.  But, with Dead of Autumn and its upcoming sequel, I’ve cleared the canyon and traveled well down the trail from recovering bureaucrat toward journeywoman novelist. 

Sherry Knowlton was born and raised in Southcentral Pennsylvania, where she developed a lifelong passion for books. She was that kid who would sneak a flashlight to bed at night so she could read beneath the covers. All the local librarians knew her by name. Now retired from executive positions in state government and the health insurance industry, Knowlton runs her own healthcare consulting business. Her first novel, Dead of Autumn, will be followed by sequel to be released later in 2015.  When not traveling around the world, Knowlton and her husband, Mike, live in the mountains near Carlisle, PA, only a short distance from the Babes in the Woods memorial that figures prominently in Dead of Autumn.  They have one son, Josh, a craft brewer in upstate New York. You may contact Sherry at @SKnowltonBooks,, or

Walking her English Mastiff in a Pennsylvania forest, Alexa Williams discovers the body of an ethereal blonde. The girl’s death bears an eerie resemblance to a crime from an earlier era, the infamous Babes in the Woods case. From that fateful day, the young attorney’s carefully ordered life begins to unravel. One of her mentors, an abortion clinic doctor, falls victim to a sniper’s bullet. Her relationship with a sexy weekend boyfriend flares out of control.  She’s almost raped, then ambushed by religious zealots who try to convert her. Against a backdrop of anti-abortion protests and escalating violence, Alexa and handsome forest ranger, Reese Michaels, become entangled in a web of extremism and bloodshed. Too late, Alexa discovers that danger lies closer to home than she could ever have imagined.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Joys and Pitfalls of Co-Authoring a Thriller, or Why I Made My Partner Root for the Cubs

By Dennis Hetzel

Probably the hardest part of co-authoring a book with my friend Rick Robinson was getting Rick to sympathize with the Chicago Cubs instead of relishing their curses and defeats.

Dennis Hetzel and Rick Robinson
Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Crestview Hills, Kentucky
Rick is a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan, so he couldn’t quite bring himself to pose as a Cubs fan in our author photo on the back page of Killing the Curse, our sports-political thriller. “Curse” imagines the Cubs, perhaps the most iconic symbols of failure in sports, playing in the World Series – a place they haven’t been since 1945 or won since 1908. It also involves a crazed fan who will do anything to ensure they win, an egotistical sports-radio talk show host and the host’s boyhood friend from the Chicago suburbs, a passionate Cubs fan who happens to be President of the United States.

For several reasons, Rick gets credit as a “with” author on the cover. First, he helped me hatch the idea and pitched it to his publisher, Cathy Teets of Headline Books. Cathy trusts Rick’s judgment, so I had a publisher. Every author can appreciate how much that helps.

I also had a selfish reason for wanting Rick’s name on the cover. He already has an audience that includes several thousand fans and contacts. Why wouldn’t I want to leverage that?

Most importantly, because Rick has written successful political thrillers, he knows the drill. He offered invaluable perspective on structure, dialogue, plot development and characters. He wrote the prologue and important sections of early chapters. One of the key characters, the daughter of our talk-radio host, is based on an actual bartender Rick meant – a smart, sexy woman who can hold her own with the guys when it comes to arguing sports and politics.

Once I got rolling, he functioned more as an editor and critic reviewing fresh drafts. I worked as a reporter or editor for decades, and I think I know how to write. However, every smart writer knows that good editors make writers better. Such editors also have an alarming habit of being correct.

For example, Rick reminded me several times that journalistic writing is different than literary writing. In most journalism, quotes are like spices sprinkled sparingly onto the main course. Only the best quotes that add the most value pass muster. Reporters keep stories as short as possible, using paraphrases and summary paragraphs as dominant techniques. In fiction, you need great dialogue. Stories can’t be ponderous, of course, but they can breathe. Characters come to life at differing paces.

Since novels usually are singular efforts, I’m often asked whether it was difficult to have a collaborator, and it honestly wasn’t. I can’t recall a serious disagreement, though I resisted a few times before surrendering. (For example, Rick, his wife and my wife were right: You have to break up back stories into smaller pieces.)

Here are three other tips for successful collaboration that might help others:
  1. Have compatible styles. Rick and I have differences. Arguably, I’m a little more interested in character development; he pays more heed to physical descriptions. But, if you read his books and then go to “Curse,” I think you’ll find a lot of similarities.
  2. Have compatible interests. Rick and I both love sports, especially baseball, and we’re political junkies. He knows the political world from the perspective of a former candidate and campaign manager. I offer the perspective of years in the news media. We’re both registered lobbyists in our current lives.
  3. Have a friendship that can survive a for-profit project. So far, so good. We’re grownups. It’s not like my high-school rock band days when we’d get mad at each other in massive “creative disputes.” We have an agreement on how to distribute the proceeds of “Curse.” The book is off to a good start, so here’s hoping “Curse” will generate enough income so that’s a meaningful discussion.
Rick has changed, too. I know it wasn’t easy, but he even wears a Cubs hat now when he helps to promote the book. Just don’t tell too many of his friends in Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky.
I also think the Cubs will finish ahead of the Reds in 2015 and are building a team that could win the World Series. Hey, it could happen.

Killing the Curse is Dennis Hetzel’s first published fiction. He can be reached at

The Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series for more than 100 years or even played in one since 1945. Now they're positioned to win the Series for the first time since 1908--if only curses and bad luck don't haunt them as usual. Then a swarm of gnats helps the Boston Red Sox tie the Series at three games each. No one wants the Cubs to win more than Luke Murphy, President of the United States and lifelong fan. Leading the chorus of disbelievers is Murphy's boyhood friend, Bob Walters, a sports radio talk-show host who built ratings by being “the man Cub fans love to hate.” The Cubs have someone else on their side--a brilliant, crazed fan who will do anything to make sure they win. It starts with an attack on the father of Boston's best pitcher and grows into an escalating threat that could destroy Murphy's career, expose childhood secrets, and kill hundreds of innocent people. Everything comes to a head as Game Seven unfolds--a game the Cubs must win no matter what.

Dennis Hetzel has been a reporter, editor and media executive at newspapers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio. He has won awards for writing, industry leadership and community service, and taught journalism at Penn State and Temple universities. Since 2010, he has been executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association in Columbus, Ohio, and president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government. A native of Chicago, he has a degree in political science and a minor in journalism from Western Illinois University, where he met his wife, Cheryl. They have three grown children, a dog, a cat and a home they love in Holden Beach, North Carolina.

Rick Robinson, the 2013 Independent Author of the Year, has 30 years experience in politics and law, including a stint on Capitol Hill as Legislative Director/Chief Counsel to then-Congressman Jim Bunning, R-Ky. He has authored four award-winning political thrillers. His recent book, Writ of Mandamus, was grand prize winner at the London Book Festival. His contemporary fiction novel, Alligator Alley, won the grand prize at the Great Southeast Book Festival in 2013. His new novel, The Advance Man, will be published by Headline Books in 2015. He commutes between Fort Mitchell, Ky., and Washington D.C. He and his wife, Linda, have three children.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Year, New Genre

by Erica Wright

Around ten years ago, a friend suggested that I submit to a flash fiction anthology looking for writers.
I’m embarrassed to admit my reaction now, but I laughed. I had just scraped my way through a novella class in my MFA program for poetry, relieved that the instructor neglected to return comments on the 8,000-word (I tried to make it longer, I swear) concoction I submitted as my final. Fiction? Not for me.

When I completed my first poetry collection, though, something unexpected happened: I didn’t like any of my new poems. My drafts resembled mazes with so many backtracks and dead-ends that not only was it impossible to find the ending, there was no hope of finding the beginning either. I was stuck. It took awhile to admit my situation, but it was clear that I had used up all of my poetic energy and needed to recharge. Since not writing is a one-way path to crazy town for me, I started experimenting again with narrative. The result was a rambling, pseudo-mystery about a woman who considered her photographic memory to be a disability. That is to say, the result was a failed novel to befriend my failed novella.

In the meantime, my first poetry collection had found a publisher, and I was writing poems with beginnings and endings again. Turns out, I need both the magic of poetry and the discipline of prose. I started work on what would become my first published novel, The Red Chameleon.
I know I’m not alone in genre hopping, having recently started poet Monica Ferrell’s novel The Answer Is Always Yes and interviewed thriller titan David Baldacci about his fantasy YA novel The Finisher. Both Roxane Gay’s collection of essays Bad Feminist and her novel An Untamed State are in my to-be-read pile. If your New Year’s resolutions include tackling a different format, here’s what I learned from my first attempts:

Know Your Landmarks
Even in genres as different as poetry and mysteries, there is overlap. Think about what skills you already have and whether those can be applied to your new project. My favorite craft essay is Richard Hugo’s “Writing Off the Subject.” It’s targeted to poets, but when writing fiction, I can hear his advice: “In the world of imagination, all things belong. If you take that on faith, you may be foolish, but foolish like a trout.”

Ask for Directions
There will be plenty that you don’t know, and it’s okay to seek help. I found Alice LaPlante’s book Method and Madness to be particularly useful. There are also a lot of free resources online.

You’ll Get There When You Get There
This was the hardest advice for me to embrace, but wrong turns are inevitable. When I finished the disaster of a first novel I mentioned above, I knew a lot more about plotting than when I started. I closed that file and opened a new one.

Erica Wright's debut crime novel The Red Chameleon (Pegasus Books) was one of O , The Oprah Magazine's Best Books of Summer 2014 and was called "riveting" by Publishers Weekly. She is also the author of the poetry collection Instructions for Killing the Jackal (Black Lawrence Press, 2011) and the chapbook Silt (Dancing Girl Press, 2009). Her poems have appeared in Blackbird, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, From the Fishouse, Gulf Coast, New Orleans Review, Spinning Jenny, and elsewhere. She is the poetry editor and a senior editor at Guernica Magazine as well as an editorial board member for Alice James Books. She has taught creative writing at Marymount Manhattan College and New York University's continuing studies program. She grew up in Wartrace, TN and received her B.A. from New York University and her M.F.A. from Columbia University.

As a PI, Kathleen Stone relies on her ability to blend into the background. Aided by her street-smart drag queen friend and the best wigmaker in New York City, she feelsead under suspicious circumstances, she fears that someone she angered in her past job—busting gangs and drug dealers as an undercover cop—has seen through her disguises. Now she must work with her former colleagues in the NYPD to solve the case before she’s the next victim.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

January Debut Releases

Happy New Year! A new year and new debut releases! 

It's the first Thursday in January. Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

Susannah Hardy - Feta Attraction (Berkley Prime Crime) January 6, 2015

Georgie Nikolopatos manages the Bonaparte House, a Greek restaurant and historic landmark in beautiful upstate New York rumored to possess ghosts and hidden treasure. But when her husband disappears and her main competitor is found dead, it’s up to Georgie to solve a big fat Greek murder.

With her husband, Spiro, inexplicably gone for days, Georgie has her hands full running the restaurant and dealing with the crew of the TV show Ghost Squad, called in by Spiro to inspect the house for haunting. So when she has a chance to take a boating excursion on the St. Lawrence River with her friend Keith Morgan, she jumps on it. But their idyll is quickly ruined when they discover the body of rival restaurant owner Domenic “Big Dom” DiTomasso floating in the water.

When the police start asking questions, it doesn’t help that Spiro can’t be found—and with Georgie on their suspect list, it’s up to her to find her missing husband and find out who killed Big Dom before someone else’s order is up.

Includes delicious Greek recipes!

Susan Philpott - Blown Red (Simon and Schuster, Canada) January 6, 2015

Like a runaway train, Signy Shepherd has been blowing through danger signals all her life. 
Recruited to the Line, a shadowy underground railroad dedicated to helping women in peril, Signy has no idea that her first solo case will set her on a collision course with a renowned photographer concealing a murderous past, a relentless tracker with an explosive secret, and her own violent demons. 

Set during the height of a brutal heat wave, the pressure mounts as Signy and her young passenger race across the country toward a sanctuary that proves to be a deadly illusion.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Home Alone, Gifts Abroad

By David Swatling           

Last week I did one of those ubiquitous Internet quizzes: “Which Christmas Movie Character Are You?” I was impressed when it pegged me as Kevin McCallister, the boy in Home Alone. “No one special thing defines Christmas for you; you enjoy the whole package.” My first Christmas as a published author began back in August when I opened the box full of books with my name on the cover. The look of wonder and joy on my face was not unlike Kevin’s when his Mom walks through the door at the end of the film. 

This holiday season really started for me last month at Iceland Noir, a weekend celebration of crime fiction. I attended the inaugural festival last year after meeting Icelandic author Yrsa Sigudardottir at Bouchercon in Albany. “We’re almost neighbors,” I joked, mentioning I lived in Amsterdam. “Then you should come to Reykjavik,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye. Although my debut psychological thriller would not be published until the following year, I had a feeling Iceland might be an interesting place to begin exploring interest on the European side of the pond.    
What’s not to love about a country with a holiday tradition of giving books as gifts? There’s even an Icelandic word for it: Jolabokaflod, which translates literally as Christmas book flood. Crime novels are extremely popular, perhaps because the crime rate is so low – or because the winter nights are so long. Curling up in front of the fire on Christmas Eve with a new thriller is a national pastime. Iceland Noir may be a small festival, but great gifts often come in small packages. 

Don’t get me wrong. Clearly, larger events like ThrillerFest are invaluable. Attending in 2012, a rough first draft tucked anxiously under my arm, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning – even as I learned how much I still needed to learn. Without plunging into the deep end, pitching to agents and experiencing the full four days of magic and mayhem, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Certainly not a member of the 2014-15 ITW Debut Authors Class!  

But events in a more intimate setting make it easy to connect with other authors, bloggers, and the all-important readers. Rather than racing from one panel to another, there’s more time to continue discussions, ask specific questions, or compare notes on the creative process. Not only was I on a New Blood panel of debut authors, I also had the honor of reading with local authors of the Icelandic Crime Syndicate in a packed nightclub. And was thrilled to have my book accepted by the Reykjavik City Library. 

Last year Yrsa gave me a copy of her bone-chilling thriller I Remember You. This year I gave her a gift of Calvin’s Head. Whether she reads it or not on Christmas Eve, I’m delighted to add an Icelandic tradition to my own home alone holidays.  

For more information about Iceland Noir:

David Swatling grew up in rural New York, studied theatre, and moved to Amsterdam in 1985. He produced arts & culture documentaries for Radio Netherlands and is three-time winner of the NLGJA Excellence in Journalism Award, among other international honors. His suspense novel Calvin’s Head is published by Bold Strokes Books. His short story “Poet’s Walk” appeared in the inaugural issue of Chase the Moon. He writes about arts and LGBTQ issues at: 
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?