Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Art of Resurrection

by Elle Cosimano

It wasn’t a body I’d dumped. Not really. 

More like a slippery mass of heart and guts that I delivered in the form of an 85,000-word manuscript with a query letter.

“You write passionately, with a lot of heart,” my soon-to-be agent said right before she signed me as her client. “You’ve got the makings of a great hook and a hot romance here. But the plot is weak, and the mystery isn’t really a mystery at all.”

She was right.

So with rigid determination, I set out to give it structure. I tinkered with the story until the skeleton of a strong plot took shape, then preserved and tucked the fragile heart of my book safely under its ribs.

“Now you’ve got the heart, and you’ve got the plot, but you’re writing a thriller. And it isn’t scary enough,” she said. Then she added in a stern, mothering tone. “Elle, someone has to die.”

And again (and as always) she was right.

So I toughened up. Pushed my way past all the inner and outer voices that held the reins on my story. I let go of my fears of what people would think… would it be too dark? Would it be too scary? I let go and I ran toward the darkness instead of skirting the edge of it like a coward. 

And when I returned from that journey, the thin, fragile body I’d left lying on my agent’s desk had muscle! It had legs to stand on! It had filled out into some living, breathing thing. It was terrifying, and I loved it!

All it needed was a bit of fleshing out. A little character arc-rounding here. A little backstory-filling there. A little shaping and definition, and… viola! 

I’d finally dumped a body -- a real mystery – into my agent’s trusting hands.

And what I learned from the process was this.

The best stories – the ones with the power to move us -- aren’t left in a basket on our front porch, a cooing, babbling bundle of joy. They’re constructed from messy parts, bits and pieces collected from roadsides and dark alleys and gutters, reassembled in some Frankensteinian laboratory of the mind. They’re re-constructed, over and over again. They have stitches and scars. We bleed for them.

Your story may feel broken. It may feel, at times, like it can never be fixed.  But if the guts are there, the rest can be built (and re-built) around them as long as the laboratory is open.

Elle Cosimano is the daughter of a prison warden and an elementary school teacher who rode a Harley. She majored in Psychology at St. Mary's College of Maryland and set set aside a successful real-estate career to pursue writing. She lives with her husband and two young sons, and divides her time between her home near Washington, DC and a jungle tree house in the Mayan Riviera.

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother's job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone's skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn't trust: the new guy at school--a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her. Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn't figure it all out soon--she'll be next.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Misadventures in Research

By Robert Liparulo

Solid research is crucial to the success of any story. You’ve heard it a thousand times (see Brad Taylor’s excellent article on "The Thrill Begins": How Important is Research in a Novel?), so I won’t belabor the point.  But maybe airing my more unusual research-related experiences will embolden your own efforts to dig deep for the “good stuff” that’ll lift your stories from good to great. None of this is meant to scare you, but rather show you that you can step on toes (albeit unintentionally) in the name of research and live to tell about it.

Know when you have enough. The best knowledge comes from personal experience, but when your story extends beyond that, you have to reach out to others. My typical tactic is to first talk to someone I already know who can point me to someone else with more knowledge of the subject I’m researching. With luck, that person will in turn refer me to another source with even more knowledge . . . and so on, until I reach the person who can give me the juiciest bits. This is the person who knows not only the truth, but also the fascinating factoids that no one will find in a magazine or Wikipedia article, the stuff that gives your voice authority and supports your story’s contentions like iron scaffolding.

For my first book, Comes a Horseman, I wanted to learn more about a rumored organization that was hording financial assets and human resources in order to turn them over to the antichrist once he revealed himself. I contacted a friend at the Denver Seminary and got the ball rolling toward the All Knowing Oz. I never reached him or her. Just when I thought I’d really stumbled onto something—people I believed were on the fringes of the very group I sought—a phone call woke me at three in the morning.

The person on the other end was using an electronic voice changer: “Stop looking for us,” was all the voice said, and it was enough. I decided instantly that I had all I needed to tell my story, and not wanting to find my dog nailed to my front door, I stopped digging. But a character in the story did receive a late-night call and felt the same gut-liquefying terror I did upon hearing an electronically altered voice coming over the line.

Inquisitiveness begets inquisitiveness. For my next novel, Germ, I contacted an engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which had invented the Lifeguard, a technology that tracked bullets in flight and accurately returned sniper fire within milliseconds of a shot. I wanted to know if the system could be paired with a M134 minigun—a Gatling-style machine gun that can fire 6,000 rounds a minute—and where the technology would be in a few years; being ahead of curve makes stories informative and just-plain-cool. The engineer provided invaluable insight into the technology, but insisted on my not acknowledging him in the book, almost always a great sign you’ve uncovered true insider information.

About a week later, two FBI agents came to my door with questions of their own, all pertaining to my interest in the Lifeguard system. They left with copies of my story notes, my book contract, and Comes a Horseman. That was the last I heard from them, but knowing you’re on the FBI’s radar is a bit unnerving.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. While researching The 13th Tribe, which tracked a group of immortal vigilantes as they traversed the globe doing what vigilantes do, I contacted an owner of a travel agency that specialized in both international travel and private jet rentals. I needed to know about small, private airfields in places like Tel Aviv and Bucharest. Next thing I know, the local PD’s knocking, but not to find out if I was an international terrorist or assassin. Shortly after my visit, the travel agency had been broken into and robbed; the owner labeled me as a “suspicious character.” Again, I showed the investigators my notes and contracts, my published books and current manuscript, and gave them my fingerprints. Turns out the owner was indicted for the crime; I was his red herring. There’s a story in that, but I haven’t done anything with it—yet.

The cautionary tales go on and on—the black-market wolf-dog breeder who tossed a steak into a pack of hungry animals while telling me, “No one would be stupid enough to turn me in”; the call from the NSA wondering why I wanted to know about satellite laser weapons (it was for my book Deadfall)—and in every case, the research and how it played out in my story was worth the scare and hassle. I write thrillers; rattling cages comes with the territory, and if I’m not rattling them enough to get some blowback—that’s when I’m really worried.

Best-selling novelist Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His first three critically acclaimed thrillers—Comes a Horseman, Germ, and Deadfall—were optioned by Hollywood producers, as well as his Dreamhouse Kings series for young adults. His latest book is The Judgment Stone, the second in the Immortal Files trilogy, after The 13thTribe. Liparulo is currently working on an original screenplay of a political thriller with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, The Guardian). New York Times best-selling author Steve Berry calls Liparulo’s writing “Inventive, suspenseful, and highly entertaining . . . Robert Liparulo is a storyteller, pure and simple.” Liparulo lives in Colorado with his family.
The Judgment Stone  finds  The 13th Tribe's Jagger Baird facing a group of Immortals even nastier than the Tribe. When this group uses an ancient artifact, which allows them to see beyond the veil of this world into the next, to murder the world's most gifted people, Jagger must overcome his own doubts and fears to stop the carnage.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The editor is my friend... right?

by Annie Hauxwell        

Remember the scorpion and the frog? The scorpion persuades the frog to give him a ride across the stream, arguing he won’t use his sting because if he did he would also die. 
Halfway across the scorpion stings the frog. The frog asks “why?”, to which the scorpion answers “Because it’s in my nature.” Glug glug glug.
An editor also has a certain inescapable nature. They may like you. You may like them. But if they’re good at what they do they won’t pull their punches when it comes to your work. Your affection may evaporate as you feel the sting.
The debut author may receive a handful of general queries about their manuscript or a full-blown, marked-up re-structure (characterized as ‘suggestions’). In whatever form, your first edit will be scary. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fatal.
My first book was published in 2011 and I didn’t understand any of this; it never occurred to me to ask what approach the editor would take, because I didn’t realise there was more than one. Now I know better.  
My third book is due out in July. I’ve now worked with three editors on two continents; smart, experienced and charming people. Two editors (different publishers) worked on my third book. The notes I received differed substantially in form and content. An embarrassment of riches which at times became a curse of abundance. 
But nevertheless a revelation: not all editors use the same approach. There isn’t one right way and this variation in method can be truly enlightening if you can get them to talk about what they actually do and why.  
What happens when your editors disagree or when you disagree with your editor? First, ask yourself if they’re right; often they are and this is why deep down we love ‘em: they stop you from making a fool of yourself.
But what if you think they’re wrong? Will you deny the many-headed Cerberus employed by the gargantuan publishing house on which your future depends? You have a two-book contract and would love to sign another. Dare you cross them? Do you want to be known as a difficult author?
This is where the egotistical self-belief that sustained you through long, cold nights of solitary labor comes in handy: just say no. It may be hard to believe, but seeing your book in the bookshop will be cold comfort if it is not the book you wrote.
Of course, if it turns out to be a best-seller you may learn to live with the pain. But remember the frog. Glug glug glut.

Annie Hauxwell was born and raised in London. Her family emigrated to Australia when she was a teenager and since then she has divided her time between the two countries. Her working life has included stints as a psychiatric nurse, cleaner, sociologist, taxi driver and lawyer. She abandoned the law to work as an investigator, an occupation she has pursued happily for twenty years. She is a keen sailor, but suffers from seasickness. Visit Annie at
Christmas is looming, and investigator Catherine Berlin is out of a job. Broke, and with a drug habit that's only just under control, she quickly agrees when an old friend offers her work. It's a simple investigation with a generous fee, looking into the dealings of a small-time entrepreneur. The only catch? It's in Russia.
But when Berlin arrives in Moscow, things are not so straightforward. Shadowy figures stalk her through the frozen streets. She's kicked out of her hotel, her all-important medication confiscated by police. Strung out and alone, Berlin turns to her interpreter, an eccentric Brit named Charlie. But Charlie's past is as murky as Berlin's own, and when the subject of the investigation disappears, Berlin realises Charlie may be part of the web. 
The only way out is to hunt down the truth, even if it kills her.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

April Debut Releases

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

Terry Irving - Courier (Exhibit A) April 29, 2014

Historical suspense novel releases in 40th anniversary year of Nixon’s resignation
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The motorcycle that Vietnam vet Rick Putnam rides around Washington D.C. is fast, but is it fast enough to escape his destructive memories of the war and the hired guns who are trying to kill him?
In his debut novel (May 1, 2014, Exhibit A Books), Emmy award-winning journalist and writer Terry Irving paints a gritty picture of a Washington DC that today has completely disappeared under new parks and high-rise office buildings. In the middle of the scandal and drama of Watergate, Rick, a motorcycle courier, unsuspectingly picks up a roll of news film and—after the correspondent and crew are killed—finds that he is next on the killer’s to-do list. With the help of friends—and a woman who threatens to crack the shell he's built to defend his heart—Rick must discover what's on the film and why officials are willing to kill to keep it from the front pages.

Periodically, we "catch up" with authors who joined the Debut Program after their release date. Let's celebrate their releases as well. 

Drew Chapman - The Ascendant (Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc)  January 7, 2014

Hidden deep within the figures tracking the ups and downs of the stock market lies a terrifying truth: America is under attack. Our government...our economy...our very way of life are in the crosshairs of a ruthless enemy...and no one knows. Except Garrett Reilly. He has a knack for numbers. He sees patterns no one else can. His gift has made him a rising star on Wall Street. But when he notices that two hundred billion dollars' worth of U.S. Treasury bonds are being sold off at a terrifying rate, his gift makes him the most wanted man alive.

Bryan E. Robinson - Limestone Gumption (Five Star Publishing) January 22, 2014

When Brad Pope returns to his boyhood hometown to confront his long-lost father, the 35-year-old psychologist becomes a prime suspect in the murder of cave diver, Big Jake Nunn. Whitecross, Florida, is known for its natural crystal-clear springs and underwater caverns where townsfolk die of natural causes, not murder. Until now. The psychologist's hopes of settling the debt with his father and reconnecting with his cantankerous Grandma Gigi are hindered by the surprised horror surrounding his father's whereabouts and sinister secrets of the Women's Preservation Club, founded by Grandma Gigi. 
With its blend of humor and dark plot, Limestone Gumption witnesses beauty and brutality in a small Southern town. This fast-paced cozy mystery's twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat or make you fall out of it laughing.