Thursday, May 28, 2015

Write What You Know

by Carrie Stuart Parks

I’ve often heard this advice, and just as often heard the opposite. Fortunately for me, my career provided the perfect subject for my books: forensic art. Unlike the fancy holograms and computer generated bells and whistles on television, forensic art is about visual communication using something as simple as a pencil and piece of paper. Working as a forensic artist since 1981 gave me a host of plot ideas based on actual cases. As a forensic artist, I could reconstruct skulls, prepare
courtroom exhibits, draw composites of unknown suspects, age progress missing children, capture courtroom drama, sketch crime scenes, illustrate unknown remains, clarify video surveillance images and a host of other skills. Step aside, Bones! Choosing a career for my protagonist was a no-brainer.

Choosing a location came next. As a resident of Cataldo, Idaho, once saluted in the Corn Patch of the television show Hee Haw, I knew far more about my neighboring moose and wolves than big city life. I decided I’d slide one step away to Montana and create a fictional town called Copper Creek, based on Hamilton, Montana. . . and I did work on a triple homicide there once . . .

Now that I had a protagonist and a location, I needed details of this life. Gwen Marcey (Gwen coming from a name my husband, Rick, liked, and Marcey from his mom’s maiden name,) needed a dog. Of course. But not just any dog. No Golden Retriever, Collie, or German Shepherd. The dog HAD to be a Great Pyrenees. Remember the write what you know? My family raised this breed since 1959 and I’m currently the president of the national club.

I wanted to write from a Christian world view. No cussing or sex. Just tight tension and action. I knew it wouldn’t be a cozy, or sweet or light because of my job, but I also knew it took a bit more work to show the gritty side of forensic art without resorting to bad language and gratuitous violence and sex.

Now came the hard part: actually writing. Keeping tension high; showing, not telling; hooks at the end of the chapters; weaving in backstory or leaving it out; constructing layers within the story. That learning curve took ten years of hard work. I had a NYT bestselling author as a mentor, a harsh critique group, and attended numerous writing conferences taking copious notes. I signed up for on-line classes and read every book on the topic.

In that ten-year journey, I gathered rejections, worked full time, battled stage II breast cancer, and took care of my dying mother.

I was not, WAS NOT going to quit. Rejections meant more revisions. Cancer? I’d use it in the book.
I’m sharing all this with you, m’friends, because we all have that writing journey, that yellow brick road with witches and flying monkeys. But we also have our big hearted tin man, bright scarecrow, and brave lion to help us.

Oh, and yes, it all paid off. A three book deal at auction with HarperCollins Christian taking the highest bid. And finaling in two mystery/suspense competitions.

Carrie Stuart Parks is an award-winning fine artist and internationally known forensic artist. Along with her husband, Rick, she travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

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. In the shadow of the Mormon church, a 19th-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a 21st-century forensic artist.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Me and New York Jack

by Stu Strumwasser

In the mid-eighties I was studying creative writing at Cornell and I was lambasted by one of my professors for having the audacity to write a story about a kid in Vietnam. I had apparently violated one of the cardinal rules of writing: “Write what you know” (I think that one is 72 dash B). The rule is valid of course, but I also know this: there is no fiction without imagination—or risk—and I’d rather fall off the edge of the world than never leave port. So perhaps, like so many things in life, what is necessary is balance.

My new novel, THE ORGAN BROKER, will be released on May 5, 2015. Somehow the fact that someone else—a legitimate publisher—deemed it good enough to print and share with others feels redemptive. In March of 2008 I had the idea for a unique, epistolary format within which to write this story. At the time, there were over 90,000 Americans on waiting lists for organs. I was trying not to attempt another novel which might never be published, when I decided that I needed to research the subject—not in an effort to somehow become a scientific expert but, rather, to simply become able to write about it in an informed and believable way—to eventually know something, so I could then write about it. I wanted to know something new. Something fantastic and gritty and provocative.

I began by interviewing organ transplant recipients, one after another, and networking my way to academic experts on bioethics and journalists who have covered the black market. The first stage of my research culminated at a lunch in Los Angeles with a transplant tourism director who shocked me both with the details of his career, and the incredible openness and candor with which he shared them. I left California with a bit of knowledge. I wrote the manuscript, re-wrote it, got a new agent, sold the book, edited, promoted… and now, two weeks prior to publication, it is about seven years since I began.

A lot’s changed for me during that time, and I’ve learned that a lot more has changed for those in renal failure. The waiting list for organs has ballooned, during just these last seven years, by around thirty-five percent, to over 124,000 names. Approximately eighty percent of them need kidneys and the average wait now exceeds seven years. Around twenty-one people will die today because an organ wasn’t donated in time.

In the acknowledgments of my book the first sentence reads: “It took me several years to write this book, but several decades to truly become a writer.” It did, after all. Perhaps it took that long to learn something that mattered. Please go to and register to be a donor.

Stu Strumwasser studied creative writing at Cornell University and went on to pursue dual careers on Wall Street and as a musician. In 2006 Stu left Wall Street and founded Snow Beverages to make natural soda. A passionate entrepreneur, Stu then co-founded Tengrade in 2011. is the social rating tool for the internet, mobile devices and social networks, providing users with “Real Ratings” from their friends and people like them, on anything. Stu was born in Queens, raised in Lynbrook, and now resides in Brooklyn, New York with his two school-age, identical twin sons. The Organ Broker is his first published novel. You can contact Stu at

Every day twenty-one Americans die while waiting for an organ transplant. A small portion take “transplant tourism” trips to third-world countries where they buy life-saving replacement body parts from organ brokers like New York Jack. This book is the incredible story of how he meets the son he never knew he had and then finds himself caught between a $2 million commission and his desire to avoid participating in a string of murders. He races to South Africa and Brazil, staying just a step ahead of his adversary and the FBI, while he searches for one small act of redemption. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015


by Don Helin

During my time in the army, I wrote a gazillion Subject to position papers, but unless you're trying to gain a decision from your boss, you don't want to read it.

When I left the army, I attended a travel writing symposium sponsored by The Washington Post that started me on my writing career. I enjoy traveling and figured, “Heck why not get paid for it?” After
four years working as a travel writer, I decided to try writing fiction.

I still remember the day four years later when I got “The Call.” My wife thought I was nuts dancing around the kitchen when the acquisitions editor at Medallion Press said, “We want you.”

This leads me to the first of my two most important thoughts.


As soon as I signed my contract for Thy Kingdom Come, I became inundated with marketing plans; edits from the copy editor, the content editor, and the executive editor; then providing the graphic designer background material for a cover. In the summer of 2009, I signed a contract with Medallion Press for my second novel in the Sam Thorpe series as a mass market paperback and an ebook. I was doing book signing and making presentations. Life was good.

The following spring, Medallion informed me they no longer would be publishing mass market paperback books. Publishing is a business, and they only wanted to publish my second novel as an e-book, not an e-book and paperback like the first one. In the 2010 market, I didn't know how an author could develop a following with only an e-book.


Once I decided to cancel the e-book only contract, I developed a new series. On one Thrillerfest panel, I met an author who later introduced me to his publisher. She liked my novel, Devil's Den, and here I am writing another series. Contacts matter. Community matters.

I belong to a number of writers associations. The key to success is to volunteer at conferences. Conferences will help you make contacts, grow as a writer, and stay current on the myriad of changes in the publishing industry.

At book signings, don't hide behind a desk. Get out and meet people. You are your brand. If people know you, they may try your book and hopefully become fans. Build your community.

I see success stories every day. I'm convinced these successes are facilitated not only by hard work and a thick skin when you get rejected, but by learning two important secrets: (1) Writing is an art, but publishing is a business, and (2) It's not only about selling books, but building a community.

Good luck to each of you. An author can make life-long friends during their debut author year. I did and you will too.

I'd be glad to discuss my experiences with any of you.

Don Helin hails from Minneapolis. After his graduation from the University of Minnesota, he entered the military and served at a number of stateside posts, as well as in Vietnam and Germany. Using his experience from the military, including eight years in the Pentagon, Don published his first thriller, Thy Kingdom Come, in 2009. His second, Devil's Den, has been selected as a finalist in the Indie Book Awards. His most recent thriller, Secret Assault, was published this fall. Don is an active member of International Thriller Writers, Military Writers Society of America, Pennwriters, and is a mentor with Mystery Writers of America. He makes his home in central Pennsylvania where he is hard at work on his next Zack Kelly thriller, Dark Angel. Please visit Don at his website, friend him on Facebook, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

The June evening had been perfect—the speeches are over, the last dance is underway, and the president's national security advisor, General Aaron Hightower, is leaving his retirement party when he is gunned down by a Vietnamese assassin. Colonel Zack Kelly spots the killer and gives chase, but the shooter is hit by a truck and killed. Zack and his partner, Lieutenant Colonel Rene Garcia, determine that Hightower is the sixth army leader attacked in the past four months. They investigate the chilling possibility that the shootings are part of a plot against the government. Is a serial killer on the loose? Are other lives at stake? Cabinet members? Is the president himself at risk? Things are not as they seem, however. After two more military retirees are murdered, Zack's world is rocked by an event so traumatic, the hunt for the killers turns deadly personal.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

May Debut Releases

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

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

John A Connell - Ruins of War  (Berkley/Penguin) May 5, 2015

“A thrilling hunt…gripping and gruesome.” —James Becker, bestselling author of The Lost Testament 

In the winter of 1945, seven months after the Nazi defeat, Munich is in ruins. Mason Collins—former Chicago police detective, U.S. soldier, and prisoner-of-war—is now Chief Warrant Officer of the American Zone of Occupation. It’s his job to enforce the law in a place where order has been obliterated. And his job just became much more dangerous. 

A killer is stalking the devastated city—one who has knowledge of human anatomy, enacts mysterious rituals with his prey, and seems to pick victims at random. Relying on his wit and instincts, Mason must venture into dangerous places that put his own life at risk: from interrogation rooms with unrepentant Nazi war criminals to penetrating the U.S. Army’s own black market.

But what Mason doesn’t know is that the killer he’s chasing is stalking him as well…

Stu Strumwasser - The Organ Broker: A Novel (Arcade/Skyhorse Publishing) May 2015

Every day twenty Americans die while waiting for an organ transplant. A small portion take “transplant tourism” trips to third-world countries where they buy life-saving replacement body parts from organ brokers like New York Jack. 

This book is the incredible story of how he meets the son he never knew he had and then finds himself caught between a $2 million commission and his desire to avoid participating in a string of murders. He races to South Africa and Brazil, staying just a step ahead of his adversary and the FBI, while he searches for one small act of redemption.