Thursday, January 27, 2011

Carla Buckley Chats About Her New Release and Fab Contest

Chevy Stevens is the NYT Bestselling debut author of Still Missing (St. Martins, 2010). Recently she sat down and had a chat with Carla Buckley, debut author of The Things That Keep Us Here (Random House, 2010) about the forthcoming release of Carla’s critically-acclaimed book in trade paperback.

Chevy: The Things That Keep Us Here is about a family trying to survive a terrible pandemic and although there are lots of fascinating scientific facts—some which are still keeping me up at night—the book never inundated us with boring data. Personally, I hate it when an author dumps a bunch of information in the middle of a book, but I know how hard it can be to resist sharing all your newfound research. How did you avoid that?

Carla: Thanks, Chevy. That's so nice of you to say! I did a lot of research-- from reading about the 1918 Great Pandemic to interviewing scientists out in the
field monitoring the migratory bird population.
There's nothing better than talking to people who are passionate about their work. They'll put things in such interesting and conversational ways that even I--a former art major--can follow along.

I didn't want to burden my story with a lot of scientific facts, but I did want to convey just how scary the flu virus is. One way I did this was to have Peter, the husband in my story, deliver a lecture to a group of students who knew nothing about influenza. Another way was to have Ann, Peter's wife and a non-scientist, take the lead so that she could ask the questions that mattered, as the threat unfolded.

Chevy: Reading about the 1918 Great Pandemic, eh? Fun! All kidding aside, another thing I realized after I finished reading the book
(when I wasn’t busy stockpiling my house with supplies and trying to convince my husband to build a bunker in the backyard), is that although science supports the story line, it’s really more focused on this one family as they try to survive a pandemic—a family that was already struggling. What made you decide to go in that direction?

Carla: Actually, some of those books on the Great Pandemic are really terrifying! Back then, people didn't have a clue what was making them sick. They could only watch in horror as it worked its way through their neighborhoods and homes.

Some of that helplessness played out in my decision to write about a pandemic from the perspective of one average American family. I wanted to put real people in a situation that tested them and forced them to face their greatest fears, and by doing so, show how people can be pulled apart or brought together under the worst possible circumstances.

Chevy: Well, it was very effective. One of the reasons I couldn’t put your book down was because I became so emotionally involved with the characters. Another reason was that the pandemic you described was an all too real possibility. This was something that could happen, and in fact, did. I also read recently that birds have been falling from the sky. What was it like for you when your nightmares came true?

Carla: Um...not good! I can't tell you how many readers have contacted me regarding the recent bird die-offs, wondering if my story was about to come true. I asked my scientist husband what the scientific community was saying, and his response was that scientists were as perplexed as the rest of us. Yikes!

The good news (though not for the birds) was that those recent deaths were not due to disease.

But the recent H1N1 Pandemic was another story. It started off exactly as the 1918 Pandemic had, with a mild, quiet surfacing in the spring followed by a large and much more active rebound in the fall. All my research had shown that this could be the pandemic the world had long been dreading. Smack in the middle of all this, I had my first book appearance scheduled 400 miles away. I decided to board the plane, but I made my husband promise that if the airports shut down and borders were closed, he'd hunker down with the kids and I'd figure out a way to get back home. Very fortunately (not to diminish the tragedy of the lives that were lost) the H1N1 strain proved not to have a high mortality rate and now there is a vaccine against it.

Chevy: That must have been terrifying! Now that the world is relatively safe for the moment, let’s talk about something that’s essential to a writer’s survival. Snacks! As an author myself, I know that those long days at the keyboard can be really frustrating, how you want to tear your hair out rewriting the same scene over and over, and the only things that get me through are popcorn and peanut butter—not at the same time! What are some of your favorite food-related-stress-reliefs?

Carla: Excuse me while I brush the crumbs out of my keyboard. There. Let's see. *studies heap of crumbs on desktop* Well, it seems that this week, I nibbled on leftover Chinese food, Raisinets, brownies, and potato chips. Yep, that seems to be everything. Don't tell my kids what I eat while they're at school. I'm trying to convince them to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Chevy: You are a writer after my own heart, Carla—but now I’m hungry! After we wrap up this interview I’m going to have to hit the store ASAP. I know you have an exciting contest you want to tell us about, but before we learn how readers can win a copy of your book, I wanted to ask about your next novel Invisible. One of the truly frightening aspects of The Things That Keep Us Here was the idea of the threat being this big nameless thing spreading across the world, something we couldn’t see or put a face to, but that was coming for you and your family. Does your next book have any similar elements?

Carla: I wish I could run to the store with you! We could pile a shopping cart with salty and sweet things, and then watch some reality TV while we plot our next books. Speaking of which, yes, I also wanted my next novel to be about a family in turmoil forced to face a much larger crisis. Invisible tells the story about a woman who returns to her small hometown after a long absence to attend her sister's funeral. While she's there, she not only confronts her own tragic past but what might have what sickened her sister and her former neighbors and friends. I didn't want to be a disease-of-the-week writer, however, so I did a lot of research before unearthing a different sort of a scientific threat that's bearing down on humankind and which I predict it will be making headlines soon.

Chevy: Oh! That sounds like bliss! The running to the store part, not the plot
for Invisible—that sounds terrifying. Then again, the two of us loose in a junk food aisle could also be terrifying. So, now that you've thoroughly scared the crap out of us and I'm fighting the urge to barricade myself into my house, why don't you tell us about your contest?

Carla: No, don't barricade yourself--at least, not until I get there, armed with junk food! Okay, this is how the contest will run:

Everyone who leaves a comment about their favorite survival tip on my Facebook Fan Page by Monday, January 31 (12 pm EST) will be entered into a contest to win a signed copy of The Things That Keep Us Here along with my own concept of a survival kit.

Post a comment here on The Thrill Begins blog AND on my fan page and be entered twice. Tweet or FB the link to the contest (and let me know by posting it to my fan page) and be entered three times!

Chevy: That sounds great! I can't wait to read everyone's answers. Now please hand over--I mean pass--the chocolate.

To find out more about Chevy and Carla, check out their websites: and

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Making an Audiobook

Some argue there’s no such thing as an audio­book. After all, a book is something you hold in your hands. Okay, maybe a book is also a file you download onto your preferred electronic reading device, but no matter the form, a book is still something you read. It has physical characteristics: a type font, chapter headings, pages. When a book is read to you, you’re not actually reading, someone else is. Ergo, an “audiobook” is not really a book, it’s a recorded listening experience.

I used to think that audiobooks weren’t for me. I’ve always considered myself a visual person. Tell me your name when we’re introduced in a social setting, and it’s gone five seconds after I hear it. Write it down where I can see it, and I’m the elephant who never forgets.

But after my science thriller Freezing Point sold to as part of their “Breakout Thrillers” program, suddenly, I had reason to pay attention. I listened to samples of my narrator’s reading on Audible’s website, and fell in love. His voice quality, and his wry, sardonic tone, were perfect for my novel.

Before he began recording, Mark Boyett called me to go over a few pronunciations. “I always like to have a conversation with the author if at all possible before I go in to record,” Mark says. “I like to give the author a chance to talk about his or her novel and express anything they’d like me to communicate as I narrate their book. After all, people are downloading the book to experience the author’s work first and foremost, so my work needs to serve that end.

“As I prepare the book, I’ll make margin notes, sometimes about the mood of a scene, or the subtext of a character. Or I’ll score sections with little notations that only make sense to me to remind myself to link up these words, or drive through this part, or make this paragraph start as a fresh new thought rather than a continuation of the previous one, and so on.

“Colored markers are also important. In scenes where there are multiple characters, I assign each character a color and then dot each line they speak, so I can read right through, changing the voices as needed, without having to stop and figure out who’s talking when. Luckily, in the event that a narrator needs a reminder about the voice he’s using for a particular character, the engineer can go back and replay earlier clips as a refresher.”

With that level of professionalism and attention to detail, us it any wonder I was delighted with the result? An audiobook, I discovered, isn’t just a reading. It’s a performance, like listening to a one-man play. The emotion my narrator conveys through his voice adds a whole new dimension to my written words. And the accents – Irish, Brazilian, English, Australian – until I heard my book read out loud, I had no idea I’d created such an international cast.

On Dec. 28, the print and audio versions of my second environmental thriller, Boiling Point, will publish simultaneously. Because Boiling Point brings back two characters fromFreezing Point, Mark Boyett narrates again. I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy – figuratively speaking – and enjoy what will undoubtedly be another outstanding “recorded listening experience.”


Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Freezing Point, a science thriller nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008, and Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming just published by Berkley. Karen is cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the International Thriller Writers, where she currently serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology. She is also Managing Editor of the International Thriller Writers’ newsletter and webzine, The Big Thrill.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ready – Set – Action!

I love action. Not in real life. In real life, I’m a writer, which means I spend 90% of my day sitting in front of my computer. Oh, once in a while I get up, stretch a little, put on my shoes, and walk out to the mailbox to see if the mailman happened to drop off a royalty check. Or I head into the kitchen for a drink of water or a cup of coffee and a cookie. But that’s about as exciting as my life gets.

Still, I love action. I love watching it on TV or on the big screen, and I love reading it. Give me a heart-thumping chase scene over an introspective walk in the woods any day. Too much exposition in a novel, too much description, too many paragraphs and pages going on and on about chaos theory, and I start flipping pages. (Sorry, Michael. Much as I loved Jurassic Park, I’m pretty sure I actually read only 3/4s of the book.)

I also love writing action. As a thriller writer, I get to blow things up. Burn things down. Maim, terrorize, and destroy. Get all the meanness out of my system and onto the page.

Action scenes are fun to write. There’s no lengthy introspection, no character development, no scene-setting or descriptions – just short, declarative sentences that propel the reader through the scene:

Her foot caught. She pulled. Pulled again. Looked up. Phillipe and Ross were still at the edge of the waterfall, still hanging on. She pulled again, reached beneath the water with one hand and jerked at the boot lace. The knot held, the lace wet and swollen. She pulled again, ripped at the knot. Tore her fingernails. Didn’t care.

Action verbs are exciting all on their own. Nobody runs – they dash, sprint, dart, spurt, race and tear through the scenes.

Action scenes are also the only time an author can indulge in what would normally be an appalling overuse of em-dashes and exclamation points:

Phillipe – Ross – struggling in the water – the hot, hot water – boiling up her ankles, her legs, her thighs – the helicopter ladder dangling the rescue sling – but Ross – Phillipe – they were in trouble – they needed her –

“Go!” Ross screamed as he struggled to hold on to her stepfather. “Grab the cable! We’re right behind you! Go – go – go!!”

“Sheila!” Rebecca screamed. “Hurry!”

But action is so much more than superficial wham-bam. If that’s all there was to it, then watching the roadrunner chase the coyote off a cliff would be as gripping as watching “Inception” or James Bond.

The reason action scenes get the heart thumping is not because they’re exciting. It’s because the reader cares about the characters.

Back when I was working on my first novel, that understanding hadn’t yet become clear. Three-quarters of the way through the book, I got stuck on a scene where my characters were drifting in a small, engineless boat toward a huge waterfall (no, not the same waterfall in the excerpts above – apparently, those Reader’s Digest “Drama in Real Life” stories about people going over Niagara Falls in a barrel made a deep impression on me when I was a child). No matter how I tried writing the scene, it felt artificial and cheesy. I knew the characters weren’t going to die, and since this scene took place three-quarters of the way through the book and these were the principal characters, I knew the reader would know the characters weren’t going to die, either. It all felt contrived and silly.

The one day, I suddenly realized that the characters didn’t know they weren’t going to die. It seems obvious now, but at the time, it was a revelation. I put myself in the characters’ heads, imagined the events as they were experiencing and feeling them, and the scene practically popped of the page.

Inadvertently, I’d discovered the key to writing a compelling action sequence. It’s not the short sentences or the strong action verbs or the exclamation points that carry the scene. It’s the emotion. Fear. Anxiety. Terror. Apprehension. Desperation. It’s us sitting in our comfortable armchairs feeling what the characters feel as they drift inexorably toward that waterfall that raises our adrenalin level. We’re not reading. We’re sitting beside them in the boat.

And that’s why I love action.

How about you? Why do you love reading or writing action?

Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Freezing Point, a science thriller nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. Her second just-published environmental thriller, Boiling Point, about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming, finishes with a 40-page action sequence that takes place in the caldera of an erupting volcano.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Behind the Scenes of Writing a Back-to-Back-to-Back-to-Back Series

By Pamela Callow

As a member of the 2009/10 ITW Debut Author class, I've benefitted from the experience and generosity of the writers who belong to this incredible organization, and am honoured to be writing the first guest post of its re-launch.

I have been asked to share my experiences in writing a back-to-back-to-back series. I am currently under contract to write four books for the Kate Lange legal thriller series for MIRA Books. DAMAGED (June 2010) debuted six months ago, in which struggling lawyer Kate Lange unearths a legal conspiracy that rocks the foundations of medical research - and puts her in the path of a dementing killer.

INDEFENSIBLE (January 2011), book #2 of the Kate Lange series, released last week. In INDEFENSIBLE, the managing partner of Kate's firm is accused of domestic homicide. Held in prison for the murder of his ex-wife, Randall Barrett's defence lies in the hands of the one person who knows too well the taint of criminal scandal: Kate Lange.

My third book, TATTOOED, will be released in January 2012, and a fourth book in the Kate Lange series is also scheduled for release in 2012.

I’ve had the luxury of developing my series with two two-book contracts that were back-to-back. I sold DAMAGED in January 2009, in a two-book contract to write INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series. When I submitted INDEFENSIBLE to my editor in December of 2009, I was asked the following week to submit two more story ideas, and was offered a contract immediately after New Year’s in 2010. Having four books under contract has given me the freedom to breathe a little. As I develop the story line for the next two books, I can play with the supporting cast, knowing that I have more books to explore character arcs, bring back favourite characters, and respond to reader feedback. I am experiencing these benefits right now as I write TATTOOED.

However, it was a different story for books #1 and #2. One of the most unnerving elements of writing a multiple-book series back-to-back, is that you can be in the situation of writing the next book in the series without knowing how readers received the previous one. When I wrote INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series, DAMAGED had not yet been released. True to the sophomore book syndrome, I stressed – no, agonized -- over whether my audience would enjoy the development of the characters’ story arcs, and whether the shift to a heavier psychological suspense storyline would be received positively. (My husband now admits he wasn’t sure all of me would survive the process of writing that book.) I’m happy to say that it has, and the feedback about INDEFENSIBLE has been wonderful -- but that is the dice you roll when you write a back-to-back-to-back series. It is a bit like jumping off a cliff. Closing your eyes. And hoping for the best. Fortunately, I have a fabulous editor whose excellent judgment and perceptive suggestions have parachuted me thus far to a relatively soft landing.

Another aspect of writing a back-to-back series is that your reader wants to connect with the series’ characters as much as they want the suspense ride. If you disappoint, they may not want to invest their time and money in the next book of the series. Again, you don't know if you've taken a false step in the first release when you are writing the second. However, I try to be as honest and plausible as possible with my characters' reactions. They are flawed. And so far, readers appear to be relating to them.

For example, in DAMAGED, series lead Kate Lange survives an attack of a serial killer. She is just an ordinary single thirty-something woman, with her share of bills to pay and heartbreak. How, I wondered, would she react to the trauma of her experience? In INDEFENSIBLE, which takes place four months later, Kate is privately dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of this experience – and yet to the world, she is a minor celebrity. Being able to explore the fallout of events from previous books is one of the reasons I enjoy writing back-to-back series.

From a craft perspective, I map each character’s journey within the book, and their arc over the course of the series. The timeline in each of my books spans a two week period, but I work out my characters’ entire histories, and know what has gone on in each character’s life between books.

On a final craft note, I do extensive planning before I write each book. Not only do I conduct detailed research, I write deep back story for my characters. Then I begin working in flowcharts, figuring out how events and motivations intersect. During this process, I chart timelines for plot twists and turns. By the time I reach the climax of the book, I often have the timelines plotted to the minute in terms of logistics for the action scenes.

The planning also helps me brainstorm ideas for the next book in the series. I've learned to have a few ideas up my sleeve because you never know when you might need them. For both my contracts, I was asked to provide further book ideas on very short notice. So, my closing words of advice for writing a back-to-back-to-back-to-back series are borrowed from the motto of the Girl Guides of Canada: Always be prepared.

Pamela Callow is the author of a legal thriller series for MIRA Books. DAMAGED, her debut novel, was a Levy “Need to Read” Pick for June with Top Ten Bestseller display. INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series, released on January 1, 2011 to a top rating by RT Book Reviews. She is currently working on the third and fourth book of the series, as well as writing a short story featuring Kate Lange that she was invited to write for ITW’s Thriller 3 Anthology.

Pamela is a member of the Nova Scotia bar and has a Master’s degree in Public Administration. Prior to making writing a career, she worked as a strategy consultant for Accenture Consulting. She has two wonderful kids, one amazing husband, and a mischievous pug. When she isn’t writing, she loves to go for walks (unlike her dog), drink coffee, and fantasize about travelling around the globe.

Hang out with Pam at all the usual internet haunts: her website, Facebook Author Page, and twitter.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

January 2011 Debut Releases!

Congratulations to our January debut authors!

Bancroft Press

Kensington Publishing


New Posting Guidelines for The Thrill Begins

Happy New Year!

Today begins a new era for The Thrill Begins blog. Every Thursday, we'll provide new content from our debut authors on writing craft, the business, and fun anecdotal material for readers.

Please consider writing a blog for us. We'd love to have everyone participate. We'll support your commitment by getting the word out through our many followers on Twitter and the forum.

The new posting guidelines can be found at

Questions? Contact Tracey Devlyn at