Thursday, January 30, 2014

What It's Like

by Chris F. Holm       

Every writer fantasizes about what their life will be like once they have a novel out. Lord knows this one did.

It's been two years since my first Collector novel, DEAD HARVEST, was released. Sixteen months since its follow-up, THE WRONG GOODBYE. The conclusion of the trilogy, THE BIG REAP, came out six months back. That means there’s enough time and words between me and HOLY CAPSLOCK I'M A REAL LIVE AUTHOR for the flush of pie-eyed romance to fade, and my life to settle into some kind of new normal.

So… what's it like?

Vast stretches of my life aren't all that different. I still have a day job. I still park the same car at the same house as I did before my books were published. Said house is messier than it used to be, because my writing output's increased considerably. Some of that was by necessity; I had a tight deadline for THE BIG REAP, and I was determined to deliver it on time. But mostly, I attribute the increased output (two finished novels in addition to the one I owed my publisher, and a handful of short stories) to the fact that I feel like I've been given my shot, and I'm determined not to waste it.

And then there are those short bursts of utter insanity that underscore just how much has changed. A conversation in a limo with a literary idol. Knocking back drinks with a table full of old friends you just met at a book con. Reading to a packed house. Reading to an empty room. Signing books, which at first feels completely weird and wrong and oh by the way there are no do-overs if you screw up the inscription. Getting your first bad review, and feeling like someone ripped your heart out of your chest. Getting a fantastic one, and fixating on the one thing they didn’t love. Freaking out a fan by tweeting at them. Realizing that writer whose books you hate is the nicest person on the planet. Realizing that writer whose books you love is kind of a jackass. Realizing people feel the same in both directions about you.

The highs are beyond anything I dared hope for. And the lows, I quickly realized, are the sorts of lows all authors feel. Sure they suck – but they mean you’re in the game.

It's a hoary old saw that college is the best time of your life, but there's a kernel of truth in that statement. Thing is, it's only half-right at best. For many, college is the wildest, most challenging time of their lives, before settling into the long, hard slog of adulthood. It's the best and worst life has to offer all rolled into one deliciously melodramatic package.

That's what it’s like to have your books out in the world. Thrilling. Gut-wrenching. Wonderful. Horrible.

But damn, if it ain't living.

THE BIG REAP (Angry Robot Books, July 2013): Sam Thornton collects souls. The souls of the damned, to be precise. Condemned to an eternity of servitude to hell thanks to a devil's bargain he made to save his dying wife, his gig as a Collector is part penance, part punishment, and all suck. But just because he's a capital-letters Bad Guy doesn't mean he's a bad guy… or does it? In the past, Sam’s moral compass has always steered him true. But when he’s tasked with dispatching the mythical Brethren – a group of former Collectors who've cast off their ties to hell – is he still working on the side of right?

Chris F. Holm wrote his first story at the age of six. It got him sent to the principal's office. Since then, his work has fared better, appearing in such publications as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2011. He's been longlisted for a Stoker Award and nominated for an Anthony, a Derringer, a Silver Falchion, and a pair of Spinetinglers (one of which he won.) His Collector novels recast the battle between heaven and hell as old-fashioned crime pulp. Visit him on the web at, or follow @chrisfholm on Twitter.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Liberty on Beale Street

by Jude Hardin

Someone once asked me where I get my ideas. It’s a common question, and one with as many answers as there are authors, I suppose. For me, story ideas often come from real-life experiences. Not to say that my work is autobiographical. Not at all. But every snowball at the top of every hill needs that first push to get it going. That’s what I’m talking about. A catalyst.

I joined the Navy in 1985. After boot camp, I was sent to Memphis, Tennessee for some initial training in my chosen field of avionics. They kept me busy for the first few weeks, but eventually I earned a Saturday and Sunday free from duty. In the Army they call it a weekend pass. In the Navy they call it Liberty. It’s what you live for.

On our very first day away from the base, my friend Jeff and I decided to check out some of the drinking establishments on Beale Street. We chose a place that wasn’t too crowded, grabbed a stool at the bar and ordered some drinks. Rum and Coke for him, Miller Lite longneck for me. We hadn’t earned our “civvies chit” yet, so we were in our dress whites. Just a couple of sailors out having a good time.

We sat there and chatted for a while, drinking our drinks and munching on pretzels and generally enjoying an afternoon free from responsibility.

Then it happened.

A man sat on the barstool next to mine. Jeff was on my left, and this guy was on my right. He was short and skinny, and he needed a shave. Tattered jeans, dirty jacket, greasy black hair.

He put his hand on my leg, and at the same time leaned over and whispered in my ear.

“You’re pretty,” he said.

“You need to move along,” I said.

But he didn’t. He didn’t move along. Instead, he slid his hand down to my inner thigh. Furious at the nerve of this creep, I grabbed my beer bottle, broke it across the bar, and jammed it into his face.

The man screamed. Bright red blood gushed from the hole where his cheek used to be. He stood and staggered back and pulled a .22 caliber revolver out of his pocket.

Fortunately, two guys grabbed him from behind before he could get a round off. They threw him down and pinned him to the floor. I guess they held him there until the police came, but I didn’t stick around to find out. Jeff and I hurried out to the street, walked a few blocks and then took a bus back to the base.

Just a couple of sailors out having a good time.
Is that the end of the story?

No. It’s only the beginning.

Is that what really happened?

No. But someday I might decide to use that day on Beale Street as the initial spark for a new thriller.

Get the idea?

New from Jude Hardin: iSEAL
A civilian contractor for the Department of Defense has created an implantable brain-computer interface that will make the fiercest warriors on the planet exponentially smarter, faster, and deadlier. Codename: iSEAL. After years of painstaking research, the device is finally ready for human trials. Desperate to be reinstated as a Special Forces candidate, Nathan Brennan reluctantly volunteers for the study. Four weeks as a lab rat and his military career will be back on course. Unfortunately, by the end of day one, he finds himself on the run from the police, the CIA, and a mysterious criminal mastermind named Oberwand. With no memory of his past, and with little hope for a meaningful future, Brennan must utilize every weapon in his binary arsenal just to stay alive.

Jude Hardin publishes thrillers in several different subgenres. He graduated from the University of Louisville in 1983 with an English degree, and currently lives and works in northeast Florida. When he’s not pounding away at the computer keyboard, Jude can be found pounding away on his drums, playing tennis, reading, or wandering the streets of Bakersfield wearing wraparound shades and a red bandana. You can learn more about Jude and his books at

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Six Ways to Write Through Self-Doubt

by Erin Healy

At some point in the course of writing each of my novels, I’m overcome with certainty that my story is coming undone (or, if I’m just beginning, might never get off the ground). The pages of my manuscript take on the look of confetti that a light sneeze could obliterate. A simple thought paralyzes my creativity and confidence: You are not up to this task.

There was a time when I expected this anxiety to fade. Experience would lead to confidence. I don’t know why I thought this. I’ve been a published author for five years and a career editor for more than twenty, and the talented novelists I know routinely experience self-doubt, whether they’ve written one book or fifty. In fact, I’m wary of the work of writers who claim never to question their abilities.

Here are some of the ways we veterans outlast our inner critic:

Show up each day. Engage your novel in whatever condition it’s in. Worst-case scenario: your story is coming undone and you are not up to the task. Moaning this mantra from under a quilt can’t change the state of things. The only way to hold a work-in-progress together, discover real solutions, determine the actual value of the story, and improve your abilities is to keep doing the work. Showing up is the one self-disciplined action that solves most story problems.

Do what feeds your creativity. I like to walk, watch movies, and revisit books on storytelling technique and principle (such as Story, by Robert McKee). Reread your favorite novel, the one you wish you’d written. Hike a mountain, clean your house, visit the art museum with your best friend. Do whatever it is that gets you in the mood to show up. (Otherwise, you’re procrastinating.)

Get input from a trusted adviser who can talk you out of your dark hole of doubt and/or brainstorm solutions with you. With any luck that will be your editor, or a writer with more experience than you. You might only need an objective, qualified reader (not your mom) to tell you that the story is in fact quite good! Beware too much advice from too many sources, which can confuse rather than inspire.

Be actively patient in seeking a solution. Hold your story loosely so that it can become a surprising beauty. Generate new material but don’t throw anything away. Try new techniques. Hit your daily word-count goal with stream-of-consciousness dialog between you and a character about the problem you face. Write back story that probably won’t appear in the novel but might reveal what you need to know about your characters’ journeys. I often get unstuck by revisiting or extending my research. Write unplanned scenes that deviate from your outline. Or try writing an outline of the parts you haven’t imagined yet.

Treat your story kindly, like the parent of an adorable awkward adolescent, a fragile creature. Love its potential. Forgive its shortcomings.

Maintain your momentum. Thriller writers are genre writers, and part of what’s required to be a successful (i.e., money-making) genre author is the ability to accumulate a body of work in a concentrated amount of time. (A friend of mine has recently gone underground with a contract to produce serialized novels at the rate of 200,000 words in four months.) Inertia is a genre writer’s enemy. If you don’t have the luxury of a publisher willing to print on your schedule, you’ll probably have to accept that not all the novels you write will be equally excellent or inspired, no matter how hard you strive to best yourself each time. As with any discipline, the level of maturity you can attain in your craft and genre is directly related to the amount of practice you put into it. Each time your self-doubt rears its head, you’ll be better equipped to hold it in its proper place.

Erin Healy is an independent book editor and novelist who lives with her family in Colorado. Her new supernatural-suspense novel, Stranger Things, is the tale of a group of strangers working to bring down a sex trafficking ring in California. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

True Confession: My Rookie Year as an Author

by Norb Vonnegut

Congratulations, debut authors.

This is a story I tell book clubs. I wished I had told it during my Debut Breakfast, which is why I’m writing it for The Thrill Begins. Every word is true. And if you’ll pardon me for the unsolicited advice, I encourage you to have some fun when you’re presenting to our fellow authors this July.

In 2009 I was living the dream. I had left the relative obscurity of my career as a financial adviser and was writing full time. That September I traveled to Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane to promote the Australian edition of Top Producer. It was there—at the Brisbane Writers Festival—I began to understand the meaning of primetime.

Or not.

First a little background: Wall Street runs from publicity. If you make the news, there’s usually a pink slip in your future. I had no experience with the media or ginning up publicity. I was ill prepared for life as a “book slut,” which is the expression my wife uses when I ask people to like Norb Vonnegut Books, my page on Facebook.

But Brisbane. Lovely Brisbane. What a place. What a ride.

During my first week as a published author, I signed books until my hand went numb. I joined several panels of celebrated authors, taught a “master class” on writing, and was quoted in leading Australian newspapers. After three or four radio interviews and at least one television appearance, I began operating under the delusion that I had become an overnight celebrity.

Yeah, an overnight celebrity.

Near the end of my stay in Brisbane, I woke up at 1 AM one morning—both literally and figuratively. My publicist had scheduled an interview with Buddy Cianci (RI talk-show host and former Mayor of Providence) at 2 AM Brisbane time, which was noon on the east coast of the United States.

I set my alarm for 1 AM because, after ten days of big parties and late nights, I knew I’d be a wreck. It’d take me an hour to pull myself together. And this interview was important, my first with an American radio station. 

         Sure enough, I woke up groggy. Bed head. Sleep creases. I pulled on a pair of old shorts but stayed with the flannel pajama tops that have been part of my wardrobe since last century. Not a pretty sight.

It was balmy outside. I tried to wake up by replying to e-mails. I really didn’t care how I looked—the ratty old shirt, the hair on walkabout, the bags under my eyes. I assumed nobody was outside at that hour.


I sat on the bench in front of my hotel, slowly gaining consciousness before my phone call to the station. That’s when a woman and two guys approached me from the distance. They were returning from a big night out, Aussie style.

She pointed at me.

Not now, I thought. My bed head. My nasty PJs.

The trio drew closer, and the woman pointed again.

She wants to talk. She wants my autograph, I thought. Not the way I look.

“Look,” she said. “He’s homeless.”

I glanced back over my shoulder and, finding no one behind me, realized the woman was talking about me.

She persisted, shredding my ego, tearing out my heart. “Do you think he needs money?”

I felt helpless, trapped—like a deer in the headlights. My hands rose involuntarily, up, up, up. I didn’t know what to say.

You have me all wrong.

And the woman sighed, a note of relief in her voice. “It’s okay. He has a BlackBerry.”

Oh well. So much for celebrity.

The truth is, I loved being an author then. And I’m still living the dream today. Janet Maslin of the New York Times described The Trust, The Gods of Greenwich, and Top Producer as “glittery thrillers about fiscal malfeasance.” End Game is the working title for my fourth novel. It’s about a cold art heist that heats up after thirty years.

There’s nothing I like more than stories from the road. You’ve heard one of my mine. What’s the best, craziest, weirdest, most shocking thing that’s happened to you during your first year as a published author?

Come on, out with it 

The NYT describes Norb Vonnegut’s novels (The Trust, The Gods of Greenwich, Top Producer) as “money porn” and “a red-hot franchise.” When he’s not working on End Game—a forgotten art heist heats up after thirty years—he’s writing about wealth management for the WSJ. 
Published in nine languages, Norb is a trustee at the American Foundation for the Blind. LIKE Norb Vonnegut Books on Facebook for more.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

January Debut Releases

It's a new year, time for new goals and celebrations for goals achieved. It's also the first Thursday in January, which means debut releases. 

Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

Elizabeth Heiter - Hunted (Mira) January 1, 2014

Terror stalks a small Virginia town…

FBI rising star, criminal profiler Evelyn Baine, knows how to think like a serial killer. But she’s never chased anyone like the Bakersville Burier, who hunts young women and displays them, half-buried, deep in the woods. As the body count climbs, Evelyn’s relentless pursuit of the killer puts her career – and her life – at risk. And the evil lurking in the Burier’s mind may be more than even she can unravel.

Terror is closer than she thinks…

The Bakersville Burier knows he’s got an FBI profiler on his trail. He knows who she is and where to find her. And he’s biding his time, because he’s planned a special punishment for Evelyn. She may have tracked other killers, but he vows to make this her last chase. This time it’s her turn to be hunted!

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan says, "HUNTED is a terrific, gripping, page-turning debut by a talented new voice in suspense. A great read. "