Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Joys to You

Whatever your faith, I wish you joy and love. May the blessings of peace and happiness fill your heart, and may you feel a renewal of energy in that faith.

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I am thrilled to have a very special guest come to you "live" today. Her third Theda Krakow book is currently available (see the link below) and has earned some fabulous reviews. If you're looking for some great escape reading (and who isn't at this time of year?) you'll love Cries & Whiskers.

Without further ado, I present, Clea Simon! {applause; applause}

Are you addicted to cats?

Sometimes I think I am. No, I’m not a “crazy cat lady,” one of those sad old women (and they do tend to be elderly women) who “collect” or hoard so many animals that it becomes unhealthy for both people and pets.

But I love having a cat in the house. Even while I was mourning my last cat, a lovely long-haired grey named Cyrus, I longed for a feline presence. It wasn’t that I didn’t love Cyrus. At times, years later, I still think about his particular affectionate-and-yet-dignified personality, the way he would silently “mew” and then let me rub his white fluffy belly. I still think of him with love.

But I was also missing the physical presence of a cat. Any cat. There’s just something about having the soft warm bulk of a shin-high body press against you as you stand cooking in the kitchen or sit staring at another blank page. It’s not exactly inspiring, not all the time. But it is comforting. “I’m here,” that soft pressure says. “We’re in this together.”

Therefore, I confess it was a relief when we got the call from the animal shelter. A friend who worked there knew how we felt, and she’d called to say, “I have a kitten here that I think you’ll love.” “I’m not ready,” I told my husband. “We’ll just go visit,” he said. Needless to say, we left that day with Musetta, a spunky, plump black-and-white kitty who has found her own place in my heart, next to Cyrus, and her own spot behind my chair where she sometimes snores and mutters while I work.

There’s been a ton of research recently about why we love the pets we do. Some of it, like this article in the New York Times, suggests that our affection for cats might be a result of a parasite!

But I prefer to think of my connection as pure affection. She definitely inspired me through Cries and Whiskers. When I need a break from writing, or from dealing with any of life’s stresses (an ailing, elderly mother; yet another snowstorm; bills), Musetta is there for me, purring and head butting me. When we go to sleep, I feel the soft “thud” as she jumps up on the bed. When I come in, she twines around my ankles, chirping and mewing to tell me about her day. I hate to think of the day when she won’t be there. But I know, when that time comes, there will be another shelter kitty who needs a good home. Because I need that feline presence. Maybe I am addicted to cats.

Thank you Clea, for making even those of us without a cat want one! (What is it with writers and cats anyway?)

I appreciate you taking the time to make a special appearance today, and wish you all the best in 2008.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


pair-uh-puh-TEE-uh\noun Gk

From Merriam-Webster's 11th Edition: :a sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstance or situation especially in a literary work.

One of the best things a suspense novelist (or any novelist for that matter) can do is give their reader a surprise or two. Surprises keep interest up and the reading stays fun.

But throwing curves can boomerang if not handled well. Any sudden flips you create have to be plausible, and work for the story.

As a reader, there's nothing more frustrating than feeling like you've been relegated to an outsider position (within the pages of your very "own" novel) because you don't understand what just happened, and you're pretty sure you never will.

Brainstorm peripeteia options. Pick the best of the worst. The one that throws the biggest curve, creates the most surprise or delight. But make sure it could actually happen. Fictionally, that is.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Goal Setting Without Fear

One of my favorite sayings is "It doesn't matter where you start out. What matters is where you end up."

Are you ready to plan your route to the finish line? Do you know what that looks like for you?

And what happens if you fail?

That's the simple question. Here's the simple (though not always easy) answer. You start over. You pick up where you left off. You change the idea of failure to one of education. You understand you're that much further ahead.

But what about setting goals in the first place?

Before I throw out some strategies to think about, think about this first: carefully consider that the goals you are setting are what you want to accomplish, not what someone else thinks you should accomplish. Do not set your goals based on the expectations of others, or just because they sound good.

Man, it took me forever to figure that one out. (I'm such an approval seeker--or at least I used to be.) Sheeshkabobalino.

Most of us have heard about SMART goals. This is a great tool to keep in mind when you're sitting down to start clarifying what you want to achieve. Make each goal as Specific as possible. Details. Make them Measurable. Quantify what you're going for. Think carefully about whether or not each goal is truly Achievable. Are they Reasonable? And are they Timely?

Here's where I think people can get tripped up--your goals must be consistent with your values--without conflict. Not only must you look at where your heart is, you need to understand what makes it tick. For example, if your heart is set on getting that huge promotion, but you value time with your family, you need to make sure you can accomplish both. If not, which are you willing to sacrifice? Conflict will surely impact both goals, and your quality of life will suffer.

Another piece is to strive for balance in your life. Set goals for all six areas: Family, Spiritual, Social, Career, Physical, Educational. Don't pump up one area at the expense of another--and don't forget to check for conflict.

When you write your goals down (and that in itself is important) write them in the positive rather than the negative. Our subconscious minds focus on the written word. Make it good. Rather than saying, "At the end of the year, I don't want to still be writing my novel", say "At the end of the year, I will have a completed novel ready to be shopped." And of course, be detailed. Even to the point of recording how you will FEEL when that happens.

Take an assessment. Check your heart--your values. And take a chance on writing down some goals for 2008. If you fail, you're no further behind, and maybe even a little ahead. But if you succeed? Zowie.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rewrite Update

Animal pictures have such a wonderful, natural way of describing the Human Condition--without words.

But because I write, I'm wordy. It's a natural thing. . . .

I feel my head is in danger of separating from my body. There. I've said it. And boy, do I feel better. But . . .

Do you know the feeling? Not the wordy feeling. The separated head feeling. Please tell me this happens to everyone.

I'm now working on scene 14 of my rewrite. I laughingly call it my first rewrite, because officially, that's the truth. But some of these scenes have been rewritten what seems like hundreds of times. Sheeshkabobalino. And for the last week or two, my writing schedule has suffered with the Christmas calling of my heart. If only I could turn into a complete Scrooge. . . .

Only 55 more scenes to go, including scene 14. My goal is to have this done by the end of February. That works out to some serious business, especially with the holidays. And my birthday is next month. It falls on a Sunday and for some silly reason, I'm hoping to make it last a week. And I take a trip to Tucson next month as well to visit my mom and sister. Gosh, it sounds like I'm setting up excuses. I promise, I'm not.

Is anyone interested in helping me keep "on task" for the next couple of months?

It's all better with friends.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Amazon Kindle

While the debate rages, I have to admit I'm kind of crushing on the Kindle.

eBooks have NEVER intrigued me. Cold. A screen. Blick.

The Kindle is way improved from those first attempts. I'm pretty sure I sold one to our computer guy who had to fix my horrible virus--his wife should thank me--I'm that enthusiastic about it. The only glitch in my dancing (yes, literally) description of all the cool features was when he asked me if I had one.

I still hold out a dream for a partnership between Amazon and Apple to come up with the best bells and whistles (think iPod) and the access Amazon provides. What a gift and HUGE step forward that would be. Of course, a drop in price would be a good thing too.

And one more thing that would be so cool . . . publishers realizing that the ability to share a few chapters through Kindle could equate easily to more sales. Sometimes letting go means an easier path to create buzz about a book, and money in the pocket.

The cost of producing bound books filled with paper and ink (think trees and environmental hazard) isn't going to come down. With Kindle, it goes away.

I wonder if a way to hand sell will come along?

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


Readers and writers, what say you? Was this a killer-good ending to die for, or one full of possibility that laid him out flat in exasperation?

Did the ending make him want to hunt up everything the author had ever written? Google them? Or consider taking out an ad warning other readers to stay away?

That first sentence, that first paragraph, that first page, grabbed him and sucked him in. Rocked him right into the story world with fresh spirit and questions that made him crazy with curiosity. A rather slow reader, he invested hours of his play-time to read the book--not to mention the twenty-five buck investment up-front. He gave up his gourmet kibble for a month. Sheesh.

What do you think he hoped for when he curled up with the book?

As a reader, I figure out somewhere on the first page if the cover/title has set up appropriate expectations. If it hasn't, the book is placed back on the shelf and I move on. But if it does? I catch my breath and I'm sure my eyes get glittery. It's too much fun to mine a new book and horde it like a special treasure. There are few things better.

As a writer, I know it's those first few words that are either gonna grab an editor's attention or make her eyes glaze over (no glitter there). The worst thing that could happen to me as a writer, is for a reader--an editor or not--to be thinking about errands she needs to run while she's looking at words over which I have slaved.

So, in the beginning, just as God did on Earth, perfection (or in my human-case, as close as I could come) is created. I have re-written those first few words more than any other words in my manuscript. An editor may be able to make 'em better, but by golly, they were good enough to make that editor's hands tighten just a bit and her heart to flutter.

Glory! I'm good to go!

But as a reader, here's what often happens. The characters are personable, quirky and charismatic. I care for them right away. I want to get to know them. I want them as my neighbors. Well . . . maybe not the psychopath. But you get my drift.

The plot moves. It sizzles. It twists. The writing is tight. The story never stops. There's no sagging middle. Something is always happening and I'm right there. It gets harder and harder to breathe. I'm excited to tell the world about this book.

I can't wait to see how it ends.

Remember now, I've invested money to buy the book, time to read the book, and now, my emotions are all over the book--dripping off the cover every time I pick it up.

And then I'm there. The ending. The place where magic happens. The place where I get to feel satisfied, if not entirely happy. My questions will be answered. Oh, my.


Who wrote this anyway? It doesn't match any of the theme or the tension or anything of the rest of the book. And just as bad: What? You've got to be kidding. I already knew this back on page 67.

As a suspense novelist, I know endings don't have to be happy--but they do have to satisfy. They are as important as any other part of the book and often get overlooked. I want endings that leave my readers thinking about the book days later. Endings that make them think about the book the next time they're looking for something to read. *grin*

Donald Maass, in Writing The Breakout Novel, has this to say about a good ending: "The resolution phase of the novel needs to tie up loose ends and, like the final chord in a symphony, provide a moment of rest and relaxation of tension. Resolutions also need to do that in as little space as possible, for one obvious reason: at this point, the reader is anxious to reach . . .

The end."

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Book Review: VANISHED by Kathryn Mackel

Barcester, Massachusetts is an almost forgotten community nestled between major college towns. There's an excitement about the notoriety their new underground train system may bring them, but other than that, the citizens of Barcester are going about their daily lives.

Until a bomb explodes and rips the fabric of those daily lives to shreds.

Police sergeant Jason Logan, stretched by circumstances in his personal life, is called upon to lead by keeping order in the community and finding some way to assist the injured without assistance. Where is the help that should be coming? Has the strange mist that has settled over them somehow cut them off from the rest of the world?

Kathryn Mackel has created a wonderful story with a compelling plot and strong characters. Her writing skills are advanced, and the series, for which Vanished is first, promises to be a good one. Mackel describes her new series as Lost for the Christian market. The only drawback I found was that even in a series, I like to have each book stand by its own story. I'm not sure how she could have done it, but not too many threads are tied up at the end in Vanished. It's nice to have something to look forward to (and I do), but it's even nicer to have a satisfying ending with each offering.

A recommended read.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Mysterious, Suspenseful Music

For some reason, I can't listen to music while reading, but occasionally, it's the perfect thing when I write. Especially if it's an intense scene.

I've searched and searched for the right mood music, and I'm always looking for recommendations.

So far, what I have for those piercing places in my manuscript is a CD from Jerry Goldsmith. It's the soundtrack for Deep Rising.(If this link doesn't work for you, the CD is available through Amazon.) I admit I discovered the music while working with the television on in the background. Boy, did it catch my ear!

Some other recommendations (not all of which I've listened to, and none of which I've written to) include: anything with a theramin (sounds like a pill doesn't it? but it's pretty spooky); Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique: The Dream of a Witches' Sabbath; Mussorgsky, Night on Bare (Bald) Mountain; Rachmaninov, Isle of the Dead; Saint-Saens, Danse Macabre; Weber, Der Freischütz - Wolfsschlucht scene; Funeral March of a Marionette (the Alfred Hitchcock theme); a Manheim Steamroller double CD called Halloween; the Funeral March by (?)Chopin; The Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt. I just wish Pandora had a larger classical selection!

What about you? Do you have some favorite mysterious, suspenseful music?

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I've Been Attacked!

Okay, this is the IM picture I have to let people know it's me. I guess you can say I'm a simple person, compelled to do certain things, and easily caught. *grin*

But this picture is here only because I'm accessing you guys through my laptop which I'm glad (I think) isn't networked to my desktop, and from which I can't latch onto my stash of pictures. {sigh}

Yesterday morning, I was going about my business, checking routine overnight email. When I was compelled to click on a link (in a routine email) I was immediately connected to a porn site, caught, and my day went downhill from there. Anyone in the world, who didn't know me, would take a look at my computer and believe I had serious moral and ethical issues.


So, I got our IT guy out. Tupper got at least one other call while he was here concerning something similar. A virus is going around, and I wasn't sufficiently immunized.

Are you? (And Mac users . . . don't be too smug. Your day is coming.)


Okay. So how could I use this, fictionally speaking? What my heart desires is a program that acts like a boomerang and attacks the attacker. Wouldn't that be cool? Tupper tells me that in real life, even the most sophisticated protection companies are always about two steps behind the bad guys.

But what if . . .

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Interview with KELLY IRVIN

I'm pleased to bring my friend and writing buddy, Kelly Irvin to you "live" today.

SN: Kelly, welcome! You've written a number of manuscripts. Tell us about them.

KI: If you don't count the two I've written and put in a drawer, I've completed five manuscripts and I've two partials that are still twirling around in my brain, waiting to be finished. All are romantic suspense/suspense.

SN: I know you've finaled in writing contests. What are your thoughts about those?

KI: I have a love-hate relationship with contests. They can be incredibly helpful in getting feedback on your manuscripts, but that feedback can be very painful sometimes. Once in a while, when you see your name on a list of finalists, they offer a great sense of affirmation that you're on the right track. Of course, they also offer unpublished authors the opportunity to get their work in front of editors and that's important.

SN: Are critique groups important?

KI: I would not still be writing after five years if it were not for the encouragement and kick-in-the-rear get-going support of my critique group. It's important to find the right critique partners, the ones who give you loving criticism. My critique group is my sounding board and they reel me in when I get carried away so they don't just critique my words, they help me keep my manuscripts on track.

SN: When did you decide to get an agent and how did you find one?

KI: I went to conferences to pitch and the pressure was so intense when I realized that was my only opportunity to get my work in front of houses that don't take unsolicited manuscripts. I can't afford to go to several conferences a year. I needed an agent to shop my work year-around. I sent proposals to agents the same way I did to publishing houses. Several turned me down, but I kept trying until the right one came along.

I found Mary Sue Seymour, of the Seymour Literary Agency, on a web site that listed reputable agents. She represented mainstream authors, primarily, but she was looking to focus her client list more toward the CBA. I sent her an email query, she asked for a proposal, and then a full manuscript. And then offered me a contract.

SN: Is there a character in one of your manuscripts who you can most closely relate to? Did that character impact you in some way?

KI: I would have to say Piper Martinez. She's the main character in the manuscript that's in the drawer and she appears as a secondary character in several others. She's a working mother and wife whose spouse is her polar opposite. She struggles between a calling to ministry and a husband who'd rather have her safe at home. She lost her first baby to a miscarriage. She's independent, yet she still longs for approval. The thing I learned from Piper's ongoing story is to never underestimate the power of love--earthly or Fatherly.

SN: What's the number one thing you've learned about writing?

KI: It's easy for someone like me, being a former newspaper reporter by trade, to put a bunch of words on paper. That doesn't make it good literature. I didn't start seriously writing fiction until I turned 45. In two months, I'll be 50. Many times I've wanted to quit. I can't. The sheer joy I feel when I'm "in the zone" and the story is rolling from my fingertips is too intoxicating. Like every fiction author I know, I want to be published. Whether that happens or not, I will always be a writer. God wired me that way.

SN: What do you know now that you wish you'd known before you started sending manuscripts to publishing houses?

KI: How important the marketing component is. I'm in public relations. You'd think that would have been first on my mind. Now I realize how critical it is to brand myself and my work in order to make sure I stand out from the crowd. My position line is Salsa Suspense . . . San Antonio Style, a reflection of the multicultural diversity and regional color found in most of my work. Having a hook is so important in today's crowded publishing world. Showing the editor that you're ready, willing and able to market yourself earns you additional points. You've got to write a good novel first, but don't stop there. Show your willingness to help sell it.

SN: Wow, Kelly. I love that position line. What are you working on now?

KI: I'm editing "The Dead Parent Society", which recently placed second in The Molly Contest sponsored by the Heart of Denver Romance Writers. It's a mainstream suspense novel I want to enter in the Minotaur Crime Writing Contest, which has a December deadline. I'm also trying to finish "High Note", which is a sequel to "False Note", currently under consideration by a CBA publisher. If it sells, I'd like to have "High Note" ready to offer.

SN: Congratulations on being so close. I hope we have something to celebrate soon! What are your future plans?

KI: To keep writing. To start a new series with a new slate of characters I've yet to meet. To sell the half dozen short stories I never seem to have time to market. I have two teenagers on the brink of starting college. When they've finished I want to go back for a masters in creative writing. (Shh! That's a secret my husband doesn't know!)

SN: Don't worry, Kelly. I won't tell anyone. *grin* Do you have any favorite resources that might help other writers?

KI: I love reading writing magazines because they make me feel connected to other writers. I also highly recommend ACFW to any newbie writers out there. A sense of community is so important. My favorite new resource is for suspense/crime writers. It's called Police Procedure & Investigation, A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland.

SN: Great leads there. Thanks, Kelly. How about research?

KI: Since I write crime-based fiction, a lot of my details come from being a contract proofreader for four court reporters who work felony courts here in San Antonio. I've read capital murder trials, sexual assaults, etc., which means medical examiners, ballistics experts, DNA experts, police officers, homicide detectives, gang members, etc., testify and I get so much of my technically correct details from that. Having been a reporter and having a TV news photographer as a spouse also help in that regard. I'm a fanatic about reading the newspaper and clipping anything that has to do with crime investigation, police procedures, or crime itself, so I can springboard story ideas from these real-life issues.

SN: What's your personal writing process?

KI: Since I work full time in public relations, I have very little free time for writing. I have to make every second count. There's not a lot of time for outlining or storyboarding. I get an idea. I put my behind in the chair and I write. Makes my critique partners a little crazy. Sometimes I write out of order. Makes them a lot crazy. The price I pay for this free-flowing style is that I spend a great deal of time editing and rewriting. But when a character is in my head and he's telling me what's happening, I have to go with it or I lose that spark. It's almost like having hallucinations. It's bright, it's vivid, and the characters are alive--sometimes characters I didn't even know were in my story. I try to at least know what's coming two, three or four chapters ahead so I don't get stuck and I always know who did it and why. Just not always how.

SN: Kelly, thank you for chatting with us over your Thanksgiving break. And continued successes and growth in your writing!

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Death in Real Life

I'm sitting here tonight, thinking about the funeral service I'll be attending on Monday.

When someone dies, we get reminded of the finite part of this life. Of the limited amount of time we have to place our stamp and leave something behind--hopefully of an encouraging and enduring nature.

For many of us, we can put our faith in our Faith and go from there, with confidence in The Promise. But for those of us who have things about this life we love, we also think about what we'll leave behind--and miss.

Emotions as wild as any white-water rapid are tumbling through me right now. And today, more than ever, I want the words and deeds to comfort those most immediately effected by loss. No amount of knowledge of craft helps--I can only trust God to give them to me.

As novelists, in any genre, I suggest we not let these ideas fall far from our thoughts. To remember, especially in the midst of struggle, our larger-than-life hero and/or heroine, needs to run up against their own mortality and the kaleidoscope of thoughts they (we) often fight to squelch. Those very feelings are likely to make our writing more powerful and our readers more convicted in our characters, and thereby our story.

This task is not for the weak. I've written there before. You'll be calling up things from your gut you'd rather leave alone and buried. You'll cry until there are no more tears left, and you feel sucked of every atom that made you human. You'll wonder where some of the words and feelings came from--certainly not from you.

But in the end, you'll be better for it. Even if those words, from your depths, end up on the cutting room floor. There are times for restraint, and times for letting loose. If you need to cut, fine--you've vented. If it works with your story and you can keep it, you have something that will touch your reader.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Book Review: RESTITUTION by Lee Vance

Peter Tyler has a high-powered Wall Street career. He's ambitious. A real guy's guy. Married to his college sweetheart. His life looks solid. Ordered. Easy.

On the surface.

But there are cracks--weak places in his character and his history. As his marriage struggles, he finds himself increasingly attracted to the sister of his best friend, Andrei. A one-night stand with her leaves him conflicted, but before he can sort it out, his wife is murdered in their home and he's suspect number one. When it's discovered that a package sent by Andrei is the only thing missing from the murder scene, Peter believes Andrei is the key.

Only the package isn't the only thing missing. Andrei is too.

In order to prove his innocence and find his wife's killer, Peter goes underground. Bitter cops, greed, vengeance, ruthless pillars of society, and the Russian mob all conspire to put obstacles in Peter's way as he fights to save his own life and find the truth.

An amazing first novel. The pace is relentless, the plot serpentine, and the writing tight. Vance hints at the rewrites and efforts he made to bring a winner to the market. They paid off. Restitution is fabulous, and one of my top reads for 2007.

Highly recommended.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Regular Joe, Not G.I. Joe

This is a picture of the Terra-cotta Warriors being unearthed in Xian, China--the closest I could come on short notice. It does show the "multitudes" and no individuality. Sort of what this post is about.

Not to take one iota away from Veterans Day and the special recognition it brings to every American, there's something I want to share with you. My writing buddy, Wanda Dyson, recently posted this article on Keep Me In Suspense. She has generously agreed to let me reprint it here.

Heroes: To FBI or Not to FBI

Go to any bookstore. Any one. Your choice. Pull any 25 suspense/mystery titles down off the shelf and find out what the hero does for a living. How many do you think will NOT fall into the category of: Cop, FBI, Detective, Seal, Special Forces, Mercenary, or Elite something-or-other? That’s right. Not many. One or two… maybe.

And editors are tired of seeing the same-old thing coming across their desks.

When editors ask to see something different…they really do mean DIFFERENT. They want to see everyday people become heroes, not heroes doing another heroic thing. They want to see the guy next door get in over his head and make it out by the skin of his teeth.

I had the opportunity to chit-chat with several editors in Dallas at the ACFW conference. They were talking about being snowed under with the same old stuff. If it’s a legal thriller, ya gotta have a lawyer. If it’s a medical thriller, there’s going to be a doctor. But if it’s a suspense novel, why does it HAVE to be a cop, a detective, or some other law enforcement/military trained hero taking the lead?

I almost asked them how they would take to having the ex-mercenary hero break his leg in the first chapter and his geek brother have to take over… but I restrained myself. The editors were serious. They’re looking for something different. They want to see something OTHER THAN a cop, a detective, a soldier, a SEAL, a mercenary go up against impossible odds and walk away a better person for it. They want to see a regular guy (or gal) quake in his tasseled loafers at the prospect of defeating the force that is coming against him. Then they want to see him win in spite of himself.

Now, I say all this and I’m in the middle of writing a three-book series for Waterbrook about…. drumroll please…bounty hunters. But at least it’s a little bit different. And trust me…these bounty hunters are no “Dog the Bounty Hunter” types.

But next time you sit down and put together a suspense novel proposal with the beautiful girl, the evil villain, and the cop, scratch through the cop and write in “Phil Smith, car mechanic by day, bowling fanatic by night”… or “Tommy Harris, Starbucks Manager.” You might just get a request for the entire manuscript…

Wanda Dyson (

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's On Your Nightstand?

I'm forever wanting to know what everyone is reading. My husband says I'm nosey. I say I simply love books--and readers of books.

Okay, yeah . . . that's not my nightstand. Just one of our many bookcases. (That's a picture of George and I with Desmond Tutu--a keeper.)

Every book in this case I've read. Our bedroom is the realm of TBR (To Be Read) books. Now that I review books from time to time, there's always something to read. I remember going through withdrawal if I didn't have at least five books waiting for me. It's a sickness.

New authors I've found . . . Robert Liparulo, Brandt Dodson, John Sandford (yeah, I came late).

Old faves: Mary Higgins-Clark, Colleen Coble, Brandilyn Collins, Wanda Dyson, Michael Connelly, Stephen King, Frank Peretti, and on and on and on.

What's triggering your late night reading sessions these days? And why? (I truly am an old snoop--but a genuinely interested snoop.)

It's all better with friends.

Friday, November 9, 2007


This is a picture of my husband standing in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 2004. Certainly not filled with conflict on our visit, but very few people (who are old enough anyway) have forgotten what happened in that place in 1989.

To me, the Tiananmen Square Massacre was an external conflict directly resulting from internal conflict.


It's very clear what the external conflict was in 1989. Threat of death will do it every time. But what about the guy who stood up in front of all of those guns and tanks? Do you think he didn't have any internal conflict going on? Zowie. He had to have struggled (at least a little human-bit) between staying safe and doing what he knew in his heart was the right thing. Could there be any greater internal conflict?

Every novelist needs to make sure there's struggle. Otherwise, what reader will be interested?

There's an old writer's adage of picturing the gorilla in the phone booth to understand the idea of conflict. I would add to that. The gorilla in the phone booth is supposed to be picking up his daughter from daycare at that very moment, and his wife doesn't respect him anymore because he did "x", and he's not sure he's got the moxy to fix it.

We were in Russia a few years before we went to China. The people of Russia are amazing, and both their internal and external struggles are easy to figure out, at least superficially. Make sure your conflict can, at some point, be easily understood by your reader. Make sure it matters to them, and that they can identify on some level.

What are the internal and external conflicts in the story you're writing? The one you're reading? Thinking about these things can only add depth to the experience to both you as the writer, and the person you're engaged to entertain.

Just remember . . . if you're writing a story, until you put the words to the paper, the conflict doesn't exist.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Book Review: THE LOST SHEEP by Brandt Dodson

Colton Parker is an ex-cop, ex-FBI guy, who is trying to put his life back together after the death of his wife. His faith is, shall we say, less than stable. And a solid faith is what he's going to need if he wants to save the life of someone he loves--his daughter.

Callie has run away from home. More than that, Callie has been lured to Las Vegas, into a world where darkness rules and lies abound. From prostitution to the occult, this is a story that will keep you absorbed.

According to the publicist piece that came with the book, "Readers of the first three Colton Parker Mysteries will devour this latest entry in the fast-paced and highly recommended series."

I beg to differ.

This was the FIRST Colton Parker Mystery I've ever read and I loved it! Although this is the fourth (duh), it's also a stand-alone and you can enjoy this without knowing all the details of what came before.

Don't let this one get away. It's a fast read because it's compelling and well written. I'm off to find the rest of the series . . .

Highly recommended.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Economy of Words

This picture has nothing to do with the topic--I just like it. And by letting it sit a bit I've managed to convince myself it works. Oy. The imagination of a writer . . .

I belong to an online group called Booked for Breakfast. Suzanne Beecher provides snippets of soon to be released books from one publisher, Monday through Friday.

This week we've been peeking in on the new Dean Koontz, The Darkest Evening of the Year, available November 30th.

There's one line that made me drop my donut. It's only eight words, but those eight words paint a whole picture. Here they are:

"His face was a snarl of knotted threats."

Man, oh man. I would love to be able to string together a few words that speak volumes.

Wouldn't you? Do you have a favorite?

It's all better with friends.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Not Exactly a Walk in the Park

I love living near a groomed city park and a wilder state park. I take frequent walks and enjoy myself, playing with dogs in one, and watching deer in the other.

But some parts of writing are not exactly a walk in the park.

What's the hardest part for you? Is it coming up with an idea? Strong characterization? Dialogue? Staying in a consistent POV or resisting spilling backstory on every page?

Mine is the first draft. Accomplishing that is like giving a long, agonizing and emotional birth. And at the end? Well, for me, what I end up with is not much more than a fat outline. One that needs diapering, and feeding, and nurturing.

What comes next is filling in the scenes, shifting the plot where it needs to be shifted, and creating something that works and is exciting. Way easier said than done. But way easier--for me--than the first draft.

What's a suspense novel without pacing? That means I end up with a lot of Nobel-prize winning words on the cutting room floor. (You'll have to trust me on that one.) Even with just a fat outline, I can overdo what should be underdone. I live for the day when I can write pretty much straight through with very little leftover.

In the meantime, I think I'll go for a walk.

It's all better with friends.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Book Review: COMES A HORSEMAN by Robert Liparulo

FBI Agents Brady Moore and Alicia Wagner are seasoned investigators. While Brady prefers to apply his expertise behind a desk, Alicia hungers for the action of the hunt. Too bad for Brady--they're in the middle of one of the most complicated--and deadly--hunts of their lives.

Convinced a serial killer is acting out some bizarre drama, Moore and Wagner search for anything to link the victims beyond their manner of death. The trail they follow takes them on an international hunt and pulls them into a web of a secret society dating back a thousand years.

From Colorado, to Virginia, to New York, to Italy and the Vatican, to Israel and ancient Jerusalem, the agents find themselves drawn into labyrinths of conspiracy and murder, becoming targets of the evil they seek to destroy.

If you're squeamish, consider passing on this thriller. But if you like Dekker, Peretti, Alcorn, King, or simply feel like taking a walk somewhere on the wild side, get your hands on Comes A Horseman by Robert Liparulo.

This one is big screen material from the get-go, with diabolical plot twists that make sense, non-stop action, and a visual ride that doesn't slow down.

Highly recommended.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Book Review: MISSING WITNESS by Gordon Campbell

Her husband lies dead from bullets fired from her gun, she's under arrest, and the only other person who was there, her twelve-year old daughter, is hospitalized in a catatonic state and unable to provide testimony.

But the woman's father-in-law hires hard drinking, hard living, Dan Morgan, to defend her. Morgan is widely known as the best trial lawyer in Phoenix, and with his young protégée, Doug McKenzie (who has ties to the dead man's family) they set out to win the case.

Unless you're in the legal field, it's possible Missing Witness will start out slow for you. Sluggish in spots, and dripping with legalese, you may get frustrated waiting for the story to start, as I did. But don't give up. Your persistence will be rewarded.

Campbell provides us with a humanistic exposé on the legal system, showing the individual flaws and unstoppable egos; the desperation to succeed and the burden of responsibility toward clients. Not to mention the need to feed money into the coffers of their law firms which are filled with competitive, calculating, and sometimes, caring men and women.

With the kind of information only and insider can provide, Campbell (who is a practicing attorney), shows us the creative side of law--theater in the courtroom--and the planning that goes into it.

Missing Witness comes together in the end, and with the exception of one scene, it all makes sense and is indeed, a good tale.


It's all better with friends.

Breakout Premise - Part 5


What's a writer to do? It's all been done before. There are no new ideas. We've heard it over and over.

Maass has a few ideas of his own. Find a fresh angle, a unique perspective. Can you approach your story from an unusual viewpoint?

He also suggests two other methods to increase originality: ". . .(1) by doing the opposite of what we expect and (2) by combining two discrete story elements."

Readers love to be surprised. Going in an unexpected direction can capture us even before we know it. A main character filled with quirks (think "Monk") can give a wonderful twist to the standard detective fare.

And two rather common story lines, when combined, can raise a story above the norm. Sometimes called "high concept", Maass uses this example from a conference he attended where Rick Horgan spoke. A woman is recovering from cancer. A nice thought, but not something you want to read for 300 pages. But add the woman's dream of climbing Mount Rainer--now you've got something!

A fourth idea is to combine genres. One of my critique partners, Susan Lohrer, writes a terrific romantic comedy and fantasy that sticks with you. I'd love to see her combine those two elements. The hard part is that a novel in which genres are combined "needs to be built on a breakout scale as is, say, Diana Gabaldon's 1991 novel Outlander . . . with plot layers, high stakes and depth of character." Way easier said than done.

If your premise doesn't contain some originality, you may want to take another look at it and see what you can do to kick it up a notch.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Showing vs. Telling

Imagine a blank movie screen in front of you. A voice says, "The man is angry." That's telling. And lazy. And you're not involved. The screen is still sort of blank.

So how does a novelist "show" anger? We use words, not pictures on a screen.

Aha! Exactly! We paint with words. Show the man is angry by describing him in more detail. Are his fists clenched? Is his face tight? Eyebrows drawn together? What are the nonverbal clues?

By painting a word picture, using strong verbs, your reader is engaged in the scene. They "see" the man is angry for themselves. You don't have to tell them.

Telling isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just something you don't want to do a lot of.

When I'm reading a book, I'm much happier as a participant--smack in the middle of a scene and feeling its power. I'm seeing what's going on rather than being told what's going on. I'm also able to feel more. Make sense?

Showing isn't easy, but I have to say, it is more fun. I try and go through and find any place in my "movie" that has a voiceover. That's a spot where I'm telling something maybe I could be showing.

And then, I get out my word paints.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Breakout Premise - Part 4

Inherent Conflict

Donald Maass suggests one way to create conflict in your story is to place it somewhere that isn't safe. Generally, suburbs are considered comfortable, not conflicted. But a courtroom? A mountain cabin in the middle of a blizzard?

Like many of you, my prayers are settling over the people of California now as they battle fire. Have you put yourself in their shoes? Imagined their fear and pain and anger? Their faith? Talk about conflict.

Maass stresses: "If your place is lacking trouble, dig deeper. It is there. Your job is to bring it out. Drilling into deep wells of conflict is a fundamental step in constructing a breakout premise."

As a suspense novelist, you may think your reader should automatically feel the conflict because of the idea of your story. But remember, until you write it, it doesn't exist. Don't run from conflict. Create it.

It's all better with friends.

Next: Originality

Monday, October 22, 2007

Flexibility and Plotting

We woke up to a blanket of First Snow on Sunday morning. Before it stopped, we had about 7 1/2 inches. Golf courses will be packed tomorrow, and our temperatures will hit the mid-seventies by Wednesday. In the Colorado Rockies, spring teases us into summer, and fall teases us into winter.

You learn to be flexible.

As a reader, I'm flexible enough to read other genres--and enjoy them--but I tend to gravitate to suspense. Nothin' wrong with that. On the downside, I'm kind of a fickle fan. If an author disappoints me, it's hard to pick up another of their books--regardless of how many I've enjoyed in the past. KSF. (Kinda Sorta Flexible).

A new author, in any genre, is often one a friend has recommended. Even better is when I find an author new to me because of a review I agreed to write. I feel like I've mined a golden nugget. Flexibility. And let's face it, we can read a lot faster than our favorite authors can write. Flexibility means always having something in your TBR (To Be Read) pile. My private stash. {sigh}

But what about as a suspense novelist?

Do you stick to the plan or let the story take you somewhere different? How flexible are you? What about if it means trashing a lot of what you've written?

I confess--initially I go back to the KSF mode. I try to think of a way to keep at least some of what I have and incorporate the new direction.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Flexibility.

Suspense novelists need to plot--at least a little bit. You need to have a strong sense of the elements of your story, the plots points, and the ending. Some novelists plot in great detail (I think they would make fine engineers), and some not at all. (We'll talk more about the different "styles" of plotting later.)

But, once again--suspense novelists need to plot--at least a little bit. Colleen Coble plots three or four chapters ahead. She has the basics of her story in mind, but plotting more than that would ruin the fun.


It's all better with friends.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Breakout Premise - Part 3


On the surface, this concept seems pretty clear. Is the premise believable? Either it is, or it isn't.

But Maass throws that caring thing into the mix again. (emphasis mine) " . . . we are concerned about the outcome of the story because what is happening to the characters could happen to us."

The key is to find a balance between the ridiculous and the routinely obvious. A suspense novelist--or any novelist for that matter (including fantasy and science fiction), needs to start with something that could be real. But if it's too ordinary there's no excitement. Who cares about someone going to the grocery store? But, what if . . .?

Stephen King is a master of taking the ordinary and giving it a blow-your-socks-off twist. He captures us because we're sucked into something strange and provocative before we know it. After all, we were just going to the grocery store!

Maass closes out the section on plausibility with this: "A premise that is surprising yet credible is one that is far more likely to make us exclaim, 'I wish I had thought of that.'"

What about the book you're reading now, or the one you're writing? Are you intrigued--or are you bored? Do you believe that what is happening could happen to you? Would you care if it did?

It's all better with friends.

Next: Inherent Conflict

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Book Review: PLAGUE MAKER by Tim Downs

FBI counterterrorism agent, Nathan Donovan, has an encounter with fleas. Deadly fleas. Because of an NYPD partner who can't keep his mouth shut, the press gets the story, and that story leads to an even bigger one when an old man living in London calls Nathan with a tale of his own.

At first the FBI is skeptical, but since 9/11 they can't afford to ignore anything. To help with the investigation and corroboration of the information from the old man, they team Nathan Donovan up with Marcy Monroe, an expert in the psychology of terrorism--who also happens to be Donovan's ex-wife.

Downs gives us a well-researched and well-written ride in Plague Maker, tying together events from sixty years ago halfway around the world that culminate now off the docks of New York City on the fourth of July. He brings us well-rounded characters with strengths and weaknesses--and the opportunity to exploit both.

Oh yeah, and a deadline.

Recommended. Well worth your time.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Definition of Discipline . . . Aargh!

From Merriam-Webster's (emphasis mine) discipline 1: Punishment 2: Instruction 3: a field of study 4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character 5a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior.

My keyword when I wrote my goals for this year? Discipline. I want a keyword for next year that means the same thing, but doesn't include punishment in its definition. Any suggestions?

Some things I've learned about writing every day: I get better; uncertainty doesn't have a chance to settle in; it's easier to see where my story needs to go; when people ask if I've been writing, my answer doesn't require justification.

One reason I've learned recently why I stop writing every day: I'm in the middle of some intense learning curve. Did I mention I have a mentor? Colleen Coble. A little bit of learning doesn't seem to phase me. But an intense amount? It needs to flow into me and coalesce. Get that skimmy stuff on top that real hot chocolate gets. Then, I need to stir it up a bit, sip it slow, and digest it. And finally, it needs to seep out my pores and into real life application. I guess that's how you teach this old dog new tricks, but as long as chocolate is involved . . . love it!

I heard a business coach say one time that if he scheduled something on his daily calendar, it didn't guarantee it would get done, but odds were against it ever happening if he didn't. Whether you're an SOTP (seat-of-the-pants) writer, a detailed plotter--or something in between--plotting your day can at least make you feel you've accomplished something when it's over.

Today I found myself behind before I started. I'll have to rely on that old stand-by skill called prioritization if I'm to get to those rewrites. And I will.

After I find some chocolate.

It's all better with friends.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Breakout Premise - Part 2

With this post, we're continuing our look at Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

Remember those three novels you chose? (Okay, I already know some of you cheated. You have eight. Or twelve. Or three hundred and seventeen. Whatever your count, you're still in the game, and this still applies.) Think about this from Maass: "Above and beyond the setting, characters and plot, these are probably novels that altered your way of seeing the world. If they did not actually change your opinions or beliefs, they at least showed you something about humanity (possibly divinity) you had not previously realized. They are about something. They present an outlook. They have a message."


Is there a strong message in the novel you're writing? In the one you're reading?

Roughly, here's the premise of Broken Bones (the manuscript I'm working on): Organ donation and the lack thereof, the money to buy them, the greed to sell them, and the people who get caught up in the game and lose. Of course, my two main players will hit rock bottom and climb back out with purpose--probably.

Call me a softie.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Character in Suspense

Jerome Stern writes in Making Shapely Fiction that even though tension underlies suspense through all of the tools you would suspect . . . pacing, plot, hints of hope and fears, "the center of real suspense is character. Readers have to be emotionally involved before they can suffer your character's disappointments . . .."

Donald Maass tells us in Writing the Breakout Novel "we cannot help but like people that we know very well, whatever their faults."

My mentor, multi-award winning romantic suspense author, Colleen Coble, takes the ideas of emotional involvement and knowing your main character a step further. She says a reader must be able to identify VERY CLOSELY with that person. A slight nuance in character development maybe, but an important concept to consider.

Think about it. A suspense novelist can create a protagonist a reader cares about because they feel they know her, but making her so identifiable almost anyone can imagine themselves in her shoes--that's truly transporting a reader using strong characterization.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Breakout Premise - Part 1

Before I begin, I want to let you know how much encouragement your comments bring. Thank you.


I'm told that if you want to bump your craft up a level, there's no better book then Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

So let's talk.

(Just so you know . . . I don't yet have the workbook, so we'll be reading through the book instead.)

The Breakout Premise - Part 1

What are your three all-time favorite novels? Maass says they're the dog-eared ones you've read over and over and can quote lines from. Make a list or pull them directly off your shelves. Mind you, only three. No more.


Between you and me, I thought I'd failed before I'd even begun. I don't have any novels I've read over and over. No time? Fear of disappointment? Pick one.

And lines? I can't remember the ending of the movie I saw last night, let alone a line from a novel I read years ago and didn't re-read. Sheesh. But I wanted to try and play. I wandered by my bookshelves, and if a book made me smile, I pulled it out. And had to make myself stop at three. Phew!

The next surprise was that although suspense is the genre that has given me the most satisfaction over the years (and wonderful sleepless nights), not one of the three books I chose is suspense. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe, and Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

Think about what your three choices have in common. It's more than genre or style. Maass says to "consider more the experience it gives you as a reader."

Complete transport into another world is probably one commonality each of your favorites share. A different time, a different place. You open the pages and you're no longer in this reality. A complete fictional world that whisks you in and holds you captive. Make sense?

What are your first three choices?

It's all better with friends.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Do All Information Dumps Stink?

Following on the trail of doing awesome research, the next obvious stop is the Information Dump--not to be confused with the Information Highway where one is actually moving forward.

An information dump is the place in your novel where you are compelled to share all you have learned. The story stops (uh-oh), your chest swells with pride, and you spill your newfound knowledge. Some might say "spew."

I've created one of the most glorious information dumps ever. Have you?

A medical foray for my manuscript resulted in intriguing, juicy information. Why in the world wouldn't it be of supreme interest for everyone? I mean . . . all cool things to know. Right? And I wasn't getting all "Tom Clancy"--going into detail about the instrumentation in a submarine. This was medicine! And besides, if Tom Clancy can do it . . .

Part of my problem is I've always loved learning about real things from reading fiction. Put a non-fiction textbook covering any topic in front of me and full-blown hives would soon be followed by a headache. But put a STORY in front of me, with real information thrown in, and I'm a sponge. Go figger. (This is why good research is important--readers like me rely on it.)

In the story I'm writing--Broken Bones--I wanted to use that intruiging, juicy information. So I had a totally boring character (set up as an expert on the topic) sitting with her legs crossed, doing the info dump. (Sounds like a dance, doesn't it?) Without a doubt, every reader everywhere would soak up my fabulous facts, and be forever grateful to me for putting these tidbits in front of them in such a compelling manner.


Suspense stories that are not moving forward for any reason begin to ferment. And rot. And stink. Pacing is crucial in suspense. Don't allow your story to stop. Ever.

The smell emanating from my pages became unbearable. I ended up not only cutting the scene, but also the character. Lively and Unique ended up replacing Boring. Way better.

Research (for your topic) and backstory (for your characters) require very similar handling. Most of it is for you--the suspense novelist--to know. The knowledge you ground yourself in will show through even when you're not forcing it.

Avoid backstory (I still struggle) and avoid information dumps (I still struggle) and you will have a stronger story.

Your readers will thank you.

It's all better with friends.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Exactly How Important is Research?

You write fiction, right? So you have a certain creative license, right?

Ahem. . . .

Maybe the question should be: Exactly how important is respect for your readers?

I have a friend who I'll call Gun Guy. He's something of an expert having spent most of his adult life in law enforcement, hunting, private investigation, hunting, managing security operations for a large corporation, hunting, refining his skills at the shooting range, and oh yeah . . . hunting.

Gun Guy loves a good read. An otherwise decent detective novel gets used for target practice if the author messes up the weaponry. Sloppy and inaccurate details take him out of the story, and every writer knows that's one of the worst things you can do.

Do I blame Gun Guy for his passion? Not one iota. He's the perfect example of a reader I want to please. I both respect and fear his opinions.

Woe to the suspense novelist who doesn't do their research--even when 90% of what you learn never makes it into your manuscript.

The story I'm slaving over now involves a lot of medical issues. Medical? My background is mortgage banking and Mary Kay. I probably don't have a lot of medical knowledge in my internal database. Rather than make it all up, I've gone and found experts to help.

As a suspense novelist, you aren't looking for the perfect scenario. A perfect medical scene translates to b-o-r-i-n-g within the pages of a novel. Instead, you're looking for a plausible one. You don't want any reader--EVER--to toss your book against the wall (or shoot it full of holes) because you haven't respected them enough to investigate the facts.

Which brings me to the internet. What in the world did writers do before Google and other search engines? That said, I can't emphasize enough the importance of having a flesh and blood person off whose fabulous head you can bounce your newly acquired information.

In the end, you're right. Suspense novelists write fiction. Novels are supposed to entertain. But that doesn't mean we don't owe it to Gun Guys everywhere--and to the story--to make an attempt to get our background information accurate.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, October 1, 2007

What's the Difference Between Mystery and Suspense?

It's important to acknowledge that mystery is an essential element in every genre. If there are no secrets to uncover, why bother? If there aren't questions raised, why turn the page and read on? Whether you write romance, suspense, sci-fi, historical, or something else, your story must have an element of mystery.

At its simplest, a mystery is a puzzle. A crime has occurred (often offstage), and the protagonist must uncover the truth. Mysteries are intellectual games of whodunit. Clever plotting, fair clues, detective reasoning skills--all of these are important when a mystery novelist constructs the story.

A suspense novelist works with a threat and imminent danger that must be resolved rather than just a puzzle to be solved. Something is coming. Do you hear footsteps? Thunder? Breathing? The ticking bomb concept is very much a part of the suspense novelist's arsenal. A suspense novelist builds an emotional roller coaster and makes sure it collapses at the right time--with a bang.

The suspense protagonist is thrust into the role of Hero, often without preparation or skill. He or she would rather be safe at home, but something or someone has made it impossible for that to happen--usually putting the Hero's home and loved ones in mortal peril. The stakes are much higher in suspense; the intensity and threat upped to an almost impossible level.

And finally, a successful ending for a mystery is intellectually satisfying, while a successful ending for a suspense novel is emotionally satisfying.