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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Finding the Victim

While working on the proposal for book three in my cozy mystery series, I hit a snag. For some reason, the scenario of "offing" my victim didn't seem to work. The red herrings swam, the motives sang, but the howdunit bothered me. Plus, my victim was so...nice. I liked her. Didn't really want to see her go, because Dr. Barkha Mukherjee lent something special to Greenburg, Tennessee.

Then I realized something that turned the whole book idea on its head. Instead of killing Dr. M, I'd let her live. She will become one of the number one suspects. This also makes life very complicated for Dr. M. I'm looking forward to seeing how Andi Hartley helps clear her name.

Choosing your victim is probably one of the most single important choices you'll have to decide on when writing your book. Is it a cozy mystery? Frequently, a cozy mystery features a victim that nobody likes, that nearly everyone in the immediate area wanted to see dead (or at least they weren't overly grief-stricken with the news, or perhaps even relieved). This widens your suspect field. Or is your book a nail-biting suspense? In a suspense, we know the bodies can pile up, and anyone's fair game. There's more of an innocent victim, cat-and-mouse flair to a suspense. Not always, though...

I hesitate to use the terms "always" when differentiating between the cozy mystery and suspense, so I use general terms here. For every suggestion or "rule" I mention, there's probably an exception. But often we suspense readers can't help but let that element drift into our cozies. Which is what happened to me, while kicking around my idea for book three. If you're targeting a particular market, it's important to keep in mind the type of book you're writing. Cozy? Suspense? Romantic suspense? Suspense thriller? Trying to make your story fit a genre/subgenre can give you a fit.

So if you're struggling with your story coming together, take a moment and step back. Do you have the real victim? Shuffle characters around and cast them in different roles and see what happens.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


As a writer, I’m always excited when a publisher announces a new line or when a new market opens up, because we all know new markets mean new opportunities for us to see our stories in print.

As a reader, I’m just as excited about Barbour Publishing’s new cozy mystery line. Janice Thompson's trade fiction cozy, THE WEDDING CAPER, will be released in October in all your favorite retail venues to kick off this new line. In the back of the book will be a sign-up page for the new mystery book club. Starting in January, Barbour will release four cozy mysteries every six weeks in their book club for only $12.99 each cycle! You can’t beat that. Barbour is also getting ready to launch a website that will be up and running in early October where you will be able to join online. We’ll announce as soon as it is up and running.

And if you’re interested in writing for this line, Susan Downs, the editor, has said that she will once again be open to unsolicited proposals after the ACFW conference the end of September, so polish up those manuscripts! Need a little push in the right direction? Our sight is full of helpful hints, many of them geared specifically toward your cozy mystery, and we’re always open for questions left in the comments.

Remember to go stop by our contest page to check out our latest contest where one of our drawings is for a free critique.



Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Interview with Brandilyn Collins

1. I see that your new book Violet Dawn released August 4th, and it's the first of your new Kanner Lake series. Are we going to see the same lead character in each book, or will each book focus on different characters in the same town?

Same town, different female protagonists each time. Although all the characters show up in each book. This way you get to hear different individual stories.

Kanner Lake is located in northern Idaho, not far from Coeur d’Alene. Kanner Lake is a town of about 1700. The panhandle of Idaho is a beautiful area of pristine lakes, mountains, and forests. Water sports in the summer, snow sports in the winter, hunting in season. A tourist’s paradise. Mine too. It is an established fact that our home in Coeur d’Alene is the closest place on earth to heaven.

2. All of your books have some very unique characters - is there someone at Kanner Lake we won't be able to resist?

Paige Williams, protagonist in the first book, Violet Dawn, is a young woman on the run, new to Kanner Lake, with a mysterious past. Leslie Brymes, protagonist in book two, Coral Moon, is a young reporter who’s determined to make it to the Big Time, or else. (Yeah, and it just might be “or else” if she doesn’t watch it.)

But beyond the protagonists is a whole set of eccentric and unique characters who hang out at Java Joint, the coffee shop on Main. There’s 77-year-old curmudgeon Wilbur Hucks, who can’t resist showing everyone his heart surgery scar. Ted Dawson, better known as S-Man, who broke his leg and had to leave his logging job and now types all day on his science fiction manuscript at Java Joint. If the world were to fall down around him, his head would remain in his fictional world of Sauria. (Or is he really picking up on more than we might think?) Gossipy Jake Tremaine, new retiree from a saw mill, who can’t figure out what to do with all the time on his hands. He’s driving himself and his wife nuts. The list goes on. And of course, Bailey Truitt, Java Joint owner and starter of the Scenes and Beans blog, who tries to keep everyone in line.

3. Can you tell us a little something about Violet Dawn?

Well, let’s just say I hope the hot tub industry doesn’t sue me over this one.

Paige Williams slips into her hot tub in the darkness of night—and makes a gruesome discovery. The choice she makes as to what to do with that discovery sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to unravel her life and the town.

I got this idea a number of years ago from our own hot tub in our California house. It’s topped by one of those thick brown covers to keep the heat in. Sometimes we only fold back half the cover to get into the large hot tub. In the dark, I’ve thought—hm, something could be in the water under that covered part of the hot tub, and we’d never see it. Until we felt it . . .

More than a few advanced copy readers have already sworn off their own hot tubs. (Hence my lawsuit worries from the industry.)

A launch party is being held for Violet Dawn in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in the Simple Pleasures store. (Not, the store does not sell hot tubs.) This real store is featured in the series. Paige Williams works in this store, and Sarah Wray, owner of the Simple Pleasures in my books, is a Scenes and Beans blogger. The party is invitation-only and will be covered by local media.

4. I noticed on your Kanner Lake website that you will be revealing the first 12 chapters of Violet Dawn - one chapter a week and running a contest along with it. How does the contest work and what will the winners win?

New chapters, one to two a week, are posted every Friday. Anyone can go to the site and read the chapters. But for every twenty people who sign up to be notified via email when new chapters are posted, one of those names will be drawn to receive an autographed copy of Violet Dawn. Folks can still sign up from the excerpt page.

5. Tell us about a little something about Java Joint and its blog.

Bailey Truitt opened Java Joint a number of years ago, and it’s become the town hang-out. In early July, Bailey got the bright idea to start Scenes and Beans, a blog about Kanner Lake, in order to attract more tourists to the small, beautiful town. She wheedled the eccentric characters who hang out at Java Joint to be regular bloggers. They’re telling their stories and writing entertaining, humorous posts. Then on Saturday, July 22, Paige Williams slips into her hot tub—and the trauma begins. The following Monday, July 24, the Scenes and Beans post reflects the weekend’s tragedy.

Scenes and Beans is written to look completely real, and the posts are in real time according to events in the Kanner Lake books. (Although plot points are not given away through the posts.) The SBGs (Scenes and Beans bloggers) won their roles through reading an advanced copy of Violet Dawn and auditioning for whatever character interested them. Their commitment to write posts for Scenes and Beans goes through December. The SBGs are listed on the Kanner Lake website and are linked to as “friends” on Scenes and Beans. The blog has not been running for long, but already the SBGs are seeing results from writing for the blog. They are gaining exposure through being a part of this project—things like noticing many more visitors to their own sites and having their local papers run a press release on them and their involvement. (I supplied the press release for all SBGs to use.) As the Kanner Lake series launches, I have many more plans for Scenes and Beans. My goal is to have this unique marketing project help sell my own books in the series while equally benefiting the talented authors who won their roles (many of whom are trying to sell their own fiction manuscripts).

Starting in September, any reader who wants to audition a post for Scenes and Beans can send in one. If it’s chosen, that person will receive a free copy of Violet Dawn. Reader posts will begin running in January 2007. Details are on this page of the Kanner Lake site.

The Scenes and Beans blog will run during the whole series (and then continue as long as it’s working), blending fiction and reality until the two are completely fused in the storyline of book #4. (I can’t say any more about that yet, but it’s way cool.)

6. And when will the next book in the Kanner Lake series be released?

Coral Moon will release around March of 2007. You don’t have to worry about hot tubs in that one. However, you might want to be careful of those unseen things that go bump in the night . . . Crimson Eve releases around October 2007, and book #4 (untitled) around May 2008.

7. Anything final you’d like to say?

Come join the fun at Scenes and Beans. Leave all the comments you want—we love ‘em. In fact, as you leave comments with your own blogger profiles, that will leave a trail for Scenes and Beans readers to find your own site. You can also exchange a link with Scenes and Beans (and my own blog, Forensics and Faith) by e-mailing me. As you see a spike in visitors to your own site as a result of either of the above, please let me know.

Thanks, Wanda and all. Happy blogging . . . and hot tubbing, if you dare.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Finalists and Suspects

Here at Keep Me In Suspense, we're pleased to announce the five suspense finalists of the American Christian Fiction Writers annual Book of the Year contest. They are:

Breaker's Reef by Terri Blackstock
Distant Echoes by Colleen Coble
Black Sands by Colleen Coble
Intimidation by Wanda Dyson
Dark Star by Creston Mapes

Congratulations! The winner will be announced at ACFW's annual conference this September. In the meantime, pick up these books, enjoy them, and then get out your paper and pen and figure out what makes them tick.

And now, to answer a question. Gina said, "I just started making my list of suspects and so far I've only come up with four with good enough motives. Is there a certain amount of suspects that an editor looks for?"

I would say that it's not so much the quantity but quality of suspects that matters. Too many suspects can muddy a story, especially if motives are similar and their personalities seem to merge. And remember, suspects can merely appear to have something to hide, which can send your sleuth on a merry chase (I'm referring mainly to a cozy mystery in this instance).

I am a fan of lists, so I'd start by making a suspect list and comparing them. What is similar about their motivation? Personality? What's different? Are any of them unnecessary to making the story go forward? Too many loose ends can make a story hard to "get out of" and send the reader on unneeded side trips. (Think of the neverending third Lord of the Rings movie. I know tying up the ends was important, but after a while even I was starting to squirm.) As long as you can justify a suspect's existence, keep them!

When I was completing my first cozy mystery, I ran into the opposite problem. I didn't have enough suspects, but the more I looked at the secondary characters, I found another suspect who (I thought) added an interesting touch to the plot.

Thanks for asking this interesting question!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Ellie Quicke Mystery Series

I just finished reading the second book in the Ellie Quicke Mystery Series by British author, Veronica Heley. (The two I’ve read so far are: Murder by Suicide and Murder by Accident). If you remember, Veronica was a featured guest on the Keep Me In Suspense Blog on July 16th.

Since that time, I’ve gotten to know Veronica better. I guess I expected someone as accomplished as she is (like over 50 books published) to be, well, above it all. She’s not. She’s very down to earth, besides being a really nice person.

She recently completed the Eden Hall series for Zondervan. I have not yet read those, but I plan to. In the meantime, I’ve been reading her Ellie Quicke Mystery series, published by Severn House Publishers.

These are definite British cozies with all the British culture I love. So many things give me this feel. The stores, the food (Yorkshire Pudding, anyone?), and (of course) tea.

Interestingly enough, though the Ellie Quicke mysteries aren’t published by an “inspirational” publisher, the main character is decidedly Christian. Not only does she go to church, she seeks God for guidance.

One of the reasons I believe Veronica is so successful is her gift for characterization. The cast of characters in her books is large, but I have never been confused or wondered who is who. Each person has some quality or quirk, if you will, that sets them apart from the other characters.

Her mystery plots are brilliantly convoluted, with plenty of suspects. And the emotional development of all the main characters is seamlessly interwoven into the story.

Even reading just two of the books, I can see that Veronica has planned Ellie’s character growth well. Over the series, the heroine grows and changes. In the first book I read, Ellie was a new widow, insecure, with little self-confidence. At times I wished she were a real person standing in front of me, so I could grab her, shake her shoulders, and tell her to get some self-respect. At the same time, I understood exactly how she felt and I was rooting for her to succeed. Any character that causes me to feel that deeply is well written. Besides which, Ellie is a real person with real faults. I love that. She's not perfect.

I highly recommend Veronica’s books, especially for anyone who loves a cozy mystery. You’ll find all of her books on Amazon. Many of them are also available at libraries, but if you read one, you’ll want the whole series on your shelves. These are the kinds of books that you can read again and again.

And I’ve heard whispers that Veronica has more books up her sleeve. Perhaps a new series? I, for one, will be the first in line to buy them.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


We are pleased to announce our brand new contest site. It’s a page dedicated to free books, free chapter critiques, and much more. Each month we will feature an author and his or her book, then at the end of the month we’ll give away a free copy.

You can also look forward to the chance to win a free chapter critique in our monthly contest. So as we continue to grow, add to our resources, and provide up to date information for suspense and mystery writers, spread the word!

To get to the contest page, simply clink on the link to the right that says Keep Me In Suspense Contests.

Leave a comment and you could win!

The Keep Me In Suspense Hosts

And the winner is. . .

PAM MEYERS! Congratulations, you won July's free chapter critique.

And for those of you who didn't win, don't worry! We'll be announcing later today our new Contest page that will include the chance to win a free chapter critique each month.

Stay tuned and spread the word!

The Keep Me In Suspense Hosts