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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Interview With Jill Elizabeth Nelson

I have known author Jill Nelson for several years and I was absolutely thrilled when I'd heard she sold a three-book romantic suspense series to Multnomah. Her first novel, Reluctant Burglar, released in August 2006. Now I'm honored to share an interview with Jill for Keep Me In Suspense. Jill is a great example of a writer who studied her craft, worked hard, and applied what she's learned.
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What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book?
Aaaaah! That was the sound I made on the inside. In my most intense moments, I’m likely to be stone quiet on the outside and a cyclone on the inside. Of course, after the initial shock wore off, I thanked the Lord profusely for opening this specific door and babbled to anyone who would listen.

There’s a back story that goes with this moment. Around five years ago, I read Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, and was so moved that I checked who had the Godly guts to publish this novel. It was Multnomah. I remember getting to my feet in my kitchen and saying out loud, “Some day I’m going to publish with this house.” Lo and behold, Multnomah is the publisher that gave me my first contract. Obviously, God was listening when I spoke. How divinely cool is that!?

Can you tell us a bit about that experience and tell us about your series?
In the fall of 2005, my cell phone rang during the awards banquet at the Christian Writers Group conference. (I was naughty and left it on because I was expecting to hear one way or the other.) I dashed into the hall, clutching the phone. My also naughty agent began the conversation as if she was preparing me for a let-down, then she announced, “And they’re offering you a three-book contract!” I had my Aaaaah! moment and everything else that followed. But an intriguing God-incidence stood out to everyone when my news became common knowledge—the conference theme was “Answer the Call.” Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

The To Catch a Thief series has a lot of juicy elements that made it attractive to a publisher and, hopefully, to readers—a spitfire heroine righting a wrong in an outrageous way, mortal and moral danger, the unique angle of the high end art world, and a hero that even my winsomely conservative editor describes as—ahem—“hot.”
The spiritual theme of Reluctant Burglar, the first book that released in August, is sorting out what to do when it looks like any choice will invite disaster. It’s a story illustration about learning to trust God’s higher knowledge, not our own wisdom and understanding.

Reluctant Runaway, which is about ready to head for the typesetter, comes out in March, 2007. This one delves into the world of cults and outlaw motorcycle gangs. Interwoven themes are the need for belonging, discerning the truth in a deceitful world, and generational consequences to people’s actions—for good and for evil.
In Reluctant Smuggler (releasing August, 2007), our heroes take on a drug lord engaged in a deadly art for drugs scheme. The book takes readers south of the border to explore Hispanic art and culture. Each of the books has a specific art focus. Burglar spotlights the European masters, and Runaway exposes readers to American and Native American art.
What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?
The Lord has a specific writing path for each of us, all unique and yet with common elements that help bind us writers together. The where, when, and how we make that fateful step over the threshold into Published Authordom is prepared with loving care. Since we’re not puppets, our choices have a bearing on how quickly we reach that moment and how completely the Lord is able to bless us with His joyful plan, but we can count on it—He has our best interests at heart. We can trust him totally with this writing life that is so dear to our hearts. In due season, we shall publish if we quit not. (Nelson paraphrase)
Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share?
Keep writing novels that stir readers’ hearts and enrich their lives.
I have a couple of other manuscripts that I’d like to see published eventually, but I wouldn’t mind continuing to write more of Desi and Tony’s adventures, if that’s the route my publisher would like to go.
Can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?
Finish what you’re writing, whether it’s a poem, an essay, a short story, or a novel. Then start another one and finish it. You need to know that you can complete what you start, and publishers will demand the proof.

Tell us about your best resource for writing mystery/suspense.
My twisted imagination. LOL. Oh, and my dreams. I literally dreamed the premise for Reluctant Burglar. One night I woke up, my whole body tense, after dreaming that a woman had sneaked into a home in the middle of the night to return a genuine painting that had been stolen and replaced by a clever forgery. I knew little about her except that she was an expert at what she did, and if she were caught, disaster would follow for many people, not just herself. My imagination played with the nugget after that, and Reluctant Burglar was born.
Extensive reading in the genre and watching mystery/suspense TV and movies has probably been my biggest tutor to get a feel for pacing and tension-building. I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan from childhood, and forget talking to me if a Colombo rerun comes on television. As you can see, I’m partial to the classics. The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite examples in the suspense genre, even though many people might not think of this movie in that light. The way the screws tighten on poor Dorothy and her friends is exquisite. And the plot wastes no energy on offensive language, titillating sex scenes, or gore.
Who are your favorite mystery/suspense writers?
Hmmm. I have a fair number of them and won’t be able to mention them all. In Christian suspense fiction, Colleen Coble and Brandilyn Collins come to mind. I want to be just like them when I grow up. In the secular realm, Tony Hillerman has an intriguing Native American mystery series. And I adore Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody historical suspense series. In fact, Desi and Tony remind me of a modern-day Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson in some of the dynamics that characterize their personalities and relationship.

What has been the easiest part about writing mystery/suspense?
I love the genre and seem to have a knack for creating scary adventures with a dash of humor thrown into the mix.

What has been the hardest part?
Finding the time to write with all the demands on my attention. I work full time, and writing competes after hours with a husband, four children (mostly grown, thankfully), extended family, and church commitments.
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Thanks for being our guest, Jill! In the meantime, readers can find out more about Jill and her books at www.jillelizabethnelson.com

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Challenges of writing a series

If you're writing suspense, chances are you've got a series in mind. I recently started book two of my cozy mystery series and have found it to be quite a challenge. My publisher wants a thread of romance in the plot, so while each book in the series will have its own stand alone mystery, the romance thread in my series arcs across all three books. Motivations, emotions, and conflict all must work together to make the romance believable while not overshadowing the mystery.

Authors can handle series a number of different ways. Books can have a common thread while still being stand along books, or they can be intricately tied together where you can’t read the second book before reading the first book. So how does one plot a series that won’t bore the reader with repeated details or confuse the reader with lack of details? Here are some ideas I came up with.

1. Don’t assume that your reader has read the first book in your series when he picks up number two.
2. Introduce your main characters in detail
3. Add some reminders with enough details that someone who didn’t read the first book can still understand what is happening.
4. Each story in the series needs to have a resolution. In the case of a romance that won’t be resolved until the last book of the series, each book needs to act as a step toward the final ending.
5. Include threads that continue through the series.
6. Keep good notes as you write the series including descriptions of characters, setting, habits, etc. More than likely you will have to use them.

How about you? What are things that you like or dislike about series that we can in turn learn from and incorporate into our stories? We'd love to hear from you!

And don't forget to check out our contest page. There's a new contest up this month. Leave a post for a chance to win Mindy Starns Clark's book, Blind Dates are Murder and a chance to win a free chapter critique!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Cozying Up to POV

Gina recently posted a question that we thought might be a good topic for a blog article. So, I’ll be answering her question in more detail than she probably wanted, just to make sure I cover the topic. (I’m not usually a big talker in person, but give me a keyboard, and I can blabber with the best of them.)

Here is Gina’s question:

I'm plotting book one of my cozy mystery and wondered if there was a "rule" as to how many POVs there are in a "cozy?"I was planning on writing in first person, but then wondered if I should be in any other POVs. I'm used to writing suspense and this is my first attempt at a cozy.

No official rules that I know of. (Like I haven't found a book out there that lists the Ten Authoritative Rules for Writing a Cozy and Don't You Dare Break Them or You're a Failure.) But I think that many traditional cozy mysteries are in a single, first person POV. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that most traditional cozies have only one or two POVs. (Someone might argue with me, and that's okay. In addition, I've noticed that, like clothes, writing styles change ever so slightly throughout the years.)

If you think about Agatha Christie or the American cozy writer, Diane Mott Davidson, both write in a single POV. Sherlock Holmes mysteries are told through Dr. Watson. At the library recently, I came across another cozy mystery writer named Sarah Graves (secular). Hers are first person, too, but she began one of her books in the POV of the victim who was dead by the end of the prologue—obviously there were no more scenes in that POV. I’ve noticed other variations, as well. Veronica Heley often writes short scenes in the anonymous bad guy’s POV. I think that might be a trend now, as I've seen it in others, too. Some of the cozies that Heartsong will be publishing have two POVs, and the authors have done a great job incorporating the second POV without losing the cozy flavor.

The risk you take adding more POVs (particularly if the second POV is the romantic interest) is that the book might sound more like a suspense or a romantic suspense. So, if you’re aiming for the cozy flavor, you need to watch for that.

My Heartsong Presents: Mysteries cozies are the traditional, single, first person POV. (Like Gina, I do also write other suspense genres.) I like the voice of first person for my cozies and the simplicity of just one POV. Keeps me from slipping into the suspense mode. But simplicity doesn’t translate into easy. When I write books with two or more POVs, I can flip from person to person to reveal everything I want revealed. In my cozies, everything has to be revealed through one person’s eyes. The challenge is to avoid being BORING and droning on and on about details that don’t matter a hill of beans to the outcome of the story. Everything I write has to have a good reason to be in the book and has to advance the plot. If my character goes to the grocery store, that’s a good place to run into someone who is either a suspect or a bearer of clues. If my character is doing the dishes, she’s also mulling over clues and perhaps reaches another conclusion.

I also make sure there are other subplots that add additional conflict for my character, but I try to make that conflict tie into the mystery. In other words, everything must advance the plot.

And if you’re aiming for HP Mysteries, remember there needs to be a romantic thread. That doesn’t have to involve the main character (can be a secondary character) but a romantic thread needs to be there.

So, those are my thoughts about POV. Please feel free to ask us more questions. We like questions.