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Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Three Biggest Mistakes

Greetings, keepmeinsuspense folks!

My name is Jeff Gerke, a.k.a. Jefferson Scott. Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the fun you guys are having here.

To briefly introduce myself, let me say that I have written and published six Christian thrillers (under the pen name Jefferson Scott) and two co-written nonfiction books. I have served on the editorial staff of three Christian publishing companies: Multnomah, Strang/Realms, and NavPress. I have worked equally in nonfiction and fiction, but am concentrating almost solely on fiction now. Currently I work as a freelance book doctor, editor, consultant, and writer (see my site).

In my years as an acquisitions editor, and now as a book doctor, there are some problems I have tended to see over and over in fiction manuscripts from unpublished authors. I thought it might benefit you to see what they are.

The first and most common problem I saw, and therefore the most common reason I rejected manuscripts, was that the author had not spent enough time developing the craft of fiction. Clumsy openings, boatloads of "telling," head-jumping POVs, poorly executed dialogue, etc.

If you want to be chosen for the New York City ballet, do you just decide to try out one day and go to auditions with your sneakers, gym shorts, and moderate dance floor skilz? If you did, you'd very quickly get asked not to come back. It would be laughably obvious to the people there that you hadn't taken the time to learn your art.

Same with fiction. It's great that you've written a book-length manuscript, but if you haven't taken the time to learn your craft, that fact will be painfully obvious to the agents and acquisitions editors who see it. They'll say, "Um, thanks but no thanks." And rightfully so.

There is a book you can get that, if mastered, will transform you from clumsy wannabe to publishable author in a very short time. I've written a short article about it on my site. Check out Tip #10.

The second most common problem I see is that I simply can't tell the characters apart. They all sound and seem the same. They do unrealistic things. They violate their own stated behaviors. Worst is when I've read a whole book and I couldn't tell you who the protagonist is or (simply from how the person talked and behaved) what he was like or even what gender he (or she) was.

I believe that most novelists fall naturally into one of two camps: character-first writers and plot-first writers. The former group has wonderful characters occuring to them all the time. These authors don't always know what to have their interesting characters do, but they have interesting characters all the same. The latter group gets plot ideas all day long, but their characters are usually flat, two-dimensional, stereotypical, and impossible to differentiate.

If you're in this latter group, you must concentrate on figuring out how to create better characters. So long as the woman is just in the story to be there when the truck blows up (to give the hero something to grieve), you're not there yet.

Because I'm naturally a plot-first guy, I've created a character creation system to help me develop rich, believable, and differentiated characters. I'm finding it's helping other people, too. Check it out.

The third problem I see a lot of is an almost total lack of descriptions. Characters and, primarily, settings are simply not described or are given the barest of verbiage: "They went outside."

If the author doesn't describe the place, the reader gets no mental image. Suddenly you'll have your character go to bed, but the author will be like, "Wait, I thought it was high noon."

Filmmakers get a lot of advantages the novelist doesn't. Simply by pointing the camera at a character and setting, the moviegoer gets all kinds of information about who this person is, what he's like, where he his, what time of day it is, what the weather is like, who else is there, etc. Novelists don't get that. They can say, "Joe came home and sat down" and the poor reader gets a total blank on what Joe or his "sitting down" looks like, much less the other information.

I've written a four-part series on how to write good descriptions. Check out Tips #5-8.

All right, suspense fans. That's enough for now.


Jeff Gerke

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Scalpel, Please: Part 2

I’m working on dissecting a novel, going from big picture to details. Not a novel I’ve written, but one I’ve read. Once I get the big picture elements fixed in my mind, my focus grows narrower.

I open to the first page in my notebook and write:
Chapter 1.
Whose POV are we in?
Where are we?
When are we?
What’s at stake here?

As best I can, I summarize the chapter’s events in two to four sentences. This is tricky, but benefits me as a writer two ways: I learn to summarize. This is important when writing my own synopsis.

Also, I learn the scene/chapter goals. If I can’t write down the goal/purpose of my own scene or chapter, I need decide if it belongs in the story. I do this, chapter after chapter, until I reach the end. The process may take a while, but for me, this is essential as I break the novel down to see its structure first chapter by chapter.

I envy writers who craft a novel and the plot springs forth intuitively. For some writers, like me, the plot sometimes takes twists and turns that are more like detours in the country, and I start wondering where I made a wrong turn. This is why I’ve tried studying story structure, hoping that one day I too will write more intuitively.

After I’ve analyzed the book chapter by chapter, I look at the whole outline and try to answer these questions:

Which chapters/scenes were the most poignant to me, ones that seemed to matter most?
Why did the author choose this particular POV for a chapter/scene? Maybe I don’t know this for sure, but I hope I can make a good guess.

Next time it's my turn, I'll share more about those scenes.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Scalpel, Please: Part 1

Some books grab us and won’t let us go until we reach the end. When I was a kid, I’d sneak a flashlight under the covers and dive into a story until bleary-eyed, I closed the book.

Now as a writer, when I read a great book, I open it again. This time, I have a pen and paper in hand. I want to see what makes the book work so well. As I do this, I try to answer the following questions:

How did the writer craft their journey of words?
Why did they use the words they chose?
How can I mimic their efforts in my own voice?

Enter the scalpel. This is where I carve up the story, or dissect it if you will, and see what’s inside. I usually start with big picture elements.

How many chapters?
How many points of view (POV)?
What makes this story unique, in my opinion?
Is it the setting, the characters’ occupation—what at first glance sets it apart from every other book on the shelf?
How long did this story take to unfold, in story-time? Days? A week? Months? (Not counting prologue)

When I read a book the first time, I enjoy it like a reader should. I force myself to turn off my inner editor. Later, if the book leaves a ringing in my head once I reach "The End," it deserves a second look. I go back and dissect the story, layer by layer.

Next, into the nitty-gritty…

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tracing Laser Printer Owners

I was flipping through channels the other day and came across a show called “Big Brother, Big Business.” If you didn’t catch it, you should have. I’ve been trying to recall which channel it was on because I want to watch it again. It had some really good information in it for suspense and mystery writers.

Like for instance, how many times have we read—or written—that our criminal wrote the press or the cops (or a ransom note) and law enforcement could only say, “It was written on plain white paper you can get anywhere on a laser printer. No way to trace it.”

Ah…not true anymore. Many laser printer companies, like HP and Dell, have instituted this new little feature on their laser printers that you don’t know about. When it prints a document, on the back side of that document, it imprints a watermark that is invisible to the naked eye. You must use a microscope to see it. But, this watermark includes the serial number of the printer, the time, and the date. Law enforcement can now look at the serial number and track the owner of the printer.

I sent this information on to the KMIS group and one of them wrote me back and said, “Okay, so how do we get around that?”

Good question. If he registers the printer, they have him. Game up. If he doesn’t register it, they can trace the serial number to the store and the store can trace it to the register it was sold at and the day it was sold. All they do is review the store cameras and they have your guy’s picture. If he goes to a library or public printing company, same problem…they will have his photo.

So, what does your guy do? One solution—have him us an inkjet instead. Another solution is to have him be creative. Let him break into different people’s homes and use their printers while they’re on vacation!

I’m sure there are other ideas floating out there, but for now—keep in mind that laser printers are no longer generic ways for your bad guy to taunt anyone!

Happy writing!

Friday, January 19, 2007


Generally, as a rule, when I fast, I don’t say anything to anyone, but I’m going to break my rule this year because I want to talk about something I think is important.

How bad do we want it?

When I felt the Lord call me to this 21 day fast at the beginning of this year, I sat down and made a prayer list. It kept growing and growing and the next thing I knew, it was pages long. But one of the things I wanted to take before the Lord was the daughter of a friend of mine that has an incredible calling on her life, but has drifted away from God and turned her back on her parents. So, I started the fast and the first thing I mentioned every day in prayer was this young woman. Late last night, I got word from her parents that there had been a breakthrough and the young woman is reaching out.

It was a powerful reminder to me that the Lord honors those things we lift to Him when we fast and pray. Sometimes—and heaven knows I’ve been guilty of this—we can get so caught up in the “doing” for the Lord—like our writing, that we forget WHO we’re writing for. We can think we’re writing for our fans. Or for our bank accounts. Or our creditors. But, actually…our writing is worship unto Him.

Psalm 26:7 – That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving and tell of all thy wonderous works.

He called us before the foundation of the world to write for Him. He breathed into us the desire and the creativity to write. And then we get so bogged down in the effort to come up with fresh new ideas, sparkling characters, and unusual plot twists; to make that deadline, to edit those drafts, to answer those emails, to schedule that book signing….and before you know it, our writing is work. Not worship.

I was talking to a close friend of mine the other night and while I was talking to her, I was reminded that I hadn’t fasted for nearly 8 years. That’s a long time for someone that used to have a regular fasting schedule. I wrote that book I mentioned in my last post during one of those fasting times. And look at the power that was in it. Maybe we need to schedule a little fast before we start writing our next book so that He can reach down and pour into us so that we can pour into our writing. If He can break though the hard shell of an angry young woman and soften her heart in a matter of days through a fast, how much do you think He can do with us and our writing in a matter of days?

Wanda Dyson

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Interview with Brandt Dodson

Interviewing Brandt Dodson was a pleasure. Besdies being a great writer and a really nice guy, he's got an AWESOME website. Go visit him at www.brandtdodson.com. While you're there, check out his other books and then order them. They're available at Amazon. And remember to come back this summer when we have another interview with Brandt. He has a lot of great stuff to share with us, and we look forward to it!

Also remember to stop by our contest page to win a copy of The Root of All Evil.

First, tell us about yourself and give us a plug for your latest release, as well as your upcoming releases.

The Root of All Evil will be released by Harvest House Publishers on January 15th, and is the third (so far) in the Colton Parker Mystery series.

In the story, Berger Hume is a wealthy businessman who is terminally ill when he discovers that he has a son that he never knew existed. Berger hires Colton to find the missing heir.

But this is a Colton Parker novel, so nothing is ever as easy as it would at first appear. Consequently, it isn’t long before Colton finds himself on the end of some very deadly threats, as he seeks to unite father and son. And the threats come from one of Indianapolis’ most powerful and vicious outlaw biker gangs. A gang whose reach extends to the highest level of government.

In Root, I wanted to address the place that money has in our lives, and just who it is that places a premium on it. The bible speaks about money often and the “love” of money in particular. Still, it seems to hold a higher place in our daily thoughts than it ought.

In July, The Root of All Evil will be followed by The Lost Sheep.

I come from several generations of police officers, and currently practice as a Podiatrist. However, before obtaining my doctorate I was employed by the Indianapolis office of the FBI which, coincidentally, is exactly where Colton Parker was formerly employed. That is, before he beat a confession out of someone and lost his job.

Was there any particular research you had to do for your current release that our readers might enjoy reading about?

Not so much for The Root of All Evil as there was for The Lost Sheep.

I knew from the start, that The Lost Sheep was going to be set in Las Vegas (rather than Indianapolis) and that was going to require a trip to Sin City if I was going to get my facts straight.

I took a friend along who has lived in Vegas, for help in finding the type of locations that I often use in my books. (ie; back alleys, under bridges, inner city locations, etc.). In one incident, Jeff and I had gone to the Central Division Headquarters of the Las Vegas PD. I was in the back of the building, hanging onto a chain link fence, ten feet in the air, counting the number of squad cars that were parked in the lot. As I was counting, a Las Vegas patrolman pulled up and asked what I was doing. I told him that he wasn’t going to believe me, and he said, “try me”. So I told him and he actually was very helpful.

Many authors say they grow personally with each book they write, discovering pieces of themselves in their characters as they write. Has this happened to you? If so, can you elaborate?

Yes it has, and I think that most authors experience this. In fact, Stephen King has said that he writes to “work out” his personal fears. Many other authors will say that their writing is therapeutic and is a major source of satisfaction for them.

In my case, I’ve discovered just how lost I was without Christ (and I’m not talking only in the “eternal” sense).

I write Colton from my own experiences. I haven’t beaten a confession out of someone, nor do I have a rebellious teenage daughter. But I did relate to the world around me in much the same way he does now. It’s only when I look back on him that I realize how much Christ has done for me.

Can you briefly tell us about your writing process? From the germ of an idea to the completed novel? How long does it take you?

I’m probably one of the few who actually enjoys the writing process.

I generally will start with a premise and then play the “what if” game. What if a highly respected school teacher, was involve in something that no one knew about?

After I play the game, I naturally look for the spiritual implication. Christianity, after all, defines me and the way I see the world.

Next, I will begin with the first chapter (I never outline) and will write until I am confident that the chapter is as good as I can make it. Then – and only then – will I begin the second one.

Writing is as much a discovery for me as it is for the reader, and the story will often take turns that I didn’t expect. Of course, writing without an outline will necessitate a good bit of rewriting, but I enjoy that as much as I do the initial draft.

After the manuscript is as good as I can make it, I have my first readers take a look. If they agree on something, then I listen. If not, then I go with my instinct.

I write rather quickly, so the first draft can be done in 3-4 weeks. After than, the real work begins.

Is writing your full-time job? If so, are you a nine-to-five writer? If not, how do you fit your writing into your schedule?

I still practice Podiatry, which easily runs into 50 hour weeks. Besides that, I am required to teach surgical residents, and I provide services for a wound care center that specializes in hard to heal wounds.

Fitting writing into my life is difficult at times. But I also enjoy it, so it becomes an escape from my “other” life.

I don’t like to write when the kids are still up. I agree with Jerry Jenkins that family must take priority, so I won’t write until after their bedtime. That means I will write 9-11 pm on weeknights, and as much on the weekends as I can manage. I often skip lunch and write on lunch hours too.

My limited schedule is one of the reasons I have to write quickly, especially if I expect to get anything accomplished.

Do you have any particular writing resources you use? Any that apply to suspense in particular?

For reference I usually will rely on The Chicago Manual of Style, Roget’s Thesaurus (sparingly!) and Gary Provost’s “Make Your Words Work.

However, for learning purposes, I rely on a lot of books that I have read and reread often.

Patricia Highsmith’s “Writing Suspense Fiction”, any of the writing books by Jack Bickham (especially “Scene and Sequel”), James Scott Bell’s book on plot and structure, and the crime series published by Writer’s Digest. These books deal with criminal investigations, evidence, procedure, forensics, etc.

And, of course, I read the writing instruction books and commentaries by King, Koontz, Noble and others.

My library is very large.

Do you have any future plans for your writing that you’d like to share? Any specific dreams that you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

I’d like to be able to do this full-time. I am also an eclectic reader, so I tend to be an eclectic writer. I have some contemporary, suspense, and historical novels in me, and I’d like to write those.

I love the suspense genre (mystery also – and the two are different), but I also like the writing of Anne Tyler. So go figure.

What is the number one thing that you’ve learned from your writing journey?

That God is firmly in control.

I wouldn’t be writing now if He hadn’t poured his blessing on me, and I won’t be able to continue if He doesn’t continue to guide me.

It’s been a GREAT ride, watching how God opens some doors and closes others. There have been many instances when I have discovered that He has gone before me, when I thought I was going alone.

Because many of our blog readers are writers, can you share any tidbits about getting published?

You need several things. First, a well written piece of work. That has to be paramount.

Second, you need creativity. By that I am referring to how you submit your work. I didn’t have an agent when I submitted my first novel, but I did go to a writing conference because I knew that I could have a fifteen minute spot to pitch my work to an editor directly. That worked well for me and I was signed by Harvest House.

Third, and probably most important, you need persistence. Rejection is hard, editing is hard, success is hard – none of this is easy. I think it was Churchill who said; “Never, never, never give in”.

How do you see the future of suspense and mystery in the inspirational market?
I think it’s bright. Wide open.

A few years ago, an edgy novel like mine would never have been considered. Now I’m writing an entire series – and I’m not the only one who is doing it.

If you could change one thing about the Christian mystery and suspense market right now, what would it be?

To get more “air” play. Sites like “Keep Me In Suspense” go a long way in doing that, but there need to be more. More sites, more discussion, and more writers.

Just as in the secular market, there are a wide range of tastes in the Christian market. Suspense and Mystery fiction have been mainstays for a long, long time and will have devoted readers when they “discover” that the type of fiction they want to read is available.

I’m finding that I’m doing more and more talks at local libraries who tell me that “inspirational” fiction is their fastest growing segment.

What suspense/mystery authors do you read for pleasure?

I like the novels of Chandler, Hammett, and Stout. I read Robert B. Parker, Mickey Spillane, and Lawrence Block.

I enjoy Eric Wilson, Mark Mynheir, and John Laurence Robinson. These last three are adding nicely to the CBA market. They’re excellent writers.

Do you have anything you want to leave with our readers? Something the Lord is speaking to you?

Write for Him. The Bible says if we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our heart.

I’ve found that as I’ve made a conscious effort to grow closer to God, He has changed the desires of my heart, before filling them. The writing/publishing experiences that I’ve had have been truly enjoyable – and eye-opening.

Also, if you have a writer you like, let them know. And pass the word. There is no better way to grow your author, than by word of mouth.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Ready to get back to work after the busy holidays? It's time to dust the off that keyboard, shake the garland loose from the old brain cells, and start creating fresh new ideas. Spectacular new plot twists. Wonderful new characters that sparkle with that something special that will make editors sit up and sigh with pleasure.

As most of you know, I’m on the Board of the Colorado and Greater Philly Christian Writer’s Conferences, so throughout the year, I receive updates from Marlene Bagnull, the director, on Conference matters. And in the fall, she will send me the “theme” for the coming year. Now, one of the things I love about Marlene is that she doesn’t just come up with a theme—she prays and prays and stays before the Lord until He tells her what the theme is to be. So, when she sends me that theme, I typically glance at it, say okay and that’s that. But this last fall, when she sent me the theme, I glanced at it and went to print it out and put it in the conference folder when it hit my spirit with all the force of a runaway 18-wheeler. “Not with words only, but also with power.” Talk about a fresh word for the new year.

If you’re anything like me, you can get so lost in the creation of a plot, the twists, the turns, the red herrings, the characters, the motivations, and the mechanics of the crime, that you can overlook something more important than any of those things. The power behind your words.

When I first started studying for the ministry, I was reminded that we can never minister to anyone out of our own “flesh,” because as scripture states, “the flesh will profit them nothing.” So it is with our writing. There are thousands of books published every year, but how many of them are changing lives? How many of those books are making the reader stop after finishing the book with a desire to pray? Or with a desire to get closer to the Lord? Or have a relationship with the Lord that one of our characters has?

There is a book I wrote once (no it isn’t published yet, but one of these days…) that I sent to a friend of mine to edit for me. I knew she was from a totally different denominational background and felt that if she could enjoy this book, it stood a good chance of crossing all denominational lines. She called me a few days later to “complain” to me about the book. It wasn’t that she wasn’t enjoying the book—she was. Her problem, she said, was that she couldn’t put the book down except to fall on her face and pray, asking the Lord for a closer relationship with Him and begging Him to do whatever it took for her to walk with Him the way one of my characters in the book did. She then refused to return the manuscript to me because she said there was so much depth in it, she could read it numerous times and get something fresh out of it each time she read it.

Now, wouldn’t we all love to put out stories that someone would read and pass on because they wanted to read it and re-read it and re-read it, so they’d tell their family and friends to go buy their own copy?We write for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and we need to remember that without Him in and through our books—not with words only, but also with power—our books are nothing more than a nice little entertaining diversion for a couple of hours and then quickly forgotten. But if we can start every day asking Him to come in and saturate our words and our ideas with His Spirit, He will breathe a power into those words to touch our readers with something of Himself that we can never give them.

Wanda Dyson

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Writing Suspense Question Answered

One of our blog readers recently posed a question to us through the contact form on our website contact page. (www.keepmeinsuspense.com) . She asked:

I am working on a novel, and I don't have a problem with suspense scenes, but I do have a problem with just writing the 'everyday things' that need to happen in the story without a villain lurking in every corner. How do I master that effect? I would appreciate your input.

Here are answers from us:

Wanda Dyson:

Basically, I try to use things that are going to either move my story along - ie - my character goes into a coffee shop and picks up a paper and while sitting in a corner booth, drinking that cup of coffee he reads in the paper that another woman has been killed and he just knows that it's connected to the case he's working on... OR... to reveal something about my character... ie - I want to show that my character is a strong woman with a soft touch, so I'll have her watering the plants, talking to them as she does... or I'll have her go out and refill the bird feeders so she can sit and watch the birds to relax a bit... I want to show she's a neat freak, so I'll have her cleaning out her car every other day. The mundane things need to be there for a reason while at the same time, giving us a breather from the action.

Susan Davis:

I’d say every story needs some “down time,” when the reader can catch her breath. Usually that’s when the relationships grow and the romance blooms. It might also be when the hero or heroine is struck by something ordinary that causes the mind to leap to a realization concerning the case. One of those, “Of course!” moments. When you’re on the run, you don’t always think clearly, but when the action slows, the little gray cells have time to regroup. But keep in mind you don’t have to put in all mundane stuff. If you want to keep the pace fast, keep the internal and external action coming

Candice Speare:

Everyday, regular moments in a mystery or suspense are a good time to drop subtle clues or to move along a subplot—or both at once! For example, if you’re writing a romantic suspense, you have two things going on in your books. The mystery and the romance. The hero and heroine can go get ice cream. The activity advances their relationship (with a little conflict thrown in), but, also, as they’re leaving, the heroine passes a woman at a table who has this awesome Fossil handbag. As the heroine is oogling the handbag, she overhears the customer say something about the cousin of the sister of the guy the heroine suspects is the murderer. BUT, the heroine doesn’t grasp the significance of what she’s heard until later, when she’s at the mall and sees a bag like the one the customer had. Then she has an, ah ha moment.

In a mystery, not every scene has to be a bang-em-up kind of thing. A reader needs a little bit of downtime. Just make sure that every scene advances your plot/s somehow.

Check out Brandilyn Collins blog. She has some awesome stuff about writing suspense. I always learn new stuff, even when I reread her articles.

Lisa Harris:

Read Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. I’m just now getting into the book, but he talks about the importance of learning how to write scenes and sequels. Scenes are the “unit of conflict lived through by character and reader.” This is where your villain is lurking around the corner and the hero has to run for his life. Then you have the sequel, or the link to the next scene. This is where the hero reflects on the battle he’s just been involved in and sets another goal for survival. Readers don’t need a rundown of every mundane thing that happens in your hero’s day. Supper, stopping off to buy cough drops, and a late night glass of milk before bed will bore the readers unless the milk is laced with cyanide.

Swain also talks about how to use summery to get through these ‘everyday things.” These should never be written in scene-like detail. Swain says that you should “telescope reality.” In other words, he teaches that you need to show the hours going by along with the growing conflict without grinding the story to a halt with unimportant details.

You can also check out Randy Ingermanson’s website at www.randyingermanson.com under writing the perfect scene for similar insight into this essential way of building a story step by step.

Lynette Sowell:

Give your hero/heroine an interesting enough occupation to keep things moving
along. Also, quirky characters always make the everyday interesting.

Also, the "breather" times need to have a purpose other than just to take up
space. What other threads of your story need attention? Usually I find there's
several in a story: the crime, the romance, the spiritual journey, and possibly
even personal issues (although this might range into more women's fiction, most of the time even in suspense the protagonists have personal issues to deal with).

That way even though your heroine's not out on a ledge all the time, you're not
making her life any easier. :)

Beth Goddard:

Get inside of your character’s head really well, and they must have a life outside of the “suspense or mystery” that they have to live in on a daily basis. . .it can be something interesting, doesn’t have to be something mundane. Like in the only book I have coming out. . .my heroine manages a cranberry Farm. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on there that fills in as the mystery or suspense evolves.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Cop Series--What, Exactly, is Hanging on that Belt?

When I wrote my very first cop character in my first inspirational suspense manuscript, I realized that I had no idea what kinds of guns police officers carry, let alone what all that stuff was that they carry on their belts. Handcuffs were a given, but what else was there?

Below is a list of what would likely be found hanging on a police officer’s duty belt. If anything on the list is an “agency choice,” (meaning, not all law enforcement organizations use them) I’ve noted that by saying depends on agency. Different police departments have different requirements from state to state, and even from county to county. Equipment used in my county isn’t necessarily something an officer in another state would carry. (If the police department or sheriff’s office in your book is fictional, you can make your own choices, although you’d do well to investigate law enforcement in your particular state.)

To see what this equipment looks like, I would recommend searching internet law enforcement supply stores. Here are a few:


The Duty Belt

The duty belt is black leather, about 3 ½ inches wide. It goes around the waist and attaches to the officer’s pants belt (called a Garrison Belt) with what are called belt keepers. These are loops that keep the duty belt in place so it doesn’t fall off in a chase, or doesn’t pull up when a gun is yanked from the holster.

All the equipment is carried in leather/nylon/etc. holders. Those holders have loops on the back of them, so the officer can just slide them onto to the duty belt. The order in which the items on place on the belt is up to the officer, but handcuffs are usually on the back, the gun on the right or the left, depending on the whether the officer is right-handed or left-handed, and most of the deputies I’ve seen carry their phone on the front of the belt.

What Hangs on that Duty Belt?

Semi-automatic pistol: (The kind depends on the agency. We’ll cover general weapons in a future article.)

Magazines: These hold ammunition. Usually two.

OC Spray (also called pepper spray or capsicum spray): Depends on agency.

Handcuffs: Many officers carry two sets, and double leather handcuff cases are available.

Taser (otherwise known as a stun gun): Depends on agency. We’ll cover general weapons in a future article.

Expandable Baton: Depends on agency.

Small Flashlight: Some officers carry this, some don’t.

Case with Latex Gloves: Some officers carry this, some don’t. One deputy told me that he carries his in a pocket in his leather boots.

Radio: The radio is on the belt, the receiver is on the shoulder.

Cell Phone

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cop Series--Introduction

When I first started writing fiction, I was clueless about a lot of things, but one of my biggest dilemmas was how to ascertain whether or not my law enforcement content was accurate. That was important because I usually have at least one law enforcement character in my books.

I’m a firm believer that literary license is allowed, but to maintain my integrity as an author, certain facts should not to be trifled with, even in fiction. I don’t want to lose a potential reader’s respect and trust by ignorantly portraying a cop doing something that a real cop would just never do. (Unless I’m writing about a rogue cop.)

Thus began my search for sources. Six years into my writing career, before my first contract, a door opened for me at the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. From a chance meeting, one of the deputies there offered to be my official consultant.

He encouraged me to take the citizen police academy. That led to a volunteer administrative position at the sheriff’s office police academy. I offered to volunteer for two reasons. The first was to give back something in return for my consultant’s generosity. The second was strictly for my own benefit. What better place than a police academy to learn about cops for my writing?

I feel immeasurably blessed to have my consultant, as well as the opportunity to be at the police academy. It’s my desire, in turn, to bless others by sharing some basic information for writers without direct access to a law enforcement source. The kind of information that a writer often doesn’t realize he or she needs until it’s time to write a scene—simple things, like, what is all that stuff on a cop’s belt?

The articles I post here will eventually be posted to our Keep Me In Suspense website in the reference section where they can be accessed when anyone needs them.

To assure the accuracy of my series, one of the deputies/instructors at the academy is helping me. I’m also getting information from my consultant and the staff at the academy. Cops love to tell stories, by the way. If I ask a question at lunch, the conversation that follows usually lasts for the rest of lunchtime. All I have to do is take notes.

My consultant, as well as the deputy/instructor, are both certified police officers in the State of Maryland, and both of them have approximately twenty years of law enforcement experience.

Please understand, though, that if I make any mistakes in the information I present, they are mine alone, due to my own failures to take accurate notes or listen well.

Here are samples of some of the topics I’m going to cover:

What, Exactly, is Hanging on that Belt?
The Use of Force Continuum
Hey, What’s in That Car, Anyway?
Routine Traffic Stops (Not Necessarily Routine)

My first post will be this week.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a paraphrase of a comment from my consultant: The most important thing you need to remember is that cops have to worry about defense attorneys. Everything a cop does will probably end up being scrutinized in a courtroom. Sloppy police work can lead to a criminal going free.

Something to remember when we write.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Our Next January Author Interview

We have some awesome suspense and mystery author interviews planned for you, as well as contests (see our contest page). Each month we'll feature two authors. Our second January interview is: Brandt Dodson on January 15th.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stephen King On Writing. . .

For anyone one who knows me, this is an odd book for me to pick up, as I avoid horror novels of all kinds like the plague for a number of personal reasons. But I wanted to see what I could learn from a man who’s written over fifty worldwide bestsellers. No one can ignore the fact that King is doing something right. And as we strive to be the best we can in our craft, he has some advice worth looking at. Some of it might be old hat to you, while to others it might be a refreshing reminder as we start a new year.

Read a Lot and Write a Lot

I know we’ve all heard that advice before. A writer needs to read as much as he writes, but King obviously thinks it worth emphasizing, and so do I. Every book we read teaches us something. It shows us what we love about what we read. . .or sometimes, what we don’t like. Have you ever read a book to the last page then wanted to beg the author for more? When that happens, go back and dissect the pages. Find out why. Then, on the other hand, have you thrown a book across the room after a couple of dozen pages never to return? Why? Figuring out the good, the bad, and the ugly can help transform our own books into something that will catch an editor’s eye. . .and make our readers beg for more.

Write Regularly

As for writing and getting published, there is no easy way to make it to the bestseller list, but without sitting down everyday in your office chair and writing, it will never happen. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to write today. Writers write! Sets goals each day and stick to them--even when you don't feel like it.


Stephen King has set me free from character sheets! Okay, not that I ever really worked on them beforehand, but I did feel guilty because I didn’t. One thing we have to remember is that every writer has their own approach to writing. Personally, I enjoy getting to know my characters as I write. I know each of my characters on a first name basis when I write that first page, but, oh, the things I learn as I go along. That’s what works for me, and you know what? However you approach character development is fine, as long as your final draft gives the reader characters that breathe and jump off of the page. And that's exactly what all of us are striving for.

Critique Groups

We all need feedback on what we’ve written. While it won’t always be the same, it’s an essential part of the writing process. If you’re not in a critique group, let me encourage you right now to join a local group, or a national group like American Christian Fiction Writers that has online critique groups. What you will receive could turn out to be priceless.

Find Yourself a Writing Spot

You might write best in a plush office in the back of the house or a small spot in the middle of the living room. King suggests you find a place where you can shut the door to life during the hours you write. I know how difficult this can be. For the first few years after I began writing, I wrote in the middle of the living room surrounded by the kids in my home daycare. It wasn’t always easy because they had to come first. But we have to take our writing seriously, and, in turn, others will as well.

Honesty in Character Emotions and Reactions

Have you ever read a book where the motivation for a character’s actions fell flat? I hate to admit it, but I see that far too often in the books I read. King emphasizes that one of the keys to dialogue, and all aspects of fiction, is honesty. Characters need to behave in a believable manner. Look at real life where sometimes the bad guy feels guilty or sorry for his victim, or the hero wants to walk away from what’s right. Life isn’t black and white. Neither are emotions and reactions.

Let’s all dig deeper this year!


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Keep Me In Suspense is Growing!

Not only do we have great things planned for you, like suspense and mystery author interviews twice a month and new articles every week to help you write mystery and suspense, we've also added three more hosts. Wanda Dyson, Lisa Harris, Lynette Sowell and Candice Spear are proud to welcome Susan Page Davis, Jeff Gerke, and Beth Goddard to our team.

Susan Page Davis is the author of two suspense novels with Harvest House, coming out in 2007. Frasier Island releases in March. Susan has also written seven historical novels and two children’s novels. Visit Susan’s website at: http://www.susanpagedavis.com/

Jeff Gerke writes thrillers under the pseudonym, Jefferson Scott. He also writes speculative fiction. He has worked for Multnomah, Strang Communications, and as an editor for NavPress. He is presently a freelance editor and writer. Check out his websites: http://www.jeffersonscott.com/ and http://www.wherethemapends.com/

Beth Goddard’s first novel is Seasons of Love, a romantic suspense due to be released by Heartsong Presents in December 2007. In addition to suspense, Beth also loves to write historical romance and Christian fantasies. http://www.bethgoddard.com/

And if you haven’t visited our other host’s websites recently, check them out. I know everyone has updated their sites and would love visitors.

In addition, we now have a CONTACT PAGE on our website. This is for our readers who want to pose mystery and suspense writing questions that we can answer in future blog articles. It's also for authors who wish to have their books added to our library, or who wish to contact us to arrange a blog interview. We want to hear from you!

And come back this coming week for a great article by Lisa Harris. It'll be the perfect way to kick off your new writing year. And then stick around for the first article in a series about law enforcement by Candice Speare.

The Keep Me In Suspense Team

Monday, January 01, 2007

Kick'n it off with SUSAN MAY WARREN!

We are kicking off 2007 with Susan May Warren! RECLAIMING NICK has arrived, and we’re first on her blog tour. Susan is an award winning author who writes both romantic suspense and chick lit. For a list of her books, be sure and check out her website at www.susanmaywarren.com
Now for our chat with Susan!

LISA: RECLAIMING NICK is the first in your Noble Legacy series. What can you tell us about this first title?

SUSAN: Reclaiming Nick is the modern day story about a cowboy who goes back to his home, to face his past and right old wrongs. I grew up on books by Louis L’amour, loved shows like Big Valley and Bonanza and ate up all things cowboy – horses, and trucks and life on the range, heroes in Stetsons, and women who knew how to fend for themselves. I didn’t want to write a western, but I couldn’t shake the desire to write a story about a modern day ranch – a family trying to keep their legacy alive. So I dreamed up two cowboys and a cowgirl, started exploring the themes in Philippians, created a town, out west, called Phillips, Montana, and conjured up a story triggered by something that happened to friends of mine. I imagined a bigger story – like a Nora Roberts novel, with exploring many lives, and how they intertwined, and two delicious romances and a suspense that put all their lives in danger. And I set it against the backdrop of the beautiful eastern Montana countryside. Nick is my most ambitious novel to date, but I loved stretching myself, and love the story that God gave me.

LISA: What kind of research went into writing this story? (I heard rumors of a mechanical bull?)

SUSAN: Hey, I take research VERY seriously – not only do I research setting, but I track down someone in the profession who can set me straight -- like a pilot who can teach me how to fly a Cessna, a fireman who tells me how to put out a house fire, a cop to teach me how to open handcuffs. For the Noble Legacy, I headed west, to Montana, and stayed for a week on a ranch, barraging the kind owners with questions (staring with, what’s the difference between a steer and a bull…yes, I know, but hey, I’m a city gal!) I observed and questioned and took notes and dreamed. For the sequel to Nick, Taming Rafe, about a bull-rider, I went to Gilly’s in Dallas and climbed on the mechanical bull. And then God provided a bull-rider to read my scenes. My favorite part of writing is the people I meet along the way!

LISA: I was able to “meet Nick” for the first time at the ACFW conference. . .or at least I got a glimpse of him on your cover. Can you share with us a bit about the idea behind your Meet Nick page on your website?

SUSAN: Because this series is so strongly character driven, with Nick and the rest of the Noble family most of the stories, I wanted readers to have a connection with the lead of the series. And Tyndale did a fabulous job of finding the right cowboy for the cover! I thought, if reader’s appetites could be whet with an intro to Nick, in his voice, something that gave a glimpse of the story, the series, then hopefully he’d stick around in their mind when the story came out. Tyndale and I even made up “Meet Nick” pins that I gave away at various promotional events leading up to the release! I had a number of strangers ask me where they could Meet Nick! (And no, I don’t know who the model was…sorry!)

LISA: What about a sneak peek at the next book in this series?

SUSAN: Ohhh…I had so much fun writing Taming Rafe! A non-typical bad boy meets New York socialite…with a twist on the classic rich girl meets boy across the tracks. Here’s a glimpse at their interaction as Rafe tried to teach her how to ride a mechanical bull:

“I think I was kidding,” Kitty said.
“No you weren’t.” Rafe stood behind her, blocking her quick escape, so Kat just stood in the entrance to Buffalo saloon, frozen.
“I am not riding that.”
Across the room, the bar-owner, or maybe the bouncer, inflated the cushion around a rawhide-covered mechanical bull, the one of the few nods toward the twentieth century in this whiskey and smoke saturated room. She could imagine Will Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane bellying up to the long polished bar, staring at themselves in the tarnished mirror. In the corner a jukebox whined out a country song.
“Yes, Kitty Russell, you are. You have it in your bones. And I believe in you.”
Kat closed her eyes. “Okay, so a small part of me wanted to learn to ride a bull, but really, Rafe—“
He wound his arm around her waist and pulled her into the room. Daylight streamed through the windows, and at this hour, only two weary cowboys looked up from their beers.
She’d never even been in a real-live bar before, especially one that looked like it should have spittoons on the floor. Bradley would be horrified.
That thought made her yield to Rafe’s pressure. Maybe she didn’t want to do everything expected of her.
Maybe she wanted to ride a bull, just like her dad.
“Can you make it not throw me off?”
Rafe raised one dark eyebrow.
“Okay, but if I get hurt –“
“You won’t get hurt. I’ll be with you.”
“What, are you going to ride behind me?”
He pulled her around the tables, carrying a small bag. “Do you want me to?”
She stopped, stared at him. “Would you?” Despite his rather sturdy appearance, a pair of well-worn jeans, a canvass shirt, that ratty hat pushed back on his head, contrasting with his clean-shaven chin, well, she could probably knock him over with two fingers.
“Of course.”
Of course. She didn’t know why, but those words found all the places in her heart she’d been trying to bulwark and ripped them to shreds. Perfect.

LISA: Keep Me In Suspense site is all about suspense. Do you have any words of advice for those writing in this genre?

SUSAN: Every great suspense book needs two elements -- Believability of menace and a lighted fuse.

Believability of Menace - The reader needs to believe that the terrible thing that could happen will really happen. For example, if the villain is the yard boy, then at the beginning of the story, we need to see him in the act of burying his previous victim in the backyard. Or, if the suspense is based on a cataclysmic event, let us see a similarly cataclysmic event happening in a different part of the world.

Lighted Fuse - The second key element is a countdown or ticking clock to the disaster. The story’s pace is ramped up with each ticking second and tension increases with each chapter. For example, the Poseidon adventure – we know the boat is going to sink. Mission Impossible 3 – we are sure the villain will kill Ethan Hunt’s wife. Or even Ice Age 2 – we KNOW the dam will break and poor Manny and his pals are going to drown. A fuse is imperative to keep the tension high and our nails short.

Writing a suspense can be both fun and tiring – because for a writer, it almost feels like we’re racing our own clock to get our hero and heroine out of trouble and onto safety (and true love. *g*)

Thank you for letting me stop by and share some behind-the-scenes tidbits about Reclaiming Nick!

LISA: Thanks so much for stopping by, Susan!

Dying now to read a copy of RECLAIMING NICK? Our contest page is currently featuring Susan’s book AND a chance to win a free copy! So hop on over to our contest page and sign up. There’s also a place where you can win a free critique of a chapter! And if you haven’t had a chance to check out our library, RECLAIMING NICK is just one of dozens of great books to add to your reading list for 2007.

Happy New Year!


Coming next. . .What are your writing goals for 2007?