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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

An Interview With a Christian Cop

I have been recently blessed with a new acquaintance at the sheriff’s office, a detective who is studying to become a minister. We’ve had a number of conversations about our mutual faith. This very nice man has graciously agreed to this interview for our Keep Me In Suspense readers.

Here are the questions posed by the Keep Me in Suspense Team, along with the detective’s answers:

What, if any, problems do you face being a Christian in your job?

My Christianity is not a problem for me on the job here, but it did require some adjustments, especially when I moved from patrol, where I was alone a great deal of the time, to the office environment of the detectives.

I wasn’t accustomed to some of the worst profanity and dirty jokes. My first reaction was to stop hanging out with everyone. I even went out to lunch by myself to avoid being uncomfortable. But, I soon realized that I couldn’t have an effect on people unless I was around them. Jesus hung with people that needed to be reached, and that’s what God required of me. He reminded me that a well person doesn’t need a physician.

The one thing I did to make things a little easier for me was to pull aside the very worst mouthed detective and talk to him. But I was very careful how I handled that. I didn’t want to come across as holier than everyone or condemning. Basically I said, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life, but I want you to know that I’m uncomfortable with some of your language and your jokes.

Since I made that approach in kindness, without judging the person, he took it well and apologized. Soon, that person told other people, and though the changes didn’t happen overnight, a change did occur. Soon, if someone was cussing outrageously, they would apologize to me.

Years later, I started the Officers for Christ Bible Study. When I look back, I realize that if I’d been a closet Christian, hiding from everyone to protect myself, I would have been hindered in my endeavor. But I didn’t hide my Christianity and instead related to people where they were. Officers for Christ is now very successful.

God put me here to minister to people. Because I don’t bang people over the head with the Bible, but love them where they are, people can receive God's love from me.

Do you find it difficult to maintain your faith on a day to day basis with the job you have, or does it actually make it easier on some level?

Being a Christian is a lifestyle, not something I put on and take off, like a hat. I’m the same man at church that I am at home that I am on the job. This job is what God has provided for me to make a living. It’s the vineyard where He’s given me to work. Since God gave me the job, God equips me to do it. So, in a sense, yes, my faith does help.

Have you ever shared your faith with someone you've arrested?

I pray for open doors to share my faith with them, as well as victims of crimes. I do have to be careful in some senses. I don’t want a complaint lodged against me, so I don’t arbitrarily beat people over the head with the Gospel. Instead, I trust God to open doors for me to talk to the people He wants me to talk to. And God does. For example, I might be in someone’s house and see magnets on the refrigerator about God, so I’ll use that as a springboard to initiate a conversation about the Lord.

Do we need more Christians in law enforcement?

We need Christian leaders—period. Not just policemen. We need Godly leadership in government who operate on Christian principles on the national, state, and local levels. And our Christian leaders must be Godly people, because it flows from the head, down. From the church, down.

Do you see a high level of burn out in your line of work?

Burn out first depends upon the agency where you work. If the agency is supportive, there will be less burn out. Like any job, cop burn out can depend upon how long you’ve been doing the job. You sometimes just get in a rut. Sometimes personnel changes can affect things. And often, burn out doesn’t just have to do with the job. Home, health, and other activities play a role.

Burn out also depends upon your position. Narcs are probably in more of a position to burn out than anyone else. They are undercover, portraying a person they really aren’t. Our agency checks on officers once a year to make sure they’re okay.

What about cynicism?

Younger cops are more cynical. They haven’t been supervisors. Age, experience, and family tends to mellow people.

How do you deal with the dark side of life?

Pray. God gave me the job. He’ll give me the grace to do it.

I pray that people get saved. That some good will come from tragedy. I pray for the guilty, as well as the victims.

I think the death of children and young people is the hardest to see, but God takes care of the things in my head. The memories fade. I’m not haunted by them. More than anything else, I don’t take my job personally. It’s a job. If I were affected by what I see, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. I have to be able to move on to the next person. If I let things get to me, I can’t help anybody.

And because I handle everyone fairly, including the criminals, they tend to like me, even though I’ve arrested them.

As a Christian do you tend to follow the rules by the book or do you allow grace to operate in each decision when dealing with people in precarious circumstances?

I follow the rules by the book. That’s part of my job and the boundaries I’ve been given. If I don’t follow the rules, I could be disciplined or fired.

But, if there’s an opportunity for me to go the extra mile while I’m working, I will. For instance, I’m not required by the department to give a ride home to someone involved in an incident. But, if I can, I will. As grace has been given to me, so I want to give grace to others.


I’m so grateful for the time this detective took to give me this interview. We’ve had so much fun laughing, as well as fellowshipping. I can truly see God’s hand on his life.

Stay tuned for Friday’s article, Hey, What’s in that Car, Anyway?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Interview with Susan Page Davis

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

Frasier Island will be released March 1, and I’m tickled. This is my first published suspense book. It’s a military story with lots of conflict and action, but it’s also the story of a relationship that gets off to a rocky start and winds up critical. If George and Rachel can’t work together to fight the enemy, many people will suffer.

Coming up in September, Harvest House will release Finding Marie, which features some of the same characters as Frasier Island. I have a cozy mystery coming next February and a couple of new romantic suspense books in the works for ’08.

You could say I’m the anti-image of a suspense writer. I’m a mother of six and grandma of four; a slow-moving person with a quick-moving mind.

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

Oh, yes. I did many hours of reading and searching for up-to-date data on Navy equipment and procedures, marine mammals, and technology such as active and passive sonar, rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles.

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?

I find slivers of myself in my characters, but also slabs of other people I know. There’s a lot of my brother in George Hudson of Frasier Island, and my sisters keep popping up here and there. My husband lends a bit of character to each of my heroes. My four daughters, while not models for my heroines exactly, would find they had a lot in common with some of them. As for me, I’m probably closest to Janet Borden, the heroine of a yet unpublished book. She has the veneer of a placid middle-aged housewife, but she gets deep into unraveling riddles that turn out to be serious crimes. (In my real life they turn out to be non-crises, but for Janet it’s the real thing.)

Can you briefly tell us about your writing process? From the germ of an idea to the completed novel? And how long it takes you?

Writing the rough draft of a book can take me from one to three months. Usually I start with a small idea of a situation or event and follow it to its possible implications. An example is a book I’m working on now. I wrote a short story about 20 years ago and recently dug it out and realized it had a great scenario as the basis for a full-length book.

I started expanding the outline of this mystery. Then I changed the gender of the victim. Then it switched from a murder mystery with the heroine unmasking the killers to a suspense where no one is killed but the heroine is endangered and trying to stop the villains from hurting others and herself. Then I realized I loved the heroine, hero and setting, but the motive needed to change. I came up with three possible directions to take the story—espionage, kidnap for ransom, or mistaken identity.

In the end, a fourth possibility occurred to me as I was adjusting the synopsis. Something that had seemed incidental in the early part of the story took on a new significance and became the driving force of the plot. Whew! I finally have my outline. I’ve wrangled with it so much over the past two weeks that I know exactly where it’s going now, and I should be able to complete the first draft of the book within a month.

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’m happy to say that writing fiction is now my full time job. I write early in the morning, break to do algebra and grammar with my two home-schooled students, write in the afternoon, and if I have no other commitments in the evening, you’ll find me still at the computer.

Do you have any particular writers' resources you use regularly? Any that apply to suspense in particular?

My Synonym Finder is indispensable, as is the Online Etymology Dictionary. I’m compiling a crime/mystery library. The books I’ve used most so far are Order in the Court, by David S. Mullally, and The Writer’s Complete Crime Reference Book, by Martin Roth. I also have an attorney who has graciously agreed to read one of my books for authenticity, a state trooper who will answer occasional questions, and a super critique group whose members are all mystery/suspense writers.

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

Yes, I hope to go on in the suspense genre, getting better at it and bringing lots of exciting stories to the reader. My second suspense book, Finding Marie, will feature Pierre Belanger, a beloved character in Frasier Island, and Marie, his wife. Marie has always been sheltered, but she is thrust into a terrifying world where she must think for herself if she wants to live.

I have a couple of suspense books coming out in 2008 with another publisher, and a cozy mystery, co-authored with my daughter Megan, from Heartsong Presents: Mysteries next February. My agent, Chip MacGregor, is helping me find my niche in the mystery/suspense genre.

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

Everything happens in God’s timing. It seemed as though I would NEVER sell a book. But it happened, after years of effort. God knows when your work is ready, and when you are ready.

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

Study your craft. Read well-written books in the genre you want to write. Continue writing every day, even if it’s only a little. Don’t give up. Just keep writing.

How do you see the future of suspense and mystery in the inspirational market?

The potential is limitless. I see Christian offerings in this genre getting better and better. And readers are responding.

What suspense/mystery authors do you read for pleasure? (Inspirational and secular)

Some of the most recent ones I’ve read are Sharon Dunn, Susan May Warren, Brandilyn Collins. I also enjoy Dee Henderson, Dick Francis, Dorothy Sayers, John Grisham, Craig Parshall ... whatever I can get my hands on.

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

Don’t get so caught up in fiction that you neglect God’s Word. “With my whole heart have I sought thee; oh, let me not wander from thy commandments.” (Ps. 119:10)

We’re giving away a copy of Frasier Island here at Keep Me In Suspense. I hope lots of readers sign up for the drawing (several ladies have told me they would buy it just for the cover). And visit me at my Website: www.susanpagedavis.com. It’s just been redesigned, so come take a peek. Enter my monthly giveaway, too, and win your choice this month of my published titles.

Friday, February 23, 2007

SEAN YOUNG and his debut novel VIOLENT SANDS

I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to introduce Sean Young. Sean lives in South Africa and recently had his first book published by American publisher, Breakneck Books. Already the book is garnishing wonderful reviews. Here’s what Sean has to say about writing and his debut novel Violent Sands.

LISA: What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

SEAN: Actually, I had to keep it bottled up inside me as I was in an office with several other people when the mail came through. It was excruciating! All I wanted to do was scream YEEEEEEEEHAAAAAAA!!! from the rooftops but I forced myself to remain calm and professional. I contented myself with bobbing silently in my seat while I read the mail. It was an awesome experience that made all the work and effort worthwhile.

LISA: Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

SEAN: Nothing overly exciting to tell where Violent Sands is concerned. The idea for Barabbas as a fictional character just popped into my mind one day. I got to thinking about how he came to be in prison and how his release, coupled with Jesus’ simultaneous conviction, might have affected him. More importantly, I wanted to know whether that moment in time had any long-term effect on him as a person or whether he simply went on his way and never gave Jesus of Nazareth another thought.

I had never written anything longer than a school essay (unless you count my annual letters to Santa Claus as a child) before I attempted Violent Sands. So I went along to my local library and took out a book on how to write novels. Once I’d finished reading it, I began writing.

As far as subsequent stories go, I find they’re birthed slowly. New ideas pop into my head all the time but I generally put each thought on hold until I’ve finished the main project I’m working on. Once I’ve finished a project, I’ll hop between my lists of ideas - try a little here, a little there. Usually I write a few pages and then stop either because I lose enthusiasm for the idea or because I feel I’m not ready to write that story yet. I find that sometimes stories simply need time to germinate. This process can go on for months until one of the ideas finally takes root. Then I’ll work on nothing else until I’ve brought that concept to completion.

As to background behind the ideas for my stories, they usually come in flashes, like Violent Sands. I suddenly think of a plot or a character and then begin building the story around that idea. This often leads to a dead-end and I’ll drop the idea or put it on hold to let the idea simmer a while.

LISA: I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. Is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

SEAN: In my writing, I tend to gravitate towards characters that are not spiritually mature. In fact many of my favorite characters are not even believers. I enjoy writing those characters the most. I don’t know what that says about my spiritual condition 

I suppose the biggest area my characters challenge me in is honesty. I’ve been a Christian for roughly half of my life, having become a believer at the age of seventeen. All too often, a situation will arise in my novels where I’m tempted to make the character react the way I, as a Christian author, believe they should, rather than the way I know they would react. This usually shows up my own dishonesty. When you’ve been a Christian for twenty years or more, you feel you should have it all together and you shouldn’t still be struggling with the basics. In those moments, I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s cry in Romans Ch7 – those things I want to do, I can’t do and those things I don’t want to do; these are the things I keep on doing. That’s the biggest challenge for me in life.

When you’ve been a Christian for a long time, it’s easy to fall into the Pharisee’s trap. We don’t admit it to ourselves but often we begin to think we can do this on our own and we attempt to reflect this image of perfection to the world. God sees right through that – and so do non-Christians. Better that we admit the faults we have and give God glory for His grace. That’s something that non-believers can relate to. It’s the fundamental message of the gospel. And it’s what characters like Violent Sands’ Barabbas remind me of each day.

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

SEAN: Never quit. If you believe God has called you to write, then write. And when you’re done with one project, begin another. Keep learning and improving, and your dreams will be realized.

And keep submitting to publishers or agents. Many writers start off with enthusiasm and submit their first manuscript years before it’s ready. Then they learn a thing or two. They discover how sticky publishers can be and they begin to get bogged down in the rules. Often, the more they improve and learn, the less inclined they are to submit for fear of rejection. That fear has crippled many talented writers who, in an effort to create the perfect manuscript, never submit it to a publisher and doom themselves to certain failure. The only way we learn is by trying and learning from our mistakes.

LISA: Any future plans for your writing you’d like to share? Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

SEAN: Novels are what I love best, so my only real dream in the writing arena is to write many more stories. My books tend to be more Crossover than full-blown Christian Fiction so hopefully they will challenge people who might not know God. I like to think that my characters can be a light and testimony to the people who read my novels. I know they’re not real people but good fiction should offer characters that readers can relate to. And hopefully, mine will do just that.

LISA: Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published, especially from someone who has just broken in?

SEAN: I wish there was an easy answer to that question. Every time I speak at a writers’ group or chat to an aspiring novelist, the question comes up. The truth is it really isn’t easy. If you’re embarking on a career as a writer, it’s going to take years of effort. While your friends are out socializing at parties, you’re going to be stuck away in a room somewhere, banging out page after page on a keyboard. And when you’ve written that first book, the work is only just starting. On average it will take you far longer to publish your first book than it did to write it. Many writers only publish their third, or even fourth, book. I know that’s not the answer most folk want to hear but it’s pointless candy-coating it.

There really is no secret way to get published - or if there is, I don’t know it - other than to keep on writing and keep on submitting your proposals to publishers. Keep on making the contacts in the business that will ultimately lead to that first publishing contract. Keep on…

The good news is that, if you stick with it, you will eventually succeed. And you’ll succeed because you were prepared to go the last mile when so many others had already given up and turned back. The publishing industry is the domain of the tortoise, not the hare.

I wish I could offer more uplifting advice but that’s been my experience and I’ll bet every other published author will back me up in this.

LISA: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

SEAN: Terry Whalin’s Book Proposals That Sell. I know I just said there are no short-cuts in the publishing business, but this is one possible exception to that rule. Make no mistake, it doesn’t make your work any easier. The book takes time to study and its rules must be applied with serious effort. But if you’re prepared to follow this author’s guidance, you’ll probably cut years off your journey to that first publishing contract.

My second recommendation is the current edition of Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide. These two books are probably the most valuable assets on my bookshelf at present.

LISA: Sean, thank you so much for sharing some of your journey with us. If you want to learn more about Sean and the thriller, Violent Sands, check out his website at SEAN'S WEBSITE

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hook, First Line. . .or Sinker

We all know the drill when it comes to writing a proposal that will one day sit on an editor’s desk. Since I’m in the middle of writing one, I thought I’d bring up the topic. We have to have a cover letter that will catch the editor’s eye. A first line that works like bait to make them want to read the second sentence and the third and so on. We want an editor to keep turning the pages of our proposal, so in awe at our characterizations, descriptions, and chapter hooks that they offer us that multi-book contract. . .

Okay. Let me reel us back to reality. If an editor doesn’t like the hook or premise of your story found in your cover letter, more than likely they won’t even bother reading the first line of your manuscript. The story will be tossed out with the majority of the others from the slush pile. So, how can we stand out when we’ve only got one chance to impress?

Look at the hook for your current WIP (work in progress). If you write suspense, it’s crucial that your hook reflects your main conflict in a way that pulls in the editor. Ask yourself the following questions.

1. Is the grammar and spelling perfect? (Might seem obvious, but so important)
2. Is the hook for your story concise?
3. Do the words reflect your writing style?
4. Is the conflict strong enough? (there’s nothing more disappointing than a story that doesn’t live up to the hype)
5. Does it make the editor want to read more?

Now let’s look at first lines. I ran across a site the other day called Keepers of the lists. One of their lists is a rundown of some of the worst opening lines from a novel. (I would assume unpublished!)

Here are the first two:

She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

McMurphy hit the pavement running like a paper bag filled with vegetable soup.

You’re right. Not even worth commenting on. If an editor doesn’t want to read corny lines like that, what WILL catch their attention? I found another site that listed the 100 Best First Lines from Novels (http://www.litline.org/ABR/100bestfirstlines.html) Here are their first two picks.

Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

I love that last one. Now take a look at the first line of your manuscript. What do you want an editor or reader to get out of the first line? Here are some ideas to think about.

1. You want the opening line to grab your reader immediately. This means NO back story up front. (In fact, no back story at all in the first chapter is preferred.)
2. Make the reader ask “What happens next?” If you can’t keep them reading the first few paragraphs you’re sunk.
3. Use straight forward language. This is not the time for the reader to have to pull out the dictionary
4. Use your opening line to set the tone of the story. Is this a mystery, a romance, a thriller? The opening pages, and especially that opening line, is the place to start the feel of the book.

As for the sinker. . .well, we’re not going there. With a great hook, a catching first line (and a manuscript lives up to the hype) an editor will pay attention.

So what are your opening lines? We’d love to read either your own opening line or your favorite opening line from a published book. So leave a comment and tell us your favorite!

Coming next. . .an interview with up and coming South African author Sean Young and his debut novel Violent Sands.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

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

I’ll start with the book, way more interesting than me, I promise.

Petticoat Ranch is a suspenseful, historical, inspirational, romantic comedy. How’s that for a sub-genre? Here’s a brief summary. Sophie Edwards’ life is one long struggle for survival, and, more importantly, the survival of her four daughters. She wants to avenge her husband’s murder, but she has no idea how to do it. And as if she hasn't got enough to do, now a wounded man is disrupting her family’s lonely life.

Clay McClellen left an idyllic, all-male world in the mountains. Sure he had to fight off the occasional grizzly bear, but looking back, he now sees how peaceful it was. After plunging headfirst over a cliff, Clay finds himself at the mercy of a widow and her four girls.
A suspenseful romantic comedy about a mountain man trapped in a pretty, sweet smelling, confusing all-girl world, from Barbour Publishing

Golden Days is coming from Heartsong Presents in April. It’s also a…go repeat that sub-genre again. Golden Days is set in Alaska against the backdrop of the Klondike Gold Rush.

After that I have Of Mice…and Murder a cozy mystery coming from the new line at Barbour, Heartsong Presents Mysteries.

A young woman who likes the big city and hates mice so what is she doing in her dinky hometown living in her great-grandma’s mouse infested house. You know things are bad when the dead guy in her pantry actually means things are looking up.

My favorite kind of books to read are romantic suspense and if the couple makes me laugh while they’re running for their lives and falling in love, then I’m happy.

As for me: I just celebrated thirty years of marriage. I’ve got four daughters, three grown and on their own with real jobs, that have insurance benefits! and the fourth is a senior in high school. I wrote for ten years before I got my first contract. And that is enough about me.

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

I mostly researched for Civil War references, very briefly referred to because my hero and the heroine’s first husband had both fought in the war. And landscape. I had never been to this part of Texas and I wanted to get it right.

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?

I don’t think there are pieces of me in my characters. Instead, I think my characters are how I wish I could be. Absolutely fearless, they say whatever is on their minds, they always stand up for themselves. That makes for nice humor and conflict but I don’t think it’s really a great way to live. Filtering the things that come out of your mouth is usually a very good idea.

Can you briefly tell us about your writing process? From the germ of an idea to the completed novel? And how long it takes you?

I’m a pretty fast writer. I write about two books a year, and I’ve done that ever since I started. I have about twenty books on my computer, including the three I’ve sold.

I’ve done seat-of-the-pants writing and I’ve done a full outline before I start so I can do either. I think the outlined books were easier to write, although the outline was very hard to create. But I think I like the SOTP style better. It’s just more fun for me to have a general idea of where I’m starting and where the end is, and let the rest come as part of the creative process.

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’ve got a full time job as a GED Instructor in addition to writing. I mainly write late at night, in fact being an insomniac has given me those extra hours to write. My writing discipline, such as it is, is to set a goal of three hundred words a day. That is such an easy goal, just over a page, but it does force me to start writing. I very often write more like 1,000 words once I start, which is a 90,000 word book every three months. But included in that is a lot of editing and revising so I don’t have four books a year to show for my writing.

Do you have any particular writers’ resources you use regularly? Any that apply to suspense in particular?

No, my main research is done on-line. The resources that are dearest to me are reading other novels. I belong to a critique group and what I’ve learned there helped immensely so I was ready when my chance finally came.

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

I’ve got books in my head always clamoring to be written. My dream is to sell all twenty of those novels on my computer and then settle down to writing two books a year until I’m too old to type.What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?
How to take criticism I suppose. I’ve learned I can stand almost any level of cruelty as long as I can find a nice box of Hostess Twinkies somewhere.

Or maybe patience, I’ve had a lot of waiting to do over the years.

Or maybe that I love writing. I think I’d always write whether anyone published my work or not. I really think of being a writer as who I am rather than what I do. I just love it. I love sitting alone, makin’ stuff up. How strange is that?

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

Learn the craft. There is so much to learn beyond story telling. That’s basic, to have a good story, but there are so many details. If you’re a member of ACFW www.acfw.com go to the section of the website that has writer’s courses on it. That is a gold mine of information.

Get connected. Go to conferences, take the online courses, get a critique group, meet other writers. I’ve heard a lot of people say, “It’s all about who you know.” What they don’t add is, how easy it is to get to know someone. I credit the ACFW conference with leading to Petticoat Ranch so I’m a believer.

How do you see the future of suspense and mystery in the inspirational market?

I think it’s going to explode. There is a whole world or readers out there who are Christians who want to read for entertainment and would just please, please like a book NOT laced with horrible profanity and other unfortunate offensive topics. But they want to be entertained. There are terrific books dealing with nearly every tough social topic around, and that’s wonderful, those books are saving lives and souls. But there is a huge readership of great, solid Christian people who aren’t going through some dreadful trauma who’d just love a good read that doesn’t sneer at what they believe. I think this is the biggest area for potential growth in Christian fiction.

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

I would just challenge every writer, myself included, to write the best quality fiction they can. I think there is so much room for expansion we won’t be able to provide enough books. I think what’s happening in every aspect of Christian fiction is exciting and I love being part of it.

What suspense/mystery authors do you read for pleasure? (Inspirational and secular)

You know, I hate questions like this. I read so many authors and I can’t remember them all and later I’ll remember another good one, probably someone I know and feel bad. So you should be ashamed of this question.

Well, here goes…Teri Blackstock, Dee Henderson, Susan May Warren, Brandilyn Collins, Rene Gutteridge, Christy Barritt, I’m just finishing my first Jill Elizabeth Nelson and I love it. Also Frank Peretti, Jenkins and LaHaye, Ted Dekker.

I’m also going to have a cozy mystery come out with Heartsong Presents Mysteries soon and I love what I’m hearing about that line, the romance, comedy and mystery combined. Those books are going to be fun. I can’t wait for that to start.

Some secular mystery suspense authors I love; Julie Garwood, Elizabeth Lowell, Linda Howard, Susan Brockman, Clive Cussler, Faye Kellerman, Jonathan Kellerman, old Mary Higgins Clark, old Patricia Cornwell, old Sue Grafton.

I’ll stop now with that, too.

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

Under the romantic comedy of Petticoat Ranch is the struggle my characters have with hate. They are feeling very justifiable hate towards a man who has done them a terrible ill. My characters, mainly Sophie, Clay and Adam are all on a different section of the path toward laying down that hate.

I try to show how their anger is harming them more than it’s harming the man they hate. Christians are bombarded on every side by terrible anti-Christian messages on TV, in books and movies, in store windows, on newspaper headlines, everywhere. I think we spend a lot of time feeling embattled and that often translates into anger. Yes, Jesus got angry, yes, there is righteous anger. But that’s not usually the right choice.

Anger…hate…is the exact opposite of what God calls us to do. You don’t nag someone into salvation, you don’t scare them into it or yell them into it. You love them into believing in God. Any time a person spends being angry is almost always wasted time. Examine your hearts for the anger and lay it down, live the life of joy God has for you.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Keep Me In Suspense Announcements

We have some exciting news. One of your KMIS hosts, Susan Page Davis, just received a stellar Romantic Times review for her new romantic suspense.

Romantic Times Book Reviews.
p. 67, TOP PICK for the Inspirational section AND cover image!
Frasier Island (a romantic suspense)
Susan Page Davis
4-1/2 stars

“Davis’s fantastic story grabs you from the first page with nonstop action and intriguing characters that are a winning combination. The relationship between Rachel and George feels completely realistic and meaningful, and spiritual insights will resonate with readers. You won’t want to put down this book until you’ve finished.

SUMMARY: After suffering some losses, Lt. George Hudson takes an assignment on a remote naval base in the Pacific Ocean with only two other people. This suits his solitary, precise personality quite nicely, until Ensign Rachel Whitney arrives.

Rachel has wanted Lt. Hudson as her mentor ever since she joined the military. Her posting on Frasier Island is a dream come true. But George is not thrilled about her presence, and the island holds many secrets that he isn’t ready to share. (Harvest House, Mar., 350 pp., $13.99)—Melissa Parcel”

Susan is scheduled for a March 5th interview on this blog. Please stay tuned for that.

In addition, we have the following authors scheduled for interviews:

February 19th, Mary Connealy
March 19th, Terri Reed

And next week, we’ll hear from Lisa Harris. The following week, Candice Speare.

Lots of good things planned for you! We appreciate everyone who visits our blog and website.

The Keep Me In Suspense Team

Monday, February 12, 2007

Interview with mystery writer Lorena McCourtney

Tell us where you grew up and some of your background, if you’ve always loved to write?

I grew up in various small towns in eastern Washington. I’d gone to six schools by the time I graduated from high school at Clarkston, Washington. I can’t say that I’ve always loved to write, but I’ve always loved to read. We traveled around a lot, and my mother said that one of the first words I could read was the big yellow “Shell” sign on the gas stations. So I didn’t exactly start out immersed in high-class literature!

I started trying to write while I was in about the fifth grade. Since my mother had done some non-fiction writing, I knew how to go about sending my creative masterpieces to magazines. They were not, unfortunately, impressed by my talent at this young age and sent them right back.

What books would you say have influenced you most in general? In writing?

I would say that everything I’ve ever read has had a smidgen of influence on me, but I don’t think I can point to any specific authors or books that influenced me. As a girl, what I devoured was anything about horses or dogs, and westerns. Since I became a writer, I’ve never written anything about dogs, horses, or a western, so I have to think I wasn’t deeply influenced by what I read back then.

Presently I do more reading of mysteries than anything else, but I may delve into most anything that looks interesting. I just finished a non-fiction book about a year in the Arctic – and I’m now reading a sweet romance. And next in my TBR pile is an Anne George mystery.

In writing, I read Writer’s Digest faithfully for years. I don’t read much about writing technique any more, although I have the feeling it might do me good if I did. One reason I don’t read much in this area is that what I do read generally intimidates me to the point that my writing stalls rather than expands.

You wrote 24 novels in the secular market before switching over to the CBA. What would you say were the challenges in changing markets?

The biggest challenge was that I had to start all over as far as name recognition went. I think what I’d learned while writing all those books stood me in good stead. Writing technique is much the same no matter whether you’re writing for ABA or CBA, and I got a lot of experience in plotting and creating characters. But I’d written those 24 books under my own plus 3 pen names (a requirement of the publishers at the time), so my name wasn’t familiar to much of anyone in CBA. So what I did, rather than try to get a contract on the 3-chapters-and-an-outline basis as I’d been doing it, I wrote a complete book before trying to find a CBA publisher. That way they didn’t have to guess whether or not I could write what they wanted; they could see the entire book right there.

How many books have you published in the Christian market?

I’ve had 13 books published in the Christian market. Six of these were for the now-discontinued Palisades Romances line. One of those books was as much mystery as romance, and I realized I really liked writing mysteries. So my next 3 books, The Julesburg Mysteries for Revell, were more mystery than romance. And the last 4, which are my Ivy Malone Mysteries, also for Revell, have only a smidgen of romance along with the mystery.

At some point, you began writing mysteries instead of romance. What was the reason for this?

As I said above, in doing that one book with as much mystery as romance, I simply enjoyed the mystery part so much that I wanted to do more of it. I like the twists and turns of plot, the red herrings, the feeling that there’s more to the story than there is in a straightforward romance.

Mysteries are much different than romance. What would you say is the most difficult part of mystery writing?

Figuring out who the murderer is! I’ve done a couple in which the murderer changed about halfway through the book.

Another difficult part is getting all the technical details about police and detective work, methods of murder, what clues the killer may leave behind, etc. right. I do quite a lot of research on these details.

Can you share what problems you’ve seen in mystery novels? Any tips to mystery writers?

Basically, study those mystery writers whose books you most enjoy.

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I’m afraid I’ll have to say it’s writing “The End.” The feeling of accomplishment that comes with wrapping up the details and finishing something.

Other than your own books, what are some of your favorite mysteries?

Among CBA authors, I especially like Pat Rushford, Terri Blackstock and Colleen Coble.

Among secular mystery writers I like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone Mysteries, Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency books, Anne George, Janet Evanovich, Dean Koontz.

(and probably a lot of others whose names don’t come to me right now.)

Which of your own mysteries would you say is your favorite and why?

I have a certain affection for that first one I did, which started out as a romance, basically, but turned into a mystery. This is Forgotten, in the Palisades Romance line. Among my more recent books, I’m especially fond of the first one in my Ivy Malone Mysteries series, Invisible.

On your website you state that you love to travel in your motor home like your character Ivy Malone. Did your idea for Ivy stem from your travels, in other words, which came first, your character or the idea for a character who travels in a motor home?
Can you tell us about the Ivy Malone series and specifically about your latest book?

Actually, the idea of having Ivy travel in a motor home came after Book #1, Invisible, was written. The catalyst for the entire series was Ivy’s feeling that she had aged into invisibility, a feeling very much based on personal experience. I just kind of grin and bear it, but Ivy (more adventurous than I am!) decides her invisibility can be a handy asset in sleuthing and tracking down a murderer.

I then wanted Ivy to be in different settings, because doing a whole series of murders in one small town can drift into the unbelievable.. Having her on the move in a motor home, while escaping the bad guys, looked like the solution. She’s always in new surroundings and meeting new people, as she does in the latest one Stranded, where she finds herself stuck in the small town of Hello, Colorado. I like bringing in new people – Nutty Norman in this book was fun. As was writing the older ladies dancing up a storm in their 1920’s Revue. And thong panties. Yes, Grandmas do wear thong panties!

Can you share about your future projects? Another Ivy Malone book perhaps?

There won’t, much to my disappointment, be more Ivy books. But I’m now doing a new mystery series for a different publisher. These are the Andi McConnell Mysteries, about an older woman who is surprised to find herself in possession of a limousine – with a dead body in the trunk soon to follow. The title of the first book is Your Chariot Awaits, and it’s scheduled for release in September 2007. Like the Ivy Malone books, these are lighthearted, fun books, Christian but not preachy.

What is the greatest advice you ever received as a writer?

That persistence is more important than talent. Unfortunately, I don’t know where it came from, but it’s carried me through a good many years of writing.

Any parting words to mystery lovers and writers?

One of the greatest joys of writing is hearing from readers. E-mails and letters have encouraged me so much. (And, on occasion, pointed out a mistake or two!) So I hope you’ll visit my website at www.lorenamccourtney.com. There’s an e-mail address on there where you can contact me, and I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for joining me.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Lawyer's View of Crime Fiction

Trial attorney John Youney is an avid reader, and he was recently kind enough to spend a few minutes talking to me about mystery and suspense books. Books that involve crime. And courtrooms.

To start things off, I asked Youney who his favorite authors were. Tops on his list (at least right now) are Len Deighton and Patricia Cornwell. “Len Deighton probably writes the best technical mystery,” Youney said.

Next I hit him with a question I’ve often wondered about. “Do you see a lot of technical and legal mistakes in novels written by people who are not attorneys?”

He laughed. “Even the ones who ARE attorneys make mistakes. Most of the time they aren’t practicing anymore.” Lawyers who’ve been out of the flow of things for a while tend to forget or not keep up with legal changes.

Since he likes to read mystery and suspense books, he cuts the authors some slack.

“In my 26 years of practice, I’ve never had a Perry Mason moment. That’s the moment where someone stands at the back of the courtroom and says, ‘She’s innocent! I did it!’ ”

In real life, a trial should have no surprises. Youney noted that all those secrets should come out before the trial. That’s what witness depositions are for. Much of the drama takes place there, where the public doesn’t see it. “If a witness lies in the deposition, that’s where we catch it,” he said. “And if he lies there, you don’t want him on the stand in the courtroom.”

The biggest errors in novels, he said, aren’t in the courtroom. They involve procedural stuff, especially pre-trial preparation. Most novelists compress time between the crime and the trial to an unrealistic extent. It’s not uncommon for nine months or more to pass before a murder goes to trial.

Writers also skip over a lot of pre-trial procedure. Youney said that to be realistic, authors should include at least a segue paragraph telling that the attorneys deposed witnesses, filed motions, and so on. (I’ve found Craig Parshall does a decent job of this in his Will Chambers series.) But Youney says the time an attorney spends getting ready for a trial is rarely depicted accurately on television, in movies, or even in most books.

A lawyer might spend 2,000 hours preparing for a murder trial. Youney said, “I tell my friends not to go out and murder someone, because they can’t afford it.” Do the math. If your attorney charges in the $150 to $300 per hour range, that’s a big chunk of change.

Rules today require mediation in many civil cases before they ever go to court. Some cases, such as medical malpractice suits, also require a peer review panel. Writers often skip these steps as well and lead the reader to believe the case goes directly to the courtroom.

“Mediation takes time,” Youney said. “Sometimes it takes years and years to resolve a case.”
But all of that doesn’t mean a book depicting legal procedure has to be boring. Occasionally clients do lie to their attorneys. In Youney’s very first civil trial, his witness did a U-turn on the stand and admitted he’d lied to the lawyer beforehand. Under oath, he came clean, and the two parties reached a settlement.

That’s what makes riveting novels—the exception to the norm. Clients who lie to their attorneys, or who do something they know they shouldn’t during the pre-trial phase make for good reading. Youney says there are plenty of foolish people out there.

“If a client calls you and asks, ‘What would happen if I did this?’ I say, ‘Did you do it today or yesterday?’ Because they usually don’t ask about the consequences until after they’ve done it. There are enough clients out there doing stuff they shouldn’t to make life more interesting.”

According to John Youney, attorneys live deadly boring lives, compared to what their clients do. I’m not sure I believe him!

Have a great writng day!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Interview with Betsy St. Amant

Today we’re pleased to welcome Betsy St. Amant. When you’ve finished reading her interview, enter our contest to win a copy of her book. And check out her website: http://www.betsystamant.com/

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

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be an author. It was always just a part of who I was - it was in my blood! As I grew up, I realized it was more than just a dream or a hobby. It was a calling. I never feel more alive than when I am writing! I've been married to my sweetheart for 2 1/2 years. Brandon is my number one fan and encourager. He's the one that planned my celebration party the night I got the contract from my publisher. He's my best cheerleader and supporter! No kids yet, but we have a black lab, Samson, that is all the baby we need for now! My hobbies include reading, of course, as well as kickboxing, singing, and shopping...I have this thing about purses and shoes. As for my latest release, Midnight Angel, a romantic suspense, was first an e-book through the Wild Rose Press and, as of January 26th, is available to buy in paperback through Amazon.com!

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

Not extensively.

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?

Oh, definitely, I grow every time I sit down at my keyboard! Sometimes the process is joyful, other times it is very painful as my faults are presented to me in bold Technicolor. Often times the doubts and fears we give our characters stem unknowingly from our own souls. I've found this to be particularly true in my current WIP, where the heroine struggles with understanding the fullness of God's forgiveness.

Can you briefly tell us about your writing process? From the germ of an idea to the completed novel? And how long it takes you?

My writing process differs with each book. Midnight Angel is my only published novel to date, but I've written two other full length novels since. Midnight Angel took the longest to write, though it's the shortest of my books, because of circumstances at the time - a stressful full-time job, being a newlywed, etc. My most recent WIP I completed just two weeks ago, and though I'm still editing, the story only took me about 3 1/2 months to write. I've now gotten settled into a good routine and though I still work full-time, my current job allows me the free time I need to write during the day. So, as I said, it varies with each book. But, I always start my book ideas with a situation. Some authors get story ideas after first inventing the characters, but I always create my hero and heroine after knowing the plot and conflict first.

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'd love to be a nine-to-five writer!! But, as I said, I have a full time job in an office. However, it allows me free time during the day to write as my work schedule permits. Some days are busier than others, but I try to write a few pages on my current WIP each day. With my old job, I had no free time during the day at all and was held to a very strict work schedule. That made writing very hard, because I would come home exhausted and not have one creative bone in my body! But, we make time for the things that matter to us. Some days we just have to try a little harder than others. =)

Do you have any particular writers' resources you use regularly? Any that apply to suspense in particular?

My thesaurus is my best friend. haha And I always keep a "google" internet screen handy to research an idea quickly as I write. There are a ton of good writer's books out there, though, including "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Browne & King. And, this might sound silly, but I found "Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life" to be very fun and refreshing! I collect all things Peanuts, and to see Snoopy pecking away on his typewriter and waiting at the mailbox for rejections just made me feel better! =) The book also has great insight by various well-known authors, including Danielle Steel and Sol Stein.

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

I'm currently searching for an agent, and trusting God's will and timing with that. And soon I will be submitting my current romance WIP to various places. Then, it's off to my write my next book! I try to always keep something going so there is never that lull in between. Writing means waiting, and its best to be productive in those times when you're hovering over your mailbox or biting your nails each time you check your email. =)

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

Oh wow, I've learned so much. If I had to pick one thing, it's that I've learned God truly is in control. All authors seeking publication must learn patience, and that journey is long and painful! But God is right there the whole time, closing and opening various doors along the way. I've realized that ANYthing outside of His plan for me just isn't worth it. I'd rather never have an agent than have an agent that God didn't pick for me. I'd rather never be published again than be published outside of God's will. His way is the only way that matters, and His opinion is the only one that truly counts. Without Him, my words are in vain.

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

NEVER GIVE UP! Write, and submit, and write, and submit. Keep the cycle going. Learn to decipher the good criticism from the petty, the productive advice from the ridiculous. Don't let rejections slow you down. Put the letter in a drawer, eat some chocolate, and get back to that keyboard! Also, joining groups like the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) will help you grow literally ten times faster than you would on your own.

How do you see the future of suspense and mystery in the inspirational market?

I think suspense and mystery novels are really catching on and making a name for themselves in the inspirational market. Christian readers want a good, clean romance story, but they also want to be entertained. They want their spines to tingle and their feet to tap just like any other reader of secular suspense. Romantic suspense and even plain suspense novels give those readers the broader range they seek.

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

I wish that publishing houses would be a little bit more open to edgier topics, such as spiritual warfare. Christians readers want to read about those types of subjects, and though I understand the publisher's hesitation, I think it is time to progress in this area. So, like with everything in the world of writing, we wait. =)

What suspense/mystery authors do you read for pleasure? (Inspirational and secular)

In inspirational suspense, I absolutely cannot get enough of Susan May Warren, Colleen Coble, Dee Henderson, Brandilyn Collins, Eric Wilson, Melanie Wells, Kathy Herman, Kristen Heitzmann, etc. The list goes on and on! In secular suspense, I enjoy Grisham, of course, and Nicholas Sparks has written several novels with a strong suspense element, such as The Guardian and True Believer.

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

Believe in yourself, because God believes in you! Published or not, represented by an agent or not, God has a plan for the stories He puts on your heart. Be faithful to writing to honor Him alone, and don't focus on the idea of publication. Publication is a good goal to have, but pleasing our Heavenly Father and taking His path for our lives is an even better one.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Unpuzzling the Past

Hi, I’m Susan Page Davis. It’s a pleasure to be here as one of your hosts! I hope to get to know our readers and bring you some topics that will help you as you create your own suspense stories.

One question I’m often asked is why, after seven historical novels, I started writing suspense. I hope the story of my path to suspense will help other writers who are breaking into this genre. There are three main answers to that question.

1. I’ve always loved mysteries and suspense, and I read a lot in those genres. When I was a child, I wrote mystery stories. They’re pretty silly, but back then they were serious stuff to me. The first complete book I wrote as an adult was a romantic suspense novel. That one’s still in the drawer, but it’s the story that drove me to start writing fiction seriously.

2. I began selling historical novels, and I loved writing them, but I found that mystery/suspense elements were creeping into my historical books. In fact, The Prisoner’s Wife, which was named 2006 Favorite Historical Book of the Year among Heartsong Presents readers, is a 1720 murder mystery. Jack, the hero, is imprisoned for a murder he did not commit. Lucy, the heroine, agrees to marry him in the jail, believing he will be hung the next day. Eventually Jack is released, and he and Lucy spend a lot of effort puzzling out who really committed the murder. Readers loved the book.

3. Remember that first, unpublished romantic suspense? Confession time. I have a file drawer full of unpublished manuscripts, and several of them are mysteries and suspense novels. When I finally sold my first historical, I got an agent and sold more books. I became a better writer. I sold a mystery story to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. That was followed by a contract for a cozy mystery with my daughter Megan at Heartsong Presents: Mysteries (our first title together will appear in February 2008). Meanwhile, I had written a romantic suspense novel, Frasier Island. Harvest House nearly bought it in 2004. Nearly. I was crushed when I got that rejection and relegated the manuscript to the “maybe-take-out-and-revise-later” file. I wrote more historicals. Finally, in the spring of 2006, just about the time I was doing galleys for The Prisoner’s Wife, Harvest House asked to see Frasier Island again. Oh, joy! Editor Kim Moore had remembered my book for two years. That can’t be bad. She took it back to the publisher’s fiction committee, and this time a two-book suspense contract came my way.

So now I’m concentrating on suspense. I just finished writing the sequel to Frasier Island. My agent, Chip MacGregor, is helping me with the creation of several more mystery and suspense books. And I’m loving it! Come see my Website at http://www.susanpagedavis.com/

Later this week I'll bring you an interview with trial lawyer John Youney, and he'll give us the scoop on what authors do wrong in supsense books.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Ticking Time-Bomb

Many of the fiction manuscripts I see lack suspense. Characters are just kind of puttering along doing nothing much. I find myself bored before I reach page 5. And if I'm not engaged by page 5, why should I read through to page 305?

Brothers (and sisters), these things must not be!

One of the best ways to turn your novel into a page-turner is to introduce an impending OR-ELSE element that ratchets up the suspense with every passing moment.

I call this the ticking time-bomb.

The classic illustration of this is what we saw in the movie Armageddon. An asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. If the good guys can't figure out how to stop it, we're all doomed. Every second the asteroid is out there, hurtling toward earth, it increases the tension.

Speed is another good example: if the bus stops they all die, but the bus can't run forever. Or consider Dante's Peak: the volcano is about to erupt--it could go off any second!

Granted, these examples are pretty severe. You don't have to go to these extremes. However, you see how it works: establish a terrible thing that is going to happen, that every second brings us nearer to, and all your suspense problems vanish in an apocolyptic cloud.

What could it be in your story? Are the British coming? Is D-Day only hours away? Is the food going to run out? Or maybe it's something more mundane: the girlfriend is about to leave for the summer, the baby is about to be born, or the game clock is about to run out.

I'm talking not just about suspense here, but about stakes. What are the stakes in your novel? What is the OR-ELSE eventuality your characters want to avoid?

Try to get your ticking time-bomb established very early. Many novels do it with a prologue. Your protagonist may not know yet that the aliens are about to attack the Earth, but your reader knows. And knowing something the characters don't--especially something awful that may happen--is a great way to increase suspense in your fiction.

Every novel could use a ticking time-bomb. It's a natural way to up the ante for your reader. Examine your work-in-progress. Do you have one? Is it strong enough? What might you do to heighten the maddening sound of that timer ticking down?

Jeff Gerke