Enter your Email

Powered by FeedBlitz

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An Interview with Tyndale Editor, Jan Stob

How long have you been an editor with Tyndale?

7 ½ years. Time flies!

How much and what kind of suspense and mystery does Tyndale publish?

We will probably publish approximately 10 suspense titles this year. We currently have political suspense, legal suspense, military suspense, international and romantic suspense. I'd like to acquire more in the suspense category.

What makes a suspense or mystery proposal (as well as any other kind of proposal) jump out of the slush pile for you?

A unique hook, a compelling opening, and great writing will get my attention. I've looked at many proposals that are well-written but they lacked originality. On the other hand, I've come across some fresh ideas but the execution wasn't there.

What elements would do you recommend a writer include or avoid in a suspense or mystery manuscript for Tyndale?

I would encourage them to continue to raise the stakes. Look at your protagonist's conflict and up the stakes. Make the reader care about your characters. Avoid anything that slows the pacing of the story. You want your reader to keep turning pages.

When you first look at a proposal you’ve received, what one or two things do you notice that make an immediate positive or negative impression?

I want to see a proposal that is the author's best effort. I don't want to see a first draft or a rough concept. Show me your best work.

What are some of the things that have annoyed you the most about proposals you’ve received?

An unoriginal concept.

What do you read first, the synopsis or the chapters?

Always the chapters! I have to be drawn into the story and begin to care about the characters before I can read a synopsis.

What would your ideal new Tyndale author be like? Is there a certain amount of previous experience Tyndale prefers in their new authors? How about previous sales numbers? Are those important?

My ideal author? I would say that an ideal author would have a passion for words, the desire to grow in their craft, and a strong faith in Christ. And...of course a great sense of humor and realistic expectations would be helpful.

We are currently publishing authors who have a publishing history as well as several first-time authors. Unless, the author is already a best-selling author with a solid fan base, the hook and the writing ability are more important to me than their previous experience.

If an author has a publishing history, I will want to see sales numbers on previously published titles. They are important because retailers will often purchase based on an author's previous numbers. However, we will also consider whether those numbers are impacted by a price point...marketing push...timing...etc. Any information the author can give on the front end, saves us from having to chase down these details.

How do you see the future of the suspense and mystery genre in the CBA?

I think we're going to continue to see it grow. Readers love stories that keep them on the edge of their seat and looking for the next clue. I hope we see some new sub-genres emerging with fresh, new ideas.

The ACFW conference is coming up, and some of our readers will be making appointments with you. What can a writer do to make that appointment a positive experience for both of you?

Relax. Be yourself. And bring chocolate. Look for sound-bites to explain what you're writing.

What is your biggest turn-off during a conference appointment?

Turn-offs? I don't know! If I have to choose something it would be having someone try to squeeze 20 minutes of information into a 10 minute meeting. After taking back-to-back appointments, I can guarantee that my brain will not be able to keep up and my eyes will glaze over. You may have the most fascinating proposal ever written but it will be lost on me. Sadly, this says more about me than it does about you. I strongly recommend that you work on trying to explain your story as succinctly as possible. See if you can explain your story in 30 seconds. Give me time to ask questions. If I want to know more about the story, I'll ask.

One last thing, take the opportunity to get to know the authors and agents. I've made some great friends at conferences. Last year I met a conferee at ACFW who I met again at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. We hung out together and have kept in touch. I am still trying to forgive her for risking my life and dragging me up the side of a mountain in shoes that weren't meant for climbing. And okay, it was more of a hill than a mountain...but the point is, go to the conference, learn, pray, and make friends!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Staying informed

We’ve recently published posts on proposals, developing characters, and ensuring a riveting plot to help you as you write your suspense novels. Another essential aspect of being a writer is staying informed of market changes, publishers needs, agents wishes, and trends.

Here are a few sites I visit regularly to keep up so I know what’s going on in the publishing world. Many of these you can sign up to have posts delivered directly to your mail box so you don't miss anything. I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg, so if you have any favorites of your own you’d like to share, leave a comment and let us know!

Inside the world of publishers, editors, and agents:

The Edit Café-Barbour Publishing
Chip MacGregor-agent
Michael S. Hyatt-President and CEO Thomas Nelson
W. Terry Whalin-agent

Sites that occasionally post Editor/Agent interviews and market updates:

Forinsics and Faith
Novel Journey
American Christian Fiction Writers
Afictionado-ACFW ezine with market updates
Lyn Cote market updates



Monday, July 16, 2007

Interview with Margaret Daley!

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce to you Margaret Daley who writes for Love Inspired Suspense. Vanished was recently released in May. Welcome, Margaret! Can you tell us your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

MARGARET: I can remember that I was stunned and excited but the details are fuzzy because it was twenty-six years ago. Silhouette only had the book three weeks when they bought it. I certainly wasn’t expecting that fast a turnaround.

LISA: Wow, I bet that was quite exciting. Tell us some of the background behind the idea Vanished and about the story itself.

MARGARET: Vanished is about a parent’s worst nightmare—the kidnapping of your child. I wanted to explore what a law officer would experience being both the professional and parent in the situation. It was a very emotional book for me. The reader doesn’t know who the kidnapper is until the end when J.T. figures it out. J.T. is the sheriff of a small town near Chicago. He is featured also in my Love Inspired Suspense, So Dark the Night (March 2007).

LISA: That is a frightening scenario. 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?

MARGARET: I think when I write my characters there is a little of me in every one of them. I love getting so immersed into my characters that they take over and guide what I write. That doesn’t always happen, but when it does, the words just flow from my brain to the paper almost effortlessly.

In J.T. Logan’s faith journey in Vanished, he has to wrestle with why the Lord would test him like He does. He has to draw deeply on his faith to hold himself together in order to find his daughter and the kidnapper as well as hold his family together during the ordeal. I often explore the question why do bad things happen to a good person because I think it is a question a lot of people ask.

Another theme in my stories is forgiveness. I am in awe of the Lord’s forgiveness and struggle to mirror it where I can.

LISA: Very true observations, Margaret. Tell me the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

MARGARET: I’ve learned not to give up. I sold almost twenty books, then went through an eight-year dry spell before selling again. If I had walked away (which I was tempted to several times) I would never have discovered the inspirational market and been blessed to sell more stories.

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?

MARGARET: I would like to continue to write romantic suspense as well as contemporary romances. I like to alternate between them to keep my writing fresh. It would be nice to have one of my books made into a movie.

LISA: Because I know there are many aspiring writers out there, can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published?

MARGARET: As I said before, never give up. Also networking is very important in this business. Talent is valuable but so is timing and perseverance.

LISA: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

MARGARET: Debra Dixon’s Goals, Motivation and Conflict as well as the Writer Digest books concerning suspense (example Howdunit, Murder One)

LISA: In looking at the writing process, what method do you use for your mysteries?

MARGARET: I get to know my characters first and foremost. I map out the framework of my suspense/mystery elements then start writing. A couple of times I didn’t know who I wanted to be the villain until the end. That forced me to set several people up as if they were. I actually like this because I don’t subconsciously lean toward one character as the villain while I’m writing.

LISA: What is your system to keep the story/clues organized?

MARGARET: I have a chart I have used which maps the major elements of the story. I also keep lots of notes.

LISA: Tell us a bit about the research you had to do for this story?

MARGARET: I had to research how the FBI handled kidnappings. I had to research about Search and Rescue dogs. Then of course there would be little things that would pop up as I’m writing the story. Sometimes those items would be a few words in my story, but I still had to research what was correct.

LISA: Margaret, thank you so much for dropping by our Keep Me In Suspense site. For more information on Margaret’s books, be sure and stop by her website. Margaret is also giving away a free copy of Vanished on our contest page, so be sure and sign up for that as well. The drawing will be held on August 6th.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Six Elements of a Thriller

I recently read a book that was labeled as a thriller, but it was anything except a thriller. In fact, I’m not sure I would even call it suspense. Slow reading and back story are words that come to mind for this particular novel. If you suspect it’s yours, don’t worry, I’m not going to give the name.

When I read a thriller, I want to be thrilled, meaning I want a fast-paced action and adventure story. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for cheap thrills. No, I want a thriller that includes a deep message and if we’re talking a Christian thriller, then it had better include a strong spiritual journey as well.

Is that asking too much?

If you’re writing a thriller and secretly think that I was referring to your novel above, then let’s take a look at defining a thriller. Keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules, but general guidelines. There will always be exceptions.

1) Does your story start with a bang? The best way to hook someone who’s seeking a thrill is to start with an action scene. A quick example can be seen in the James Bond movies. Bond movies always starts in the middle of some life or death situation that he’s required to bomb, shoot, or ski his way through to safety. The action hook may or may not be related to the story as a whole. But it sets the tone for what the reader can expect throughout. Hopefully.

2) Is your hero a larger than life character? Your hero should be someone who’s capable of achieving the grand task you’ve set before him. I love to see women in these roles. Girl Power! Lara Croft Tomb Raider is one of my favorite movies. Why am I using movies for examples instead of novels? I should rephrase that I’d love to see novels with women in these roles. Hmm. Maybe I’ll write one. Lady Croft is larger-than-life and capable of achieving her action-packed goal.

3) Is your villain evil and powerful enough to exact trouble on a grand scale? Popular thriller writer Dan Brown’s villain in Digital Fortress is only a programmer—a cryptographer—but he’s smart enough to hold the National Security Agency hostage with his unbreakable code. To crush the NSA would have disastrous effects on the security of our country, and the world.

4) Is your setting exotic? Thrillers take us away from the mundane, everyday geography of our lives. We want to see foreign countries, romantic cities, the deep ocean, outer space, or icy regions. A story set for the most part in Small Town U.S.A. would have a hard time thrilling. Again, Dan Brown begins Deception Point with a geologist sledding in the Arctic. Men in a helicopter appear and, after forcing him to communicate a mysterious message, push him and his dogs out to their icy deaths. An unusual setting and a “bang” that propels us into the story.

5) Are the stakes high enough? This ties back to number three—the stakes have to be on a grand scale—assassination, terrorism, biological warfare—something that will affect the masses, have a far-reaching effect.

6) Is your hero’s goal to thwart the plans of the villain? In a thriller, your character is not solving a crime that’s already been committed. Your hero’s ultimate goal is to prevent a powerful villain from achieving his plans of great destruction.

If you answered no to these questions then you need to consider that you may not be writing a thriller. You’re writing something quite different. A suspense or mystery perhaps. But if it’s the thriller that you want to write then rethink all of the above basic elements for your story. Chances are that you’ll have to write a completely different novel, considering the above six elements are enough to set thrillers apart from the crowd. But you can do it.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

Interview with Brandt Dodson

Today we welcome author Brandt Dodson. He’ll talk about his Colton Parker series, his new book The Lost Sheep, and other writing projects.

1. What was your initial reaction to finding out you sold your first book?

I was attending the Write To Publish Conference at Wheaton college and was walking across the campus at nine o’clock in the evening when my wife phoned. She said that I had an email from Harvest House and asked if I wanted to know what it said. Without hesitation I said ‘yes’. It had been a year (almost to the day) since my editor had asked for the manuscript and I wanted to know. I wanted the pressure off. Well, she read the message which said that HH was offering a 3 book contract. Now as I said, it was nine p.m. and there was no one to tell. So I got in my car and drove around Wheaton for an hour or so, and finally ended up at a McDonald’s where I bought a Happy Meal and ate in my car. I still have the toy.

2. Tell us some of the background behind the idea for your stories (Colton Parker series) and about the story of The Lost Sheep.

I am a big fan of crime fiction and large-scale thrillers. In the former, I am particularly fond of Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammett, Mickey Spillane, Ross MacDonald and Robert B. Parker. When I add this to my extensive family history in law enforcement, the PI novel seemed like a logical choice for me.

When I created Colton, I knew I would need a name that would convey someone who is dangerous yet sympathetic. I also wanted the name to roll off the tongue. In the seventies and early eighties, there were a couple of TV shows which featured characters like this, and which used the names of guns to convey their dangerous side. Thomas Magnum and Tony Beretta are the two characters. So, I opted for “Colt” and “Parker” because it rolled off the tongue and because Robert Parker had recently been name a “Grand Master” by the Mystery Writer’s of America.

The plot for Original Sin came about as the result of a story I saw on the WGN Chicago news. An elderly woman who had no apparent enemies had been brutally murdered and no one could come up with a reason why anyone would do such a thing. But being a writer, I began to ask, “but what if she wasn’t so innocent. What if she was involved in some very dark stuff”? So Original Sin was born and the other novels have flowed off of that first one.

3. Do you relate to your main character, Colton Parker, and does he influence your life?

Only in some minor ways. I can understand his frustrations over the struggle he has with God, because I came to Christ late in life, too. But beyond that, no. He doesn’t influence me. At least, not as much as I influence him.

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

That God is firmly in control. There is no way that I could have scripted such an unlikely plot as the story of my writing life. I had been writing for over twelve years to no avail. Then, after writing an article on God’s faithfulness, I paused at the mailbox and asked God to either let the “right” editor find this manuscript, or relieve me of the burden of the desire to write. I had it. I couldn’t go on. Well, to make a long story short, the manuscript was accepted for publication in six days.

When I went to the Write To Publish conference, I went to meet with a specific editor with a publisher that I thought would be more open to my book than Harvest House. However, I signed up to meet with an editor at HH “just in case” I was wrong. The editor from the first house didn’t show and the editor from Harvest House had to cancel but was replaced by Nick Harrison. Nick liked the book and the contract came out of that.

So God has opened doors – and closed a few – and I’ve reached the point that I now write without fear or anxiety. He put me here, and He’ll see me through to the purpose for which he has called me. Knowing that God has me in the palm of His hand is very liberating.

5. You’re starting a new series to appear in 2008. Tell us a little bit about that.

Harvest House will be releasing “White Soul” my first, non-Colton Parker novel, in March of 2008. It is about an undercover DEA agent who infiltrates the Cuban “mafia.” The idea came about as the result of a news article that told the story of The Corporation, a Cuban-run crime syndicate in Miami, that was running amuck, much like Al Capone had done in Chicago almost eighty years before. The power of this group extended along the entire eastern seaboard of the United States. The “don,” (which is a term that applies to Italian bosses, not Cuban bosses) was Jose Battles. His son was second in command and both were convicted on racketeering charges earlier this year.

This novel is a stand-alone, as written, but is also designed to be the first in a series to be written about Cops and the job they do.

Joseph Wambaugh once said that he doesn’t write about “Cops on the job” as much as he writes about “how the job works on cops.” I liked that and wanted to do it from a Christian perspective.

6. Do you have any specific dreams that you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing?

Quite a few. I’d like to do this full-time. I think most writers would like to do that. But I also want to write a novel that will last. One that addresses the human needs that we all feel and that could be read across time and be just as relevant then as it would be now.

I’d like to write a novel that ends in a way that resonates with most of its readers long after the book is finished. I’d like to write a novel that points the lost to Christ and the saved to a deeper commitment.

So, as I said, I have a lot of dreams for my writing. They are what make this exciting. You can never get good enough or hit every target. There is always something to aim toward.

7. Can you share any tips for aspiring writers – wisdom on getting published, especially for someone who is just breaking in?

My best advice to anyone (and which worked for me) is to first read everything you can get your hands on in the specific genre in which you want to write. And read widely.

Second, write all the time. Then submit. Get it critiqued, but take the critique with a grain of salt. If you hear the same criticism over and over, though, listen.

Third, attend a good conference, especially one that is geared for beginning writers. The Write To Publish Conference in Wheaton is an excellent one. You can meet editors, agents, and others just like yourself.

Fourth, and this is perhaps the hardest, develop a thick skin. See this as a business and learn to roll with the punches. The editor/agent who rejects you today, may be your biggest advocate tomorrow.

Fifth, is to network. Reach out to others in your position and work together. I was part of a group that formed at the WTP conference and we still email each other. Of the four of us, two are now published and one is getting very close.

8. Any writer’s resources you’d like to recommend?

Absolutely. In books, I’d recommend: “How To Write Best Selling Fiction” by Dean Koontz (out of print but widely available), “On Writing” by Stephen King, “Writing the Modern Mystery” by Barbara Norville, “Between The Lines” by Jessica Morrell, “How To Write Killer Fiction” by Carolyn Wheat, “You Can Write a Mystery” by Gillian Roberts, and virtually any of the books by Writer’s Digest. I’d also add any book by Donald Maas as well as “Simple and Direct” by Jacques Barzun.

In terms of conferences, the Write To Publish conference is great, but so is the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference (this year it is in September and is being held in Dallas. I have the privilege of teaching).

I’d also recommend subscribing to “Writer’s Digest”. This is the premiere writing magazine, although there are many others that are also good.

9. What process do you use when writing a mystery/suspense novel.

The first thing I do is to be sure that the story is interesting to me. In fact, I need to be excited about it. If I’m not, then my readers won’t be either.

Then I begin with a theme. (Yes, that’s right, A theme.) It helps me to tie all the story elements together. Then I develop the “hook”. The thing that will pull you in. (Remember now, I already have my characters set. If you haven’t done this, go back and do this first)

From the hook, I wing it. I’ve never been an outliner. I’ve tried. God knows that I’ve tried. But I think pulling my toenails off with a pair of rusty pliers would be more fun. No, I prefer to wing it. Just let it go. But … and this is a big but, I also have to do a lot of re-writing. It’s in the re-writing that my true story takes shape. (Tony Hillerman is a wing-it man too, and has said in his autobiography that he has had to learn to live with multiple re-writes.)

I try to make sure that I end each chapter with a hook, and that each chapter has it’s own, inherent conflict and resolution. I also try to let the reader off the hook with my last sentence, just as my first sentence got them on the hook.

I will use magazine photos to guide me in trying to “picture” my characters, and I’m not above suggesting a celebrity in my story to guide the reader in doing the same. But I keep my descriptions to a minimum. After all, if I write about a three-bedroom ranch-style home, that’s all I need to say. Your mind will fill in the details and make the story more “alive” for you , than if I describe every tree and flower n the yard.

10. Tell us about your background?

I grew up in a family of police officers, on both sides of my family, so law enforcement was our family business. My father, uncles, and cousins were all cops, going back as far as the early 1930’s. After High School, I went to work, clerking for the FBI. My intention was to from graduate college and apply for a position as a Special Agent. But somewhere along the line my career goals changed and I became a Podiatrist.

11. What is your system to keep the story and clues organized?

System? What a novel idea. I don’t have a system, so I make up for it with a lot of blood and tooth enamel. (I don’t recommend it). The best way, and one that I’ve only read about, is to decide early on who the bad guy is (or bad woman is) and work backward from their. Several mystery writers I know, keep track of the clues on 3X5 cards, along with their red herrings. That’s probably the best way.

However, you can also walk on the wild side and do it the Dodson way. I tend to be a fast writer. I can often write ten thousand words as a single setting, after dinner, and after a ten hour day in the office. Now some of that writing has to be deleted, but a lot of it is useable. The point I’m trying to make is to write every night. That keeps the story fresh in your mind. As far as the clues go, I wait until the end of the book, when I find out for myself who did it, and then go back and plant the clues needed. But to be fair, as I go along I begin to develop ideas for the guilty party and start planting clues and foreshadows so that I can make my job easier, later. Be sure to learn how to hide clues. This is an art in itself and is one of the things that made Agatha Christie great.

12. Well us about the research you had to do for this story?

Wow, now there’s a whole can of clams. “The Lost Sheep” is set in Las Vegas because I knew where I was going with this novel from the outset of the series. I knew that I would need a place of “sin”, so why not “Sin City”?

I had never been to LV so I visited for three days in February of 2006 with a friend of mine who once lived there. I told him that I needed to see a casino or two, but that most of my stories tend to occur in dark alleys, bars, and under every dirty bridge the town had to offer.

As we slinked around Vegas, we managed to get tossed out of a casino and a hotel because we were “loitering”. In one incident, I drove to the back of the LVPD’s Central Division Headquarters to see how many squad cars they had so that I could get an estimate of their manpower numbers.

I climbed up a ten foot high, chain link fence and was counting the cars when an officer pulled up and wanted to know what I’m doing. I told him that he would never believe me, but he said ‘try me’.

So I climbed down and told him everything. He was very gracious and proceeded to answer every question I had. Unfortunately, I forgot to get his name and hence he remains unknown to my readers.

13. Any closing thoughts?

If you want to write, don’t let anyone tell you ‘no’. If you feel the desire gnawing away at you, you need to know that it won’t go away until you sit down and get it done. Do it. Learn it. And submit it. Write as though it were impossible for you to fail. And then, learn the business. Read, ask questions, and network. Above all, never quit.

Thanks so much, Brandt! Readers, you can visit Brandt’s website at: http://www.brandtdodson.com/ . Don’t forget to visit out contest page to enter a drawing for a copy of The Lost Sheep.