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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Productive Writer: Take That Flying Leap

“I want to write a book.”

“I want to finish writing a book.”

“I wrote a book and I want to get it published.”

“I want to be a better writer.”

The more I write and the more I read, the more I learn that the writers who have careers are the ones who take that flying leap. I’ve read about authors who turn out book after book. What’s the difference between a wannabe and someone who’s productive?

Productive writers show up—consistently.

I can testify and wave my hand that life tries to get in the way—and often succeeds. But I believe the more we treat our writing as a business, the more we will see results. Be your own employer. Are you punching that time clock? My day job requires that I work on the clock a minimum of 40 hours per week. For the past few months, it’s been more than that. Since I work in medical transcription, I’m not salaried but paid on production. The more notes I type, the more I get paid.

The more a writer writes, the more they’ll get paid—maybe not in a contract, but in experience. They earn the feeling of writing a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. Did you know the percentage of people who write a book is far, far smaller than those who actually finish a book they start?

Productive writers don’t make excuses—often.

I can say this because I’ve sometimes been the Queen of Excuses. I’m too tired. My family needs me. A certain TV show is on. My favorite football team is playing. The ladies at church are stuffing candy bags for the harvest party. I’m doing ‘research.’ Fill in the blank. Yes, there are reasons we can’t write sometimes. Children don’t stay little forever. Sometimes we do need some downtime for a TV show or a game. Sometimes we reclusive writers must venture out and serve in-person. But every time you think of writing, does something else fill the time?

Check out Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing blog. I’ve been evaluating how I spend my time and how I can become a more productive writer. A romantic suspense proposal desperately needs my attention so I can submit it.

Next time…Productive writers don’t listen to fear…for long…

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Q&A with James Scott Bell

As promised, here are the answers to your questions for Author James Scott Bell.

Vicki asked: I'm reading "Try Dying," and enjoying it very much. I've noticed several instances where Tyler, main character-lawyer-turned private eye, sometimes speaks in "gut-rot' cliches, like, "belly up the bar," and others. Yet, many times I've stopped to reread sentences that are
beautifully original--so, I'm thinking the cliche-speak is for characterization. I guess to be blunt, how do you get away with the cliche's? (by the way, they are entertaining.)

JSB: They're only cliches if you don't know you're doing it. And yes, whatever the character says is purposeful. In fact, you've got to avoid cliches like the plague.

Dayle asked: My manuscript is set in South Louisiana. The characters are native to the region and sometimes use Cajun terms. The narrative also contains words unique to the area.

The editor for the House considering my work says I need to explain these terms to the reader.

The problem is: my characters would have no reason to think about the explanations. How do I do this without violating character p.o.v.? Is this an acceptable violation? What about explaining pronunciations?

JSB: This is always a challenge, but here are a couple of suggestions.

First, your goal is not to recreate real life speech. It is to suggestit, enough to have the readers accept it, but it must serve your story.

Second, there's usually a way to get the meaning clear through action or a response. For instance, the character tells someone, in Cajun, to shoot the accordian player. The next thing we see is the guy shoot the accordian player. It's evident.

Or the character on the receiving end can puzzle it out. "He knew the Cajun meant something that had to do with shooting, and with an accordian player. But could he really mean shoot him?"

And so on. I wouldn't stop the story to explain terms. I'd find ways to make it clear naturally, or cut it.

Cathy asked: Thanks for a great interview! It is like an addendum to your wonderful Plot & Structure text. :-) (Keeping my autographed copy close!)

I do have a question for you. Do you have any tricks or tried & true methods for upping the suspense in a chapter that might not be suspenseful enough? To add that suspenseful flavor? Send those prickles up the neck or make the reader worry about what's to come?

I'd love to hear how you handle that problem. :-) Thanks so much.

JSB: Suspense means NOT RESOLVING things. So first, is there information in the chapter you can withhold? Can you have the characters doing things that are strange because they have secrets not yet revealed?

Can you up the stakes for any of the characters in the scene? Can you give them a hotter interest in the goings on?

Look inside. Can you up the inner conflicts in any of the characters?

If all else fails, follow the old Raymon Chandler trick. Just bring in a guy with a gun.

Dineen asked: I have a question. Jim, what do you consider to be key elements to creating a three dimensional villain?

JSB: Great question! Because this is something many beginning writers don't do.

First, justify his behavior in his OWN MIND. IOW, bad guys don't think they're bad. They think they have a reason.

Second, find at least one sympathy factor from his past that explains why he does what he does. Not that it excuses him, but it explains him.

Third, give him inner conflict. He's in a battle of some sort, even though he chooses the wrong path.

Finally, you can consider making him/her charming in some way. So many of the great Hitchcock villains were like that.

Thank you for joining us. And thanks for the great answers!


Monday, October 22, 2007

Interview with Lena Nelson Dooley

Today, I'd like to welcome Lena Nelson Dooley to the KMIS site. Lena is an award-winning author, speaker, and mentor. Here's what Lena had to say.

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

LENA: Actually, when I sold my first book back in 1992, I made the call, not the editor. I had submitted the full manuscript as requested. I waited about 4 months, then wrote a letter asking about the status. Back then we didn’t use the Internet.

I’m not even sure if it was available to civilians at that time. After not hearing for 2 months, I wrote another letter. After another couple of months, I called the publisher. I had talked to him before about the manuscript. There’s a long story attached to that. When I told him I wanted to know the status of my manuscript, he said, “It’s on the editor’s desk right now.” Then he connected me to her.

She told me it was 10,000 words too long and if I was willing to cut them, she’d issue a contract. I told her I would. That was on a Friday. I worked all week cutting the manuscript, because I thought I’d have to send it in for them to look at before they sent the contract. The contract arrived on the Friday after the call. That’s when I got really excited. I’d waited 8 long years for that.

LISA: What books have you sold since then?

LENA: Readers can go to my web site to see all of them. This mystery/suspense is my 17th book release.

LISA: Tell us some of the background behind Who Am I?.

LENA: My heroine has had a good life. She was an only child of a pastor and his wife. She lost her father before she was an adult. After her mother dies, she finds out that she has a history she never knew about, and much of her life has been based on a lie of omission. This sets up her lack of trust in people and her lack of trust in God.

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?

LENA: Many of my books have characters with trust issues, either with people or with God. I’ve had a long journey really learning to trust God with everything.

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

LENA: God is more interested in the process of the journey, how I grow through it, instead of the final outcome—publication.

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?

LENA: I believe God is gradually moving me into a different realm of writing. More toward woman’s fiction. Actually, I just want to do everything He has planned for me to accomplish.

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

LENA: You will never get published if you don’t submit.

Before you submit, make sure you learn everything you can to sharpen your skills.

Connect with other authors.

LISA: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

LENA: One of the best resources available for fiction writers is American Christian Fiction Writers. You’ll connect with other authors, editors, and agents.
There are also a lot of books out there. One place to find some of the best writing books is with Writers Digest Book Club.

LISA: What is the process you use when writing a mystery/suspense?

LENA: I’m more or less a seat-of-the-pants writer, but I do have a timeline, which I break into a chapter by chapter synopsis. I make sure there is a proper story arc; faith arc; since this is a romance, a romantic arc; and enough clues and red herrings to carry the mystery and suspense arc.

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

LENA: I use a chapter by chapter synopsis for that. And I keep another file with pertinent information. Just a regular word processor file, nothing special.

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

LENA: Since it’s set in Massachusetts, I did extensive research into Massachusetts, including Boston’s airport, historical sites, Cape Cod, weather, scenery, etc.
Parts of the story take place in other New England states, so I did the same for them.

It helps to have online friends who live in the specific places. Another good way to research an area is to get travel videos from the library as well as wonderful coffee table type books on the area.

I also had to research poisoning and how to rig a . . .oh wait, I don’t want to give too much away, do I?

Thanks so much for stopping by Lena! To win a copy of Who am I? check out our contest page.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ask that burning writing question!

Don't forget to leave your writing questions for James Scott Bell! Leave a comment on his interview. He'll be back with answers to questions later this week.

The KMIS team

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Interview with James Scott Bell

We are thrilled to have James Scott Bell, the award winning author of both suspense and historical intrigue, on our site today. His book on writing, Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure, is one of the most popular writing books available today. Here’s what he had to say in a recent interview with KMIS.

LISA: Tell us some of the background behind the idea for this new thriller series and give us a blurb for Try Dying.

JIM: It looked like a freak accident. A guy shoots himself, falls off a bridge, and hits a car driven by a young school teacher, killing her. She is engaged to the lead character, Ty Buchanan. When he gets information that it may have been murder, he is forced into the mean streets to find out what happened. Because no one believes what he comes to know is true…and there are plenty of people who want to stop him from finding out any more.

The idea for the book came out of a news item I saw. A man in South Los Angeles shot his wife then drove to a freeway connector, shot himself, and fell 100 feet to the traffic below, killing a woman in a car. It just stuck with me.

LISA: Could you tell us a bit about the research required for one of your thrillers?

JIM: Usually I have to brush up on the law and legal procedure, as there are criminal justice issues. I also like to visit each setting and take photos, to make them as true as possible on the page. Some I make up, then the research is quite easy.

LISA: What advice could you share with fellow authors on the research process?

JIM: Nurture experts who can help you, by not wasting their time, being smart with your questions (which means doing some research on your own first) and following up with thank you notes. If they've been particularly helpful, a small gift (like a Starbucks card) is nice.

LISA: What do you see as the essentials elements in a suspense/thriller?

JIM: You have to start with a great lead character. In fact, with any fiction, you have to have a lead people will care enough about to follow. Then you need an opposition character who is stronger than the lead, and has a really good reason for wanting him dead.

If you look at the master, Alfred Hitchcock, you'll find this over and over. The innocent man who is caught up in terrible danger through some fluke. And the villain is always formidable. My favorite Hitchcock villains are Joseph Cotton in Shadow of a Doubt; Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train; and James Mason in North by Northwest.

Oh yeah, and death. That has to be an imminent possibility for the suspense to work. But as I point out in my book on writing, Plot & Structure, there are three kinds of death: physical, professional and psychological. You have to have one of these as a possibility or the suspense will fall flat.

LISA: What is the process you use when writing a mystery/suspense? In other words are you a plotter or more of a seat of your pants writer. (We have many unpublished authors coming to our site to learn more, so anything you want to include here would be great.)

JIM: I need to know where I'm going, though not all the turns I need to get there. So I map out my first act, to my first "doorway of no return" (I talk about this in Plot & Structure). I have to know who did the bad thing and why and how the lead gets pulled in. Then I have "signpost" scenes I know have to be there. This is a fun thing to do, BTW. Just sit for half an hour and make up random scenes (put them on cards) and then shuffle them and see if any make sense. Find spots for the good ones.

LISA: What is your system to keep the story, clues, and characters organized?

JIM: I wish I had one. I just keep hoping I remember stuff.

I do use the comment feature on Word a lot. I'll drop in comments and ideas. I've also used these for a sort of "running outline" of the book. That's a good idea, too. Keep a summary of the story going as you write.

LISA: In developing your characters, are there any key elements you see as essential in the process?

JIM: I have to see and hear my characters before I can write. So I'll cast them. The nice thing is we have the whole history of movies to draw from, and no one is the wiser. I can combined actors, or even use an actor of the opposite sex for awhile to get some different aspects cooking. I did that in Sins of the Fathers. I had a female criminal defense lawyer for my lead, and wasn't quite connecting. Then I case Joe Pesci in the role. Now she came alive! I played with that for awhile.

I also do a "voice journal" for my main characters. It's free form journal of just them talking. I do this until I start to hear their voice. When I can, I'm ready to write.

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

JIM: I think the character of Father Bob is the one who is going to provide a lot of insight, kind of like Meyer did for Travis McGee in the series by John D. MacDonald. He becomes a kind of moral weathervane for Ty Buchanan, who is somewhat adrift.

LISA: As the author of Plot & Structure, can you give us a plug on this book?

JIM: If you have a look at the amazon.com page, you'll see the comments. I wrote it to be helpful, but I never expected such an outpouring. It warms my teacher's heart. We're all in this thing together, writing better and better books. Let us go forth and do it.

A special thanks to Jim for being a part of our site!

As a BONUS, he's offered to answer three or four of your questions in an exclusive question and answer post. So here's your chance to ask that burning question to an expert. Leave your questions as a comment below. We will then choose several questions from the comments that will be posted with his answers in a separate post next week.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Interview with Robin Miller (writing as Robin Caroll)

We'd like to welcome Robin Miller, writing as Robin Caroll, to our site!

SUSAN: What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book?

ROBIN: You name the emotion, and I felt it--shock, surprise, excitement, elation, fear. Yeah, fear. Because all of a sudden it dawned on me I'd just been blessed with the desire of my heart. Amazing!

SUSAN: Tell us some of the background behind the idea for your stories and about Bayou Justice.

ROBIN: Well, I'm from Louisiana, born and raised. A big portion of my family still lives there. For me, writing the bayou series has been like going "home". South Louisiana is such an unique culture. We aren't just about New Orleans and Mardi Gras and hurricanes. The people are strong and diversified. I wanted to show that.

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

ROBIN: Hmmm....I think I actually related to my hero's spiritual journey more in Bayou Justice. He needed to learn to trust God. I think we all need to be reminded of that from time to time.

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

ROBIN: LISTEN to those who are trying to help you. Trust your gut instinct. And don't give up.

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

ROBIN: I'll be finishing up the Bayou series by the end of the year and have another series in mind for Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense. I also have a couple of single titles that my agent's reviewing.

SUSAN: 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?

ROBIN: If you're going to go an agent route, be sure and get one you can work with on a personal level. It IS like a marriage. Read your target's submission guidelines, and what they're looking for. Go to writing conferences....the first book in the Bayou Series was pitched to my editor at a conference. And yeah, as we've been told over and over again, the story has to grab the editor's attention! :D

SUSAN: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

ROBIN: ACFW--the wealth of information from the members is vast and so valuable. I use Donald Maass' workbook, as well as 45 Master Characters by Schmidt in doing my character synopsis.

SUSAN: What is the process you use when writing a mystery/suspense?

ROBIN: I normally start with my characters and their internal & relationship conflict, then I plot out the mystery using the characters' particular strength and weaknesses against them.

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

ROBIN: I use ONE NOTE software. It stores EVERYTHING I need.

SUSAN: Tell us a bit about the research you had to do for this story.

ROBIN: Well, I didn't have to do research for this series. If I got stuck on something, I'd call a member of my family and just ask. LOL My brother-in-law would send me pictures of the bayou to keep me inspired.

SUSAN: You have chosen to write under a pen name. Why did you make that decision, and how did you choose your pen name?

ROBIN: Actually, there's a Robin Miller who is a writer, and I didn't want to be confused with her works. And, she already had the domain name! :D Carol is my middle name, my mother's middle name, and my eldest daughter's middle name. We just added the extra L on the end. Growing up, my mother and grandmother called me by my full name-Robin Carol, as so many in the south do. So, it wasn't a hard choice! :D

SUSAN: You’ve sold a series to Love Inspired Suspense. Any tips for other authors targeting LIS? What does a proposal HAVE to have to succeed here?

ROBIN: I don't really know! LOL For me, a good hook, character issues, a unique plot.....that's worked for me. But again, I'd suggest attending conferences and meeting with the editors in person. They'll TELL you what they like and don't.

SUSAN: As president of the American Christian Fiction Writers, you have a busy schedule! How do you fit this in with family and writing obligations? What blessings have you received from taking on this demanding job?

ROBIN: Busy?! You have no idea! LOL I'm blessed that I have a family who supports my presidency. That's vital. I'm also blessed with being able to write quickly once I've plotted a book. Amazing crit partners. A good agent. I wanted to give back to an organization that helped me more than words can express. I've been blessed by getting to know other ACFWers on a more personal level, I feel like I've been able to do some good, and the support I've gotten from members is the biggest blessing.

Thank you so much for chatting with us today Robin! To learn more about Robin’s books, check out her website. And be sure and visit our contest page for a chance to win a copy of Robin’s latest book!!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Cozy Feeling of Murder and Mayhem

Let’s face it. The only place where you can find humor in murder and mayhem is in a cozy mystery. Strictly speaking, there are many types of mysteries. But I’m referring to the sort that displays humorous antics and quirky characters. Jumble these together with a body, a collage of suspects, and you have yourself a cozy mystery.

For years I’ve been writing suspense-laden material whether a historical novel or a contemporary romance—they’ve all contained an element of suspense. But right now, I’m making the big leap from suspense to a cozy mystery. You’d think it would be an easy transition.

Not so. It’s a completely different animal. There’s a tremendous learning curve.

For one, adding the type of humor required caught me off guard. When you’ve been writing serious tension into every scene and your characters are racing against the clock before they all die, it’s not so easy to switch gears.

Cozies have a feel to them. Understanding that feel is the first step in understanding how to write them. But then again, every genre probably has a specific feel. Read the two following excerpts from two different novels and see if you can identify the cozy mystery.

Magnolia was applauding the performance now as she helped me to a seat and scooted in beside me. “Ivy, that was marvelous! Is that part of the show? The audience will love it. But how did they ever train the pig to do that?”

I decided I hadn’t the energy just then to tell her that the pig caper wasn’t part of the regular performance. Getting run over by the duet of an escaping pig and an angry Historical Society lady is somewhat debilitating for an LOL (Little old lady).

The next thing that went wrong was Ben Simpson’s performance as Will Rogers. He got through the monologue itself okay, sitting on his tall stool, but as he was getting off the stool something in his back locked up and he couldn’t straighten up. And there the poor guy stood, looking rather like a bent tooth pick.

The next excerpt:

“Now what would you call me?”

She could almost feel his gaze taking in everything from the wild curly hair that tumbled down across her shoulders and back, nearly reaching her waist, to the soft-pink silk blouse and flowered skirt, to the dainty leather sandals on bare feet and toes tipped in bright pink polish. “Delightful-looking decked-out demagogue of deceit.”

She laughed again, shaking her head. “We’re making headway.”

He instantly sobered. “Don’t count on it. I’m not blind, but I’m not stupid, either.”

The smile disappeard. “Meaning?”

“Meaning I’m not oblivious to a pretty woman, but I don’t let any woman lead me around by the nose. You may be attractive but I’m not going to get all gooey-eyed over you just because you flash that smile and bat those eyelashes.

Okay, can you feel which one is the cozy mystery with nothing else but one scene?
The first excerpt was from Lorena McCourtney’s Stranded, An Ivy Malone Mystery. Her character, Ivy Malone, considers herself invisible because as a little old lady (LOL) nobody sees her. That’s part of the character’s quirkiness and yes it is the cozy mystery.

The second excerpt, Wanda Dyson’s Abduction. Each type of story has it’s own feel despite the differences in author’s voice. I hope you can tell that it doesn’t have the cozy mystery feel like Stranded, from the first excerpt.

Your clue that the opening excerpt is the cozy was probably the first person. Next, the humorous situation and third, word choice. All of those things work together to create the feeling for what’s termed a “cozy” mystery.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on what gives a cozy it’s peculiar feel.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Another New KMIS Member!

We are also privileged to have Cara Putman join us as a Keep Me In Suspense team member.

Cara is an author living a dream. Between October 2007 and September 2008, her first four books will release. Three are a historical romance series set in Nebraska during World War Two, which Heartsong Presents will release. One is a suspense, also set in Nebraska, that will release from Love Inspired Suspense. She's working on a proposal for a legal thriller as she writes like a woman under deadline.

Cara is also an attorney, wife, mom, women's ministry leader, ACFW national board member, and going slightly crazy. But even in the craziness, she strives to stay right in the middle of God's will for her life. And she can't wait to see what He has next.

Please join us in welcoming Cara.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

New Team Member

The Keep Me In Suspense Team is privileged to be joined by Brandt Dodson. Our regular readers will recognize his name. We’ve interviewed him several times in the past. He’s an awesome writer, and he’s also a really great guy. We’re all thrilled that he’s going to be a part of Keep Me In Suspense. We’re looking forward to his articles and input.

Here’s a short biography:

“Brandt Dodson comes from a long line of police officers that spans several generations. He was formerly employed by the Indianapolis office of the FBI and was a United States Naval Reserve officer.

Brandt is the author of the Colton Parker mystery series, and resides in southern Indiana with his wife and their two sons.”

If you want to leave a comment to welcome him, that would be great. Please check out his website, and while you’re at it, if you haven’t already, buy a book or two. . .


The Keep Me In Suspense Team