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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you a wonderful and blessed holiday season.

The KMIS team.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Interview with Candice Miller Speare!

Susan: Today it gives me great pleasure to talk to one of our hosts, Candice Miller Speare, about her upcoming release, Murder in the Milk Case, coming to us in January from Heartsong Presents: Mysteries.

Murder in the Milk Case is a great title, and a great concept. How ever did you come up with it?

Candice: The original name of the book was Death in the Dairy Case (a title that Laurie Alice Eakes came up with). But after Susan Downs bought the manuscript, she said that she needed a different title because my book would be coming out in the same month as Chris Lynxwiler’s and hers had the word death in the title. (She got first dibs because hers was bought first.) Just a few word changes and there you have it.

The plot was born in 2002 when I was sitting in the family room of our home, brainstorming with my sister about book ideas. I wanted a novel place for a body to be discovered. Ideas came fast and furious, along with questions. Like, what IF someone found a body in the milk case? Was that possible? Then my brother, a grocery store manager at the time, took me on a tour of the back rooms of his store. That’s when the whole concept jelled.

Susan: Give us a little blurb about the book.

Candice: Finding the body of pharmacist Jim Bob Jenkins in the milk case of the grocery store is not on Trish Cunningham’s grocery list. Neither is becoming a suspect in his murder. But Trish had good motive to kill Jim Bob—a secret that she only discovered recently, and even her husband doesn’t know.

So, what's a girl to do? What else? Become a sleuth and proceed with her own investigation. Struggle with how to tell her husband. Collect clues from the people around her like her mother and a cast of small town characters. Trish doesn’t want to believe the killer is someone she knows, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. But the trail is definitely leading to her backyard—a hometown murderer who has nothing to lose by killing anyone in the way—including Trish.

Susan: It sounds like a fun read. Thinking about the way you chose that title again—I always seem to struggle with titles for my mystery/suspense books. Do you have a system?

Candice: That’s a good question. No, I don’t have a system. And yes, I struggle with titles, too. I think a lot of people do. Although a few books do sort of name themselves. Like the second in my series called Band Room Bash.

Susan: How is writing a series different from writing a standalone?

Candice: Writing a series means having to remember all the characters, what they look like, and their habits and relationships with each other. It also means remembering the colors of rooms in houses, the kind of furniture in the rooms, and the names of animals. It’s very difficult unless the author writes down the details as he/she goes along.

I guess you don’t need to ask me how I know that.

Susan: Right. Make and color of cars is another thing I always seem to be backtracking to check!

Heartsong Presents: Mysteries showcases quirky characters. Who is your quirkiest character, and what makes him or her quirky, not just weird?

Candice: It’s hard to put my finger on any one character in my book. I’ve tried to give all of them quirks of some sort or another.

In the first book, of my series, I would have to say three people together are my quirkiest characters. Those are my heroine’s mother and her doughnut store employees. One of them has some odd beliefs, like NASA staged the moonwalk.

Susan: Oh! I think I know that person. What writing project are you working on right now?

Candice: The third and final book in my cozy series called, Kitty Litter Killer.

Susan: Now, THAT’s a title!

You’re an official content reviewer for a publisher. Is there anything you particularly notice missing in the books you review?

Candice: Yes, definitely. Lack of conflict. Like Donald Maass said in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, we have to have conflict in every scene.

Susan: What can we look for from you in the future?

Candice: Hopefully another cozy series after this one. I really enjoy writing cozy mysteries.

Susan: How can readers contact you and find your books?

My book will be available through Heartsong Presents: Mysteries website. That’s not up yet, so in the meantime, you can check out my website where I’ll keep my readers informed about when my book is available.

Susan: Thanks so much for joining us, Candice. We will be sure and let all of you know when the Heartsong Presents: Mysteries website is up and running!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Productive Writer: Eyes on the Prize

Sometimes when we’re slogging through a proposal, or trying to finish a scene, it’s tempting to stop and try something “more fun.” For me, more fun would be pursuing a story idea and seeing if it has merit enough to turn into a book. Or we suddenly think we need to do more research on police procedure (which might be the case), but sometimes research can take the place of writing and we get nothing done. Research can become a distraction from getting our immediate task done—that scene, that chapter.

The reason I can say these things is because I’m guilty. What I’ve realized is that productive writers see their goal. Every scene, every chapter is a stepping stone to that wonderful pair of words—The End. Of course, writers know once a book is finished, it’s time for editing, but that’s for another post. Think of every motivational cliché you’ve ever heard:

Rome wasn’t built in a day.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I don’t know about you, but it’s the itty bitty steps that get me. I’m not afraid to admit what hard work writing really is. I can’t tell you the number of writers that I hear whose career is a series of fits and starts, or writers who can’t get a simple proposal in the mail to an agent.

Then there’s the productive writer. I think of several authors immediately. They pursue those two beautiful words (The End) one word, one scene, one chapter at a time. Maybe the chapter stinks the first time round, but that’s okay. Stinky can be fixed. An unfinished book can’t.

Lynette Sowell

Monday, December 10, 2007

Interview with Jill Nelson!

LISA: Today I want to welcome back Jill Nelson to our site! Jill's latest book, Reluctant Smuggler, is a book you won't want to miss! Jill, tell us about your upcoming release.

JILL: Reluctant Smuggler is the third book in the To Catch a Thief series of romantic suspense for Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishing Group. It’s my personal favorite of the series, and I hope my readers agree! Reluctant Smuggler releases on January 15, and I can hardly wait. Lots of things come together in this one for my museum security expert heroine and my FBI agent hero . . . and lots of things blow apart, too.

Curious? Smuggler is available for preorder on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.

If readers haven’t grabbed the first two in the series, Reluctant Burglar and Reluctant Runaway, I recommend doing so. Each book can stand alone plotwise, but it’s best to read them in order to get the continuity of character growth. Readers can help me out particularly by buying through the click-through to Christianbook on my web site books page.

I’ve been very pleased and honored with the reaction of reviewers to the books. Folks who are unfamiliar with the series can find out what other readers think by checking out the numerous reviews posted on Amazon and Christianbook.

LISA: Tell us how you came up with the plotline.

JILL: Abuse and persecution of the helpless is always a burden on my heart, so writing a story that features the thriving underworld of human trafficking was a labor of love. Check out the ministry of the International Justice Mission, and your eyes will be opened.

Besides, Tony and Desiree needed to go someplace exotic for their new adventure. Mexico, and all its mysterious Mayan ruins, grabbed my imagination. Mel Gibson’s rather violent movie, Apocalypto, is no joke as to ancient Mayan culture, which makes the unseen principalities and powers pitted against my main characters quite formidable. The power of prayer plays a big role in the story, as well as the spiritual force of hope in shaping destiny on a personal level and in society as a whole.

LISA: What kind of research did you have to do for the book?

JILL: You should see my list of experts that I thank in the acknowledgements—several medical practitioners, a dietician, a former naval intelligence operative (oh, yeah, I didn’t get to list him), linguists, world travelers, an electronics expert, and the list goes on. For Reluctant Smuggler, I didn’t travel to Mexico like I went to Albuquerque for Reluctant Runaway, but I did have eye-witness input from folks who’ve been there. Also, my bookshelves are groaning with tomes on the FBI, the Maya, Mexico, museum security, etc. Plus, the Internet is always an invaluable source of information. I utilize every resource I can get my hands on to make the read as realistic as possible.

LISA: Can you share some of the ins and outs of writing a series?

JILL: Naturally, it’s vital to keep details straight from book to book—eye and hair color, personal preferences in the characters, foibles and habits. It’s also necessary to keep the characters growing and changing in a believable manner from book to book. Frankly, some series’ main characters change little in the sequels, and the emphasis is all on the action. I prefer to build in the kind of depth that can only come with character development. The reading experience—as well as the writing experience—is much richer.

In Smuggler, I hope readers find a lot of satisfaction in developments, not only in the main characters, but in some of the secondary ones as well. But I don’t want to say more than that and spoil the surprises.

LISA: Are you a seat of the pants plotter? Or do you go by a more rigid outline?

JILL: I’m a middle-of-the-road plotter. I know my starting place and where I want to end up, as well as the high points in between. If I try to plot more specifically than that, I get bogged down. My characters drive the story anyway, and sometimes—er, often they surprise me.

For instance, there is a major piece of back story for my male protagonist, Tony, in Reluctant Burglar. When I got done writing that bit, I figured that was the end of it. However, in Reluctant Runaway, he “told” me some back story to the back story that really livened up the personal issues in that book. Now, in the third book, we point some of that unfinished business toward a fresh resolution.

Those ahah! moments with my characters are exhilarating. I simply can’t plot those things. They have to happen organically.

LISA: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

JILL: It’s a toss-up between research and editing. I love chasing after those elusive nuggets of fact. Also, I enjoy the editing process once a manuscript is finished. Nothing like seeing that baby sculpted into its best form that brings honor to the Lord. I’ve been blessed with wonderful and insightful editors to work with in this process.

LISA: What is your least favorite part?

JILL: That first draft can be a love/hate relationship. While I love telling a rousing good story, the labor of making it so during that all-important initial draft can make me ache mentally and emotionally—like my soul has been yanked through a knothole backward. Those moments when I paint myself into a plot corner and haven’t a clue how my characters get out always send me to my knees. But God faithfully answers the sweat and tears with inspiration. The story is always better for the test—and so is the author.

LISA: What is your advice for someone wanting to break into the suspense/mystery genre?

JILL: Read a lot in the genre. Study the best and even the worst, and write, write, write, especially when you don’t feel particularly inspired. It’s good discipline.

That said, stay true to your heart in the stories you craft. Of course, if you can do that and write something commercially viable, all the better. I write what I like to read, but in this series, I also deliberately sought for and exploited “a big idea” that hadn’t been done before in the Christian market. Good business decisions need to go hand-in-hand with our writing ministry.

Also, dive into craft books (both general and genre-specific) and practice to polish your prose as bright and shiny as possible. Don’t let discouragement make you quit! Perseverance lands more contracts than talent alone does. Complete the projects you start. Editors are looking for writers who can be counted on to produce a finished, polished manuscript in a timely manner.

LISA: Any other advice you’d like to share with our readers?

JILL: Buy books. Give them as gifts. Talk about books to friends and family. Promote good, clean, fun fiction. That’s how we’ll see more of it out there, planting good seeds of blessing and truth in hurting souls.

LISA: Thanks so much for the great interview, Jill! Check out our contest page for a chance to win a copy of the book!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Interview with Virginia Smith

LISA: Today, I'm thrilled to welcome back author Virginia Smith. Let's jump right into the interview.

Virginia, tell us about your latest release, Bluegrass Peril.

VIRGINIA: Oh, I love this book! My husband says it’s his favorite so far. Here’s the teaser:

When the director of a retirement farm for thoroughbred champions is murdered, Kathy Dorsey teams up with the handsome manager of a neighboring horse farm to find her boss’s killer. The amateur sleuths uncover a trail of clues that lead them into the intricate society of Kentucky's elite thoroughbred breeding industry. They soon find themselves surrounded by the mint julep set – jealous southern belles and intensely competitive horse breeders – in a high-stakes game of danger, money, and that famous southern pride.

When my editor gave me the contract for Bluegrass Peril, she told me it read like a Christian Dick Francis novel. Since I think his stories are terrific, I’ll take it!

LISA: You called this story a modern mystery. Could you define that for our readers?

VIRGINIA: I don’t know if this is the dictionary definition or not, but in my mind a modern mystery is somewhere between a cozy and a true suspense. It has less humor than a cozy, though it may still have some. There are more moments where the heroine feels personally threatened than in a cozy. Unlike a suspense story, though, the emphasis is more on finding clues and solving the mystery rather than getting out of danger. Though again, there can be moments of intense danger and suspense. Detective stories are one form of modern mystery.

LISA: How did you come up with the plot line?

VIRGINIA: Not far from my home in Kentucky is a farm for retired thoroughbred stallions. Old Friends is the only retirement farm in the country that takes stallions because they’re so difficult to deal with. When I visited that farm I became extremely interested in the fate of these multi million-dollar athletes who have outlived their usefulness. You wouldn’t believe the horrendous conditions some of them are forced to live in, or under which they die. The director of Old Friends has a true passion for making sure these horses enjoy their final years.

As we talked during my first visit, he made a comment that sparked a thought—one of the horses there, a million-dollar champion, is still physically able to be bred. In fact, the director has received offers of large sums of money to breed him, but he signed an agreement with the previous owner that the stallion would retire. I started thinking, “What if someone wanted to breed a champion really badly?” And then I read an unrelated article that tied in with that thought—and which I can’t tell you about, or it will give away a critical part of the plot—and the story became real in my mind.

LISA: With the background for this story being the thoroughbred breeding industry, what kind of research did you have to do for this book?

VIRGINIA: Let me tell you, I had so much fun researching this book! My husband really got into the research, too. We went to the Breeder’s Cup, a prestigious horse race held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and also to Keeneland, a race track in Lexington, Kentucky about 20 miles from our home there. My aunt breeds thoroughbreds, and we spent a lot of time on her farm, and also listening to her patiently explaining the breeding and registration process.

I interviewed a man who works for the Jockey Club, the organization that registers thoroughbreds (sort of like AKC for dogs), and spent hours studying their rules and procedures. I interviewed a state police trooper to find out about murder investigation procedures. I went to a horse racing library and learned how to read a racing form. I interviewed someone who frequently places illegal bets with bookies. (That was interesting!)

I spent lots of time at Old Friends. I attended a thoroughbred auction, and got so caught up in the bidding I almost bought a cute little filly! And I did quite a bit of scientific research and interviews—but again, I can’t tell you the details of that. (Is your interest piqued? I hope so!)

LISA: It's definitely piqued, Virginia! What about your writing process. Are you a seat of the pants plotter? Or do you go by a more rigid outline?

VIRGINIA: I write in two genres – mystery and contemporary. When I’m working on a contemporary story I start out seat of the pants, and when I’m a third to half-way through the book I sketch out an outline to work with from there. But with mysteries I create a detailed plot before I begin writing. I lay out all the suspects and their alibis, and I create a list of scenes color-coded to indicate the viewpoint character. I do all this in a spreadsheet and by the time I finish it’s a real work of art, if I do say so myself.

LISA: How do you go about placing a trail of clues and those pesky red herrings in a cozy?

VIRGINIA: I lay them all out in my outline document. For each scene, I have a column that identifies all the clues I’m going to reveal and whether they’re open clues or “hidden” (i.e. an important clue that is given in an off-handed manner so the reader doesn’t recognize it as a clue). Red herrings, too. When I finish, I can look at that column on my spreadsheet and if no clue has been discovered or revealed in a particular scene, I know I’d better either remove that scene or figure out how it moves the plot forward in another way.

LISA: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

VIRGINIA: I like the last quarter of the first draft. That’s where the story is rolling along at full speed, and the writing just seems to fly. That last part of a mystery includes the confrontation scene, and I love writing those. And I also like wrapping up all the open points, tying everything up and snipping off the dangling ends.

LISA: Your least favorite part?

VIRGINIA: About two-thirds through the book, even with an outline, I get nervous. Around that time I always decide the story is dull and the heroine is boring and I don’t like her so how can I expect anyone else to like her? I examine the scenes I have left to write and become convinced that I am going to run out of story too early, that the finished product won’t be long enough to be a full book. I have felt this way with every one of my books so far. In fact, a couple of books ago I was complaining to my critique partner and she said, “You always say this. It’ll be fine. Just keep going.” And she was right.

LISA: That's great advice! I think all authors have moments like this. What is your advice for someone wanting to break into the suspense/mystery genre?

VIRGINIA: Read a lot of suspense/mysteries. Pay attention to how the author lays out the story. Take notes as you read. At the end of every scene or chapter, make a note about the important things that happened and what clues you noticed. Also note how high the suspense level is at that time, and if it’s high, try to identify how the author did it. Then when you finish the book go back through your notes and trace the mystery to see the pace in which the clues were revealed. And get Barbara Norville’s book Writing the Modern Mystery.

LISA: Thanks so much for joining us today, Virginia. Be sure and visit her website and our contest page for a chance to win a copy of her latest book!