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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Interview with Brandt Dodson

1. Before we jump into your newest release, tell us a bit about your Colton Parker series with Harvest.

Most Christians, me included, tend to look for miracles from God. And indeed, we often see those in our lives. But I’m learning more and more to recognize the hand of divine providence as God engineers circumstances in our lives. Such was the case with the Colton Parker series.

I attended the Write To Publish conference and pitched a novel I had titled: “Sins of the Father”, to an editor from Kregel Publishing. He liked it and took it with him to pitch to the publisher’s committee, but they ultimately turned it down. The editor then suggested some revisions, and urged me to rewrite it before trying again with another publisher.

I spent the next year rewriting the book before going back to the same conference again. I had in mind to meet with an editor from Harvest House (to this day I’m not sure why I selected them. At the time, they weren’t publishing anything that was even close to what I was writing) but he ended up canceling. In his place, Harvest House sent Nick Harrison.

Now I pitched the novel to Nick who seemed lukewarm, but agreed to consider it if I sent it to him. Later that evening, Nick was facilitating a critique session that I had not planned to attend, but – and here is the neat part – I felt this overwhelming sense of foreboding. I knew that if I didn’t go to the session, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

I ran across campus, retrieved my manuscript, and ran back to the group. I got there late, but was allowed to read the first chapter. After the session was over, Nick approached and asked me to send the manuscript to him. We had a good talk about mystery fiction on our way back to the dorm, and I discovered that he had read as much mystery and hardboiled fiction as I had. A year later, Harvest House offered a three book contract which they have extended a couple of times since then.

The series is on hold, for the moment, as I take a break and write some stand-alone suspense.

2. Colton is a unique character. Can you give us some insight into how you made him come alive, and what it’s like saying good-bye to him? (Or will there be more Colton Parker releases?)

I worked for the FBI and grew up in a family of police officers. Making Colton come alive was simply a matter of having listened to my father, cousins, uncles, co-workers, etc... There is a strong thread that runs through all police officers and it was simply a matter of pulling on that thread to reach a believable character.

I like Colton. He’s as flawed as I am but seems to be able to learn from his mistakes. I think people can identify with that.

3. Now on to your February release. Tell us some of the background behind the idea for White Soul and about the story itself.

I’ve always been a fan of Mario Puzo and I wanted to do something that dealt with a large criminal syndicate. Something so big and so powerful that the law was incapable of stopping them.

During my research, I came across a group known as The Corporation. This group was located in Miami and was largely comprised of Cuban-Americans. During its peak, it had grown to an estimated 10,000 members as it exported murder-for-hire along the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S., extending as far north as New York. It hired its services out, and was linking up with the Italian groups (mafia) as it sought to extend its power and reach. The group was run by a father and son, but was recently busted in a combined federal-state sting.

I’m a fan of Joseph Wambaugh. He was the first writer to take “procedural” out of “police procedural” and simply write stories about how the job works on cops rather than how cops work on the job. I wanted to take the same approach so after I finished my research, I began playing the what-if game.

What if the group fragmented, but like the Soviet Union, began to reform in a multitude of smaller, but no less deadly groups? And what if an undercover DEA agent was able to penetrate one of these groups? And what if he was a Christian? Could he hold the line and not fall into the lifestyle as so many undercover cops do?

The book is about temptation and the power it can have over every one of us. It’s about how a lone cop struggles with the temptation that surrounds him. This temptation is challenging for any undercover officer, but being a Christian, I think, raises the stakes.

4. I find in my own writing that I often grow alongside my characters, especially spiritually. In your latest book, is there a character who you relate to and who made an input on your life?

Absolutely. Ron Ortega, the protagonist in White Soul, is a Cuban-American undercover DEA agent who is also a believer. But he hasn’t grown in his faith, so when temptation comes subtly knocking – as it often does – he is ill-equipped to handle it.

I can identify. Like Ron, I can also yield to temptation if I don’t have my guard up, and if I’m not working to build my relationship with Jesus. As I wrote the story, I began to relive moments in my own life when I’ve fallen, or gotten ahead of God on some matter or other.
Writing White Soul, I’ve learned how to avoid this trap. It’s no secret. Stay connected to the vine.

5. I read in one of your interviews that you don’t write from an outline. As an author who can’t move on to to another chapter (or write a book for that matter) without knowing exactly where I’m going, I’d love some insight into the process, especially in the suspense/mystery genre.

I tried for years to outline in advance and I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons I quit writing so often.

Tony Hillerman, a great mystery writer, has said in his autobiography that he experienced much of the same thing and so began to write without outlining.

I often begin with a premise, then think it through before I begin to put pen to paper. During the process, I MUST get the first chapter right before I can move forward. After getting the beginning where I want it, I can generally move forward as I discover the novel – much like the reader. I love the writing process now since I have no idea what’s going to happen until I write (read) it. It keeps the process organic for me and maintains my enthusiasm during the dreaded middle part of the book. Of course, writing without an outline also means doing a lot of re-writing, and that often means a willingness to kill your darlings. In my writing career, I’ve slaughtered some really good stuff because it didn’t support the story. And, as Stephen King said in “On Writing,” the story is everything.

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

On a spiritual level, I’ve learned that God is totally in control. There was little chance that I would succeed in publishing with Harvest House. First of all, they are a great publisher who has their pick of writers, and generally don’t take many first-time authors. Second, they didn’t publish what I was writing. I was a bit of a “first” for them. And third, I didn’t have an agent. The odds were stacked against me.

But God lead me to Kregel, who turned me down, but who also helped me to improve the manuscript. I am convinced that Nick would not have been successful in his approach to the Harvest House committee if I hadn’t first met with the editor from Kregel. Although Kregel rejected the work, God had a plan and turned a negative into a positive. Read Romans 8:28.
Another thing I’ve learned is that you’ve got to have fun with this. If there isn’t something about the writing process that makes your heart sing, then you should probably be doing something else.

It may come down to rewriting, self-editing, or generating story ideas, but regardless, there ought to be something that drives you to write whether you get published or not.

7. 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 have several Colton Parker novels in my head. I like political thrillers, and suspense. I even have a historical novel that is burning a hole in my heart. I’m blessed. I’m getting an opportunity to write all of those.

I’m an eclectic reader; therefore I tend to be an eclectic writer. Unfortunately there is a trend (as understandable as it is) to “brand” writers. Actors have faced type-casting for years, but the fact is, I can write a lot of different novels in different styles and genres. Who would have guessed that I have a “gothic” romance in me?

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

I love writing and I know that there are many talented writers who are reading this interview who are struggling to break through. I understand their frustration. So the first thing I would say to them is to persist.

It took me twelve years to get that first acceptance letter, and it was for an essay that was published in The Christian Standard. But that acceptance meant the world to me and it made the years of rejection seem like a distant nightmare.

Second, I would say READ. Read everything in your genre, and even outside your genre. Read widely and read deeply. For example, if you want to write mysteries, read them. But read a lot of them. Robert B. Parker and Agatha Christie are mystery writers, but they are as different as guns and butter. Read both of them. You can learn technique from everyone.

Read romances, read westerns, and read suspense regardless of what you want to write. By reading, you learn technique, and by learning technique, your writing will look effortless and your readers will one day say; “Well, this doesn’t look too hard. I can do this.”

A good musician, magician, or acrobat can make the things they do look easy. But don’t be fooled. Palming a card, playing a cello, or doing a back-flip is far more difficult than it looks. These performers have reached their peak because they know their craft. That should be your goal also.

But learning your craft by reading the work of others is only half of the equation. If the equation is to balance, you must also write. And you must have it critiqued by knowledgeable people who won’t spare your feelings.

Take classes at a community college, join a writer’s group, or if one doesn’t exist, start one. I work on craft nearly everyday. I read the writing of others and I read the Writer’s Digest books. I even read grammar books (I’m currently reading “Painless Grammar” by Rebecca Elliot, Ph.D.) The bottom line is, it is impossible to be good enough. That’s one of the things I love most about writing; the never ending opportunity to reach a new height.

Lastly, attend a writer’s conference. Even if you haven’t written a thing, go and learn. Make friends and build networks. Not only do you gain a partner who understands the difficult process of getting published - and staying published - but you will have gained a friend along the way. And after all, who has too many friends?

Thanks for the interview Brandt!

Visit him at: http://www.brandtdodson.com/

Don't forget to post a comment on the contest page.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Interview with Nancy Mehl

Greetings, KMIS readers! I'm pleased to present an interview with author Nancy Mehl. Her cozy mystery, In The Dead of Winter, releases this month through Heartsong Presents Mysteries book club.

How did your interest in writing originate?

Actually, it began with reading. I read voraciously as a child. I’d check out five or six books from the school library and stay up all night, reading every one with a flashlight under the sheets. I guess I thought my mother would never think it odd that there was an upright, glowing lump in the middle of my bed! I started writing stories when I was around seven. I also wrote poetry. When I got older, my prose took the inevitable turn toward teenage angst and unrequited love. I don’t have those poems anymore, thanks goodness! The only kind of novel writing I was interested in were mysteries. I’d always wanted to try one, but I waited until I was forty-five to actually do it.

What do you see as the influences on your writing?

First of all, I want to tell you about a very negative influence I encountered in high school. My English teacher asked our class to write three poems. I loved poetry and flew through the assignment. After we handed our poems in, she read them to the class. When she read mine, she accused me of plagiarism in front of everyone. That brought my writing to a screeching halt. What a shame that as a teacher she couldn’t see that I had a talent that could be nurtured and encouraged. I realize now that it was because the poems were good that she assumed I’d copied them. I tell this story because I hope that educators and people in places of influence over young people will think twice about ever doing the same thing. Now, enough of the negative. On to the positive! As with many who write mysteries, Nancy Drew was a big influence. As I said, I’ve had an interest in writing mystery novels as long as I can remember, but (and this may sound horribly corny) it was watching Murder, She Wrote that actually brought the desire out of the shadows and into the light. It was seeing Jessica Fletcher that made me wonder if I could be like her. I’d never really seen such a concrete portrayal of a mystery author before. One day, I thought, “Wait a minute. That’s what I want to be!” The final “nail in the proverbial coffin” came from a teaching I heard about finding out what God has called you to do. The speaker asked the question: “What did you do naturally as a child?” The answer was obvious, and my attraction to the life lived by J.B. Fletcher gave me the courage to start tapping out my first novel. Which, but the way, will never see the light of day!

Tell us about your book series.

The Ivy Towers Mystery Series centers around Ivy Towers, a college student who leaves the big city during her Christmas vacation to travel to the little town of Winter Break, Kansas. Her Great-Aunt Bitty has fallen off the library ladder inside her old, rare bookstore and died. When Ivy arrives in Winter Break, she becomes suspicious about the so-called “accident.” A mysterious message is left for her, informing her that her aunt was murdered. She decides to stay in Winter Break only long enough to discover the truth and then return to school. Complicating her plans is the fact that her aunt left her Miss Bitty’s Bygone Bookstore, expecting her to run it. And then there’s Deputy Amos Parker, an old boyfriend who seems to still have feelings for her. Ivy will not only have to come face to face with her aunt’s killer, she will have to confront God’s will for her life.

How did you get to know your hero and heroine?

I had a good idea of who they were when I started, but I always learn more about them as the story progresses. It’s important to let them evolve. It’s also imperative to keep them consistent, not allowing them to do things that don’t match their personalities. And of course, I know them because in essence, they’re a part of me.

What process do you use to write your novel? Are you a strict plotter, or do you allow for some surprises?

Nancy: I have tried so hard to plot my novels ahead of time, but to no avail. I’m a big fan of Sol Stein. He recommends writing your important scenes on note cards and then putting them in order of occurrence. Supposedly, this will give you your plot. Maybe that works for some, but all I end up with is a confusing mess!
[Note from Lynette: I adore note cards as a plotting tool. I think it's a great hands-on way to shuffle scenes around. This just shows how every writer needs to find a method that works for him, or her! Now, more from Nancy...]
It has been the same for me with every book. I write the first few chapters, then I sketch out several chapters ahead. At that point, I may follow some of my notes, but if the story starts to go another way, I follow along. Towards the end, I definitely make chapter outlines. I have to make certain all the clues are pulled together and everything is wrapped up at the end. I also make notes in the body of the manuscript in red. These are notes to myself so that when I skim back through or when I begin to edit, I will remember to follow up with these important clues or scenes. These notes are vital to me. I also find myself plotting in my head before I fall asleep at night. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jumped up from my bed and quickly written down some plot twist that popped into my mind!

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Hmmm. I would say that the toughest time is during editing. I have to watch word repetition and using the same physical descriptions too often. I had characters “touching each other’s arms” so often in one novel, it was not only distracting, it was somewhat disturbing! Of course, one of the worst parts of writing a novel comes when in the middle of the night you wake up knowing that you wrote something that could never have happened in a million years. I hate those nocturnal surprises! When that happens, it’s time to do some rewriting. And rewriting is never fun.

How did you come up with the title?

The title for In the Dead of Winter was in my mind from the beginning. It wasn’t hard at all for me. The really tough title came with the second book in the series, Bye, Bye Bertie. My original title was A Bird in the Hand. Since the story revolves around a character named Bert Bird who has disappeared, I thought the title made perfect sense. But when both my editors didn’t get it, I knew it wasn’t going to work. Thus, it became Bye, Bye Bertie, which was suggested by my main editor, Susan Downs. We had quite a time throwing possible titles around. Eventually, it just got silly. (Honestly, it was a lot of fun!) One odd thing that happened with Bertie was the slow realization that the title was vaguely familiar. A little research revealed that I had reviewed a novel with the same title several years earlier – and it was by one of my favorite authors! I contacted him to see if he minded if I used it. Since his book was going out of print, there wasn’t any problem. I always check Amazon first before using a title. I wouldn’t want to use the same thing another author had just come out with.

What book are you reading now?

Actually, I am reading The Sovereign’s Daughter by Susan May Warren and Susan K. Downs. And I’m not just saying that so I can earn brownie points with my editor! I’ve just started it, but so far it’s really grabbed my interest. The writing is strong and paints a very vivid picture.

What are your current projects?

I’ve finished three books in the Ivy Towers series, In the Dead of Winter, Bye, Bye Bertie, and For Whom the Wedding Bell Tolls. Right now, I am doing a follow-up Christmas novel titled There Goes Santa Claus. It occurred to me that my protagonist is a woman who loves Christmas, and Winter Break, Kansas is a town that attracts more snow than anywhere else in Kansas. It’s the perfect place for a story about Christmas. (I actually created the town I’d like to live in. I adore snow!) For some reason, in all three of Ivy’s stories, I never wrote about Christmas. So I pitched the idea to Susan, and she liked it.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

A lot of authors don’t feel the way I do about their books, so what I’m about to say may not agree with everyone, but that’s okay. I am so grateful that God has allowed me to do the one thing I’ve wanted to do more than anything else career-wise. (Being a wife and mother comes first for me.) I’ve asked Him to put a “word in due season” in my novels – something that will minister to my readers. Although I love writing and I strive to tell a story that will keep readers interested and give them characters they will enjoy, I want to use this opportunity to touch people for God. I pray before every book that He will use it to speak to specific people He wants to touch with whatever He wants to say to them. I think the most challenging thing is to push my own ideas out of the way and listen to Him. In For Whom the Wedding Bell Tolls, He gave me a specific plot line that had never occurred to me. I inserted it, and the story ended up revolving around it. Being an author is wonderful. God has given me the desire of my heart. But someday I will stand in front of Him. I don’t think He will reward me because I used active words instead of passive ones. I don’t think my metaphors and similes will earn me any stars in my crown. I believe He has given me a talent for a reason. It’s my job to not bury it in the ground. I want to give Him back His investment with lots, and lots of interest.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I have several, so picking one is impossible. I’ll name a few. John Robinson is at the top of the list. His writing is so powerful and electrifying. I read everything he writes. Rick Dewhurst is another author I love. He is the author who wrote the first Bye, Bye Bertie. His writing is sharp, and extremely funny. I laughed out loud all the way through his book. He has a way of peeling back religious layers and exposing Christians in a way that makes us laugh at ourselves. Laurel Johnson is an author who is exceptionally talented. She uses words to paint the most beautiful, touching pictures. I’ve devoured everything she’s written, too. Her book The Grass Dance causes me to weep every time I read it. Susan Vreeland paints masterpieces with her words. I also have to mention Deb Raney, Judith Miller, Ron and Janet Benrey, Frank Peretti, and Ted Dekker. Oh, and a real favorite: Max Yoho. He’s a Kansas author who writes the most wonderful, entertaining books. Everything he writes is an adventure. After looking through this list, I realize that my favorite authors are those who can create real, vivid images through their writing. That kind of writing touches your heart and mind, bringing a real sense of empathy to a reader.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

My friend, Marshall Thomas, who writes Sci-fi, gave me the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received. Don’t give up! I can’t tell you how many writers I know who couldn’t make it past the rejections. Rejections are only signposts for change! They can make you better or they can destroy you. The only writers who succeed are the ones who decide they will keep going no matter what. Along with that comes humility. Be willing to learn! The more you learn, the more equipped you are. It’s the criticisms that have helped me more than the praises. Every single one turned into another stone in my foundation. In almost ten years, I can only think of a couple of instances when I received criticism I couldn’t use.

Another important piece of advice: Find a strong writing community and get involved. It was in public and private forums where I learned to strengthen my writing skills. I still have a lot to learn, but at least I’m farther along than I used to be!

Read, read, read! Watch other writers’ styles. Find out what you like and what you don’t. This will help to shape your own writing. I spent eight years reviewing books. I can’t even begin to express how much this helped me. Unfortunately, right now I’m lagging behind in this area. When I quit reviewing, I wasn’t eager to start reading again. But now that I’m writing cozy mysteries, what do you think I will be reading the most of? That’s right! Cozies!

And the most important advice I can give? Turn your desire over to God and allow Him to use it. If you really are called to write, He will give you everything you need as long as you put Him first. It wasn’t until I truly put my writing on the altar and gave it to Him that my career began to take off.

Thanks, Lynette, for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful blog. God bless you!

~Thank you, Nancy, for being our guest!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Interview with Susan Page Davis

Beth: Tell us about your writing journey.

Susan: It’s been a long journey, with surprises at every turn. Just yesterday I mailed off contracts for my third book with Harvest House, and when I got home I learned that Finding Marie, my second book with them, is a Crossings Book Club selection. The Lord has richly blessed me this year in my writing career. But looking back to the early years of writing fiction, it seemed I would never sell a short story, let alone a book! All in God’s timing. I knew it then, but practicing patience has always been difficult for me. Now I worry less and stress less.

Beth: When do you feel like it all began to come together for you as a writer—was there a particular moment?

Susan: I don’t think I’ve reached that moment yet. I started out thinking I was a pretty good writer, but soon learned how presumptuous that was. The first 100 or so rejections have a way of crushing your confidence. I’m inching my way up again, but knowing now what I do about the business, I’m certain that every inch of progress is due to God’s grace, not my talent.

Beth: Who has influenced you most as a writer and why?

Susan: I think my parents did. Many, many people have encouraged me, but they always expected the best.

Beth: Tell us about the writing process for you? Does it begin with a character, setting, or plot?

Susan: For a suspense book, I like to start with a germ of the plot. I think about the crime and the motive and the reason it’s not over yet—the happenings that will drive the suspense.

Beth: Tell us about your latest book.

Susan: In Just Cause (January 2008, Love Inspired Suspense), Laurel Hatcher is accused of murdering her husband. She spent some time in prison before her trial, then faced a jury. When they couldn’t reach a verdict, the judge declared a mistrial. Now Laurel is trying to start over and build a new life for herself in a location where no one knows her. But she realizes that any minute, she could be called back to Maine for a new trial, and she could spend the rest of her life in jail. She doesn’t think police officer Dan Ryan can do anything about that, but Dan has other ideas. When the killers start stalking Laurel, Dan becomes her self-appointed guardian.

Beth: What inspired you to write this particular story?

Susan: I wanted to write a story in which the heroine seemed to have no hope. This is a story that grew gradually in my mind. My first draft (written several years ago) had the basics of the plot, but was very simple and straightforward (can you say “predictable”?). I later rewrote it with a much richer texture—deeper characters, higher stakes. (An inside secret for people who have read the book: Renee wasn’t in the first draft. People read it now and say, “How could you have this story without Renee?” Well...I’m glad the story matured into its present form.)

Beth: What is the message you hope to get across in this story?

Susan: There are always choices. No situation is ever hopeless. God is able to turn any life around.

Beth: What do you think is the hardest part of writing suspense?

Susan: Sustaining the terror.

Beth: What are problem areas you see in aspiring writers who want to write suspense? Advice?

Susan: I see beginning writers trying to write a suspense where the stakes aren’t high enough. They just can’t bear to put their characters into a situation so bad that the characters (and the reader) will think they can’t possibly survive. They need to get past that. I’ve also seen a lot of shallow characters who need shading.

Beth: What are your future writing plans?

Susan: I’m pretty well booked through 2008 with novels to write. Although I’ve written nearly a dozen historical romances, I’m focusing more on suspense novels now. Look for more from Love Inspired Suspense (Witness comes out in April) and Harvest House (Inside Story coming in a few months). Also, my daughter Megan’s and my cozy mysteries—the Mainely Murder Series—will debut next month with Heartsong Presents: Mysteries.

Beth: What is the best advice you ever received?

Susan: Network. Join a writers’ group and ACFW. Listen to people who know the business.

Thanks so much for the interview, Susan! Don't forget to leave a comment on our contest page to be eligible to win a copy of Just Cause.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Interview with Sharon Dunn!

Welcome back, Sharon Dunn!

Susan: Your Bargain Hunters Mysteries series is a whole lot of fun! Tell us about you new book, Death of a Six-Foot Teddy Bear.

Sharon: Book Two in the Bargain Hunters mysteries comes out January 15. The head bargain hunter, Ginger, hauls her coupon clipping friends and her hubby Earl to the Wind-Up Hotel in Calamity, Nevada to help Earl market his invention at an inventors’ convention, hit the cheap buffets, and do a little outlet shopping. Also, the World’s Largest Garage Sale is taking place. The hotel has been designed around a classic toy theme; the doors look like Bazooka bubble gum and the lobby floor is a checkerboard. When the hotel’s owner, a Donald Trump wannabe, is found dead wearing a teddy bear costume (it was a publicity stunt), suspicion falls on ex-wives, an angry son and Ginger and Earl.

Susan: Didn’t you change the title on this one? I seem to recall a working title of “Death of a Cute Teddy Bear.” Why did you change the title, and whose idea was that?

Sharon: Yes, there was a name change and it was the publisher’s suggestion. The reasoning was that there is nothing unusual about a “cute” Teddy bear, but that a six foot Teddy bear has an element of intrigue attached to it and the new title often produces a laugh when I tell it to people. If you can get a giggle from the title, I figure that is a pretty good start on setting the tone of the book.

Susan: I have to agree—this one is catchier. I like it! So, do you usually struggle with titles, or do most of them self-generate?

Sharon: Titles are so important not only to get reader interest once the book is written, but also as a writer, a good title propels the story forward. Coming up with a title is different with each book. Sometimes it is the first thing that pops into my head and then I am able to figure out what the book is about based on the title. Sometimes I know a title isn’t helping the creative process, so I give a manuscript a working title, knowing that as I write the book a phrase or image will emerge that gives me the real title.

Susan: Who is your favorite character among the bargain hunters? Is she like you—be honest, now.

Sharon: Ginger and Kindra are high on the list. I love that Ginger and Earl grow in their marriage and make discoveries. The way that Ginger struggles with being kind of a tightwad was a lesson I had to learn (okay still am learning). And I love Ginger’s heart. Even with all her struggles, she wants to help other people. Kindra, the college student and junior bargain hunter is nothing like me, but I love her bouncy exuberance. The seeming contradiction in her character makes her interesting. She is a super brainy physics, major but she has her blonde moments. She’s fun.

My absolute favorite character is Phoebe, Ginger’s monster cat. Since Ginger is an empty nester, Phoebe has become a sort of substitute child. Phoebe had a small role in Death of a Garage Sale Newbie, but she becomes really important in Death of a Six Foot Teddy Bear. I am a cat person, so cats tend to pop up in my books quite a bit.

Susan: What have your characters taught you through writing this series?

Sharon: That relationships are the most important thing in the world beyond being thrifty or finding fame and success. When I get to the end of my life, I want to be able to say that I stood by and supported my friends and family above all else. I love the way the ladies of the Bargain Hunters network care for each other.

Susan: In writing a multi-book series, do you plan several plots at the outset, or does one grow out of another?

Sharon: When I sold the series, I had a paragraph description for each book that indicated setting and central conflict that outlined the crime. I knew the Bargain Hunters weren’t going to stay in Montana. In Teddy Bear they go to Nevada, and in the third book, which has a working title of Death at Discount Prices, they are on the set of a shopping channel. For this series, the character growth issues were a surprise. The growth issues and discoveries tend to grow out of the action of mystery. In Teddy Bear, Kindra, the junior bargain hunter, even has a little romance. That was a delightful surprise.

Susan: What’s your system for keeping details consistent in subsequent books?

Sharon: Post-It notes are the unorganized person’s best friend. My desk is covered with them. Some of them are just notes about things I need to remember like what color someone’s eyes are and some of them are things I know need to be fixed in the next draft. As I fix the problems, I pull the notes off my desk. When the Post-It notes are gone, my book is ready to send to the editor. The Post-It notes that will help with all three books stay on the desk until the series is completed.

Susan: Hmm, I wonder if I could find enough surface on my desk to stick a few Post-Its...

What are your future writing plans? Will we see more in this series?

Sharon: Book three, Death at Discount Prices will wrap up the series. I am working on some other proposals for series ideas and stand alones. All of them will be in the same vein of what I have done so far, humorous who-dun-its that focus on character relationships and a follow-the-clues mystery.

Susan: Do you have any anecdotes related to writing this book—wacky things you learned in research?

Sharon: I found the coolest book on the dollar table at Barnes and Noble It’s called Think You are the Only One. It lists and describes obscure clubs. For example, there is the Gnome Lovers Club and the Rock Paper Scissors society. Anyway, one of the clubs was the Squirrel Lovers club. I thought it would be really cool if the Squirrel Lovers got together and had a convention. So that is going on at the Wind Up hotel at the same time as the Inventors Expo in my book.

Susan: Where I live, we don’t have garage sales in winter. What do you do for entertainment until spring?

Sharon: There’s always clearance racks, punch cards, and coupons so I can keep my bargain hunting skills sharp for garage sale season.

Susan: Do you have an idea file for future plot ideas?

Sharon: I have journaling pages (both on the computer and handwritten) where I explore ideas and dozens of first chapters or outlines or vague sketches for story ideas and another dozen ideas gestating in my head. I never lack for story ideas, the question always is which one is worth pursuing and turning into a book.

Susan: Great! How can our readers contact you and learn more about your books?

Sharon: You can find my Website. Also, I am holding a contest to give away a copy of Book 2 and a teddy bear (sorry this one isn’t six feet tall). Go to my Website and click on “bargain hunters” at the top of the home page, leave a bargain hunting tip and your email address so I can notify you if you win. Drawing will be Feb. 1, and you can enter as many times as you like.

Susan: Thanks so much for a fun interview, Sharon! Readers, don’t forget to go to our Contest Blog, leave a comment there, and sign up for the drawing for a copy of Sharon’s book!

Monday, January 07, 2008

An Interview with Christine Lynxwiler

Today we're privileged to interview Christine Lynxwiler. She is a prolific writer, with ten books published and six more contracted. She's also a very nice person.

Your mystery, Death on a Deadline, is one of the first four books in the new Heartsong Presents Mysteries line. How do you feel about that?

I'm SO excited. This new line is a blessing to mystery readers like me who have switched over to reading Christian fiction. And it's an amazing honor to be a part of the beginning of a project like this. (And to be in such good company as an author in the debut set of books.)

You’ve written this book with two of your sisters. Tell us a little bit how that works? How do three people write a book together?

Yes, I'm thrilled to be writing mysteries with my sisters, Sandy Gaskin and Jan Reynolds! We love to work together. But there's no pat answer for the "how does that work?" question anymore. We had a plan in the beginning to divide the duties, but now we all do it all. And every book is different. The first one--Death on a Deadline--I did a lot of the writing, probably the bulk of the writing, with Sandy and Jan doing plotting, editing, and research. The second one--Death of a Diva--is more their collaboration on a rough draft, because I was on a deadline with a trade fiction book. I took that rough draft and added my two cents worth of rewriting. The third one is shaping up to be even more of a three-way collaboration. I think the key to writing a book with three people is making sure the communication never becomes false. If one of us thinks a plot element or a section of writing doesn't work, we say it. We have to be able to count on each other for total honesty.

Give us a brief synopsis of Death on a Deadline.

It's headline news when Jenna Stafford's teenage nephew, Zach, is accused of killing his boss, the newspaper editor. But stop the presses! Jenna recruits her sister, Zach's mom, Carly, and they go undercover to get the scoop on the murder. Will the next edition’s lead story be about Jenna and Carly nailing the real killer? Or will the sleuthing sisters make the obit column in tomorrow’s paper?

Is there a story behind the story? Where the original book idea come from?

The idea came from the convoluted minds of three very twisted sisters. I'm kidding! Sort of. There is no real "story behind the story." We chose to use sisters as our amateur sleuths because we see that relationship as filled with fun dynamics. There are five girls in our own family, but having just two in the books made it easier to flesh out their personalities.

One of the big topics that writers discuss is SOP versus plotters. What are you?

In my trade fiction, I'm normally a combination. But we're plotters thru and thru for the mysteries. I don't see how you can write a mystery "seat of the pants" and have it come out okay in the end. Every change changes everything.

Where do you get your inspiration for your characters?

All around. Every person we know is fair game. So be warned.

Often people who don’t write books think the life of an author is like a fantasy—all fun. What do you think? What is your favorite part of writing? And your least favorite part?

I had to stop the interview and compose myself from laughing so hard. All fun? I think I'll write that with a permanent marker above my monitor. Something to get me through those grueling all-night writing sessions when I'm behind on deadline. Honestly, writing is a job. It's a blessing to be able to work doing something I love, but it's still work. My favorite part is when the book comes out. My least favorite part is the last two weeks before deadline, when I realize that I'm much farther from being done than I thought I was.

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

We use Writers' Digest books a lot. . .Careers for Your Characters, Writer's Guide to Places, and more specifically for suspense - Malicious Intent - a writer's guide to how murderers, robbers, rapists and other criminals think. I also use James Scot Bell's book, Plot and Structure, for every book I write. I like Elizabeth George's book Write Away, too.

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?

My future plans are just to keep writing. I recently signed a six book exclusive contract with Barbour Publishing. I'm working with them now, brainstorming the new series, and I am so excited about it that it's hard for me to concentrate on the books I'm currently working on. My writing dream is to become a better writer. For each book to be better. That's the dream I hope God will help me achieve.

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

Sounds corny, but I still have to say it -- Never give up. A long time ago, I heard somewhere that the writer who gets published isn't necessarily the best one, but the one who didn't quit. That stuck with me and I've always been determined to keep on going even when things don't seem to be working out.

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

I love Dean Koontz. Reading a book by him is like going to a writer's conference professional track. I learn so much while immensely enjoying myself. I also enjoy Gillian Roberts' Amanda Pepper mysteries. I love anything by Ted Dekker. I'm sure tomorrow I'll think of twenty authors I should have put here, but for now that's what I'm coming up with.

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

I'm a little hesitant to answer this question because what I'm working through right now has nothing to do with writing. But you asked. . .

The verse that is working on my heart the most right now is the last part of Proverbs 22:7 -- . . . the borrower is servant to the lender. My husband and I asked for a unique Christmas present from his parents this year and we received it. We got Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. We've watched 8 of the 13 lessons already and every day, we're humbled by what we didn't know and didn't understand about this mess we call our finances. Dave entertains us highly, but amidst the laughter, he hammers the point home about how important it is to be a good steward with the resources God gives us. But then he shows us exactly how to do it. And how even a trainwreck financial history can be turned around with careful planning and decisive action. Our goal is nothing less than financial peace and when we achieve that, it will be the first time in 26 years of marriage. God is helping us put this plan into action and even our kids are excited about it. I'm thrilled watching them sort their money into Save, Spend, and Give envelopes. They love it!

I'm laughing because I just read back over this and I can see that I sound like an infomercial. I don't personally know Dave Ramsey and I'm not selling his plan, nor (unfortunately) do I get any kind of kickback or commission from his website. I told my husband - I'm like all those annoying people on diets who want to tell us how easy it can be for us to do it too. But when I heard Dave read that scripture in Proverbs and several others, I realized that, other than our giving, our finances are the only part of our life that I always thought of as separate from our spiritual life. Never again. (End of infomercial.)

Thanks for having me!! I love KMIS.

Please visit Chris at her website: http://www.christinelynxwiler.com/

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year’s Resolution. . .Give Yourself a Break

Keep Me In Suspense was created to help promote inspirational mystery and suspense, as well as to aid writers in development of their craft. This past year marked the growth of the KMIS team, as well as more interviews and more how-to articles.

We appreciate everyone who visited our blog last year. Thank you. In 2008, our readers can look forward to interviews and articles written about and by some of the best voices in the Christian publishing industry.

To kick off the year, I’ve written an article that’s a little different from our usual fare, but it’s certainly apropos for writers. At least for this writer and I know there have to be others out there like me. It’s a reminder of Who is our source of inspiration and strength.

New Years is a time when everyone makes resolutions to develop new habits, exercise, lose weight, get organized, and any number of other noble accomplishments. I’m in no way critical of those things. I love resolutions and lists. I live by them. All right. I admit it. I’m slightly obsessive/compulsive.

However, this year is different for me. I’ve got resolutions, but not my usual bullet-pointed list of things I will never be able to achieve in a million years—things I write down just to kick myself into action because anything in print is serious. Like sending out 50 proposals, completing ten books, losing fifty more pounds, running ten miles, bench pressing 100 pounds, repainting all the interior walls in my house, tiling my kitchen counter, and learning how to reseat a toilet, etc.

Nope. Here are my resolutions. They’re simple.

1. I’ve asked God to restore my joy. I lost it this year.
2. I’ve decided to cut myself some slack and accept the fact that I can’t ever be perfect, so I shouldn't worry about my imperfections.
3. I need to remember that I can’t please everyone. (See #2—I’m not perfect.)

I recently returned from a trip to Washington State where I spent the holidays with my siblings. My first Monday there, I was sitting in a chair in my sister’s family room, mindlessly staring out the window. She was attending to her daycare business. I yanked my attention away from the scenery outside and booted up my laptop to get to work. I had writerly things to do. After all, I had to be productive, even at Christmas.

I listlessly glanced at my document files, trying to decide what to tackle first, wondering at my lack of enthusiasm. I have three books coming out this year. I have a great writing related job. I love everything about writing. So why did I feel like stomping my laptop into little pieces and grinding each one up in the garbage disposal?

Not willing to risk my laptop, I pried it from my clenched fists, set it aside, and stared out the window again. What was wrong? I’d lost my enthusiasm, not only for writing, but for everything in my life. I felt weak and fruitless.

When I was packing for my trip, there was no question in my mind that I would work during the holidays. Of course I would. Thanks to my ancestry, I have a wonderful German work ethic that seems to grow stronger each year. Okay, so it drives me like a drill sergeant.

When I experience pressure in my life, my solution is to work harder. Get out the figurative electric cattle prod. Everything I do is one hundred percent. I exercise hard. I watch television with purpose—to catch up on the news or watch something that might help my writing. When I sit, I must somehow be productive. Even a dancing class I took for fun has become an exercise in being the best I can be.

I never stare mindlessly out a window because it can’t possibly have a serious purpose. . .can it?

That’s when it hit me. I had been bashing my brains out trying to accomplish so much, I burned out. My life had become a treadmill of all work and no play. The things I used to enjoy had become lifeless. Even my life felt lifeless.

How could I possibly write a good book when I don't care about anything anymore?

So, I made a conscious decision to enjoy myself during the holidays. Wow. Who would have ever thought that purposefully relaxing would be so hard? That my laptop screen would stare reproachfully at me and the voices in my head would constantly remind me of my next deadline. P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E. This next book has got to be the best yet. You can’t fail.

Any writer knows exactly what I mean. Those constantly yapping voices that can be so helpful in our creative endeavors can also make us feel slightly insane. So much of a writer’s work is in our heads. It’s always there. Never finished.

But I persevered. I played on the floor with the daycare children. Fed the babies. Danced with the kids to Christmas music. I sat around in my snowman pajamas. That's hard for me because in my mind, sitting around in my pajamas is tantamount to laziness. I watched movies with my nephews and played with Legos. I walked for miles in the desert behind my sister’s house. I took pictures for fun. I laughed. I read a kid’s fantasy book. I helped make cookies and laughed some more.

I began to relax.

Things became even more clear when I attended an advent service at my sister’s church. The candle they lit that week represented joy. The sermon was like a personal, handwritten note from God. Candice, you’ve lost your joy. You’ve lost sight of Me and My purpose for your life because you want so badly to be perfect. To please everyone. You’re trying too hard. You can’t do it all.

BONK! That hit me like a spiritual sledgehammer. I remembered the Scripture in Nehemiah 8:10, The joy of the Lord is my strength. What a wonderful reminder, especially from Nehemiah—an awesome book about restoration.

Like many readers of this Keep Me In Suspense blog, I’m privileged to be an author. That means deadlines and sometimes burning the midnight oil. But I don’t ever again want to lose my joy. A lack of joy means a lack of creativity—something we all desperately need to write good books.

I especially don’t want to lose sight of the little things God has put in my life to refresh and restore me—like staring mindlessly out my window at the scenery.

So at least once everyday, I’m going to stare outside and do nothing. Think nothing. Maybe you can join me.

And if you haven’t already, join our growing list of Feedblitz readers. You’ll receive our articles by email.

And thank you again for visiting us. We appreciate all of our readers.

Candice ( http://www.candicemillerspeare.com/ )