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Monday, April 28, 2008

Interview with Carol Cox

Congratulations to ChristyJan. You've won a copy of Susan Page Davis's Witness. To enter this week's contest, post a comment along with your contact infomation.

Today we welcome Carol Cox, author of several historical novels, including her new historical suspense series.

1. The third book of your A Fair To Remember Series released on April 1st. Tell us a little about the plot of A Bride So Fair.

Thanks, I’d love to! The storyline of A Bride So Fair revolves around Emily Ralston, who grew up in a Chicago orphanage and is thrilled when she lands a job in the Children's Building at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. And the White City seems to be living up to its promise of excitement when she meets Stephen Bridger, a handsome Columbian Guard. When Stephen finds a lost child, he delivers the boy to the Children's Building to be cared for until the child’s mother is located. But when a dead body believed to be the boy’s mother is found, a mystery begins to unfold. Tracking down the rest of little Adam’s family proves to be more challenging than they expected when their efforts make all three of them targets of a cold-hearted criminal, and their lives—as well as their blossoming romance—are at risk.

In A Bride So Fair, I had the opportunity to showcase several characters who appeared in the first two books, as well as tie up some loose ends that were left dangling throughout the series. Stephen Bridger, for instance, had been on the fringes of the romances in Ticket to Tomorrow and Fair Game. He was such a likable character that it only seemed fair to give him a chance to shine in a book of his own. Mrs. Purvis, the quirky landlady, is back, and readers will finally learn whether she ever discovers the secret room and the treasure her late husband left behind. And Ian McGinty, the shadowy underworld figure from Fair Game, is back in a much larger—and more ominous—role.

2. Tell us what inspired you to write this historical suspense series..

Several years ago, I happened across an article that made a brief mention of the World’s Columbian Exposition—also known as the Chicago World’s Fair—and talked about what a pivotal event this had been in our country’s history. Well, I’d never even heard of this fair before, so my first response was to check it out on the Internet to find out what I’d missed. It turned out that there was a wealth of information about the fair online, and the more I read, the more fascinated I became. I knew right away that it would be a perfect setting for a series. Being able to write it as historical romantic suspense let me combine my favorite genres of history, mystery, and romance, so it was a win-win situation all around!

3. What bypaths did your research for this project take you down?

Research is one of my favorite parts of the writing process, and the research for this series was even more enjoyable than usual. I started with the Internet to get an overview of the fair and to discover other points I wanted to check out in more detail. The Illinois Institute of Technology has a site dedicated to the fair, and it was a treasure trove of information. It even had floor plans of some of the buildings. Thanks to their assistant dean of bibliographic systems, I was able to get copies of those plans, and they helped tremendously in being able to bring the setting to life.

I also purchased a number of books. Some were contemporary, like Dover Publications’ The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893; others were antique volumes published at the time of the fair. Being able to read about the event from the point of view of people who were actually there was like taking a step back in time.

After I’d spent months poring over all the photos, maps, and floor plans I could get my hands on, it was time to travel to Chicago for a firsthand look at Jackson Park, the site for the fair. It was a wonderful way to get a feel for its size and scope. I took along a map that showed the layout of the fair in relation to the roads that crisscross the park today, and that let me pinpoint the locations of the buildings and other areas that I planned to use in the books. Being there in person also provided some rich sensory details that I was able to incorporate into the stories. All in all, it was a fabulous experience!

4. Do you have a favorite character in this book? Who is it and why?

Wow, that’s a little like being asked if you have a favorite child. ☺ Emily is special to me because she struggles with the kind of situation we all face at one time or another. She wants so much to do the right thing but finds it hard to know exactly what that is.

And of course, there’s Mrs. Purvis. She started out as a rather minor secondary character, but she soon let me know that she wasn’t going to be content with staying in the background. In a way, she’s wound up becoming the star of the series. I’ve had more reader mail about her than about any other character! She’s a study in contrasts, and I think the combination of her quirky antics along with her spiritual depth is what has made her a reader favorite. That, plus the ongoing question of whether she’ll ever reach her goal of finding the treasure she’s been looking for all these years.

5. Do you have any tips you’d like to share for organizing your data while writing a series?

I started using Microsoft’s OneNote several years ago, and it’s a fabulous tool for organizing material. I set up a folder for the whole series where I keep files for information that will be used over and over again. Within the series folder, I create separate folders for each of the books, which contain information specific to those stories. I like the program’s versatility—I can jot notes down as they come to mind, send web pages over to a specific folder with the click of a button, and keep track of all the interesting little snippets of information I come up with in the course of doing research. And speaking of interesting little details, be sure to latch onto those when you first come across them. Don’t rely on your memory, thinking you’ll be able to come back and find them later on. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

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

A writers conference I attended early in my writing career made a lasting difference. Out of all the information that was presented, there was one simple but profound concept that stood out above all the rest: It’s not about me; it’s about Him. The whole reason for my writing is not to make a name for myself, but to share His truth with others.

7. Any future plans for your writing that you’d like to share? What’s coming up next?

I’m working on several ideas right now, but I’m not sure which will turn out to be the next project. We’ll have to wait to see how that develops!

8. Any specific dreams you’d like to accomplish in the area of writing—a project you’d like to write someday?

One of the things I enjoy most is bringing a setting to life in a way that readers can feel like they’ve actually been there. I’d like to do more books set in the Southwest to share the beauty and the rich history of the area I call home.

9. Can you share any tidbits of wisdom on getting published, especially for someone who has just broken in?

Realize that getting that first contract is only one step in the journey, and not the final destination. Develop a learner’s heart and a teachable spirit. The more I write, the more I realize how much I still have to learn. And that’s a part of the joy of writing. There’s always room to grow and improve!

10. Where can our readers learn more about you and your books?

They can visit my website at www.CarolCoxBooks.com. I’m in the process of having the site redesigned to give it a fresh new look, so it’s currently in a state of transition. I’m not certain of the official launch date for the new design, but I hope your readers will keep watching for it. I’d love to hear what you all think!

Thanks so much for inviting me back to be a part of Keep Me In Suspense. I’ve enjoyed the visit!
(Interview by Susan Page Davis)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Book Winner!

Congratulations to Cindi who won a copy of Darlene Franklin's Gunfight at Grace Gulch! Be sure and leave comment on all of our author interviews for a chance to win free copies of our authors' books!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Interview With Amy Wallace

If you'd like to enter this week's contest for a copy of a book, please make sure to post a comment and leave your contact information.

Tell us about your book, Healing Promises.

Healing Promises is a high-voltage suspense novel which explores how a life-threatening medical diagnosis and the search for an elusive serial kidnapper affects even the most solid, loving Christian marriage and poses a key life question: Can God be trusted?

My prayer is that readers will experience a deeper sense of the goodness and trustworthiness of God, even when life doesn’t go according to plan. I also hope readers will see that at the end of ourselves only one truth remains—God is good. What we do with that fact changes everything.

How did you get to know your hero and heroine for this book?

Healing Promises is the second book in the Defenders of Hope series, so I knew Clint and Sara from writing the first novel Ransomed Dreams. I learned the most about FBI Agent Clint Rollins and Dr. Sara Rollins from their dialogue and interaction with Steven and Gracie in Ransomed Dreams. But in writing Healing Promises, they became living, breathing characters as I watched them struggle with medical issues and many other difficulties they face in Healing Promises.

In other words, my characters become real people as I watch how they react to the obstacles in their path and how they overcome and grow because of them.

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

My writing process has evolved from just sitting down to type in that blissful state of ignorance and excitement to doing fairly detailed chapter-by-chapter outlines and character sketches before I begin to write. Because the Defenders of Hope series is about Crimes Against Children FBI agents, I have tons of research to do before I begin crafting the stories. Once my research helps me define the timeline, I set to work on the chapter-by-chapter and character details.

I've found the outline and information about the characters to be incredibly helpful in keeping me on task with the story, not only the action plot, but also the development and depth of the characters. The chapter-by-chapter outline isn't extremely detailed, so I also have a lot of fun seeing where the story goes when I sit down to write.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Healing Promises grew out of two very painful times of wrestling with God and doubting His goodness. The first experience came following a friend’s funeral after three years of praying for healing. My faith was rocked to the core and I struggled to pray for a long time after my friend died. The second difficult season was that of losing a baby before becoming pregnant with my third daughter. Both dark paths took me to the end of what I understood about God. And as I worked on Healing Promises, I went back to those memories and poured into the pages all the pain of those moments as well as what God taught me and the grace He lavished on my wounded heart.

This book looks like it took quite a bit of research in the medical field as well as law enforcement field. Tell us a little bit about how you go about your research—what resources you use.

My college degree came in very handy for writing the suspense storyline. I have a counseling background and was totally fascinated with abnormal psychology and my criminal justice classes. In addition to my college textbooks, I did extensive reading about infamous serial killers and FBI biographies which provided various case details.

The research proved far easier than writing from a serial killer’s perspective. But I knew if I wrote the suspense well, I might help parents see ways to teach their children how to stay safe.

In terms of the medical aspects of Healing Promises, one of the coolest parts of my research included sending a prayer request and plea for help to the ACFW prayer loop. One of the ladies who answered provided me with an intimate and in-depth look into her husband’s struggle with the very cancer I’d researched. Her openness and amazing details provided a depth to the story and characters I wouldn’t have achieved otherwise. In addition, I had a dear friend go through cancer treatments while I wrote this story, and I had another very precious friend and his family show me what faith looks like even when life with cancer and healing don’t go the way we pray.

What are your current projects?

Very soon I’ll jump into editing Enduring Justice, the third Defenders of Hope novel. And I’ve started work on my next suspense series which includes three novels that have been brewing in my heart a long time. As to what they’re about…let’s just say they include law enforcement, families with children, and intense storylines.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Balancing homeschooling with writing time is a big challenge. As is forcing myself to get a descent amount of sleep because there’s always something to be doing or reading or writing. But the hardest part about being an author is fighting the lies the enemy whispers at every turn. Lies about my worth, my ability and the importance of other’s opinions. But praise God, there’s an answer for every lie. And that answer can be summed up with remembering who we are in Christ and that He has called us, not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace which He granted us in Christ before the beginning of time. (paraphrase of 1 Timothy 1:8-9)

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
My favorite author is Sharon Hinck because within the pages of her stories I’m invited to laugh, cry and worship God in unique ways. I love her Restorer series in particular. Set in a fantasy world is a mom I can relate to who faces emotional, spiritual and physical battles that challenge me to face the giants in my life and look to the Lord. Besides that, her sword fighting scenes ring with metal clashes and adrenaline that captures me and keeps me up way too late at night.

Do you have any advice for other romantic suspense writers?

My advice for any type of writing is to let who God is and who you are flow through your fingers. That’s the uniqueness each writer brings to a story.

In terms of writing romantic suspense, one of the most important things an author can do is fully research their story. There are a ton of ideas tucked away in good research. Read biographies about and talk to people in your character’s professions. Some folks I’ve interviewed have shared great ideas for bringing together the suspense and romance plots just by telling stories of their lives.

I’d also suggest getting to know your characters well before you begin writing. Pray about each character’s basic lie. What do they believe about themselves? They’re unlovable? They’re not good enough? And also find out what they want most or hope with everything in them won’t happen. Knowing these things about your characters will enable you to write them well. Praying about them will help you see what God wants to do through your story to touch hearts and change lives.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Manage Profanity, Part 1

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a care"

Doesn't quite work, does it? Give a rip? A flip? Frankly, my dear, I don't care one way or the other? Nah.

And yet in Christian fiction, profanity is verboten. The prim church ladies who enjoy inspirational fiction want to do so without having to expose themselves to foul language. So how do we portray characters who use profanity if we're not allowed to use it in our books?

Ah, one of the great dilemmas of writing Christian fiction.

Let me hasten to say that I actually agree with the prim church ladies. Having to read profanity in something I'm voluntarily reading, and for fun at that, kind of spoils the experience for me. Many people come to Christian fiction to have good stories but to be untouched by the vilest elements of the culture.

In my years in Christian publishing I have had a number of disagreements with fellow publishing professionals on this topic. Some feel—quite vehemently—that avoiding profanity is inherently dishonest. Inauthentic. The way to reach the lost, they argue, is to show lost people doing lost things and talking the way lost people do.

I acknowledge that this is a valid argument. However, I continue to disagree that CBA fiction ought to be laced with profanity. The audience CBA publishers reach, after all, is not the lost, no matter how we wish it were so. The audience we do reach doesn't want to read "that trash."

Other folks want to include a watered-down version of profanity. They want the PG-rated vocabulary, which usually has a 1-to-1 correlation with actual profanity.

Still other folks want to eliminate swearing in Christian fiction entirely. I'm of that school of thought.

However, that doesn't help us with our dilemma. How do you create profane characters without resorting to profanity? Or should you, um, dern the torpedoes and use the profanity the character would use?

In preparation for this Tip I surveyed some of my published Christian novelist friends to hear how they deal with this issue. Their solutions fell into six major categories.

Proposed Solution 1: Use All the Profanity You Want

You can always just let your foul characters talk the way they would really talk. Though it pain you (or not) to do so, you can simply let it all hang out there and hope your publisher will be "open-minded" enough to let it stay in the finished ms.

One problem with this is that your typical CBA publisher will never let you get away with this. And it's not because they're prudes.

See, all it takes is one complaint from a little old lady from Pasadena to the Christian bookstore where she bought the book, and your book is pulled from the shelves and sent back to the publisher in bulk. Along with a nasty letter about how the bookstore owner will never trust that publishing company again. That's bad.

A variation on this is to write your rough draft with all the profanity you think should be in there, and then come back through later and use one of the following solutions to trim it out.

Proposed Solution 2: Use Watered Down Profanity

In this solution you come as close to the real four-letter words as you can, often with alternate four-letter words that aren't perceived as being as bad as the originals. In other words, you let your characters be as foul-mouthed as you can possibly get away with, while always pushing the envelope.

I'm a big believer in Ephesians 4:29, which says we should allow no unwholesome word to proceed from our mouths, but only those words that work to build up or educate the hearer. However, I think that latter phrase will allow me to tell you what I mean here.

In this solution, you use words like crap and dang and heck and geez, all of which offend me personally but are in the daily vocabulary of many people who love the Lord with all their hearts, so I won't judge.

To me, this solution makes your characters seem like B-level foul-mouths. Like they'd like to really cuss but their moms won't let them. It's hard to make someone seem really foul when they always hold back from actual profanity.

In that sense, I think this solution actually works against what you're trying to do, which is create someone truly profane. They all seem like wimps.

Oh...pickle juice!

Proposed Solution 3: Write for Secular Publishers (or Self-Publish)

If you're so committed to authenticity in your art that you can't bear to write something besides what your foul characters would really say, then consider writing for a publisher that doesn't care about bad language.

Namely, a secular publisher. Sometimes you're not writing what these publishers want unless you've got profanity throughout your story. You could make the argument that writing for a secular publisher is how you can reach the lost with your fiction anyway, so maybe that's the path for you.

Self-publishing is another potential outlet for your profanity-laced fiction. Some Christian subsidy publishing houses (like WinePress or Creation House Press) would probably want to tone down the profanity in your book, but secular self-publishing companies don't care one way or another. So long as you don't say anything in your book that might get them in legal trouble, they're probably okay with whatever comes out of your characters' mouths.

Proposed Solution 4: Avoid Writing Profane Characters

When I asked this question of one of my friends and fellow Christian novelists, she had a sort of epiphany. She realized that because of this prohibition against profanity in Christian novels she'd simply avoided writing truly foul characters in her fiction.

Such characters had been on the fringe of her stories but she'd never written one into the middle of her story—which would've obligated her to face this dilemma.

You can do this, too. Probably the most elegant solution to how you can not have to decide whether or not to let your profane characters use profanity is to simply not write any profane characters. Problem solved.

You could make the case that avoiding a major kind of person in your stories puts a certain limit on your fiction and your storytelling, but that might not be a bad thing. We all limit our story choices anyway, choosing for instance not to write romance or horror or YA, so maybe this is the right solution for you.

Proposed Solution 5: Use Euphemisms

This is probably the most commonly employed solution to our dilemma. In this, you let characters be as foul-mouthed as you want them to be—you simply don't spell it out.

When Jerry learned of Mary's affair, he let us all know exactly how he felt about her character, her physical attributes, and choice aspects of her ancestry.

Louise's anger grew throughout the day. Finally, after kicking her toe on a table leg, she let loose with a string of profanity that left the ochre paint decidedly paler.

This kind of thing is the literary equivalent to how old movies used to handle sex scenes. The door shut and we faded to black. We knew what was going on, but it wasn't demonstrated for us onstage.

Incidentally, this is also the way old novels handled profanity. Here's an example from A Touch of Death, a 1953 novel by Charles Williams:

She didn't like me. And you could see the chords in her throat while she was telling me about it. "Shut up," I said.

In Internet parlance, we speak of meta-data. This is data about data. Metaknowledge is knowledge about knowledge. It's a way of describing something by taking one step back from the thing to tell us what it is and what attributes it has.

This solution to profanity is metaprofanity. It's information about the profanity. We don't see the swearing itself, but we see a description of the swearing.

You have to be more creative (and use more humor) to write this way. Anybody can write in a cuss word, but it takes real talent to give us the feeling of the cussing without literally spelling it out.

This is probably the solution you should use most of the time.

Proposed Solution 6: Invent a Language

You can't do this in most books, obviously. But when you write speculative fiction you have the opportunity to create a whole new language. That way, characters can be swearing a blue streak but because it's a made-up language, no one can possibly be offended.

The cancelled science fiction TV series Firefly does this. Sort of. The solution there is to use bits of Mandarin Chinese when the characters go off into cussing. Because in the far future the last great superpowers, the U.S. and China, merged, giving a certain merging of their languages.

It's quite convenient to have a swearing language at your disposal. You might be able to do this, too.

Firefly also uses made-up words not from Chinese. Characters say "gorram," which is obviously a euphamism for something else, but it's not actually cussing and therefore no one has grounds to be upset. Battlestar Galactica uses "frak," which again they get away with because it's technically not a word, though it's clear from usage what it means.

I'm inventing a language for my own epic fantasy. It's mostly English but I use synonyms for all kinds of things: a gnat is a neener, a squirrel is a scratch, and "okay" is "ulda."

I'm also allowing the characters to cuss like construction workers—but only in this nonsense language.

Snoog. Rhyne. Stelnate.

Are you offended? Exactly.

Two more things on this solution. First, there is a theory that a culture's swearing vocabulary arises in areas where that culture feels repressed. For instance, French Canadians use parts of a cathedral as their curse words: Oh, tabernacle! Holy sancrist! Apparently they felt oppressed by the church.

If you're making up a culture, why not use this theory to also make up a curse vocabulary that involves whatever they're feeling repressed by (or did feel repressed by back in the day when such things were being invented)?

In my story, my characters feel overly oppressed by high taxation. "Well, I'll be taxed" is a common epithet in their tongue.

Such a solution allows you to be as crass as you want using words or terms that are, in and of themselves, inoffensive.

Second, there is a wonderful Web site that creates new words from old ones. All you have to do is enter a fairly large pool of words—any words—and click a button. And boom, out comes a new set of scrambled words that sound vaguely like the original ones but are completely new.

Why not use this for your cursing vocabulary? I do.

In my fantasy I wanted to use words that sounded like church words but weren't. Here are some of the new words coined by this Web site: restate, sacle, baptudy, substion, and tesure. Cool, huh? Try it out.

Next Time

Okay, those are the main solutions for showing profane characters in Christian fiction. Hopefully, one is for you.

Next time I'll tell you what I think is the real issue and the challenge for you.

Jeff Gerke (a.k.a. Jefferson Scott www.jeffersonscott.com and www.wherethemapends.com )

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Meet Darlene Franklin

LISA: This week we're adding an extra interview, which means you have a chance to win another book! Welcome to Keep Me In Suspense, Darlene! What was your initial reaction in finding out you sold your first book? In other words, tell us about. . .THE CALL

DARLENE: I have just sold my fourth book, plus one novella—and I have yet to receive a phone call!

Tracie Peterson (editor of Heartsong Presents at the time) emailed me the night before Thanksgiving in 2003 to let me know that they would publish my first book, Romanian Rhapsody (July 2005). Ever since that memorable holiday, I have checked my inbox eagerly on Thanksgiving eve to see if it happens again (so far it hasn’t.)

Susan Downs, editor of Heartsong Presents: Mysteries, IM’d me on the computer one morning, telling me she wanted to contract Dressed for Death.

I was alternately delighted and terrified. Delighted, because Susan was offering a contract. Terrified, because Dressed for Death was not the name of my book and I thought she had me mixed up with someone else. I felt so stupid when she reminded me that Dressed for Death was the name of the series; the contract was for the first book, Gunfight at Grace Gulch.

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

DARLENE: When my first two proposals for cozy mysteries bombed, I knew I needed to come up with a winning idea. I returned to small town America, to the back roads of Oklahoma where I lived for six years, and to the western culture that provides the mythology of American literature. I also hoped to ride the publicity connected with Oklahoma’s recent centennial (November 2007), but the timing didn’t quite work.

Gunfight at Grace Gulch calls on that staple of Westerns—a gunfight—plus Oklahoma’s unique history of land runs. The fictional town of Grace Gulch celebrates Land Run Days every September; this year, they reenact the town’s most famous gunfight, only one of the players actually dies. Cici Wilde, owner of a vintage clothing store, decides to investigate when her sister and both of her boyfriends fall under suspicion.

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?

DARLENE: Poor Cici feels like the third wheel between her two larger-than-life sisters. In Gunfight, she excels as a sleuth and starts to accept herself when she realizes how much others love her.

I don’t have any siblings, but I often feel invisible. My daughter died recently; we received hundreds of emails, cards, gifts, flowers, from every corner of Denver and the United States, as well as around the world.

I no longer feel invisible. God showed me His loved through His people.

LISA: What a beautiful testimony, Darlene. I know your book will minister to many. What is the number one thing you’ve learned from your writing journey?

DARLENE: My progress has been slow but sure. I’ve been writing for over fifteen years, and now have some modest success.

Many times I have been tempted to quit. At one conference, I prayed earnestly about it. The answer I have received was this: Don’t worry about whether or not you’re supposed to be writing six years from now. What does God want you to do today?
God didn’t give me the entire timeline; He showed me the next step. He led me to write a book that has never been published, about the Montgomery bus boycott. That project took me almost two years. After that came something else. Six years after that conference, I am paid for almost everything I write.

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?

DARLENE: I hope to continue writing mystery/suspense; I love a good mystery, and now I write stories that others will read. I’ve enjoyed the western milieu of the Dressed for Death series, and hope to continue to mine the western culture for ideas.

My overarching dream is to leave my day job completely before I reach retirement age. I attended an excellent seminar, taught by Chip McGregor, on planning your writing career. He helped me think through what it will take to retire. Praise God, I’ve made an excellent start!

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

DARLENE: With Gunfight at Grace Gulch, I am doing what I should have done when Romanian Rhapsody came out. In my defense, I didn’t know how. This time I am setting up book signings in several places, seeking speaking engagements, arranging for blog interviews and reviews, and hope to send out a press release.

I have learned most of this how-to from my critique partners (all professional writers) and the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) loop. It’s an invaluable resource.

LISA: Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

DARLENE: Become part of a local writing group—ACFW is a great one! But even a secular group will help you grow as a writer. Join a critique group, whether face-to-face or online. There are many free writing loops with great advice for beginning as well as professional writers. I regularly check Edit Cafe from the Barbour editors.

Sally Stewart’s annual Christian Writers Market Guide is a must. Join the Writers Digest book club and slowly build your library with volumes that speak directly to your interests. I have both “how to” books and reference books.

LISA: Thanks so much for joining us, Darlene! To find out more about Darlene and her books, including her latest cozy Gunfight at Grace Gulch, visit her website. To win a copy of Darlene's latest cozy mystery, be sure and leave a comment on this post.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Interview with Susan Page Davis

Congratulations to Pamela James. She's won a copy of Carol Steward's In His Sights! If you'd like a chance to win Witness, don't forget to comment below and leave your contact information.

LISA: I’d like to welcome back Susan Page Davis to our blog again. Susan has her plate full writing for Heartsong Presents, Heartsong Presents: Mysteries, Harvest House, and Love Inspired Suspense, but it’s no wonder as her books continue to captivate her readers over and over!

Welcome Susan! What are you working on right now?

SUSAN: Hi, Lisa. It’s great to talk with you again. I just finished writing my third book for the Love Inspired Suspense line. On a Killer’s Trail will release in February, 2009.

LISA: Tell us about your experience in breaking into the LIS line.

SUSAN: I tried for a long time to sell to LIS. I’m not sure what finally got me “in,” but my super agent, Chip MacGregor and a lot of persistence must have something to do with it.

LISA: What are the necessary ingredients for a LIS novel?

SUSAN: Of course you have to have suspense, starting immediately on the first page if possible, and continuing throughout the book. You also need romance. But it’s more than that. The characters need depth and inner conflict, beyond the romantic tension and the suspense plot. For instance, in On a Killer’s Trail, newbie reporter Kate and police detective Neil fall in love, but it takes a while. Neil is a new Christian, and he’s not sure he knows how to relate to a Christian woman. His family has rejected him and his new faith. Kate is so focused on her career that she doesn’t want to be distracted by a good-looking guy, especially one with a “bad boy” reputation. So we have the romantic attraction, but we also have reasons to keep it in check, and we have the murders Neil is trying to solve and Kate is reporting to the world. Lots of levels emotionally.

LISA: How do you balance the suspense thread with the romance thread?

SUSAN: One thing I sometimes have trouble with is keeping the romantic tension to almost the end of the suspense plot. If you let the couple declare their love too early, that tension is gone. It took me a while to understand why writers kept the hero and heroine apart (either physically or emotionally) so long, but I’m starting to “get it.” If I resolve the romance too early in an LIS-targeted book, the editor reminds me to keep that thread alive a little longer.

LISA: What is your method for developing your plots?

SUSAN: I usually think of a situation first—the opener zinger that starts the suspense plot. Once I have the basic idea, I think of how this event would affect the heroine’s life, and also the hero’s. I rough out a plot. At that point, I like to brainstorm with someone who thinks like me (or a little quirkier), loves suspense, and has a lot of energy. Sometimes that sparks ideas for clues, plot points, and cliffhangers that I might not have thought of. Then I write a detailed synopsis—usually longer than an editor wants, like eight to ten pages. This is my notes for the actual writing process. It may contain chapter synopses, notes on point of view, and even bits of dialogue. Then I trim it down to the shorter version I’ll send the editor.

LISA: What kinds of stories are LIS looking for/not looking for? (Or what do they like/don’t like from your experience`)

SUSAN: In my limited experience, they want stories about fairly young, savvy single women who find themselves in danger. The heroine must have a hand in the resolution of the suspense plot, not simply get rescued. The hero is not just a prop, however. He, too, must be a likable, somewhat intelligent person who is part of the solution process.

LISA: Any advice for authors wanting to break into this line?

SUSAN: Keep trying. And if you get a rejection, pay attention to any comments you get. When you think of a new idea for LIS, try to get that suspense going early and keep it going.

LISA: Susan is giving away a copy of her current LIS book, Witness, this week. Leave a comment below and you will be entered for our drawing next Monday. And be sure to visit Susan at her Website: www.susanpagedavis.com.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Carol Steward Interview

Congratulations to Carolynn W! You've won a copy of Pamela Tracy's Broken Lullaby. To be entered in the contest to win a copy of this week's book, please post a comment below and be sure to include contact information.

1. Tell us about the book series, Reunion Revelations, and your book in the series.

Reunion Revelations brings friends back together at their 10-year college reunion. Soon thereafter, during a construction project, a skeleton is discovered. The classmates begin to try to figure out who the victim could have been. In the process they reveal dark secrets about several people on campus. In His Sights is the story of Dee Owens, a public relations specialist who is hired by the hero, Edgar Ortiz, Assistant Director of Admissions, to spin the damage caused by the murder investigation and accompanying scandals.

2. How did you get to know your hero and heroine for this book?

Dee and Edgar were probably the most challenging characters I've ever written, but once I figured out who they were, they let me tell their story. I worked in a college admissions office, so that part was easy. The toughest challenge was trying to understand how a PR specialist works. I did a lot of online research, then found out that one of the other authors of the series worked in PR in a previous career. That helped a lot.

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

Writing a continuity series like this is very different than plotting out my own novels. With a large portion of the plot elements "required" by the outline the editors give us, we, as a group of authors, have to work together to figure out how to make the stories work together without ruining one or another story in the series. So yes, I had a stricter plot-line with this book. Even though the events of the story needed to be met, the characters truly drive the story in their own way, which allows for some great surprises.

4. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Keeping the additional elements from the other author's books straight. Who knew what when, what we could and needed to say to lead into the following book was another challenge. Writing a continuity series is a lot of fun, a lot of work, and really stretches what you as an author believe about your own writing style. Most continuity series are by invitation from the editors, and since they give you the "overall story" it usually contains elements that I would normally never do. For example, in the first continuity I was asked to write, a child care provider kidnaps one of the children that she'd been hired to care for. Since I was a child care provider, writing it about killed me. However, I believe it did allow me to broaden my writing skills, and now, in my In the Line of Fire series of police officers, (whom I admire greatly, in spite of the bad ones that do exist) I am able to write conflict with a much more real feel to it.

5. Looking at the book list on your web sites, you have a lot of heroes in law enforcement. What’s been your best resource for research?

My father was a deputy sheriff, his father a sheriff, my husband worked summers as a seasonal park ranger and worked closely with full-time law enforcement of all types, and now my son is a police officer. I suspect that if I'd have been born a generation later that I would have realized sooner that I, too, could have been a police officer also. Yet even though I've been around law enforcement heroes all my life, I do a lot of research, from citizen's police academy, to interviews and ride alongs. Mostly, though, I think the reason it's worked for me is because I'm close enough, yet far enough away. I understand the law enforcement way of thinking, and in fact, it's deeply ingrained in me. Even though I'm not in law enforcement, I'm a great detective in my administrative duties. I dig for the truth. And somehow, I have a gut instinct that won't be still! I'm afraid my bosses wish I'd have gone into police work at times as well.

6. What are your current projects?

I'm working on my final book in the In the Line of Fire series, Shield of Refuge. After it is finished, I'm expecting my third grandchild, so I'll enjoy the summer and prepare for my cherished duties as grandma while the next book takes shape. I think it's going to be another suspense.

7. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Mainly maintaining a writing schedule. I work full-time at the Graduate School at the University of Northern Colorado, so I spend a lot of time at the computer, and that makes sitting down at the computer in the evening difficult some days. Okay, most days. Especially now, when I'm reviewing theses and dissertations for 8 hours, then coming home and trying to turn off the editor and become the writer. I try to take an hour or two to make dinner with my husband and kids and granddaughter who are living with us right now, and let the editor take a hike. Then, hopefully, when I get back to the computer, the creator is ready to get to work.

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

I have several favorite authors, however, I don't make my reading choices simply by authors that I like. With such limited time, I read more to see where the market is going and try to learn something new about writing and see who the readers enjoy, too. I read almost exclusively romance now, but I'd also like to branch out and read more from other genres as well.

9. Do you have any advice for other romantic suspense writers?

The same for all writers, write what you believe, what you have a passion for, and what you want to read, and from there, do research to make the facts right and the story believable. The market moves too fast to try to write to follow a trend, and life is far too crazy to spend this much time doing something you don't enjoy!

Thanks for the interview Carol! You can visit Carol's website at: http://www.carolsteward.com/index.html

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Day in the Life of an FBI Special Agent – Part II

Now that we’ve taken a look at the history of the FBI (“the bureau” for all of you who read part I), along with its structure, and congressional mandate, it’s time to take a look at a typical day in the life of an FBI Special Agent.

It may not be exactly what you expect.

The average agent in an average size field office (I will use Indianapolis since this is the office with which I am most familiar) will work approximately nine to fifteen cases at any one time. Typically, this case load will break down into thirds. One third will be under active investigation (leads being developed and pursued), one third will be moving through the legal system (prosecution underway by authority of the United States Attorney), and one third will have essentially grown stale with no new leads.

It is important to note that “stale” does not mean closed. A case isn’t closed until a suspect is arrested or can be reasonably presumed to be dead. Even the D.B. Cooper case is still in the news, and leads are still being pursued more than thirty years after the crime was committed.

So what does pursuing leads involve?

It is important to remember that the FBI is a national organization that investigates crimes that have national significance. A bank robber who hits a bank on the border between Indiana and Illinois, for example, is as likely to flee to the Indiana side of the line as he (or she) is to the Illinois side. Or worse, the robber could flee to California. But regardless of where the perpetrator flees, the office of jurisdiction is located where the crime was committed and the lead agent is designated as the Case Agent.

The Case Agent is the person who takes charge and coordinates the investigation. If our bank robber is discovered to have fled local jurisdiction (let’s say, for example, that the FBI determines that the robber has obtained a bus ticket for California), that information will be forwarded to the FBI office that is in the location closest to where the perpetrator is fleeing. Any new leads will be developed in California and followed up on there, but the original Case Agent will be kept apprised. If the suspect is apprehended in California, he will be extradited to Indiana where the Case Agent will follow the case through prosecution.

In turn, an agent in the Indianapolis office may be asked to interview the parents, friends, or classmates of a suspect in a California incident if it is discovered that the perp had such connections in the Midwest. The reason for this type of interoffice cooperation should be obvious.

On any given day, an FBI agent will arrive at the office at eight in the morning and will begin by reviewing the leads he has available in his “active” cases. Sometimes, following the leads will involve nothing more than a phone call or an interview with someone who has information or knowledge that the agent must have.

In other instances, following a lead may involve a surveillance (stake out) which may require the agent to sit in a car for hours on end. (Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?)

I remember an incident where we were maintaining surveillance on a suspect and sat all day in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. After about six hours of this, the local police pulled up and wanted to know what we were doing. Apparently, the manager of the Dairy Queen took note of us and was very concerned.

In other instances, an agent may spend a great deal of his time developing a lead. This can be done by conducting thorough research, or contacting a snitch, or working someone who may have an axe to grind with your suspect. This isn’t the Boy Scouts, after all. You do what you have to do.

But there are other things happening in the agent’s day that may center on cases moving through the court system.

An agent may spend all day in court—on the stand—testifying about how he has conducted his investigation. He may spend the day in conference with an Assistant United States Attorney, preparing the case for trial. And just as often, he may be working with local police who are preparing their own cases and coordinating those with the agent’s federal case.

Or, as often as not, the agent may find himself working a lead for another agent who is investigating a case that is on the other side of the country, as we alluded to earlier.

In short, there is no typical day.

Neither is there a day in which the agent is totally safe.

In 1986, several FBI agents were conducting surveillances on several banks in Miami along a strip of Dixie Highway. They were looking for two men who had been hitting the banks every Friday afternoon, alternating their choices, but always staying within a couple of miles of each other. As fate would have it, a couple of agents happened to spot the two men and soon all the agents were following them. The result was one of the bloodiest shootouts in FBI history. The two suspects were killed, two FBI agents were killed, all but two of the agents were severely wounded, and one was paralyzed from the neck down. Over 140 shots were exchanged in a four minute period. That day, which began as typical as any other, ended up changing the way the FBI trains its agents for felony car stops, as well as other tactical training they now receive.

Agents rarely conduct interviews alone and often travel in pairs. There are two reasons for this. It helps to eliminate a “he said, I said” scenario, but it also serves as added protection for both agents. This isn’t always successful.

In 1975, while trying to serve arrest warrants, Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams came under fire as soon as they exited their vehicles. Both were shot multiple times. Their guns and credentials were taken and their bodies mutilated.

That day, too, began as typically as any other.

The job of an FBI special agent is often one of sheer boredom, followed by moments of intense and potentially life threatening action.

In short, there is no typical day in the life of an FBI agent. But there are no unrewarding ones either.

For more information: www.fbi.gov