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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Interview with Lisa Harris

The winner of last week's contest is Ruth Dell. If you'd like to win a copy of Final Deposit please post a comment below. Remember to leave us a way to contact you.

Final Deposit, Lisa Harris' first romantic suspense for Love Inspired Suspense releases this month. Lisa was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book, and about writing.

First, a little teaser about Final Deposit:


It's just another scam, sent via e-mail to thousands. Yet Lindsey Taylor's elderly father has fallen for it and lost his life savings. He's even gone off to claim his promised fortune. Lindsey knows he'll never see a penny. Worse, she's worried she'll never see him again. Frantic, she turns to financial security expert Kyle Walker. Kyle has his own vendetta: he lost his brother to an Internet mail-order-bride scheme. He's promised to help Lindsey find her father, but first he has to get them close to the scam artists. And the closer they get, the more danger they find….

Lisa, please tell us how you got the idea for Final Deposit.

I’ve always been interested in scams and how a person could fall for one. Once I started researching various internet scams I knew I had a story. The amount of money individuals lose every year is huge, so delete all those emails that deal with expediting money out of another country, lotteries, and other get rich scams! Anything too good to be true IS too good to be true. Which is exactly what my heroine, Lindsey, finds out when her father is taken for everything he has.

How do you try to constantly raise the level of suspense and/or danger in your suspense novels?

Every chapter needs to build on the previous chapter and end in a page turning hook. We all know that it’s important to raise the suspense level with great twists, but they also have to be believable. I’ve found that if I simply sit back and think of the next logical twist, it often works better than if I try and force a hook. Sometimes simple is best.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Everything. I love action, fast dialogue, and an underlying romance. It’s what I love to read and what I love to write.

What was the biggest challenge in writing Final Deposit?

Making sure that all the danger fit in with the overall plot. At one point I added a break in to my heroine’s father’s house just to add to the suspense. It worked much better when I added another underlying plot connecting the break-in to the scam. It gave the story the extra layer it needed.

What do you read when you’re not writing?

Sadly, I don’t have the time to read as much as I used to. But as I said above, my favorite is romantic suspense and mysteries, though I read a bit of everything including historicals and fantasy. I just finished One Night with the King and am now rereading John Grisham’s The Testament.

What’s next after Final Deposit? Any more mysteries or romantic suspense lined up?

My third cozy in my Barbour series will be coming out in March. I’m also working on a couple additional projects for editors in the same genre.

What advice can you give to aspiring mystery and suspense writers?

Let your dialogue and action ring true. Don’t force the danger. Write strong hooks at the end of every chapter. Build the tension as you progress both with the suspense and the romance. And most of all, have fun with your stories.

Thanks, Lisa, for being our guest today.

Followup Note: A few days after conducting this interview, we learned that Lisa was just offered a contract by Zondervan for her international romantic suspense, Blood Ransom, and another novel. Congratulations, Lisa!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Interview with Megan Davis

Last week we interviewed Susan Page Davis on her latest cozy Treasure at Blue Heron Lake. Susan is writing this series with her daughter, so this week, we'd like to highlight Megan who has not only recently married, but also moved to England.

We'll draw a second winner of Treasure at Blue Heron Lake from the comments below. Luann was the winner of last week's drawing. Please contact us with your mailing address here.

Lisa: Welcome to KMIS, Megan and congrats on your recent marriage. You've just made some huge changes in your life. Can you tell us a bit about life in England?

Megan: Yes. People like their homes to look like hotel rooms, clothes are more interesting, food is delicious, honey is cheaper, baccon is bigger, and there is no space for anything on the bathroom sink. Some things are very different from life in Maine, but some things like lots of rain and tea are nearly the same. Probably the hardest thing for me to get used to is the pace of life. People are busy all the time in the city.

My favorite things about England are the sweets, the countryside (which I do get to see sometimes), rhubarb yogurt, and the fact that there's always something to learn. It used to scare me how little I was learning once I was through with college, but that's certainly not true anymore!

Lisa: Has living overseas given you any ideas for more mysteries?

Megan: Well, not yet I suppose since I've only been living here a few weeks. I've had little time for writing with all that's going on, so even when I have ideas they aren't full blown plots, they are little intriguers like a character who wants to be put in a story, or a line for a poem. But I am sure that once we've settled down a bit more I will have lots more ideas and get back to writing regularly.

Lisa: Tell us a bit about your latest cozy, Treasure at Blue Heron Lake.

Megan: Emily and Nate go to spend a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend at their friend's hunting lodge and wind up in the midst of another big mystery. But this time it involves romance, murder, suspense, and a long lost treasure. Who could ask for more?

Lisa: I'm actually in the process of co-writing a book. What are you suggestions for making it work?

Megan: Decide ahead of time who is writing what and when. Make sure you both understand the plan, and that when it's your turn to write you make it a priority. It can be very hard when you are already busy!

Lisa: What are you reading right now?

Megan: A Little Princess and Salad Days (a cook book) to myself, and The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie to my husband.

Lisa: Any writing plans for the future?

Megan: Yes. I'm always planning. Now if I would only do some writing! I hope to do some more journalism and write juvenile or young adult adventure/fantasy/humor novels.

And now my quiet library corner has been invaded by two rather loud, very tiny British school boys, so that will be all! I take that back, only one is tiny, the other is a bit chunky. (Did I say I was going to stop?)

Lisa: Great interview, Megan. Thanks so much for joining us and giving us a peak into your new life!

You can find out more about Megan and her mom's cozy series here along with a beautiful wedding photo.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Susan Page Davis Interview

Beth: The ACFW conference is coming up this month. How long have you been attending? What do you think about the conference overall? Do you have a success story that you can share from attending?

Susan: This will be my third ACFW conference, and I’m looking forward to it eagerly. The first year I went (2006) was bittersweet. My first LARGE conference. I was blown away by the depth of teaching, the variety of topics, and the fellowship with authors at all levels of professionalism. There were newbies like and multi-published people whose names were household words (at least in our household). I met my new agent there. I’d never heard of Chip MacGregor before (but he’s now a household word around here, too). I met several of my editors, including Susan Downs of HP Mysteries (whom I loved instantly) and Kim Moore of Harvest House (ditto), who brought me my first glimpse of the cover of my first “big book,” Frasier Island. You know, I don’t think I met one person I didn’t like. And one week after I came home, I had to admit my Dad to the hospital. He’d been suffering from cancer for a long time, and we knew it was coming, but of course we still weren’t ready. He died five days later. So my first ACFW conference was a time of changes and growth. I’m still thankful for the opportunity to go.

Beth: You’re teaching a workshop. Tell us about that.

Susan: Yes, I mustered the proverbial courage and submitted a proposal for a workshop this year. It’s called “Multiple Deadlines: Blessing or Bane?” I chose it because it sums up my own joy and frustrations on any given day as I look at my writing calendar. Yes! I have several contracts right now. Ooooh! That means I have to deliver. I hope my presentation can help some other authors in my situation to get a grip on this delightful but scary circumstance.

Beth: Can you offer a few quick tips or teasers taken from the workshop?

Susan: Planning is critical. With that said, there are always things you can’t plan for. So how does one schedule in the unexpected? It’s a challenge, but it can be done.

Beth: Tell us a bit about your next book coming out with your daughter, Megan.

Susan: Treasure at Blue Heron Lake is the second book in our MAINEly Murder Series, from Heartsong Presents: Mysteries! We’ve loved writing this series together. In “Treasure,” the hero and heroine, Nate Holman and Emily Gray, become engaged while staying at a friend’s wilderness hunting lodge. Strange things are going on there, and they try to help the owner, Jeff Lewis, discover the cause. They also learn about a hundred-year-old mystery surrounding the man who owned Lakeview Lodge when it was the barracks for a lumbering camp. A present day murder heats things up, and soon it becomes obvious that the old lumber baron’s treasure is still causing mayhem on the shores of Blue Heron Lake.

Beth: How did you come up with that story idea?

Susan: I think a seed was planted about 35 years ago. My father was a game warden, and for a while he served as a supervisor in northern Maine. When I visited him and my mom up there, Dad took me to a place where a large, old ramshackle building stood. It had been part of a thriving lumber camp many years earlier. I imagined it restored as a sporting camp. When Megan and I needed a second plot for our northern Maine series, that old lumber camp came to mind.

Beth: Can you share some tips about co-authoring?

Susan: I think Megan spoiled me by being easy to work with. We finished our third book in the series about six weeks ago. She got married August 16 and moved to England, so I’m not sure if we’ll do any more collaborations or not. If the MAINEly Murder Series does well, who knows?
Anyway, Megan’s bedroom (when she lived at home) was directly above my office. That made it easy to yell, email, or tap on the ceiling (didn’t really do that last one) if I needed her. We sometimes had differing ideas of how the story should go, but we hammered out a synopsis we both could live with for each book, and pretty much stuck to it. I was amazed at the depth she was able to bring to the characters (the hero and heroine are close to her age, not mine!). And she had some great ideas for plot twists.
For the first two books we basically alternated chapters. Book 3 (Impostors at Blue Heron Lake) was a little harder, as we were preparing for her wedding and had several trips and family crises tucked in there. For instance, my husband had his appendix out while we were writing it. When the going got tough, one of us would take the manuscript and write as much as we could—sometimes half a chapter, sometimes two or three chapters. It worked, and I think our input was about equal in the end. We love the story—it may be the best of the three. You just have to be flexible and do what works for you.

Beth: You’ve just returned from Alaska. What’s that all about?

Susan: Did I mention multiple deadlines? I’m under contract for three Alaska contemporary romances for the Heartsong Presents line. The first one is due on editor Joanne Simmons’ desk January 1. God has blessed richly in allowing me to make a quick research trip to Anchorage and Homer, Alaska. The first book is tentatively titled Always Ready, which is the Coast Guard motto, and the hero and heroine serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. This trip reunited me with an old friend, LuAnn Nordine, who used to be in my home-schooling group in Maine. LuAnn and I had a memorable road trip together to Homer amidst what is arguably the most spectacular scenery on earth.

Beth: Anything else you’d like to share.

Susan: I just inked a contract with Barbour for a long historical book, the first in what we hope will be The Ladies’ Shooting Club Series. Release isn’t until early 2010, but I’ll start writing it very soon. I love to hear from readers and other authors. Come visit me at www.susanpagedavis.com.

Thank you for the interview, Susan. And thank you for joining us. If you'd like to win a copy of Treasure at Blue Heron Lake please post a comment. Remember to leave a way for us to contact you.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Creating Unforgetttable Characters

This week we're privileged to have an article written by DiAnn Mills (www.diannmills.com). Look for her new book next spring. . .Breach of Trust in the Call to Duty series. A Tyndale release.

What books have touched your life in such a way that you will never be the same? What grabbed your attention and lifted you onto a magic carpet and carried you away to an unforgettable adventure? You already know the answer. The writer created credible, colorful, compelling characters. Have you ever asked how the writer managed that feat? Is there a secret to characterization? Have you ever challenged yourself to create characters that are dynamic and real?

We all love the characters in our favorite books. And we want to incorporate the same genius strokes in our own novels. This article will give you a foundation to think beyond the page to three-dimensional characters who will make your stories unforgettable.

Developing characters is a two-fold process: first, the external landscape, the easy and fun part of putting physical descriptions on the people of your story. However, some of the physical attributes of your characters can affect the way your character views life, others, and himself. Second is the internal landscape or the characteristics that propel your story along – sort of like the gasoline in the vehicle of your story’s journey. From the internal landscape, you will develop the motivation that fires up your plot.
Characterization takes time, imagination, brain-storming, people-watching, listening to dialogue from others, and studying the craft from respected authors.

A writer describes his characters in dialogue, appearance, setting, plot, strengths, values, victories, defeats, weaknesses, and in flaws. The internal landscape is all those things that make your characters and their story compelling, credible, and colorful. It establishes motivation. I suggest you spend less time dressing your characters and more time getting to know what motivates them.

*Note, I put a lot of emphasis on motivation. After all, motivation is what nudged you to read this article. It is the key to superb characterization. There is more than one way to develop your characters. Some use the four personality traits as explained by the Litthauers. Others prefer using the Myers-Briggs testing. Still others pick up a psychology book. I have a stack of resources that help me determine the inner landscape of my characters.

If I asked you to list all the things you want, I would imagine you could fill several sheets of paper with those items that you felt certain would bring you joy. But if I asked you what you needed, you might not be able to list those things. The reason is that we all know what we want, but we don’t always know what we need. Our “wants” motivate us. Our “wants” shove us out of bed in the morning. Our “wants” keep us moving all day until our bodies give in to sleep. Our “wants” become our goals, and we are motivated. (That word again.) Just ask a child who has been instructed to share a toy. Stand aside as that child shows you the meaning of wants, needs, and high-impact motivation.

Pit your characters against worthy opponents. A writer does not want to bore the reader with weak heroes, wimpy heroines, or unlikely villains. Pack your stories with powerful action and events that are emotional, spiritual, and physical. Involve your characters in scenes, which show the characters making a variety of decisions that reveal their attitudes and reasoning in the sequels. Consider this: your total life experiences have formed you into the person you are today.

Character growth and strength are the key factors in making sure your story is real. Keep those characters dangling at the end of a rope with believable incidents – and show them holding on to their faith in God. According to their traits, a character might stand and fight or he might run from involvement, but give him the courage to try. Allow your characters to attempt what looks impossible, beyond his/her reach, the forbidden, or devastating.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller

John Gardner, a writer who wrote about writing, recommended that we create the best possible characters and allow the worst possible things to happen to them.

All of your favorite characters – whether in books or movies, have three things in common:

1. Unique perspective toward life, the world, and the people around them.

2. Guts to do whatever it takes to reach their goals

3. Shock value - the ability to do the unexpected

I have another question for you. What happens when you don’t get what you want? Nancy Kress states “the most important emotion in fiction is frustration.” How are your characters going to express their frustration when they can’t get what they want?

Kress gives the following reactions:
Determination to try harder
Blaming the closest persons
Blaming the whole universe
Blaming oneself
Drinking and or drugs
Venting to a trusted friend
Giving up
Seeking revenge on whatever is causing the frustration
Affected stoicism

This is just one exercise to deepen your characterization. While developing your characters, go through various emotions to establish their reactions and responses.

The following are a few tips to help you in the characterization process.

1. You can leaf through magazines and catalogs – Country Woman magazine has real women; so do year books,

2. If you know for example that an actor/actress was in a certain movie but you don't know that person's name, you can go to www.imdb.com (Internet Movie DataBase) to find out the name.

3. http://www.photos.com for character pics. You can type in what you want and get pages and pages of people and often various shots of the same person with all kinds of facial expressions. When you first go to the site, it looks like you have to be a member, but the search field works without signing on. As long as you aren’t publishing the photos, you don’t have to pay to join or to use the photos. You can print these off and put them in a file folder or stick them on a bulletin or story board. I found out about this site from my author friend Deb Raney.

4. You can also follow the same procedure for house plans and furnishings. I particularly like www.southernliving.com

5. Another author friend who writes chick-lit simply googles for engagement photos or wedding photos to find pics for the 20 – 30 year old woman.

6. And if finding pics of men is a problem for you, check out http://www.internationalmale.com/

7. You can also go to your search engine and type in “picture of red-hair boy with freckles” and see what you can find.

8. Here are a few great resources for characterization:
CAREERS FOR YOUR CHARACTERS – Raymond Obstfeld and Frank Neumann

9. A site for developing personality is: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm

10. Be careful of the sites – some could be racy

If you are like many writers, your best inspiration comes in the shower, in the middle of the night, or while you’re driving. Keep notepads with you at all times and keep pad and paper in every room. Consider investing in a small hand-held recorder to keep track of your moments of inspiration. For those of you who are always looking for a clever device to help you in the writing process, there is available a shower AM/FM radio and recorder. I use a white board especially for the shower. J Live with your characters: interview them about life and their views, find out their favorite restaurants, and why their goals are so important.

"A writer begins by breathing life into his characters. But if you are very lucky, they breathe life into you." --Caryl Phillips

If you'd like a characterization sketch to begin the foundation work for your characters, e-mail me at diann@diannmills.com. Check out my website at www.diannmills.com.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Chatting with Carol Steward

Congratulations to Rae Ann who won a copy of Dana's Killer Cargo, and Monica, who won a copy of Ramona's The Face of Deceit. Monica, please contact us here so we can get your mailing information.

Today we want to welcome Carol Steward to KMIS! Let's jump in and see what she has to say about life and writing.

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

It was tax day, April 15, 1997. I'd sent in my manuscript about 9 months before, and in the meantime, my brother-in-law had died from leukemia, my father had had a heart attack, and we all desperately needed some good news. I had pulled myself together enough to inquire about the status, and the editor had said she'd get back to me in a few weeks. Even when the phone rang and it was the editor, making an offer, I couldn't believe it.

My whole family celebrated at dinner that night. I called a few published authors I knew from my local chapter and asked what I needed to ask and think about. I really wasn't prepared for a sale, I realize now. I truly hadn't thought too seriously about a pen name, or found out how to deal with negotiations. The next day, when I called the editor back to discuss the business details, it was still very much like walking in someone else's shoes.

In that respect, I feel certain God had this in HIS plan, because it was never mine. I was living my dream of being a full-time mother as a child care provider. I was very happy with that when God shoved me into writing. I've always loved writing, but unlike so many authors, it wasn't my life's dream. I never realized becoming a published author was really something "ordinary" people could achieve. I still think that I'm going to wake up one day and this bubble is going to burst.

Wow. Thanks for sharing. Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for your stories and about the story itself.

My second book was my first chance to write what I love, suspense, with a police officer as a hero. The story was born from an incident in my real life, when I was delivering newspapers to an apartment building at 2 a.m. I had put the van into park, grabbed a couple of papers and jumped out of the vehicle. I started to run between two parked cars, and a young man jumped out in front of me and ran off.

Crazy as it seems, I actually tried to throw the papers. I failed, I was shaking so badly, and finally went back to my car and left the complex to go to the nearest pay phone and called the police. In those days, I didn't have a cell phone.. My husband returned with me after we met up at the end of the routes and we threw the apartments. That afternoon I found out that the police did arrive in time and caught the kid, who'd broken into ten vehicles that night and stolen stereos and valuables. That one incident was enough to keep my brain going for hours. I went home a couple of days later and wrote the entire synopsis in one sitting.

In my current suspense, thankfully, I'm not doing my own "personal" research. I am always listening to news and reading odd stories about criminals and justice. Unfortunately, the research is plentiful. My father was in law enforcement, so understanding the police "mind" is easy for me. Still, I was shocked when my son decided to go into police academy. It makes perfect sense now, looking back, and though it's dangerous, I know he's followed God's calling.

My current series, In the Line of Fire is about three siblings working in different areas of the justice system who find love while struggling to keep peace in their communities and in their family. Drugs, assault, and corruption are all part of the Matthews family’s daily battles. Someone is terrorizing Northern Colorado communities throughout the series; assaulting, kidnapping, and eventually killing female victims and threatening even the heroes’ and heroines’ safety.

Guardian of Justice was a January 2008 release. Social worker, Kira Matthews is on a ride along with Officer Dallas Brooks when a domestic disturbance turns violent. She's caught between a drug dealer and his girlfriend's children, trying to keep the kids safe. Throughout the book, Dallas works to keep her safe from the drug dealer, his suppliers, and two frightened children while all of their lives are threatened.

Badge of Honor will be on the shelves in September 2008. Former FBI agent Sarah Roberts and detective Nick Matthews are trapped in a web of difficult decisions when Nick is assigned as Sarah's training officer. Nick is back from administrative leave, scars still raw after dirty cops implicated him in their drug ring. Sarah has returned to Colorado just before her sister is assaulted. Sarah unravels clues to the serial attacks, an internet predator - but is prohibited from the case is. Can he count on her to follow orders, or is her involvement in the online predator case going to cost them both their jobs, their lives–or possibly both?

In November Shield of Refuge closes the In the Line of Fire series. No one takes the gorgeous party planner, Amber Scott seriously, even when she witnesses the murder of a young woman and they can’t find the body. Garrett Matthews is determined hire into one of the federal agencies and has no room for mistakes in his career, so Amber’s case turns his life upside down, literally, when she crashes into his police car. His faith is challenged when Garrett is ordered to protect Amber. When he follows his gut and openly supports her story, they both become targets of the serial killer. Amber struggles to keep her business afloat throughout the investigation. When Amber's “imaginary” victim is finally found - dead, it's a race to find the killer before he finds their only witness. Is their faith strong enough to tear down the barricade his career builds between them?

I love the premise of your stories! 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 impact on your life?

My heroines are all pretty strong-willed, and have a LOT to learn—in all ways, a lot like me. When I am writing, I push them and torment them, to the breaking point, and I'm learning those emotional and spiritual lessons right along with them. Most of my books deal with some kind of control issue. Most commonly, learning to rely on God, and not take charge on my own, I mean, on their own. ;o)

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

I always wonder how I can balance my family and writing, and it always surprises me that when I give up control and turn it all over to God, the words come. When I'm done with a book, I'm worn out. This year I finished 4 books in about 20 months, and I was exhausted. I look back and still don't know how God managed to pull me through it. He's an AWESOME God!

I understand exactly what you are saying about the struggles of balance. A wonderful reminder! 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've done far more than I ever "planned" with my writing, and God keeps telling me He's not done yet. I count every published book as a blessing and never stop coming up with more ideas. Some are sweet, some suspense, and some are totally outside my box, so I do plan to keep stretching my wings to see where they take me. After all, if you don't spread your wings, you can't ever soar. I love writing. I love including faith in my stories so readers can see that God doesn't expect perfection,
He works with us just as we are. I'm not comfortable witnessing in person, yet when it's "someone else" talking it isn't quite as overwhelming.

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

Let God be your guide. Learn as much as you can about every genre you're trying to write. READ as many books as you can from the lines you're targeting to see if what you are writing "sounds" like what they are publishing. Don't ever give up trying new styles until you find what fits you best. That applies to learning from other writers and trying other genres of writing. Finding your own "voice" takes time, experience, and willingness to grow.

Any writer’s resources you could recommend?

Gail Gaymer Martin's Writing the Christian Romance is a terrific new resource. I've found all of the Writer's Digest books on all plot elements very helpful, but the absolute best investment I've made is buying and listening to the RWA conference tapes and CD's. If money's an issue, remember to utilize libraries to find the resources and see which ones resonate.

Thanks so much for the wonderful interview, Carol. Be sure and check out Carol's website and look for her upcoming interview for her next release, Shield of Refuge, right here in November!

And don't forget to leave a comment below with a way to contact you. We'll draw a name next Monday for the winner of Carol's latest romantic suspense!