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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Great Beginnings

One of the questions I usually ask when I interview authors on my blog (bethgoddard.blogspot.com) is, “What was the toughest part of the writing craft for you to learn?” Of course, we’re all individuals and everyone has a different answer, including how to overcome a particular struggle. My biggest struggle was and still is writing the first chapter, the first paragraph, the first sentence—a good hook. I’ve written first chapters numerous times and never been happy with them. I’ve resolved to tackle this problem with a vengeance and maybe one day I’ll write incredible hooks, so that I can teach a class at the local community college or at a writer’s conference, not to mention hook readers into my story.

First let’s explore why a good hook is vital. You’re a fiction writer. So it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine yourself as a busy Manhattan based editor for a large publisher. Multi-tasking is your middle name. You shuffle about your day while answering emails, playing office politics, completing deadlines, and all manner of editor tasks. Add to that, you have to find the next bestseller amidst the giant stack of agent-represented manuscripts. Still, you can’t help yourself. You simply must skim through the overwhelming mountain of unsolicited manuscripts because you’d never forgive yourself if you missed that one gem.

Already you take work home and read late into the night. You know exactly what you’re looking for—the ingredients are well defined and are your biggest aid in making it through the pile of manuscripts—both solicited and unsolicited. The one you’re searching for will pull you immediately into the story and before you know it, you’ve read ten pages. If it doesn’t, the author isn’t skilled enough to handle an entire novel, no matter the big-name agent representing her.

Now do you see how critical this is? Do you need to rewrite your beginning? Let me encourage you to work through the entire manuscript first if you’re unpublished, then go back to the hook. I spent so much time rewriting my first chapters to get them right, I could have written the entire novel. In my opinion, it would have given me more to work with in terms of writing the hook.

A good hook requires knowing where to start your story and perhaps that’s an article for another day. For the purposes of this article we know where to start the story and now we’re working on how.

The answer of how to hook the reader or editor from the start is to write something that rouses curiosity, makes them ask questions. According to Dwight Swain, “you present your material in terms that indicate you are leading up to something. This demands that you state and/or imply:

1) Uniqueness
2) The unanticipated
3) Deviation from routine
4) A change about to take place
5) Inordinate attention to the common place.

Swain gives us a set of examples that fall into each category. By the way, these categories will almost certainly overlap. Instead of giving his examples, I’ve decided to ask you to consider this an exercise to test your hook writing abilities. For each of the above categories, write an opening hook. I’ll go first.

1) The phone calls began that Sunday.
This Sunday afternoon is unique because of the phone calls.

2) The head of a Rottweiler was mounted on the veterinarian’s office wall.
Seeing an animal’s stuffed head on a veterinarian’s wall is unexpected/unanticipated.

3) Mr. Connors walked past the door to his accounting offices, Connors & Connors, where he’d worked every Monday through Friday for twenty-five years.

Clearly, Mr. Connor’s has deviated from his routine.

4) Her lawyer left an urgent voice mail.

We know something is about to change for her.

5) The air conditioner rattled on in the window, drowning out all other noises.

This is drawing attention to the mundane as though it’s important.

Granted, these are not the best hooks, but you understand what I mean. I had fun writing them. There is no story behind them but already my mind is spinning tales based on these first lines. Don’t limit yourself to this list for writing hooks, these five categories are only meant as a possible starting place.

I recommend reading The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. Lukeman says ,“What is rarely discussed is the importance of the hook not only as an opening line but as an opening paragraph, not only as an opening paragraph but as an opening page, not only as an opening page but as an opening chapter.” He goes on to say the hook is equally important at the end of a paragraph, page or chapter. You want your reader to come back for more.

But let’s get back to great beginnings. I’ve listed a few real hooks I found listed on The Edit Café


· You might as well know that Sue Jan and I are fat. I don’t know which one of us is fatter, but we wear the same size clothes.

· Being named in Great-grandma’s will was like hitting bankrupt on Wheel of Fortune. The whole family held their breath while the wheel ticked around and around--or rather while the lawyer opened the envelope. Then they all heaved a sigh of relief when the wheel stopped on Carrie’s name.

· When the desk clerk first mentioned Stefan Lauber's death, I didn't react. The truth is, I was only half-listening.

· No matter how old I get, when I stand in front of the doors of Four Oaks High School, I’m threatened by flashbacks. Some of my high school memories are good, but too many have to do with the rampaging insecurities that consumed me at the time.

· I marched into church on Sunday— not to search for God, but to find a killer.

Have fun trying to come up with a great first line. Then put that much effort into the first paragraph, the first page and so on.

Happy Writing.
Elizabeth (Beth) Goddard

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Writing Challenge winner!

A big thank you to the authors who participated in our writing challenge! We were looking for something that grabbed our attention in the first paragraph and made us want to read more. A pretty tall order, I know!

While our judges were pretty split on the winner, the unique and fresh opening written by Ed Horton about a black clad Pillsbury dough boy gets the prize. Congratulations, Ed! You've won a copy of Recipe for Murder by Lisa Harris.

Here are some final questions to ask yourself when you look at the opening of your own work in progress.

1. Is your opening tight and to the point?
2. Do you use any clichés?
3. Have you given a clear sense of location?
4. Have you started your story in the best place?
5. Is your wording clear?
6. Does your opening portray the correct tone?
7. Do your sentences contain a variety of grammatical structures?
8. Have you included any back story? (Don’t!)
9. Does it sound like the opening of other novels you’ve read? (In other words, is it fresh? Or too ordinary?)

I know at least one person (sorry Renee) missed the cut of for the voting, so let us know by leaving a comment if you'd like to see more writing challenges!

The KMIS team

Monday, March 24, 2008

Interview with Pamela Tracy

Congratulations to Hannah for winning a copy of Lynette Sowell's A Suspicion of Strawberries. Be sure to check back tomorrow to find out who the winner of the writing challenge is! If you'd like to enter the contest to win a copy of Broken Lullaby don't forget to post a comment below.

This week we welcome back author Pamela Tracy. Here’s what Pam had to say about her new Love Inspired Suspense novel, Broken Lullaby:

Growing up in a mob family had scarred Mary Graham. She'd thought running away would ensure her son didn't face the same horrors. But after three years on the lam the single mom couldn't live that way anymore. So she'd come back home to Broken Bones, Arizona - and found herself at the center of a baby brokering scandal. To prove her innocence and help a grieving mother, Mary had to turn to her family's nemesis- a cop... a cop named Mitch Williams. He'd been after her family for years, so could she trust him to have her best interest at heart?

What's really cool about Broken Lullaby is it is a Romantic Times Magazine March Top Pick. I'm a goal setter, and earning a top pick from RT has always been a milestone I'd hoped to achieve.

Congratulations! That is a great achievement.
Why did you decide to write about the mob? Wasn’t that a little scary? What sort of references did you use?

Rosa's story, Pursuit of Justice, was an idea I had that came to me with a beginning, middle, end. That rarely happens to me. I usually have beginning and end but no middle. So, technically, I didn't decide to write about the mob... it was decided for me. When I really think about it, though, the mob isn't a character in my books, it's more a background: a shadow per se. Rosa is fleeing from it... she witnessed something she shouldn't. In the second book, The Price of Redemption, Eric is fleeing from it. Unlike Rosa, it really isn't chasing him. It's more baggage than black moment. In Broken Lullaby, Mary is fleeing from it, just like Eric, and it really isn't chasing her. Again, more baggage than black moment. The mob is scary, but society has always been fascinated by the intricacies of organized crime. As for references, my characters were 'not' involved in the mob, so I didn't have to learn the world. I did read a lot about Sammy the Bull. He entered the witness protection program and came to the Phoenix area and really wasn't too secretive about his real name. Lots of press. Then, I researched mafia association because both Eric and Mary were children of a boss.

For your LIS books, how do you keep the suspense coming, page after page?

I wish I really knew a precise answer to this question. I'd be rich. I'm really big on chapter endings. I want every chapter to end with a 'gasp' moment. The spiral notebook (November's interview) I keep helps because I jot ideas down for the future. Every book idea I have comes with about half the plot ready. I'm lucky that way (Of course, during the first revision, half my ideas wind up on the cutting floor). The other half is the chore. I'm not a plotter. I don't write outlines. I also have to (I mean really half to) write in order. I write chapter one, then chapter two... some of my friends skip around. To me, writing out of order is like leaving the bed unmade or not putting ketchup on the hamburger... simply not done. If I don't have a good chapter end, I stop writing (unless the book is due in the morning). Usually somewhere - either the shower, the car, or while I'm chasing my three-year-old - I'll come up with a brand new twist. The brand new twist will usually take me through about three more chapter endings. In Broken Lullaby, Alma having twins was an idea that didn't come until I was about 1/3 of the way through the book. In The Price of Redemption, the homemade bullets came to me while I was eating at an old restaurant that had all kinds of antiques on the wall. I think it was Cracker Barrel. In Pursuit of Justice, Rosa's escape from jail and the scalding water came from a newspaper article I read.

How do you dig deep for the internal conflicts of your main characters—beyond the surface mystery?

I remember a talk Donna Dixongave years ago, this was when I hadn't published yet, and she said, "If your hero’s a fireman, make your heroine a pyromaniac." Of course, the heroine cannot really be a pyromaniac. It's the chance that she is... that keeps the reader reading. Or, it's the reader knowing something the hero doesn't that keeps the reader reading. In Pursuit, Rosa is not only a 'wanted' criminal in Sam's eyes, but she's wanted for killing his partner's son. In Redemption, Eric is not merely the man who finds Ruth's husband's body, he's also a member of the mob family who are suspected of ridding the area of her husband. He's also a man Ruth (against her better judgment) helped get 'out' of jail. And then he finds her husband's body! Hmmm. In Broken, Mary's not just a woman who stumbles upon a baby brokering scheme, she's also a woman who disappeared for three years because she feared her own son would be 'taken' from her. Mitch had a sister 'taken' from him. These plot points, more than anything, at first push the romance away, but then cause the H/H to battle together, and that which doesn't kill us makes us strong, especially in romantic suspense.

You’ve mentioned using a spiral notebook for laying out plot points and details for each book. Is this system still working for you?

It's the only tool I've found that works for me, and I get angry at myself when I don't keep it up because it causes me to waste time looking for a name I used in chapter two. Worse, the notebook gets buried, and so I grab a piece of paper and make new columns and then wind up having to spend time transferring two or three rough columns into the 'real' column. Of course, while I'm transferring, I come up with new ideas, so in the long run, I win.

Some of your towns are fictional. Is that easier than using a real town? What are the pros and cons?

I've been sitting here thinking about this, and I'm wondering if any of my settings are 'real'. Broken Bones, Arizona, is really Congress, Arizona. Gila City is really a combination of Gila Bend and Yarnell. I refer to Phoenix and Payson and such (real places) but they’re usually referred to during travel not as a place to 'stay'. In Grand Canyons Brides, we used the Grand Canyon, so there's one time I used a real place. I like fictional towns because I can put what I need where I need it. I do lots of combining. The two-story jail I have in Broken Bones is really a two-story jail from another small AZ town.

As a multi-published author, how do you keep records pertaining to your published books? Do you have a system for keeping track of the royalty statements, fan mail, and publicity efforts for each book?

For business dealings, I have a file cabinet and I keep a file for each publisher. I haven't sold to Kensington since early 2000, so no more file. For Barbour, there's a file, and for Harlequin there's a file. For fan mail, I have a notebook. I kept every piece, and I also log the address into my computer. For publicity, I save information on the computer. I probably don't do enough with fan mail and publicity. Besides being a wife and mother, I have a full time job (school teacher). I write from 5:30 - 7:30 a.m. The rest of my day is work and family. Then, there's church and housework and...

You write novellas, romance, and suspense. What’s up next for your readers?

We've talked quite a bit about suspense, but after this March release of Broken Lullaby, I have a Love Inspired romance coming out next January called Daddy for Keeps. It's about a small town girl and a bull rider. It's more or less a secret baby plot. It's set in Texas (I lived there for six years). Yup, it's set in a fictional town which is a combination of Abilene (my all time favorite place in Texas) and a small town here in AZ. Right now, I'm hoping to sell a three book proposal to the suspense line, this time set in Nebraska - my home state. Go Cornhuskers!

Sounds good! Anything else you’d like us to know?

If you want it bad enough, work for it. If you work hard enough, it will happen. Don't let yourself think that shortcuts lead to success.

How can your readers learn more about you and your books?
Here's my website


And here's my blog. The neat thing about it is it got mentioned in CBA Retailers Magazine.


Thanks ever so much for interviewing me!


Posted by Susan

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The FBI – Knowing the Facts for Better Fiction (Part I)

Ever since the events of 9-11, the FBI has been brought to the forefront of the American stage in a way it hasn’t since the death of J. Edgar Hoover. The public’s growing fascination with the Bureau is further fed with news articles, television reports, and non-fiction books that often have their facts wrong and show little regard for the truth. Facts not withstanding, the Bureau is finding itself at the center of a great deal of mystery and suspense fiction, often in roles that the FBI does not fill and in ways that are …well, purely fiction. But even fiction has its basis in fact. Research that is well done – and by that I mean, accurate – can give added verisimilitude that will take the reader to a deeper level of understanding and be entertaining at the same time. Having been employed with the FBI, I often cringe at the inaccurate perceptions most authors have of the Bureau and how little time it would have taken to get the facts straight.

So let’s take a look at the FBI. Your FBI. Lets see how it’s organized, how it operates, and what it takes to become an FBI Special Agent.

The FBI began as the BI (Bureau of Investigation) in 1908, and its agents were not authorized to make arrests or carry weapons. In essence, it served as little more than a political arm of the party that was in power, and was used to bring the full might of the government to bear on its enemies. Ultimately, the Bureau (as it is still known today) was so corrupt that the Department of Justice became known as the Department of Injustice. The press picked up on that, and in one story, reported the testimony of a BI agent who told a congressional committee that he had broken into the offices of U.S. Senators and rifled through their desks so that he could find “anything that could embarrass them”. That testimony, and the resultant media exposure, led President Coolidge to fire the Attorney General and hire a new person for the job. The new Attorney General was Harlan Fiske Stone, former Dean of the Columbia University Law School. Stone, in turn, hired assistant BI director J. Edgar Hoover, a twenty-nine year old lawyer, to direct the BI.

For all of his faults, alleged or otherwise, Hoover did a tremendous job in restructuring the FBI and elevating it into the agency it is today. He insisted on upgrading the techniques of investigation, incorporating the “new” technology of fingerprint science, along with building and developing a laboratory and criminal database. In 1933, President Roosevelt reorganized the Department of Justice and increased the responsibility of the BI At that point, the name Federal Bureau of Investigation came into being and the BI was hence known as the FBI. But Hoover wanted more. He insisted that his agents be known as Special Agents, and that they be allowed to make arrests and carry firearms. It took an act of Congress to authorize the latter, but when it was completed in 1934, the FBI stepped into the modern age.

Today, the FBI is headquartered in Washington D.C. in the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building. To those in the bureau, this location is referred to as SOG (the Seat of Government). In fact, even today, if a message is sent to a field office with the closing caption, “Secure Bureau interests,” it is known to mean that SOG sees this as more than a typical investigation and that a great deal is at stake.

Headquarters is home to the FBI Director and a number of Assistant Directors. Each Assistant Director heads a special division. In addition to SOG, the Bureau currently has 56 field offices which are typically located in larger cities. Some of these offices, like the New York City office, for example, are lead by an Assistant Director. But most are lead by a Special Agent who acts in the role of SAC (Special Agent in Charge). Lets look at this level more closely.

The typical field office is located in a federal building, or in some cases, a free-standing building, and will usually house a hundred or more Special Agents. The SAC is the boss – no question about it. But under the SAC there is an Assistant Special Agent (ASAC), who typically oversees the Squad Supervisors. Each squad within a field office is assigned a certain type of case to investigate and those agents within that squad will usually work those kinds of federal violations to the exclusion of all others. There are exceptions to this however, particularly in smaller field offices. For example, in the office where I worked, the Security Squad was assigned matters of national security. This included such items as espionage, terrorism, etc. But other federal crimes, such as the misuse of the Smokey the Bear emblem (yep, that’s right. I kid you not), had to end up on a squad too, so the Security Squad at my particular field office took those cases. (I can’t think of a single instance when we investigated that particular “crime”.) Other squads handled their own matters such as violent crimes (unlawful flights, bank robberies, etc.), while others handled softer, yet no less criminal acts, such as embezzlement, ID theft, bank fraud, etc.

Each field office has a Legal Advisor, an agent who is also an attorney, to advise the SAC and ASAC on relevant matters. Additionally, there are secretaries, clerks, and Investigative Clerks. If you’ve read about the espionage of FBI Special Agent Robert Hansen, or have seen the movie, you will recall that it was a clerk who investigated him and ultimately brought him down. In my particular field office, we even had a full-time mechanic who maintained Bureau cars, and other individuals who maintained our electronic equipment. It takes a lot of support to run a field office because a lot goes on there.

Most field offices also have sub-divisions, known as Resident Agencies (RA), which are located within the smaller towns of a particular region and that report to the Field Office. Typically, an RA will have anywhere from 1 to 30 Special Agents. This structure allows the FBI to extend its reach and be nearly anywhere in the U.S. at the same time. But regardless of how accessible the FBI is, none of this can be successful without the Special Agent.

An FBI Special Agent must be 23-36 years of age at the time of appointment, have a degree in accounting, law, the physical sciences, or a foreign language for which the Bureau has a need. If the applicant has another type of degree and can show three or more years of experience in that field, they will also be invited to apply.

The application process is onerous. It begins with the completion of a twelve page form that touches on nearly every part of the applicant’s life. After this is completed, a written test is administered, followed by a physical test, then a “specialty” test in accounting, law or language, to document that the applicant has what it takes to succeed in those areas. After this, an oral interview is given. If all of this is passed, a thorough background investigation is conducted. This can be disconcerting. Just before I was hired, I had people I hadn’t seen for a long time contact me to say “the FBI was asking about you”.

Once the applicant is hired he/she must complete 16 weeks at the F.B.I. academy at Quantico, Virginia. During this time, the new agent is taught the basics of investigation, photography, fingerprinting, report writing, and suspect and witness interviewing. After all, you can never get two witnesses to agree on anything. In addition, training in all types of firearms and hand-to-hand self-defense is given. During their time at the academy, the new agents will also participate in practical testing at Hogan’s Alley, a Hollywood-type set that depicts a typical town. Arrests and raids will be conducted there, as well as shoot-don’t-shoot scenarios. A new agent must qualify (shoot a minimum score) with their weapon three times before they can graduate. But when they’ve completed the course, they are awarded their badge and credentials and sworn into office. After that, they are assigned to their first field office for a one year probationary period. During this time, they will be mentored by a senior agent, and will have the opportunity to put their academic training into use.

Next Time … a typical day with an FBI Special Agent
Article thanks to Brandt Dodson: www.brandtdodson.com
Check out his new book. . .White Soul

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A writer's challenge!

We decided that it’s time we heard from you, our readers! Here’s this week’s challenge. As we all know, that first paragraph, as well as the first chapter of a novel, is vitally important in catching an editor’s eye. Here are some things to think about.

1. You want the opening paragraph to grab your reader immediately. This means NO back story up front. (In fact, no back story at all in the first chapter is preferred.)
2. Make the reader ask “What happens next?” If you can’t keep them reading the first few paragraphs you’re sunk.
3. Use straight forward language. This is not the time for the reader to have to pull out the dictionary
4. Use your opening paragraph to set the tone of the story. Is this a mystery, a romance, a thriller? The opening pages, and especially that opening line, is the place to start the feel of the book.

So now it’s your turn. Post a comment with an opening paragraph from your current work in progress, or simply write one that’s guaranteed to catch an editor’s (and our) attention. We’ll announce our favorite entry next Monday and send the winner a signed copy of Recipe for Murder.

So come on now, don’t be shy! Let's hear from you.

The KMIS team

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Research, Research, Oh How I Love Research – Part III

Now that you’ve seen just a few of the national organizations that have helpful websites, let’s look at where you can find legal information.

Looking for plot ideas? Check out http://www.lawyersusaonline.com/. This website contains articles about cases and trends from around the United States.

WWW.Law.com is another site that contains links to legal stories from across the country. It can be a great place to find quirky court cases and stories about judges and attorneys to flesh out your characters.

Now I haven’t used this site, but www.lawguru.com looks like it could be another helpful starting point. You may be able to find background information there that will help you grasp the background before approaching an attorney with questions.

The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University (http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/index.php/Legal_research) is an EXCELLENT source of background material on legal issues. This page: http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/index.php/Category:Overview leads to overview articles on a host of legal issues. Have questions about child support? Start there. How about probate and wills? You guessed it – go there first. Many of the initial questions I’m asked could be answered if the person searched for an article here first. The general page breaks the law into federal and state issues and gives a helpful overview. I STRONGLY encourage you to start your legal research here.

In the right hand column of each topic, LII provides links to federal, state and other resources. It will take you straight to the relevant code or agency. This can be a huge help!

Don’t forget Federal Agencies. Here’s a short list to get you started:

o Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov/
o Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: www.eeoc.gov
o Internal Revenue Service: www.irs.gov
o Department of Commerce: http://www.commerce.gov/
o Department of Defense: http://www.defense.gov/
o White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov/
o Library of Commerce: http://thomas.loc.gov/
o National Archives: http://www.archives.gov/
o House of Representatives: www.house.gov
o US Senate: www.senate.gov
o US Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/
o Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/
o Federal Judiciary: http://www.uscourts.gov/

Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully this will help you get started as you research federal legal issues.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Interview with Lynette Sowell!

Congratulations to Tony Dell for winning a copy of Another Stab at Life. If you'd like a chance to win a copy of A Suspicion of Strawberries, post a comment below along with your contact information.

Today I’d like to welcome Lynette Sowell to our blog. Her first cozy mystery, A Suspicion of Strawberries is being released this month from Heartsong Present: Mysteries.

Here’s what Lynette had to say.

Lisa: Tell us some of the background behind the ideas for this series and about the first book.

Lynette: I found the setting for my series Scents of Murder when we visited my husband’s family in Tennessee about three years ago. The small town flavor and quirky characters sprang from the small town nestled along the Tennessee River.

Lisa: How did you come up with your heroine’s career?

Lynette: When I visited All Lathered Up, a soap store in Salado, Texas, I knew I’d found my heroine’s specialty. As Andromeda Clark changes over the course of three books, so does her business—but the fruit theme runs throughout. Andi Clark isn’t much of a cook, but she does learn how to can preserves in book two. I had to give Andi time to grow, and really find out what she hoped and feared, and find her flaws, too. She’s empathetic and can put herself in people’s shoes. But sometimes she’s wrong, and that doesn’t help her sleuthing.

Lisa: What are the challenges of writing a series? What is the fun part?

Lynette: One challenge is making sure the main character grows and changes in each book. As I followed Andi’s journey, I discovered new skills she had, and new obstacles in her life. Those discoveries make it fun. Unless, of course, a character won’t cooperate. I had a secondary character who refused to be the victim in book three. If you’ve seen the movie “Stranger Than Fiction,” you’ll understand when I say she ran away screaming from me and I couldn’t kill her off. And so she became Andi’s sidekick.

Also, while writing about the same town and setting, I wanted to include new facets of Greenburg, Tennessee. I didn’t want to rehash the same scenes from other books. Also, for me, it’s important that each story stands on its own.

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

Lynette: Diligence! It’s one thing when a writer is talented, but I’ve seen incredibly talented writers passed over. And I’ve seen some give up. The race doesn’t go to the swiftest and brightest all the time, but one thing for sure, diligence has its rewards. And I believe the more diligent we are, the better writers we become.

Lisa: Any words of advice on writing a cozy mystery?

Lynette: Think of a cozy mystery as a game you’re playing with readers. Sure, they’re going to figure some things out, and that’s okay. But keep the puzzle in mind as the story goes along. And have fun. Make sure you remember the elements of a cozy. When I was writing book two, I had to chop and edit parts at the end because it read too much like a suspense.

Lisa: How do you keep track of clues and red herrings?

Lynette: I have a list of suspects and include the villain at the bottom. The red herrings are on that list too, and some naturally occur as the story goes along. I always try to think of the reader. Readers are smart, and like I said earlier, they’ll keep track of whatever sounds suspicious…even if it isn’t. And some people may have had a motive to kill the victim, but that doesn’t mean they acted upon it—even if they had the means and opportunity.

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?

Lynette: I am a huge fan of romantic suspense and speculative fiction as well. One day, I’d love to write a book that combines both. I’m not there yet, but maybe in the future. Like I mentioned before, diligence!

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

Lynette: Be persistent. Soak up learning at writers’ conferences, or if you can’t attend a conference, buy the CDs. Most of the time you can go to a conference’s web site and see a whole list of workshops on CD. And while you learn, don’t forget to write, and finish what you write. Plus, if you’re interested in writing for a particular publisher, read what they publish. Get a feel for the story structure and flavor. Oh, and find a good critique group. Once you find the right mix, you’ll keep spurring each other on to bigger and better things.

Lisa: Any advice on juggling a job and writing?

Lynette: Wow, I’m still learning that juggle. I treat writing as my part-time job. If I want to keep it, I have to show up. I work a 40-hour-plus work week Monday through Friday and often a few hours on Saturday. So I write evenings and weekends, while trying to juggle family and church, too. My kids aren’t small anymore, but I’ve raised them to be pretty independent. I also am blessed with a husband who’s not helpless in the domestic realm. I realize that I don’t have to be perfect at housework, or be a perfect mom or wife, but simply show up.

Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Lynette. Be sure and check out her website at www.lynettesowell.com

And leave a comment below (with contact information) for a chance to win a copy of Suspicions of Strawberries!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

What Do You Call a Hall on a Ship?

I’m working on a military themed suspense book right now. It’s my third one featuring Navy characters, and the research at times seems endless. I wonder if I’ll ever get it right! That’s because I’m a landlubber, even though my Dad was a naval officer and my brother was a career Coast Guard officer.

So how have I gotten through three books about military personnel without knowing anything firsthand about the military? Four ways:

1. Ask people. My brother has helped me a lot with these books, but there have been times when I had to call in the big guns. No, not my nephew, Michael. He’s a Marine, but I don’t think he’s spent much time on ships. I was talking about the official public liaison in Washington, D.C. I didn’t know there was such a thing, so I called the local Navy recruiter. He told me who to call with my questions. And the lieutenant who dug up the answers for me was very pleasant and helpful.

2. If at all possible, try to get someone who served in the branch of the service you are writing about to preview your book. This isn’t always possible—don’t I know it! I’ve even offered to pay someone and somehow it didn’t work out. Oh, well. I fall back on:

3. Websites. The U.S. Navy’s official Websites are a lot of help. Uniforms, ships, statistics of all sorts...from how long the runway on an aircraft carrier is to what a seaman has in his sea bag. But they don’t tell you everything. Like when does an ensign salute a commander? Or what do you call a hallway on a ship. Okay, I asked my brother that one. Passageway! Duh. (And stairs are ladders, in case you’re wondering).

4. Books. This is the biggie for me. I can browse over them any time I want, carry them to appointments with me, snatch a few pages before going to sleep. The books I’ve found most helpful in writing this series include the following:

*A Civilian’s Guide to the U.S. Military, by Barbara Schading. Good for basic info on all branches of the service, but again, it won’t tell you everything. It will tell you what the ranks, pay scales, insignia, and uniforms are for each branch; official songs, things like that; organization of each branch and equipment used, its history and how to join. It has a chapter on special forces and one on the Geneva Conventions. A large section tells you what all those military acronyms mean (well, maybe not all, but a lot). The glossary and equipment section are very helpful.

*Ultimate Special Forces, by Hugh McManners. Oh, yeah! This big coffee table book is really cool! Color photos of worldwide special forces including the United States’s Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Marines, airborne forces, and Delta Force. Foreign elite units include the British SAS and Royal Marines, Israeli paratroopers, Russian Spetsnaz, French Foreign Legion, Australian SAS, German GSG-9, and French GIGN. There’s lots more, like photos of weapons these units use, and historical notes, selection and tactical procedures. Lots of great stuff here.

*Deadly Fighting Skills of the World, by Steve Crawford. This large paperback is heavy on photos and drawings. You, too, can learn about ambushes, assassination, infiltration, night fighting, sabotage and booby traps, sniping, silent weapons, and much more. I’m afraid my 15-year-old son will find this book! He’s already a blue belt in karate. I’m not sure I want him to know how to take on armored pursuers or use a flamethrower. But it’s been great for my heroes and heroines.

*U.S. Army Combat Skills Handbook, brought to us by the Department of the Army. This book is supposedly what real soldiers use, but it looks like a trade paperback (large format) to me. LOTS of diagrams. Learn how to dig—er, that’s build—a fighting position (looks like a trench to me). Lots of nitty gritty info on camouflage, moving in combat situations, intelligence and counterintelligence, first aid, mines, demolition, tracking, survival. . .a lot of things the others don’t cover. Stuff like how to make a toothbrush and the fascinating (short) appendix on “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.” (Basically, do those things.) It’s sort of like a Boy Scout handbook with tanks.

*Navy SEALs, A History, by Kevin Dockery, and Warrior Elite and The Finishing School, by Dick Couch. Okay, I haven’t actually used these much yet, but they look good. If you are going to write about Navy SEALs, you probably need specific books like these. So far I haven’t written about SEALs, but I figure these books will give me the flavor of naval special forces. And if you’re writing about other branches or special services, go hunting on Amazon for books specifically about that group. It’s amazing what’s out there if you look!

Now, go write something. That’s an order.

Susan (http://www.susanpagedavis.com/)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Interview with Anita Higman!

Today we’re chatting with Anita Higman whose cozy mystery Another Stab at Life releases through Heartsong Presents Mysteries. If you'd like to be entered in the drawing to win Another Stab at Life, please post a comment below with your contact information.

Award-winning author Anita Higman has twenty books published for adults and children, and she has five more coming out. She's contributed to nine nonfiction compilations and was selected as a Barnes & Noble "Author of the Month" for Houston.

Ms. Higman has also written for radio, television, newspaper, ezine, advertising, and animation. She enjoys giving speeches and presentations at conferences, meetings, and schools.

She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communication, art, and psychology. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Christian Humor Writers' Group.

Anita was born and raised on a farm in Western Oklahoma but has lived in Texas for the past twenty-three years. Besides writing, her other interests include reading, going to the movies, and cooking brunch for her friends. She lives with her family near Houston, Texas.

Now, here’s Q&A with Anita:

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to be a writer. But there was one big obstacle to that goal—I lacked the confidence. Then when I was thirty years old I decided I’d finally give it a try. I had no idea at the time how really hard writing would turn out to be. In fact, I might have taken another serious pause. But in the end after twenty-one books and about that same number of years in the writing business, I’m glad I took that first step. Now you might ask, “Well, did you ever get your confidence?” I would reply, “There are still days I question my abilities to write. I think I always will always doubt myself from time to time. But it never paralyzes me enough to think I can’t do it. I dig in and get the job done no matter what. Because that’s what writers do.

Tell us about your book series.

Another Stab at Life is the first installment in The Volstead Manor Series. This is a series of three cozy mysteries with a fun gothic, chick-lit feel. So, if you’re looking for something different this might interest you. Oh, and two more aspects of the novels I forgot to mention is that they’re about Prohibition, and they’re all contemporary. I hope these details have caused your curiosity meter to rise.

How did you get to know your hero and heroine?

I’m sure this sounds like a rather boring process, but I fill out character bio sheets on my main characters. These sheets go beyond eye and hair color, etc. and included questions like, “What is your greatest fear?” or “What embarrasses you?” or “Who is your best friend?” In addition to the bio sheets I interview my characters. This sounds kind of strange, but somehow it works.

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

I start with a synopsis, which is usually several pages long, and then I let myself go off on tangents if I think it will help the story. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed with a synopsis totally. There are just too many fun and clever things that can happen along the way if you’re open to them and not tied too tightly to an outline.

What book are you reading now?

I just finished reading Steve Martin’s autobiography entitled, Born Standing Up. It was funny and honest and moving, particularly the part where Mr. Martin writes about the healing process with his father.

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

Jane Austen’s work is absolutely delicious. Once when I was reading Pride and Prejudice I had to get back out of bed and read some more because I was so swept up in the novel. And this was after I’d seen the movie many times! Her work is full of humor, beautiful language, and well-developed and relatable characters.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I’m certain you’ve read this advice before, but here are a few basics. This business takes tremendous patience. When it comes to the long waits, one way to control your frustration is to think of the writer’s life as a long journey. If you’re seeking fame and fortune and a way to impress your in-laws you might want to rethink this profession. You need to have a passion for writing no matter the weather. No matter the piles of rejections. Practice is another key to success in this business. Write every day if you can, even if it’s only for an hour. Also reading all kinds of books can be a great help, even if it’s not in the genre you’re writing in. These tips sound simple—lots of reading and writing and patience—but I think they’re still important elements in a writer’s life.

By the way, I just hired a production company to create a book trailer for Another Stab at Life. I hope you’ll drop by and check it out at www.anitahigman.com. Another Stab at Life will be released to the Heartsong Presents Mysteries book club members in March, and then it will go to the bookstores in September. But if you’re really anxious to buy a copy right now, please call Barbour Publishing at 800-852-8010.

Thanks, Anita! Readers, if you get a chance, hop over to Anita’s web site and see her book trailer.

If you'd like to be entered in the drawing to win a copy of Another Stab at Life, please post a comment.