DAN HOBBS writing as author BEN LEITER

Daniel Hobbs has been a city manager in seven cities across the country, in Maryland, Texas, Michigan, and California. My career took me overseas as an American local government official to W. Germany, Poland, and Japan.
I have been married to a wonderful, patient woman for 35 years, a beautiful native of Peru, who endures my anxieties and writing distractedness with good humor.

Ben Leiter is the author of four published books, available on Amazon and Kindle:

  • CITY MANAGEMENT SNAPSHOTS: ON THE RUN
  • BABY BOOMERSLOVE-BETRAYAL
  • GODS BETRAYAL: THE CREDO
  • BETRAYAL OF FATHER GARZA

Is there a thread or theme that ties your books together, even though they are of different genres? Yes, very much so. Together, these four books examine the cataclysmic collision between the expectations of the baby boomer generation and the primal forces of politics, religion, and romance.

Why the pen name Ben Leiter?  If you read any of my books, you’ll understand why immediately with the authentic, explosive nature of the material and the controversy of storylines and subplots.

Using a pen name provides me the psychological freedom to write what I want; to explore themes without embarrassing me or my family.

The name Ben Leiter translates “been leader” if you use the German pronunciation of the last name. It describes my previous profession as a city manager in seven cities.

Why do you write? Answer: To find out what I think; to figure out why I think what I think; to investigate “what it’s all about.” And to avoid boring people with my strong opinions in conversations. If I put my views on the written page, I must present them in an intelligent and interesting fashion, or the reader won’t turn the page.

Also, writing fiction allows me to explore my favorite theme of betrayal and its sub-themes involving politics, religion, and romance.

What do you want to achieve? Writing objective? Validation as a good writer who has something to say worth reading.

Favorite authors? Answer: John Le Carré, Len Deighton, Michael Connelly; Gillian Flynn, Andy Weir, Anne Lamott, Dennis Lehane, Tom Wolf, Robert Crais, Martin Cruz Smith, Leon Uris, Don Winslow. I’m reading Winslow’s The Cartel for the third time, as I did Flynn’s Gone Girl.

I’ve met and talked with Andy Weir and Bob Woodward.

Bob Woodward and I shared common associations from decades ago in Rockville, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.

Can you describe the impact any books have had on you? I’d rather have lunch—at the risk of being lunch—with Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs than with the female protagonist in Flynn’s Gone Girl. That wife-protagonist is like real-world-scary. She’s out there walking around, for sure. Flynn’s book ranks with Catcher in the Rye; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; and Exodus.

A Leon Uris book, Trinity, provided insight into what we Irish call The Troubles— the colonization atrocities of the English. (I’m part English too, but the Irish always wins out—so much more colorful.)

Tell me about your protagonist in your most recent book. Why will readers like him? My hero protagonist, Father Gabriel Alphonso Esquivel Garza, is a Hispanic-Schwarzenegger-Rambo-renegade Catholic priest with a Zorro complex. He refuses to let principles keep him from doing what is right. He is merciless in defense of children.

Are you a Pantser (write by the seat of the pants, ad hoc) or a Plotter (outline in detail before writing)? Both—here’s how and why. I rely on The Muse, or inspiration, or whatever has caught my fancy at the moment to fling words on paper. Once I have enough “somethings” on paper, I start organizing and putting them into a table of contents with detailed notes under each chapter, which is the equivalent of an outline. I then keep adding, revising. I move stuff I delete to the end of the working draft, to be probably brought forward at a future time after it has “matured.” Advice: never throw anything away.

I experience difficulty deleting my pet phrases and scenes. Some famous author said that your favorite computer key should be the delete key.

How do you vet your work? Three critique groups; two California Writing Club memberships; past developmental editing by Scott Evans, author and English professor at the University of the Pacific.

Strengths and weaknesses of your manuscripts? From the professional writing feedback I have received over the years, the strengths of my work seem to be the imagination, the creativity of the work, and the character (good and bad) of my protagonists.

My drafts have received deserved hits by critique groups for not always letting the reader know immediately what is going on and where we are at. I accept that criticism because I want to pull the reader in. I want the reader to do a little bit of head work.

I love John LeCarré’s writing with its exceptional use of indirection. I remember becoming frustrated in one of his books because I found myself on page 65 and had no idea what was going on. Then I realized. I was in the same situation as the book’s protagonist, trying to identify the traitor in The Circus, LeCarré’s name for British intelligence. The protagonist reflected the puzzle-palace-nature of the events swirling about him. Well done, John.

I also plead guilty to occasional finger waving and sermonizing, which I detest in an explicit form. I prefer my characters to carry that water for me in a hopefully more subtle fashion.

Any indications of a writing life earlier? Over my city management career, I penned many professional articles on everything from strategic planning to embezzlement, which appeared in nationwide publications. At one point, I even had my own column in a newspaper.

I always tried to make my articles interesting or to have a twist. For example, one article carried the all too true title; SOMEONE IS STEALING THE TAXPAYERSMONEY!

As budget director for a large Texas city, I always wanted to tell “the story” behind the numbers. I saw too many budget staff letting themselves get lost in the numbers or “hiding” in the numbers. I felt it important to be clear to my boss, the city manager, his bosses, the city council, and the public about exactly what the budget meant for them for the following year.

I continually rewrote the 20-page budget message at the beginning of the 500-page budget document to get the message right. One of my senior staff, exasperated at my numerous revisions, said, “You’re just a frustrated novelist.” I demurred at the time, but she was correct.

Two of my favorite quotes from that same government staff, one from a very talented colleague, “Numbers are our friends.”

Late in my career, in a job interview with a city council, I was asked why I had published so many articles. The unexpected question triggered a response that I did not know I possessed, “I guess it’s a way to leave a legacy.”

What is your educational background? I am a Case Western Reserve University Ph.D.-in-political-science-drop-out. But, I did secure a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Urban Affairs, an interdisciplinary planning degree.

My B.A. held a major in political science, with minors in English, Philosophy, and Theology.

Other writing observations? I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who share my love of books, reading, ideas, and writing.

I relish the open-endedness of the mental challenge of writing. I will never be able to exhaust it. It will wear me down first, I fear.

I respect the work ethic required to become a successful writer, whether commercially published or not.

I admire the creativity of the process and the final product.

I have had Stephen King’s experience, where I get into the story or one of the characters, and it takes on a life of its own and goes places I had not planned.

Since I developed my “rule” years ago never to go back and read a book the second time, this writing occupation gives me the justification and permission to revisit old book-friends.

I should be able to handle the rejection. In my past career, along with the public accolades and good salary, I experienced an enormous amount of criticism—it came with the job territory—on an almost weekly basis. I’m used to it; maybe I miss it and need it.

While my brother has become an accomplished amateur oil painter, I paint with words.

I want to be as accomplished as he in my own artistic genre. But better than oil painting, I can constantly revise my work.

Another reason for writing—it keeps the mind sharp. My family shows too much history of Alzheimer’s. Maybe writing will delay or forestall some of the mental ravages of old age.

Then there is the possibility that I might have something to say. Having been around for decades, I would expect myself to paint some life pictures accurately, if not brilliantly, perhaps with some insight, too, especially if I have been paying attention. Have I? Perhaps I can say something memorable about this thing we all share called the human condition. If I can, then what becomes fascinating are all the ways there are to describe this common experience: short stories, poems; essays; novels.

I like the sound of “I am a writer.”

I have always been a bookworm, loved to read. The mid-westerner in me must justify all those academic credentials and insists on looking for a practical application—writing is it.

I have been energized by writing.

Any final reflection? In my case, the most important contributor to writing was my reading at an early age and continuing non-stop the rest of my life. I was that ten-year-old kid continuing to read under the sheets after my father told me to turn the light off and go to sleep.

My website is http://benleiter.com.

3 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Great “meeting” you, really like your “painting with words,” and agree on so important to becoming a writer I think. is having been a reader at an early age! Much success!

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Your Father Garza character sounds like quite an interesting fellow. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply
  3. Michael DeGuire

    I wonder if he should have started out as a writer versus trying to work in public service. Or did the public service help craft his skills. Probably the latter

    Reply

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I GUESS FAULKNER WAS RIGHT by Abigail Keam

Abigail Keam is an award-winning and Amazon best-selling author who writes the Josiah Reynolds Mystery Series about a Southern beekeeper turned amateur female sleuth. The Last Chance For Love Series tells of strangers who come from all walks of life to the magical Last Chance Motel in Key Largo and get a second chance at rebuilding their lives and The Princess Maura Fantasy Series.

Award-winning author Abigail Keam welcomes you to her new mystery series—the Mona Moon Mysteries—a rags-to-riches 1930s mystery series that includes real people and events into the storyline. The new series is about a cartographer who is broke and counting her pennies when there is a knock at her door. A lawyer representing her deceased uncle announces Mona has inherited her uncle’s fortune and a horse farm in the Bluegrass. Mona can’t believe it. She is now one of the richest women in the country and in the middle of the Great Depression!

William Faulkner’s line, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” is one of the most quoted lines in American 20th century fiction and resonates today in all literature, including historical mysteries.

Does history revolve in circles or undulate in waves? The same patterns keep emerging—the same type of grifters who try to con the gullible, the same type of heroes who risk everything, and those who watch from the sidelines.

I have always been fascinated by history and knew I wanted to write an entertaining mystery series where I could combine fiction with historical fact.

When I began writing my 1930s Mona Moon Mysteries, I decided to weave real people and events into the story line. I wanted to make those mysteries come alive with both the saints and the scoundrels of the day. After doing much research, I discovered that the 1930s had been politically explosive like the 1960s and today, with many of the same issues still confronting the world. So how does one incorporate themes of social justice, world events, and conflict into a mystery and write a story that is still entertaining and fun to read? Not with a hammer, but with a soft wave of a woman’s hand fan.

One way is to give voice to a female protagonist to whom women will relate. The second is not to become “preachy.” My job as a mystery writer is to author an engaging story with facts that enhance the reader’s enjoyment of the book—not deter. One thing that helps is that my intrepid champion speaks from the perspective of a gal who needed grit and resolve to survive the harrowing years of the Great Depression. She is my “every woman.”

Enter Mona Moon, my American cartographer, who is broke with no prospects in sight. Not good news for a single woman in one of the worst years of the Depression. A man, wearing a Homburg hat, knocks on her tenement door after midnight. She answers with a pistol in hand. The man announces he is a lawyer representing her estranged dead uncle and informs Mona that she has inherited the Moon family fortune.

With that introduction, I plucked Mona from New York City and planted her on a horse farm in Kentucky’s Bluegrass where Mona discovers that half of her farmhands can barely read or write. Her bank refuses to give her credit because she’s a woman, and the employees at the Moon copper mines are threatening to strike due to low pay. All three concerns were real issues in the 1930s, which caused protests/riots in the dark days of the Depression—lack of educational opportunities, women’s economic rights, and workers scraping by on subsistence pay.

Throughout the series, I write about the influential people of the day such as Mary Breckinridge, founder of the Frontier Nursing Service; Gertrude Bell, Far East cartographer and founder of the National Museum of Iraq; Albert “Happy” Chandler, governor of Kentucky and Baseball Commissioner who integrated baseball, Jack Keene, founder of Keeneland Race Course, and Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Alice was witty, provocative, and politically astute, a force in her own right. She was one of the most quoted and socially followed women of her day. To write scenes between Alice and Mona sparring with each other was a pure delight. Having such accomplished women disagree on how to hold the fabric of society together and then solve a murder mystery collectively made me giddy with delight. The words just flew from the keyboard. I hardly had to fictionalize much of Alice’s dialogue. I used many of her famous quotes in the novel and stayed as true to her real character as possible.

  • “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”
  • “My father always wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding, and the baby at every christening.”
  • “I have a simple philosophy: Fill what’s empty. Empty what’s full. Scratch where it itches.”
  • “My specialty is detached malevolence.”

And by using Alice Roosevelt as a character in Murder Under a Black Moon 6, I will be able to segue to Mona meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, Alice’s first cousin, in Murder Under A Full Moon 7. I have spent many an hour imagining what those three astute women would discuss over lunch.

I believe Faulkner was right about the past. It is never dead, and writers can incorporate the past into their historical mysteries, making them richer. If a reader enjoys the mystery and learns something as well, then I am thrilled because we should all be keepers of history. And as we all know from a good mystery, secrets from the past never stay buried. See you between the pages.

Miss Abigail would love to hear from you!

3 Comments

  1. LISA TOWLES

    Abigail, Murder Under a New Moon sounds intriguing and shines a light on an important time in history. Can’t wait to read it! p.s. I love your cover

    Reply
  2. Mary Hagen

    I love history. It does repeat itself so we should know our history. Eleanore Roosevelt is one of the great ladies of the thirties, fourties. I will love reading about her. Alice Roosevelt was an interesting character, too. 0

    Reply
  3. Michael A, Black

    Abigail, your books sound very interesting. The 1930’s is a decade that so often gets overlooked. I’m glad you’re exploring it in your series. Any plans to pout Amelia Earhart or Bessie Coleman in the books? The perimeter road around O’Hare International Airport here in Chicago is named after Miss Coleman. Good luck.

    Reply

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MARILYN LEVINSON – Teacher – Author – Agatha Nominee

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson, writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for kids. Her books have received many accolades. As Allison Brook, she writes the Haunted Library series. The first in the series, DEATH OVERDUE, was an Agatha nominee for Best Contemporary Novel in 2018. Other mysteries include the Golden Age of Mystery Book Club series and the Twin Lakes series.

DEATH ON THE SHELF: Clover Ridge librarian Carrie Singleton is thrilled to attend her best friend Angela’s wedding, but Angela’s family can be a bit…much. Angela’s wealthy cousin Donna hosts an extravagant bridal shower at her resplendent home, but the celebrations turn to gossip as the guests notice Donna’s surgeon husband, Aiden, spending a bit too much time with Donna’s cousin Roxy. At the wedding reception, the sweet occasion turns darkly bitter when Aiden topples into the chocolate fountain–dead.

Her juvenile novel, RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK, was an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice. AND DON’T BRING JEREMY was a nominee for six state awards.

Marilyn lives on Long Island, where many of her books take place. She loves traveling, reading, doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, and chatting with her grandkids on FaceTime.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I outline, usually following two storylines in each book. But I find myself more of a pantser with each book that I write in this series.

Do you write in more than one genre? My first published books were novels for kids. Now I mainly write mysteries and the occasional romantic suspense.

What brought you to writing? I wrote stories when I was in elementary school then stopped. I took up writing again when my two sons were very young.

Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I often have two storylines that I bring together at the end of the novel. I also have subplots that weave in and out of the novel. This is easy to do because I write a series, and many of the characters travel from one book to the other.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Would you believe, sitting down and starting to write each day? Once I get going, I’m fine.

What is the best book you have ever read? I don’t know if I could name the best book I’ve ever read, but I will give the titles of my two favorite books: THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton and A SUITABLE BOY by Vikram Seth.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? DEWEY DECIMATED, the sixth book in the Haunted Library series, will be published in September, 2022. I just signed a contract to write the seventh book.

Where can our readers buy your books and contact you?

Buy link: https://bit.ly/36OkDrG

Website where you can sign up for my newsletter: http://www.marilynlevinson.com

Amazon page: http://amzn.to/K6Md1O

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.levinson.10?ref=ts&fref=ts

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/161602.Marilyn_Levinson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarilynLevinson

5 Comments

  1. Pat Hernandez

    Great interview. I can understand that the most challenging part of your writing is just sitting down and doing it. But thank goodness, you do it.

    Reply
  2. Michael A, Black

    Saludos. Escrita suyas novelas en espanol tambien? Buena suerte, senora.

    Reply
  3. Marilyn Levinson

    George,
    Thank you for having me as your guest today.

    Reply

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JONI KEIM – Technical, Spiritual, Memoir Writer

 Joni Keim writes technical (alternative health and wellness), spiritual (her father’s influence), and memoirs (matters of the heart)—for 40 years and counting.

Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write technical, spiritual, and memoirs.

I first started writing technical in 1979 for natural health magazines. At the time, I worked at the Wholistic Health and Nutrition Institute in Mill Valley, CA, and learned a lot about alternative health. I was a licensed aesthetician, so I began writing articles and teaching classes on a healthy approach to skin care and using non-toxic skin care products. Some years later, I became the technical director for a natural product company that had a skin care line and an essential oil line. I wrote about both for websites, labels, newsletters, and training manuals. I continued to write for magazines. This was my career for over 30 years.

In addition to what I wrote professionally, I also had personal projects. From 2000 to 2008, a colleague, Ruah, and I wrote three books together. The books were based on using essential oils (aromatic plant extracts) in a spiritual context. We both had studied subtle energy healing, and she was a Spiritual Director. Aromatherapy & Subtle Energy Techniques, Aromatherapy Anointing Oils, and Daily Aromatherapy were published by North Atlantic Books in Berkeley. Foreign rights were purchased by Brazil. Many years later, the rights to these books were returned to us, and since that time, 2nd editions have been written and published for all of them. In addition to the books that Ruah and I wrote, I penned two books about angels.

Now in my seventy-plus years, I have written memoirs. The memoir books are a part of what I call my Tribute series—honoring that which has been so dear to me. There are now five books in that series. A book was written for each of two special men in my life that unexpectantly passed away. The books were composed in a simple, child-like style and illustrated with cartoons. However, they were for grown-ups (and the child in all adults). Writing these books was profoundly helpful for me to deal with the grief of losing those dear friends.

What brought you to writing?  I did not major in English or literature in school. Still, I enjoyed the writing assignments and found researching and organizing information rewarding. I was also an avid letter writer—back in the days before email and texting.

When I began writing for natural health magazines, my children were young. The writing process provided intellectual stimulation amidst the diapers and carpooling.

In retrospect, I realize the foundation for the desire and pleasure of writing was probably set when I was a child. I was basically an introvert, and I was the youngest. The rest of the family was gregarious and extroverted, so I never really felt like I fit in. (But I knew I was loved.) My mother used to joke about how sending me to my room was not a punishment, and she would eventually have to get me to re-join the family.

So, in this setting—being an introvert and the youngest—I didn’t have the inclination or the opportunity to talk about things I wanted to, and I didn’t feel I would be heard. Writing allowed me to say what I wanted to say. Maybe more to the point was that I HAD something to say.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The most challenging part of my writing process is accessing the “zone” when it eludes me. The “zone” is when I am so fully present, relaxed, and patient that the writing flows and my thinking is energetic, clear, and accurate. When the “zone” is not available, it reminds me of what it is like when you enter a room that smells good. As you stay in that room, you no longer smell the aroma because the olfactory sense goes numb for that scent. Interestingly, when you leave the room for a bit and come back, you can smell it again. So, when I can’t get in the zone, I leave the writing and come back another time.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow?  I write in my office at a stand-up desk on an iMac. I look out the wide window to the neighborhood. My dog, Paris, is at my side. I write throughout the day, every day, for a couple of hours total, on various projects.

I have a strong ability to focus and block out distractions. However, if the distraction is overpowering, I simply stop. I know from experience that trying to write when I am not fully present is not worth the time spent.

How long did it take you to write your first book? How long to get it published? My first book, Natural Skin Care: Alternative & Traditional Techniques, was published in 1996 by North Atlantic Books under my name at that time: Joni Loughran. It took me a year and a half to write it. When it was finished, I submitted it, and it was published. The same was true for the three books that Ruah and I wrote.

I feel fortunate about having had such an easy time getting published. It came about because I had met the owner of North Atlantic Books in a doctor’s office waiting room. We were chatting. I told him that I wrote for natural health magazines. He said he was a publisher and told me I should write a book. So, I did, and he published it. Now, I am self-publishing.

Tell us about your writing process. This George Orwell quote makes me laugh: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

I have experienced that sentiment. After each one of the first few books I wrote, I told myself that I wouldn’t do it again. Yet, fifteen books later, I know now that writing is a part of my lifestyle and one that I will likely continue. I haven’t run out of ideas yet.

The first tenets that I embraced when I started writing were 1) write about what I know and 2) include facts, quotes, and anecdotes. When I begin a project, I first lay out the table of contents, knowing that it may change. Then I start one chapter at a time. I also keep a document of random notes. When I am writing a book, it is ever on my mind, and ideas pop up when I least expect them. I will jot them down anywhere I can and then transfer them all into my “Notes” document. Periodically, I go through those notes to ensure I include everything I thought would have value in the book. I have found that this makes the finished book much richer than it would have been.

How can our readers contact You?

Website: www.jonikeimbooks.com

Email: contact@jonikeimbooks.com

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    I found this blog post to be a very interesting one. I was reminded of that old saying about taking the time to stop and smell the roses. You seem to have a tremendous amount of drive and talent. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply
    • Joni

      Thank you Michael. Wishing you a happy holiday season!

      Reply

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JANE K. CLELAND – Jane Austen’s Lost Letters

Jane K. Cleland writes both fiction and nonfiction, including the multiple award-winning Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries [St. Martin’s & Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine] and the Agatha-award winning bestsellers, Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot and Mastering Plot Twists [Writer’s Digest Books].

 

Jane Austen’s Lost Letters, the 14th in her series, will be published in December. She is a member of the fulltime faculty at Lehman College, part of the City University of New York, a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest Magazine, and the chair of the Wolfe Pack’s Black Orchid Novella Award (BONA) in partnership with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She is a frequent workshop leader and guest author at writing conferences, association meetings, and MFA Residencies. Also, Jane offers free monthly virtual workshops on the craft and business of writing, and Mystery Masterminds, a series of small group virtual workshops. More details are available at www.janecleland.com.

 

JANE AUSTEN’S LOST LETTERS

On a crisp October Monday afternoon, Josie returns to her business, Prescott’s Antiques & Auctions, after a lunch hour walk taking in New Hampshire’s autumn foliage to find an elegant older woman waiting to see her.

Veronica Sutton introduces herself as an old friend of Josie’s father, who had died twenty years earlier. Veronica seems fidgety, and after only a few minutes, hands Josie a brown paper-wrapped package, about the size of a shoebox, and leaves.

Mystified, Josie opens the package, and gasps when she sees what’s inside: a notecard bearing her name—in her father’s handwriting—and a green leather box. Inside the box are two letters in transparent plastic sleeves. The first bears the salutation, “My dear Cassandra,” the latter, “Dearest Fanny.” Both are signed “Jane. Austen.” Could her father have really accidentally found two previously unknown letters by one of the world’s most beloved authors—Jane Austen?  Reeling, Josie tries to track down Veronica, but the woman has vanished without a trace.

Josie sets off on the quest of a lifetime to learn what Veronica knows about her father and to discover whether the Jane Austen letters are real. As she draws close to the truth, she finds herself in danger, and learns that some people will do anything to keep a secret—even kill.

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

 I use facts to write fiction, which is to say, I research my topic extensively and then ask a series of “why” and “what if” questions to convert those facts into ideas and those ideas into intriguing stories that entertain and get people thinking.

In Jane Austen’s Lost Letters, for instance, I learned that experts say Jane Austen wrote as many as three thousand letters, yet only 161 are known to have survived. People think they know what happened to the bulk the others—Jane Austen’s sister, Cassandra, burned them. But what if a few escaped that fiery fate?  What if two letters suddenly appear? How could you tell if they’re real? I want to know the answers! Don’t you?

On some level, I like researching more than I like writing, so I have to control my inclinations to dig ever deeper. My rule is that I research a specific question until I have the answer, and then I have to stop.

In Jane Austen’s Lost Letters, readers get to witness the appraisal process from authentication and provenance (clear title) to rarity and scarcity, and from association (has anyone important or interesting owned the object?) and condition to popularity and past sales records. It’s complex and, I think, fascinating!

 WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?

 Once I have the basic idea rattling around in my brain, I use my Plotting Roadmap to delineate the key TRDs. “TRD” is my term for plot Twists (unexpected, but not the opposite); plot Reversals (unexpected, and the opposite), and moments of heightened Danger (which might refer to physical danger, but could also include spiritual, emotional, or mental danger). Jane’s Plotting Roadmap helps me navigate unknown terrain, from the beginning of my story all the way to the final conclusion. Part of the beauty of the tool is that you no longer have to write an entire book—you only have to write to the next TRD. In other words, the tool helps with plotting and pacing; it also helps writers by breaking up a task that can feel overwhelming into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Jane’s Plotting Roadmap includes two service roads that run alongside the main highway. Each service road represents a subplot. Your two subplots (one related to an interpersonal relationship and the other related to a nonfiction element of your story) have their own TRDs.

An important point is that Jane’s Plotting Roadmap is a guide, not a straightjacket. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking it, or even revising it, as you’re writing your story—or even in a later revision. I discuss my Plotting Roadmap, TRDs, and subplots (they’re not secondary!) in my two award-winning books on the craft of writing, Mastering Suspense, Structure & Plot and Mastering Plot Twists. By the way, may I mention that these books have been recommended by Dan Brown, David Baldacci, Neil Gaiman, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Louise Penny, among others. My cup runneth over at these tributes!

As to the writing itself, once I know how I’m going to structure my story and my TRDs, I spend time thinking about my characters. There are two ways to write—plot first and then figure out what kinds of people would do those things or identify your characters, then determine what those people would do. Once I have a good feeling about my characters, I’m ready to write my first draft.

I find openings tough, both figuring out where my story begins, and writing it in such a way to hook my readers right away. Once I’ve drafted fifty or so, then I’m confident I can tell my story.

ADVICE FOR NEW WRITERS

I wish I’d known more about craft when I was starting out. In my experience, most writers are drawn to the field because they’re innate storytellers, but they don’t necessarily known anything about craft. In my efforts to raise the bar on my writing, I began researching specific issues—that’s why I wrote those two books on the craft of writing; that’s why I’m a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest Magazine; and that’s why I offer free monthly webinars on specific topics related to craft, everything from “Openings that Kill It” to “The Art of Revealing Backstory” to “Mastering Story Structure.” I analyze exemplars and share my findings. You can find out more information at www.janecleland.com. I’ll hope to “see” you there!

I also hope you’ll give Josie a whirl! The Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries, set on the rugged coast of New Hampshire, feature antiques appraiser, Josie Prescott. The books are often reviewed as an Antiques Roadshow for mystery fans.

 Jane Austen’s Lost Letters would make a wonderful holiday gift—to yourself or someone you love! It’s available from your favorite independent bookseller, major retailers, or online vendors, like Amazon.

Thank you.

18 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Your plotting roadmap was very thought provoking! Continued success.

    Reply
  2. Alfred J. Garrotto

    As often as I can, I sit in on Jane’s Saturday morning sessions. Unfortunately, her sessions fall on the same day as my California Writers Club (Mount Diablo Branch) meetings. I always learn something fresh and new from her sessions.

    Reply
  3. Vicki Batman

    I enjoyed reading about you and your books.

    Reply
  4. Jacqueline Vick

    Your book sounds intriguing! Thanks for sharing your writing process. It’s always interesting to hear how writers approach the story.

    Reply
  5. Jane Cleland

    Thank you, Michael! I appreciate that. Best of luck to you!

    Reply
  6. Jane Cleland

    John, I do believe each writer has to find his or her own process, which is why trying new approaches is so important. I’m still refining my process. Best of luck!

    Reply
  7. Jane Cleland

    Michelle, that’s excellent. (TRDs rattle around my brain, too!)

    Reply
  8. Jane Cleland

    How nice! Thank you, Michael. And best of luck to you, too!

    Reply
  9. John G. Bluck

    Thank you, Jane for explaining your writing process. I’ll to try some of your techniques in my next mystery novel. I especially like your method of researching facts and then asking, “what if?”

    Reply
  10. Sue Ward Drake

    Jane, Thanks for this illumination on how you start. I got the impression you use an actual event to start off the antique question. So, do you have the antique question/plot figured before getting into the subplots? Can you name the non-fiction element in one of your books. I’ve read them all, I think.
    Also, how do you decide on the subplots for this particular story? Do you start those ideas off with the what-if, too? It’s amazing how you twine those in to make a seamless braid.

    Thanks, and thanks to George for doing all these fabulous interviews.

    Reply
    • Jane Cleland

      Sue, thank you for these questions! I’m so pleased you enjoy the book. I always use a secondary antique as a subplot. In JANE AUSTEN’S LOST LETTERS, for example, it’s thimbles. This is the nonfiction element. Josie’s interpersonal relationships always forms the second subplot. I do know how the antique figures into the plot before I start writing. Best of luck to you, too! By the way, do you know that I offer free monthly webinars on various elements of craft. Details are at http://www.janecleland.com/event.

      Reply
  11. Michelle Chouinard

    Hello Jane! Love your advice in this article, and loved the session you gave for NorCal a while back. TRD rattles regularly around my brain…:)

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      I agree with Michelle and will add that ALL of your sessions are valuable (and clear).

      Reply
      • Jane Cleland

        Thank you, George!

        For everyone: George is referring to my free monthly webinars on the craft of writing. Details are available at http://www.janecleland.com/events/ You’re more than welcome to join the community!

        Reply
  12. Michael A. Black

    This was very informative and interesting, Jane. Your Roadmap analogy sounds exactly like the process that I use. I also teach a creative writing class and I’ll recommend your books. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
  13. Susan C Shea

    Hi Jane! Always good to hear your voice. Norcal was thrilled when you came to do a session with us in SF a few years ago. I miss your company.

    Reply
    • Jane Cleland

      Susan, what a treat to see your name! I loved that Norcal Sisters in Crime event — and seeing you. I hope to see you soon!

      Reply

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