B. Lynn Goodwin wrote two award-winning books, a YA called Talent, and a memoir titled Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62, plus author interviews, and book reviews, for WriterAdvice, www.writeradvice.com and Story Circle Network. She writes flash pieces, is an editor and blogger for the San Francisco Writers Conference, and loves helping writers improve.
Some people say that writing restores sanity—not that I’ve ever been insane—but when life’s detritus makes me think crazy thoughts, I use journaling to figure out what’s bothering me. Combine that with fictitious people, made up from bits and pieces of my life, and some high stakes and seemingly insurmountable issues, and I have stories to play with.
I’ve had the privilege of being connected with several groups, from the California Writers Club to Story Circle Network, to Amherst Writers and Artists, to the International Women’s Writing Group (IWWG). In 1997 I wanted to learn from “real” writers, who I defined as published writers. I wanted to ask them questions and give them a reason to share their work, so I published their interviews in a new e-zine I invented before blogs existed. It still exists today, is called Writer Advice, www.writeradvice.com, and it has expanded a great deal over the years.
In addition to keeping Writer Advice going and offering a Manuscript Consultation Service there, I’ve published three books, won some awards, have a fourth book coming out in 2023, and am drafting a fifth one.
My writing process keeps evolving. Most of my stories are character-based. Characters face obstacles, and as soon as they’re resolved, new ones appear. They change as their stories evolve. They also change as I edit over and over, striving for perfection, even though I’ll never achieve it.
My writing process for Writer Advice involves a lot of reading, reviewing, interviewing, researching, and sharing materials so readers have many resources in one place. Being an editor for others helps me find additional flaws to look for in my own work. I usually tell authors what I love and what trips me up. I often suggest edits to make sentences flow better. Because I was raised by an English teacher and taught English and drama in high school and college, correcting grammar and word choice are second nature to me. Of course, the final decision on every suggestion rests with the author.
Disrupted, the YA that will be out in 2023 has subplots. We deal with the impact of an earthquake, a best friend leaving town, a new boy who’s alternately evasive and flirty, a missing father, and the narrator’s need to find a new place to perform the show she’s stage managing. The plots and relationships intensify as opening night gets closer. For this book, the demands of the rehearsal schedule and life weave the elements together.
The future will be whatever it is supposed to be. I plan to keep writing, reading, reviewing, editing, and looking for the right publishers. The future may also include some Op-Eds, and I hope there’ll be more and more Flash Fiction and Flash Memoir in it.
I just completed an interview with a flash writer named Francine Witte, who said it takes a writer a long time to find her voice. I agree. Journalists do it quicker than fiction writers. So do certain non-fiction writers who spend as much time researching as they do writing. Of course, their voice is heavily influenced by the facts and their point of view. There’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I think it would be easier. So maybe my future will involve more writing where the story comes from life as I see it. My crystal ball is being repaired, so I just can’t be sure.
Having said that, here’s my advice to new writers:
- Find your voice or voices.
- Write daily—at least five days a week.
- Edit freely.
- If you break grammar rules, have a reason for it.
- Write what you want to write.
- Share what you write with supportive fellow authors.
- Be aware that there is a difference between advice and judging.
- Keep looking at the world and the people in it with fresh ideas.
- Fill your life with light and love.
- When you need new topics, go to Writer Advice’s Writing Advice page and scroll down to find new prompts. Pick one and see where it takes you. Always remember that no one can tell your story but you.
Thank you, George, for the opportunity to share my experience and ideas with your readers. I appreciate it.
J.L. Greger is a scientist turned novelist. She includes science and international travel in her award-winning mysteries and thrillers: The Flu Is Coming, Murder: A Way to Lose Weight, Games for Couples; Dirty Holy Water, Fair Compromises, and seven others. For more info, see: https://www.jlgreger.com.
Experts on writing sometimes say, “There are two types of writers—plotters, and pantsers. I think that’s an oversimplification because I suspect ninety percent of writers are both. I also think that mystery and thriller writers do more plotting than romance writers because the details of the plot are generally more intricate. (It will be interesting to see if readers of this blog will disagree with my assumptions.)
Pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants) often say, “I just listen to my characters when I write.” As a writer of mysteries and thrillers, I think plotting is essential. But I admit, my characters or the location often demand a change in the plot.
Let me give you an example. I knew from the first inception of my newest novel Bungle in the Jungle, that it would be a thriller. I didn’t want to write a mystery like Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile about a small group in an isolated location on a river cruise. I wanted to write about the real world. So, I set the novel mainly in Manaus—a crime-ridden metropolis on the Amazon River—which serves as a gateway for tourists and entrepreneurs to the Amazon biome.
The more I thought about Manaus, the more I realized this thriller had to have lots of action. I couldn’t send my protagonist—scientist Sara Almquist—to a medical conference on tropical diseases (like malaria and Dengue fever) and have her uncover clues over drinks in a bar or on tours of medical labs. She needed to be thrown into the milieux of this gritty city. That meant it was logical for Sara to be mugged. Generally, I avoid writing scenes in which the middle-aged Sara must physically defend herself without the help of professional law enforcement officers, but Sara “thought” it was necessary.
The more I thought about Manaus, I realized it was a bit like the Western U.S. before 1860. The city is isolated. It takes time for help to arrive from the rest of Brazil. Although mid-size ocean liners sail to the port of Manaus on the Amazon, it takes more than three days for a ship to sail from Manaus to major Brazilian cities on the Atlantic coast. (Please note: Manaus is a thousand miles inland on the Amazon River.) The road and railroad systems to Manaus are pathetic. It takes two days to drive from Manaus to Brasília and even longer to reach São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. One of the characters in my novel describes Manaus as “like an island in the South Pacific surrounded by jungle instead of ocean.”
Hence, my characters “told” me they should be free to solve their problems in their own ways. (Please note: Gun control laws in Brazil are almost non-existent. Corruption of all types is prevalent in central Brazil.) The net result was Sara and her boyfriend Sanders participated in more “irregular” actions than in previous novels.
One of the problems with writing a thriller with lots of action is it’s harder to develop the characters. Thus, I started the novel with an argument between Sara and Sanders. I continued this underlying tension between the two main characters throughout the book. The characters “thought “this allowed them to establish a new norm in their relationship by the conclusion of the novel.
Here’s the start of Bungle in the Jungle:
“Your plan won’t work.”
“Yes, it will.”
“No, it won’t.”
Sanders’s upper lip quivered. “It will, if you are your usual talkative, do-gooder self.”
Sara Almquist ignored Eric Sanders’s uppity tone. He’d become more edgy since he’d been assigned to head the U.S. diplomatic mission to Brazil. It wasn’t surprising. He was the temporary replacement for a U.S. ambassador who had become too enmeshed in Brazilian politics. Sanders had been warned not to make the same mistake. The State Department hadn’t even conferred the title of ambassador on him but had given Sanders the title of chargé d’affaires.
Do you agree with the characters that their relationship needs to be fixed?
The bottom line: Plot your story carefully and then take advice from your characters and their location.
I hope you enjoy what my characters “decided” to do after they and I, as the author, accepted the limitations and glories of the breathtaking Amazon River. And the surrounding jungle.
Blurb for Bungle in the Jungle:
The U.S. consulate in Manaus, Brazil, is a Bungle in the Jungle. Can Sara Almquist and the new Acting Ambassador to Brazil figure out how the consulate staff became enmeshed in the illegal international trade of drugs and cultural artifacts?
Bungle in the Jungle is in press and should be available by the time you read this blog. Check my Amazon webpage: https://www.amazon.com/stores/J.L.-Greger/author/B008IFZSC4?
MARISA FIFE holds a BS in Pre-Veterinary & Animal Science from the University of Massachusetts and a BSN in Nursing from Johns Hopkins University. Her work experiences have led her from monitoring songbirds for biological surveys to rehabilitating wildlife to caring for Oncology patients on bone marrow transplant floors.
Her first fiction short story, The Woman in Brown, was published in 2022.
The Woman in Brown is a historical suspense short story set in America in the 1930s about two damaged people on the run trying to escape the clutches of a cold-blooded killer.
Do you write in more than one genre? I like exploring many genres, my favorites being mystery, suspense, fantasy, romance, and westerns. I also love a good horror-comedy. I also enjoy writing for different audiences, such as adults and children. Everything’s fun to explore, really.
What are you currently working on? A quirky contemporary fantasy/mystery novel and a historical mystery novella. Then revisions, revisions, revisions on my 2022 writing projects.
Who’s your favorite author? Laurie R. King, author of the Mary Russell series, the first of which is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I’ve been hooked on this series since I was a teen and can’t recommend it enough.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I do a little of both as needed. When I first start writing a story, the planning stage involves a lot of brainstorming and organic free writing. I add in structure with an outline, but I’m not afraid to switch up that outline as needed, depending on how the story is proceeding. This allows me freedom while also keeping my feet on the ground.
What kind of research do you do? If I’m writing about a real-world place, I try to go there and take in how it is and what perceptions I have while I’m in it. Then most of my research moves online. I review newspapers and magazines and try to keep to verified historical sources when seeking facts about a particular time or place. If it’s a story set in contemporary times, I’ll watch news clips from the last few years to see what’s going on in that area or read first-hand accounts from people who live in that location if they are available.
If it’s not a real-world place, I base my fantasy settings on a mashup of actual places in the world or someplace made up that pops into my mind based on my experiences. Movies are also a fun place to find possible fantasy settings, characters, and storylines. Lastly, I read a few current books in whatever genre that I’m writing in to get a feel for what’s trending out there and why it trends.
What is the best book you have ever read? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I think it holds a warning to humankind that is still relevant today in our age of ground-breaking scientific and technological innovation.
Groups I belong to:
Mystery Writers of America
Sisters in Crime
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
How do our readers contact you?
Readers may contact me at www.marisafife.com.
My short story, The Woman in Brown, is available on Amazon as an ebook, audiobook, and paperback here.
Damyanti’s short fiction has been published at Smokelong, Ambit, Litro, Puerto del Sol, and she helps edit The Forge literary magazine. Her Amazon-bestselling crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin, was optioned for screen. Her next crime novel, The Blue Bar, was published by Thomas & Mercer and was one of 2023’s Most Anticipated Mysteries & Thrillers on Goodreads. She’s an active member of Sisters in Crime and a member and volunteer at Crime Writers of Color.
THE BLUE BAR – In gritty, glam Mumbai, a dynamic police officer and a bar girl in love are unaware that a serial predator is watching them both.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? – I’m not very fussy about where I write, but it turns out I write little at my desk. I can get words out at the library, at a food court, and on a park bench, but at home, it is mostly the sofa or the bed. At food courts and parks, I see a lot of color and movement, which helps me focus. I block out the sound with white noise on my headphones.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I’d say the copy-edits. By this time, I’m so familiar with the manuscript and have changed it so many times that it’s impossible to see it with any clarity, and they come to me with tight deadlines from my publisher. I need a lot of help to see what’s going wrong at the language level with the text.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I definitely write subplots. In my crime novels, romance is often a subplot employed To provide an echo or a contrast to the theme that the protagonists illustrate with their lives.
Sometimes, they bring in a bit of relief from what can be some very dark and gruesome main storylines.
It can also heighten the conflict and tension in the dominant story: a romance subplot between the protagonists of a crime novel definitely heightens the stakes. It’s not about a victim and a rescuer anymore: it is about two people who love each other, and the reader feels more deeply invested in their fates.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? A powerful antagonist would often help raise stakes for the protagonist and vice versa. If the protagonist and antagonist are evenly matched, they can truly challenge each other, and the outcome of their conflict is in doubt till the end, keeping the reader turning the pages.
Time running out—like ticking clock, as well as inclement weather, can raise stakes. If the protagonist or antagonist’s family or love lives are involved, the stakes of a violent event will soar. When the beef is personal, reader engagement rises.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I began my writing life as a literary short story writer, so I thought I could be a pantser all my life. While writing crime novels, though, I realized I needed at least a cursory outline in order to work faster. These days I must write outlines because I need to flesh out the books I’m planning for my agent and editor. I veer off the story in the telling, so in a way, that’s pantsing, but I’m a pantser with an outline.
What is the best book you have ever read? The best book is always the last favorite book I read, but the one I keep going back to at times of personal turmoil is Old Man and the Sea, where an old man battles over days and miles with a fish bigger than his boat.
He wins, but sharks feed on the fish on the way to the shore, and he tows back an enormous skeleton.
It brings back to me the beauty of human endurance and the triumph and futility of all effort— a healthy reminder that nothing lasts. The biggest wins mean nothing against the sharks of mortality, and that’s part of life. We need to find our meaning elsewhere.
What are you currently working on? I’m finishing up the edits of THE BLUE MONSOON, the second in the Blue Mumbai Series contracted with Thomas & Mercer, and this crime novel is about religion, caste, and castration in the background of a hair factory in Mumbai.
It’s the sequel to THE BLUE BAR, which was published on January 1 this year, and was a number 1 International Release on Amazon.
Where can our followers buy your books? https://linktr.ee/damyantibiswas
List of Facebook groups:
The Savvy Writer’s Snug
Psychological Thriller Readers
ITW Debut Class Authors
Women reading Great books
Literary Crime Novels
Curated Book Resources