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THONIE HEVRON – How Mentoring Helped Shape Her
I wonder how I would’ve ever gotten where I am today without mentors. This includes the mom down the street who took me under her wing when my mother struggled with her own demons. Early in my law enforcement career (as a meter maid), there was a motor officer who introduced me to the concept of “badge-heavy” and changed my adversarial attitude with the public while I issued tickets–I didn’t have to be a jerk. Later, Fred, a patrolman, was another crucial association. He invited me to testify to the county grand jury as part of an investigation of our police administration. Standing up for the integrity of the job was a beautiful burden. These people were life mentors who taught me valuable lessons that extend through my life today.
But let’s talk about mentors for writers.
Pat Tyler – In most other industries, colleagues could look upon newbies as potential competition. While I’ve found that all writing teachers aren’t necessarily mentors, I can say I have never seen professional acrimony toward another. My first true writing mentor, Pat Tyler, during her Jumpstart Writing class, encouraged me with provocative prompts. She provided a safe, non-judgmental place to read and hone my stories. Then, she pointed me toward Redwood Writers (a branch of the California Writers Club), where I found much more to learn. The motto of the club is “writers helping writers.” It made a significant impact in my writing career.
Sharon Hamilton – Sharon is a prolific romance writer I met through the Redwood Writers. Soon after I joined the club, the idea of signing your emails with your author name and including the links to your work. Sharon barely knew me but spent half a day helping me set this up. This little thing stayed with me. She’s a living example of “writers helping writers.”
Marilyn Meredith – Another invaluable mentor is Marilyn Meredith. She’s a board member of the Public Safety Writers Association, who I met in 2014 at the club’s annual conference. Marilyn is an experienced author who helped me navigate small press publishing and writing ethics. She’s a prolific author of over 40 books who gets up in the middle of the night (4 AM) to accomplish her myriad goals. Even with huge family demands, she writes and promotes almost every day. A lady in the most refined sense, she’s also a model of Christianity—not the clichéd version. She walks the walk. She’s unpretentious, accepts people the way they are, and believes in sharing her gifts—as she has with me. I’ll bet she never even considered herself a mentor. But she is. She continually inspires me to be better.
Recently, I was privileged to be offered a contract job for multiple books. I’d be paid a flat rate for each, and the publisher would reap the royalties. It was a dream come true. But the time frame was strenuous-three books in six months. Yikes. With the support of my family, friends, and colleagues, I signed the contract. The colleague who facilitated this offered me one piece of advice. Write the book, then go back and edit.
So, I did that. In all my years of writing, I’d always thought a thousand words a day was optimum. But with the timeline I had, I had to kick it up a notch. I wrote consistently and turned in 2500 words per day. With the aid of a flexible outline, I completed all three before the deadline. Even though I’d signed on the dotted line, I had no idea that I could do that much work. Until I did it.
That one simple piece of advice changed my work habits forever. I look upon that colleague as a mentor, although he’s too modest to agree with me.
How did mentors change your writing? Do you have one or many? Do you help new writers as they begin this arduous journey?
Even if you don’t consider yourself a mentor, I want to suggest why you should consider it.
- It could change someone’s life—really. Think about words of encouragement you heard that motivated you. Be that person. (see above)
- It will take you out of your own world—we create them in our heads, don’t we? Telling another person about your process attaches words to abstract thoughts. Sharing can enlarge thoughts if you listen. For both of you.
- You’ll be building a writers’ community based on the positive aspects we’re talking about here.
- The life you change may be your own. Sometimes, verbalizing the process gives us a clearer picture. Sharing and giving aren’t unique to humans, but we’ve refined it through evolution.
Let’s keep working and helping each other.
Thonie is the author of four police procedural mysteries set in the Sonoma Wine Country. While three of the books are on Amazon now, they will be re-edited, re-covered, and re-published by Rough Edges Press, an imprint of Wolfpack Press. The fifth book in this series will debut sometime in 2023.
Thonie’s website is www.thoniehevron.com
Author Facebook page: Thonie Hevron Author
JAMIE COLLINS – The Journey from The View to Stilettos
Jamie Collins’ binge-worthy Secrets and Stilettos series is about four high-profile women who are hired to co-anchor a daytime talk show. Collins infuses her books with grit, sizzle, and heat reminiscent of the talented writers (Jackie Collins, Sidney Sheldon, and Olivia Goldsmith) on which she cut her writing chops, reading and emulating their iconic styles. As a former model/actress, Collins’ stilettos have been everywhere, from nightclubs in Japan to the Playboy mansion to dinner with a Sinatra. Her aim is to delight and entertain readers of women’s fiction everywhere.
Blonde Up! is the fast-paced first book in this fun, drama-filled series. Casey Singer is determined to shine bright… but keeps getting in her own way. Can she grasp fame before her star burns out? If you like off-the-hook heroines, searches for identity, and global adventures, then you’ll love Jamie Collins’ wild ride.
Start with the prequel, Sign On!, which is available for free download on Collins’ author website at https://www.jamiecollinsauthor.com/free-book-offer.
Collins is currently working on Pretty Sensation! which is the first book in the spin-off Show Series, slated for release this summer.
What brought you to writing? I have always wanted to be an author. Even as a child, I would write stories and poems and keep countless journals. I pursued a degree in creative writing after exhausting most local colleges’ English literature offerings and received a degree in Fiction Writing from Columbia College in Chicago, where I lived. Later, I became certified in secondary education in Language Arts.
How did this series come to be? I had the idea for this series based on the premiere of The View way back when it first aired on television. I wrote the massive first draft on a train ride from a suburb outside of Chicago to my job downtown daily due to a compulsion to live in the story’s world. It took about eighteen months to complete it. Many years later, a writing coach encouraged me to break up the manuscript into four separate books featuring each woman’s backstory, which I did. Thus, the Secrets and Stilettos series was born.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? It has always been my aim to write about strong female protagonists. That said, the road to redemption is quite different for each of these women. Strong-willed is an understatement for Casey Singer in book #1, for sure!
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Much like the paperback tomes that I loved to read as a young adult, I most enjoy storylines that involve multiple threads and plot twists, which serve to ramp up the drama. Each book in the series can be read as a stand-alone and contain many plot layers and compelling minor characters. All of these components will be brought forward in the second tier of the series as well to keep the delicious excitement going and pages turning.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? While I started out as a pantser, my writing method is more intentional today. I have a background in education, so I adhere to the benefits of using character sheets, outlines, and note cards to keep things from running off the rails. This, blended with the thrill of discovery when the spirit moves me, keeps the writing fun, fresh, and authentic.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes. Each of my characters has a unique and lifelike existence. I utilize traits and personality types compiled from people I know or have known. So, my characters are a mix of real-life people and my creation. I find character building to be one of the strongest pillars of storytelling and the most enjoyable. I am fascinated by human nature and psychology. Having realistic and compelling characters helps to amplify the stories and creates a connection with the readers in a way they love.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I would encourage anyone who feels the passion to write—to do so much and often. Writing is a skill that one can learn but also needs to be nourished. There is no fast track to success; only you can define what that means for you. Take advantage of all the support and information that is out there for authors at all stages. As an author, you get to make up people, worlds, and stories for a living. It’s the perfect job. I could not think of a more perfect gift to share with others!
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Plans are in place for the completion and successive launches of all four books in the next tier, the Show Series, starting with Pretty Sensation! This is followed by additional series projects with even more heat and sizzle to include gorgeous male protagonists, a nod to the sexy senior set, as well as a foray into the paranormal/historical realm with some exciting new titles. Jump onto my mailing list to stay in the know regarding news and new releases at https://www.jamiecollinsauthor.com. I would love to connect with you!
Follow me on social media, and feel free to reach out.
My books are available on all retail platforms including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Click here to buy https://www.jamiecollinsauthor.com/copy-of-books.
MARCIA ROSEN – (aka M. Glenda Rosen) Award Winning Author
Marcia Rosen (aka M. Glenda Rosen) is the award-winning author of eleven books, including The Senior Sleuths and Dying To Be Beautiful Mystery Series and The Gourmet Gangster: Mysteries and Menus (Menus by her son Jory Rosen). She is also the author of The Woman’s Business Therapist and the award-winning My Memoir Workbook. For 25 years, she was the owner of a successful national marketing and public relations agency.
An Agatha, Raymond, Sherlock, and Me Mystery: Murder At The Zoo, will be published on March 14, 2023, by Artemesia Publishing.
March 2023: When she was a young girl, Miranda Scott read dozens of mystery books by authors such as Agatha Christie and Raymond Chandler, and she loved characters like Sherlock Holmes. Then she began hearing their voices in her head suggesting what she should and should not do. After a body is tossed into the lions’ habitat at the Zoo where she is the senior veterinarian, Miranda and Detective Bryan Anderson find themselves investigating several murders and dealing with a group of bad guys, while gangster friends of her father’s are trying to protect her. Miranda and Bryan alternate between flirting and fighting off romantic feelings. Murder seems to keep getting in their way! “An Agatha, Raymond, Sherlock and Me: Murder at The Zoo” is hard to put down! You’ll enjoy getting to know the characters as you read this engaging mystery.” Cat Harper, National Steinbeck Center
I start writing on blue, pink, or purple lines paper, then transfer what I like onto the computer. I realize it would probably be cumbersome to many, but I write, rewrite, write, and rewrite many times. Then it goes to my editor. Once she has done her magic, I still review the entire book and usually accept about 80 percent of her suggestions. I do accept all her corrections regarding punctuation, spelling, and grammar, aware that is not any part of my skill set.
I’m currently working on the first book in my new cozy mystery series:
An Agatha, Raymond, Sherlock, and Me: Murder At The Zoo, will be published March 14, 2023, by Artemesia Publishing (www.apbooks.net)
After a body is tossed into the lions’ habitat at the zoo where she is the senior veterinarian, Miranda and Detective Bryan Anderson find themselves investigating several murders and dealing with a group of bad guys, while gangster friends of her father are trying to protect her. Plus, Miranda and Bryan alternate between flirting and fighting off romantic feelings.
A clever, intriguing, and gripping new cozy mystery filled with exciting twists and turns, bizarre murders, and fascinating characters, including several dead authors who seem to speak to Veterinarian Miranda Scott. A fan since childhood of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Sherlock Holmes, their voices seem to live in her head frequently telling her what to do…and not do. Especially when it comes to solving mysteries. Murders, deceit, revenge, a gangster father, and a godfather also often get in the way of a fine romance!
Yes. Association memberships have been very helpful to me many times and in a number of ways. There is support, friendship, good connections, and opportunities to promote a book and publish articles on Association sites. They are an excellent resource for information on some murder/police details. I’m a member of:
Public Safety Writer’s Association
Sisters-in-crime (Croak&Dagger) New Mexico
Women Writing the West
National Association of Independent Writers & Editors
My advice for new writers, even old ones who have been writing for quite some time, is the same I give to myself when I have a moment of faltering. Believe in yourself, listen to your own voice, not others, be willing to ask for help and get good help, and even be willing to pay for it. Be persistent. Know you have the right to be a writer!
March 14, 2023 Murder At The Zoo will be available at the above plus www.aptbooks.net
B. LYNN GOODWIN – Some Thoughts About the How and Why of Writing
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 – It’s Wise to Take Advice from Your Characters
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 – Registered Nurse / Medical Editor / Public Health Writer
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 BISWAS – Brings the Mysteries of India to the World
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
G.P. GOTTLIEB – A First Draft Should Overflow with Excess
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
G.P. Gottlieb is the author of Charred: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery (D.X. Varos Publishing 2023), the third in her culinary mystery series. She is host for New Books in Literature, a podcast channel on the New Books Network, and has interviewed over 170 authors. You can read more about her at her site: https://www.gpgottlieb.com/, on Facebook: authorgottlieb, and Instagram: WhippedSipped.
In the first draft of Charred: A Whipped and Sipped Mystery (DX Varos 2023), I just wrote whatever popped into my head. I created superfluous back stories for nearly every character, including a few of protagonist Alene Baron’s many employees in the café. I included details that nobody cares about, mentioned the protagonist’s run-in with a mean girl in middle school even though she’s a grown woman with children of her own, and went on for pages about her sister.
I let my imagination go wild. I also covered memories of Alene’s mother who died of breast cancer, her post-graduation trip to Greece, and her thoughts about several previous boyfriends. There were pages and pages about her ex-husband. None of it was important to the story, which takes place during the summer of 2020. You might remember that was when a highly contagious and poorly understood virus was galloping across the globe, killing millions, and forcing many of us to hide in our homes.
The pandemic is one of several struggles my protagonist faces. It doesn’t play a leading role, but rumbles in the background like a volcano about to erupt. I remember those months of worrying about homeless people and those forced to beg on streets that were empty of cars or pedestrians. We could walk for miles (in sweet home, Chicago), and see very few other people braving the possibility of crossing paths with the virus.
The characters in my book were frightened, like all of us. I wanted to tell those stories – it didn’t matter if they were going to be cut later because they helped me get into the characters’ heads. The pandemic was like a simmering evil presence, sitting in the corner holding a weapon – everyone was afraid, but we all went about our business because there is a limit to how much time any of us can spend staring at the walls before we go mad.
In ongoing chapters, my protagonist struggles with a decision about admitting something important. In my first draft, she flashes back to missing her cousin’s funeral while she was traveling in Greece with her best friend. She remembers the sun, the history, and that her guilt boiled down to disappointing her parents. When she finally faces her current dilemma, the reader understands that she’s conscious of all the wrong decisions she’s made, even though I cut those early travel scenes.
After I’ve filled extraneous pages with a myriad of unnecessary details, and the first draft is achingly long, I start the process that will turn it into a readable novel. My goal is to focus on telling a story in which each chapter moves the action, and the combination of all the chapters form a forward thrusting arc. I make sure that the pandemic is tucked behind a wall – still there, but not pounding on the glass to be let in.
Each time I’ve completed another draft, I’d show it to my editor/teacher, who has a gift for striking out what can go unsaid, and highlighting what needs more attention. This is the third book she’s helped me pull together with ideas for re-ordering chapters, adding missing information, strengthening the climax, and polishing the ending.
Sometimes I wonder if I could save time and effort by avoiding my propensity for long, blabby explanations and my need to tell you everything I know about any given person or situation. That happens both in writing and real life. But my method has worked for three books now, and as we often say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it*.”
*The phrase has been attributed to a government official during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, but there are enough earlier quotes to keep it solidly in the, “It is said” realm of aphorisms.
HELEN STARBUCK – Writers and their characters are strange bedfellows.
Helen Starbuck, no relation to the coffee bunch, is an award-winning author of the standalone suspense novels Legacy of Secrets, Finding Alex, and The Woman He Used to Know, and the Annie Collins Mystery Series. A native, her books are set in Denver and other Colorado locations. Her writing companion is her cat Bean.
A Cold Case of Conscience, an Annie Collins Mystery – Helping Detective Frost review cold cases, Annie Collins can’t resist the pull of a recent murder that may be connected to a 20-year-old cold case. To further complicate matters, Annie’s husband’s ability to tolerate the repercussions of her involvement with Frost is at an end, forcing her to choose between helping Frost or potentially damaging her marriage.
Writers and their characters are strange bedfellows. The fiction writing process is an odd one, for me at least. I often wonder if other writers have strong-willed characters and if they behave or run wild? My characters are very opinionated. They don’t run wild, but boy can they be hard to wrangle. They often come to me in the middle of the night with, “Have you thought about this?” Propositions to let me know they’ve decided to do something different or that I have taken them in the wrong direction. It’s my imagination—I don’t need meds—but I’ve begun to wonder if my characters live in an alternate universe that I am allowed to tap into. Their worlds are very real to me.
I hadn’t planned on writing a series, but I like my characters so much that I ended up doing just that. And they often morph into ways I hadn’t planned on. Detective Frost, a character in my Annie Collins Mystery Series, was supposed to be a one-off character, but he decided to be a mainstay of the series. It didn’t take a lot to persuade me; he’s a very likable, irascible character who keeps Annie, my main character, grounded. Angel Cisneros was, initially, just going to be Annie’s neighbor—a lawyer for her to bounce ideas off, but no major romance. Then he decided to fall in love with her and become more than a friend. That was not my plan. Although now, I can’t imagine telling the story any other way.
Characters can also be a major pain. The first three books in the series, The Mad Hatter’s Son, No Pity in Death, and The Burden of Hate, seemed to flow from my brain to the page without too much difficulty. There were times when I struggled or boxed myself into a corner or got lost in the weeds, but my characters talked to me, and ideas were abundant. After The Burden of Hate was published, they went silent. I joke that I put my main characters through such hell in Burden, that they didn’t want anything to do with me. But it was true—they weren’t giving me any help. I came up with four different plot ideas, none of which I was keen about, and all of which were vetoed by my editor and my beta readers. I was stymied.
It was at that point that two brand new characters appeared and told me a story about a family filled with secrets and a daughter’s search for answers. At a writing seminar, the teacher put several copies of iconic paintings on the table and told us to pick one that spoke to us and write about it for fifteen minutes. A picture of an old, abandoned farmhouse in the midst of a field of grass called to me, and Kate Earnshaw and Evan Hastings started talking. That was the beginning of Legacy of Secrets, a standalone romantic suspense novel.
Annie Collins and Angel Cisneros from the series were still refusing to talk to me, so I decided to stop stressing about it and let other stories come. And they did. Driving to Boulder along Highway 93 one afternoon, the beginning to Finding Alex popped into my head with the thought that the drop offs along both sides of the highway would be a perfect place to leave a body. But, I thought, what if the person wasn’t dead and stumbled out into the highway in front of a detective’s car? Blake Halloran and Alex Kincaid began telling their story. In The Woman He Used to Know, a scene between Nick Ryan and Elizabeth Harper that ends disastrously and later places Nick in a compromising position popped into my head clear as a bell.
Four years later, after my three standalone novels were written and published, Annie and Angel finally decided to talk to me. Unfortunately, they wanted to tell me all about their private lives and weren’t all that interested in a mystery. I gave in to them and wrote a number of short stories about their lives to keep them talking. I struggled with a plot, and I struggled with them, but at last, a plot for book four materialized.
A Cold Case of Conscience will be out in 2023, and Annie, Angel, and I are happy to be talking again. I haven’t decided if book four will be the last in the series, but there are plenty of other characters who are anxious to tell their stories. It’s important to listen to them.
Colorado Author’s League
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
Sisters in Crime (National and Colorado chapter)
Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America (National and local)
FAYE SNOWDEN –
Faye Snowden is the author of The Killing series (Flame Tree Press) featuring homicide detective Raven Burns. A Killing Rain, the second book in the series, was released in June, 2022 and was selected as one of CrimeRead’s best gothic fiction novels of the year.
Faye has published short stories and poems in various literary journals, anthologies, and small presses. Her articles have appeared in Writer’s Digest and Salon. Her short story, “One Bullet. One Vote,” was selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery & Suspense 2021. Faye is a member of MWA, as well as Sisters in Crime, and served as secretary for SinC National. Aside from her publications, she managed two boys, a husband, five dogs, and three writing fellowships over the years. Today, Faye works and writes from her home in Northern California.
A Killing Rain (Flame Tree, 2022) – Former homicide detective Raven Burns returns to Byrd’s Landing, Louisiana, to begin a new life but soon finds herself trapped by the old one. Her nephew has been kidnapped by a serial killer, and her foster brother becomes the main suspect. To make matters worse, she is being pursued by two men— one who wants to redeem her soul for the murder Raven felt she had no choice but to commit and another who wants to lock her away forever.
Do you write in more than one genre? I love this as a lead question because it’s an important one that’s not asked often enough. Even though I describe myself as a mystery author, I write all kinds of things. I’ve been lucky enough to publish in Salon and Writer’s Digest and craft short stories that were well received. As for longer works, I started by writing romantic suspense. I’ve recently been enjoying the journey of creating southern gothic crime fiction. But it’s important to strengthen your writing muscle by experimenting with other genres. Writing short stories does that for me. I don’t know how good I am at it, yet, but I would love to be one of those people who could sit down and dash off a short story in one sitting. I’ve read that Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, was such a person. If you are ever looking for writing advice that will both inspire you and make you smile, check out his Zen in the Art of Writing. I dream about taking up his challenge of writing one short story a week for 52 weeks. New Year’s resolution, anyone?
What brought you to writing? Absence brought me to writing. The things that were missing in existing media. I’ve said before that I used TV and books as an escape when I was growing up. The problem was that I didn’t see a lot of stories with people like me in them. I found myself rewriting the stories I watched on television or read in books by filling them with African Americans and strong female characters essential to the plot.
I think the first thing I ever wrote for public viewing was a poem called Insanity. I don’t know where it is now. But I remember my English teacher at first accusing me of plagiarism and then saying that if I did write the poem, I had a talent that needed to be developed. I decided to focus on the latter half of that backhanded compliment, and now here I am today.
Tell us about your writing process. My writing process changes with each book. But basically, the first thing I start with is an idea or maybe some questions. For the Killing series, the questions I started with were these— in what ways can a daughter escape the sins of her father? And how much should she be held accountable for those sins? I usually have a character in mind by then. Sometimes, they show up whole, and I don’t have to do much development. Others I have to spend some time getting to know them. Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird has a great chapter on how to develop character. After that, I build a skeletal outline and then free-write. What happens after free-write? You guessed it. Edit, edit, edit.
When I think about the editing piece, I’m reminded of the rumor that Jack Kerouac wrote his famous novel, On the Road in three weeks on a continuous roll of computer paper (Jack Kerouac’s Famous, ‘On the Road’ Again’, NPR). I remember going through college and grad school ultra-impressed by that. Now that I’m a writer myself, I’ve learned that what many seldom mention is what happened after. The scroll draft went through many revisions, rewrites, and edits, as it should have. To me, that proves my mantra. Write fast. Edit slow.
Kerouac’s Famous scroll
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? Yes! My characters do not obey. You’d think it would be Raven who believes that rules regarding her job are mere guidelines and authority figures should be challenged as the character I have the most problems with. But, no. She’s easy. It’s the laidback Billy Ray, her former partner, who is going to much darker places than I’d like. I’ve found through the years that sometimes you have to let characters go where they will. Chances are it’s the story that is driving them into other lanes.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Byrd’s Landing is a fictional town in Louisiana based on the years I’ve spent growing up there. I like fictional spaces because they allow you the flexibility that real settings do not. And because I based the fictional setting on the place where I spent my formative years, it’s a rich, fertile ground for storytelling.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Yes, the first is to read and read widely, even things outside of your comfort zone. Ray Bradbury is credited with saying, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” (Our Top Ten Ray Bradbury Quotes, NEA) I always tell new writers to fall in love with reading, especially if they weren’t already in love with it.
The second is to study the craft. I used to think that anyone could write, but I don’t think that now. Anyone can start writing from pure exhilaration after stumbling upon a brilliant idea. If they lack craft, however, they will run out of steam when the excitement does. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said inspiration will only take you so far, but it’s craft that will get you the rest of the way.
The third is to be professional. This is a business, after all. Don’t publicly trash agents or other writers or other writers’ works. And put some distance between you and your work product. Be thoughtful about suggestions for improvements, and become that writer who finds value in the editing process.
And finally, find your community. I belong to both Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I would be lost without them.
How do our readers contact you? I hang out on Twitter and Instagram occasionally. A lot of people are gravitating toward my Facebook page as well. Here’s a snapshot of where you can find me in the ether.