Jill Amadio is an author, journalist, ghostwriter, and audiobook narrator from Cornwall, UK. She lives in Westport, CT. She has ghostwritten 17 memoirs, including Rudy Vallee, a U.S. ambassador, a nuclear physicist, an oil baron, a rodeo champion, an inventor, and others. Jill writes three mystery series, a column for a UK online magazine, and for The Writes in Residence. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Authors Guild, and Mystery Writers of America.
What brought you to writing? I won every English award at school and college with my passion for writing, while I failed miserably at math. My life ambition was to be a reporter, and I achieved that goal at newspapers in London, UK; Madrid, Spain; Bangkok, Thailand; and in Westport, CT. I wrote a syndicated column for Gannett Newspapers and an automotive column for Entrepreneur magazine.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes. I write mysteries, novels, true crime, biographies, and ghostwriting memoirs. I was once hired to write a thriller by a client and went on to write my own crime series featuring a British amateur sleuth in America.
Tell us about your writing process. At first, it was daunting to come up with 70,000 words after writing 3,000-word articles. I am lucky to have the drive to write and rarely experience writer’s block. I awake each day eager to get to my necessary research, which can send my plot off in a different direction than planned, but it can also open new scenarios. I always write at my desk because it feels more like working rather than at a café or other outside location.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am both. I think up a rough idea for a plot, mulling three or four different ways to go, then I expand upon my choice, create the characters, decide on the settings, and then write a two- or three-page outline. Once I begin writing the first draft, however, I become a pantser, which means I feel free to change any of the elements as I go along. As I write I often get better ideas than my original ones, especially when writing dialogue,, and I am always delighted when this happens.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Realizing that my characters try to make their own decisions, I once decided on a particular character as the murderer, but the more I ‘wrote’ her, the more I came to like her, so I picked someone else for the killer, throwing the plot into chaos but eventually fixing it, and keeping her as an ongoing minor character in the series. I’m a great fan of descriptive verbs, and particularity can challenge a writer to create colorful, original detail.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist – for the antagonist? Raising the stakes is one of the most exhilarating times of writing a mystery or a thriller, especially with cliffhanger endings worked out for each chapter. I can half-drown someone, have my sleuth flee the murderer with an extraordinary feat, or put characters into great danger with the flick of the keyboard. It all depends on the imagination whether and how any of the victims should be spared or not, whether the killer must be caught in an unexpected, explosive ending, and if the plot is so compelling with a satisfactory ending, the reader eagerly awaits the next book in the series.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No, but they can go off the grid, so to speak, because my sleuth, Tosca Trevant, is a transplanted Brit in California who is often mystified by the lifestyle. I occasionally wish she was more understanding and less impulsive. In my novel based on a true 9/11 story, the protagonist is a real-life young woman who had asked me to ghostwrite her memoir. I eventually published it as fiction, but the book is closer to true crime than novelistic.
What are you currently working on? I have started two new mystery series, as well as completing my third book in the Tosca series. One of the new series features three retired librarians living in a New England fishing village who find murders on their doorstep. The other series’ protagonist is a ghostwriter based in Connecticut who is mistaken for a ghost hunter.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Find the authors you most admire and study their technique, style, and how they craft their stories. Each of us writers has a different, natural talent and means of expressing ourselves in our books, so don’t worry you might be copying your idol. Use them as guidelines.
Jill can be reached through her Facebook page, Jill Amadio, and her website, www.ghostwritingpro.com.
David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, has published three books: an award-winning memoir entitled Nazis & Nudists, a short-story collection called Jenny on the Street, and, his latest, an Amazon bestselling compilation of essays exploring life on a tropical island. He has also written and produced radio features, for which he was awarded a Golden Mike by the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California.
Haldane, along with his wife and two young children, currently divides his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where he writes a weekly column for the Mindanao Gold Star Daily called “Expat Eye.” A compendium of those pieces was published earlier this year under the title A Tooth in My Popsicle and Other Ebullient Essays on Becoming Filipino, a book expressing the joys, triumphs, tribulations, exigencies, and hilarities of expatriate life. You can get it on Amazon.
What brought you to writing? Many years ago, living in a barren unheated apartment in Berlin, Germany, during the coldest winter months, I hit rock bottom. Specifically, I felt lonely, hopeless, abandoned, and extremely depressed at having to wear my fur coat inside and constantly seeing my breath as white wisps of steam. In utter desperation, I started writing letters to friends back home, especially an old girlfriend who’d given me the boot. It became a daily ritual that saved my life. I’ve been writing ever since.
Do you write in more than one genre? Having spent most of my life working as a journalist, I am naturally drawn to nonfiction. After getting laid off in what came to be known as the Mother of All Recessions, however, I later expanded my notion of nonfiction to include, well, things that weren’t entirely true. As in short stories. Mostly, though, I work somewhere between those two extremes in the realms of narrative nonfiction—i.e., stuff that reads like fiction but isn’t—and personal (often also narrative) essay, which pretty much describes my columns. These days, that’s where I really live.
Where do you write? I write wherever I have to, which can range from hotel rooms on my laptop to in bed on my cell phone. Where I prefer to write, though, is in the spacious office on the top floor of the dream house my wife and I built overlooking Surigao Strait at the northernmost tip of Mindanao Island in the Philippines. It has a 180-degree view of the ocean dotted with distant islands and, frankly, is the place wherein I was born to contemplate the blank page. The only distraction I allow is my two-year-daughter and her three-year-old cousin coming in to visit bearing cookies. They are especially fond of jumping on the couch to see whether they can reach the ceiling, a habit I find quite annoying but also hopelessly enchanting. And definitely uninterruptible.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Because most of my writing happens in short bursts, I am, by instinct, a pantser. The idea of plotting something long and complicated is terribly intimidating to me and, frankly, something I can’t even imagine ever doing. What has become an inevitable part of my process, however, is sometimes jotting quick notes after getting an idea, probably in case I forget what it is. Which, I must admit, has happened more than once. After more years of doing this, than I care to admit, I am finally beginning to feel confident in knowing the difference between a mere idea and a genuine story. Still, I don’t always know exactly where it’s going until I sit down to write, which is why the notes help.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan to give up writing and become a dog catcher. Just kidding. Actually, I’m planning a sequel, another essay collection starting where this one left off on the theme of surviving a major typhoon that blows the roof of your house and empties all its contents. I’m thinking of calling it Aching Testicles. Also, I just had one of the most amazing experiences of my life; discovering a whole new family in Germany I never knew I had. My mother was a Holocaust survivor who always told us that most of her family got wiped out. It turns out that her brother survived and, not only that, became a prominent journalist, politician, and the father of two children. Not to mention, several other of my grandfather’s descendants of whom we were completely unaware. So now, 90 years later and long after the principles are dead, we’ve all reconnected in a reunion that’s been incredibly emotional for everyone. I think there’s definitely a future book in that: the story of a family tragically torn asunder and then miraculously reunited almost a century later. I’m open to any suggestions for a title.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Sure. First, don’t do it for the money because you probably won’t make much. Pray that writing by actual living human beings rather than AI bots will continue to be a thing, at least until you die. And hope that the next generation retains the ability to read. Finally, don’t become a writer unless you absolutely have to. If it’s not an obsession, don’t even bother.
BUY THE BOOK:
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-tooth-in-my-popsicle-david-haldane/1142712082
Susan Van Kirk is the president of the Guppy Chapter, the online chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a writer of cozy mysteries. She lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold and icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Van Kirk taught forty-four years in high school and college and raised three children. Now that the children are launched, she writes.
Her Endurance mysteries include Three May Keep a Secret, Marry in Haste, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, Death Takes No Bribes, and The Witch’s Child. She also wrote A Death at Tippitt Pond. Her latest Art Center Mysteries include Death in a Pale Hue and Death in a Bygone Hue from Level Best Books. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
Thanks so much for inviting me to answer some questions about my writing on your blog, George. My latest book, Death in a Bygone Hue, just launched from Level Best Books. It’s the second book in my Art Center mysteries. Death in a Pale Hue, the first mystery, came out a year ago.
Death in a Bygone Hue When Jill Madison returns to her hometown to become executive director of a new art center, she never dreams unexpected secrets from the past will put her life in danger. Her parent’s old friend and Jill’s mentor, Judge Ron Spivey, is murdered. He leaves behind more than a few secrets from the past. His baffling will makes Jill a rich woman if she survives the will’s six-month probate period.
She finds a target on her back when the judge’s estranged children return. They form an unholy alliance with a local muckraking journalist who specializes in making up the news. According to the judge’s will, if Jill dies, the family inherits.
Jill and her best friend, Angie Emerson, launch their own investigation, determined to find the judge’s killer. In the meantime, Jill must run her first national juried exhibit, launch a new seniors group, and move the weavers guild into the art center. Easy peasy, right?
What brought you to writing? A few years prior to finishing a thirty-four-year stint teaching in high school, I decided to write a memoir about my teaching life. I’d written one story, and it was published quickly by Teacher magazine. So, I added fourteen more stories and self-published the creative non-fiction book. It did very well, and that led me to my decision to write mysteries once I retired (after another ten years of teaching at the college level.) Mysteries are my favorite genre to read, so why not try my hand at writing a few? I just finished #8.
Has an association membership helped you with your writing? I joined Sisters in Crime and soon discovered their Guppy Chapter. That has been a delightful experience, and I’ve learned so much. They have craft classes, critique groups, manuscript swaps, a brilliant newsletter, a fantasy agent project, and many more programs designed to help mystery writers. I was elected to the Steering Committee, served three years, and became President for the past three years. I’ll be stepping down at the end of this month. This is a fantastic organization to help new mystery writers.
How long did it take you to write your first book? That would be the teaching memoir. It probably took over a year, but I was also working then. Once I retired, my first mystery, Three May Keep a Secret, took about four months.
How long to get it published? The older I get, the more I realize that many serendipitous events are a case of luck and timing. I sent my first mystery manuscript to Five Star Publishing, and it landed in the hands of Deni Dietz, senior editor. She told me since I followed directions, she put my submission at the top of her stack. (Now that’s a low bar.) Within two weeks, she emailed me to say they wanted to buy my manuscript. I was afraid I hadn’t suffered enough, but Five Star closed their doors to mystery publishing after two of my books were published. I don’t think I brought them down, but I felt fortunate that they saw something in my writing. But now I was orphaned.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I do use one or two subplots with each book I write. Usually, they have a connection to the main plot. In Three May Keep a Secret, a subplot involves an employee of a sports bar who decides to blackmail a killer. The main plot involved the search for that killer. Secrets were the connecting idea. In Marry in Haste, a book with two plots, the main one takes place in the present, and the subplot in the past. Both involve women who hide a similar deadly secret. They share the same Victorian house—one hundred years apart. Their stories mirror each other. Each book I write contains at least one subplot that comments on the main plot in some way. Often it is a theme relationship.
My current art center mysteries often have subplots that involve the kinds of work and projects done at the art center. While Jill Madison is investigating a murder, she also has an art center to run, so the daily grind of doing that job is one of the subplots.
Weaving subplots into the main plot is tricky. Pacing makes an enormous difference as far as placement of a subplot. Often an event in the main plot leads to a scene with the subplot. A writer must think long and hard about the relationship between the plots and how they fit together in the scheme of the whole novel.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am both. The world is far from black and white. I make a basic outline of the chapters. Then I fill in the details as I go along.
What kind of research do you do? This depends on the book. For The Locket: from the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, I did a great deal of DNA research. It was key to the plot. I also went back to the 1940s and the Big Band Era and researched the Roof Garden, a dance venue in my hometown where Big Bands played during the early war years. My local library had so many anecdotal stories about that time and place. I even interviewed an elderly lady who went there and met her future husband. The murder victim was last seen there. The novella takes place in the present with the murder of a cold case.
My newest series about an art center has involved extensive research since I’m not an artist. I’ve learned about how the local art center lifted the floors of an 1870 building to make it safe for its patrons. Researching, I’ve learned about how to install artwork, how to transport it for forensic testing, how to do forensic testing, how to detect fraud, and how national exhibits are run. I’ve even learned about the FBI Art Fraud Division. Whew! I’m learning a great deal about a world I never knew much about.
Thanks for having me on, George.
Josephine (Jo) Mele is a world traveler, tour guide, magazine editor, and life-long mystery reader. Author of: The Odd Grandmothers, a memoir of three generations of her Italian immigrant family, and The Travel Mystery Series: Bullets in Bolivia, Homicide in Havana. Mystery in Monte Carlo, Bandits in Brussels, Death on the Danube, Corpse in the Castle, Sicilian Sanctuary, and she is about to release Incident in India. Jo lives in Contra Costa County and is a member of Sisters in Crime and the California Writers Club.
Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Write what you know.” I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world with my job as a tour director, and I am an avid mystery reader. I decided to blend the two. The teacher in me feels the need to share what I’ve learned about the culture, history, and people of places I’ve traveled to. I love to cook and eat, so food plays an important part in each book, to the dismay of my critique group, who often call for a lunch break after I read.
In my cozy mysteries, I spotlight a current event or problem the locals face. In Bullets in Bolivia, large corporations were taking control of the water; human trafficking was the theme in Sicilian Sanctuary.
June Gordon, my protagonist, has one job; to come back with the same number of people she left with. Fate often has other plans, and June finds herself tripping over bodies, rescuing victims, helping the police, or fighting off the bad guy. She’s known at police stations and emergency rooms around the world. I never know what June will get us into, and after eight books, I’m getting a little afraid of traveling with her. Today, she has me in India, saving a young girl from an honor killing. Yes, I’m a pantser.
I recently spoke at a book reading. At the Q&A session, a precocious ten-year-old asked how long I’d been writing and why I chose to self-publish. I told her I’d been drafting short stories about my extended family for a long time, and my writing teacher and friend Camille Minichino suggested I put the stories together in a memoir. I wrote The Odd Grandmothers and decided to publish it on Amazon in 2019. I wanted to get my books out quickly and not wait years for an agent to sell my book to a publisher. I didn’t want the honor of being the oldest person to publish my first book. Self-publishing is the route I chose.
My relatives loved the memoir and said they’d learned things about our family history they never knew.
My sister said, “I remember some of this much differently.”
Thanks for taking the time to read about my adventure into writing. If you have any questions or comments, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. My books are available at Amazon or at Reasonable Books in Lafayette, CA.
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.
Deb Richardson-Moore is the author of a memoir, The Weight of Mercy, and four mysteries, including a 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion finalist, Murder, Forgotten. All have been published by Lion Hudson of Oxford, England.
Deb is a former journalist and minister to homeless parishioners in Greenville, SC. She tells the story of her mid-career switch in The Weight of Mercy, a memoir that reveals the traumas and rewards of dealing with addiction and poverty. It has been studied at Harvard and Duke Divinity Schools.
Murder, Forgotten is a stand-alone in which an aging mystery writer is losing her memory. When her husband is murdered in their beachfront home, her grief is mixed with panic: Could she, deep in the throes of a new plot, have killed him? Upcoming in 2023: Deb’s latest work, Through Any Window, has been accepted by Red Adept Publishing in the U.S. Set in a gentrifying area of a vibrant Southern city, tensions are already high between old-timers and rich newcomers. When a double murder explodes, police must determine whether its roots are personal or the rocky result of urban renewal.
Do you write in more than one genre? After a 2012 memoir, I have stuck to murder mysteries.
What brought you to writing? A lifelong love of reading and a 27-year career as a feature writer for a newspaper. After leaving the demands of daily deadlines, I was finally able to write books.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my cheerful sunroom, with five uncovered windows and loads of happy artwork and family photos. At this point, I’m not in a race to see how many books I can produce! I do allow distractions – coffees and lunches out, volunteer work, speeches, travel.
What are you currently working on? I’m in the editing process of a mystery tentatively titled Through Any Window, which is set in a gentrifying neighborhood in a Southern city. People in new mansions live side by side with people in boarding houses and a homeless shelter and can see their neighbors’ lives through their windows.
Who is your favorite author? It’s a toss-up between Joshilyn Jackson and Jodi Picoult. I’m amazed at the breadth of their work.
How long did it take you to write your first book? In all, it probably took a year. When I was halfway through, my board of directors gave me a sabbatical to finish it. Without that nine weeks, I’m not sure I could have done it. I was in a deathly fight with my inner critic.
How long to get it published? Another three years. To my surprise, a publisher in England picked it up, then agreed to publish my fiction titles as well.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? Yes, I did this once. ( I won’t say which book!) My writers’ group got into a major argument over it. One member thought it was breaking a contract with the reader. Others liked the surprise of it. I loved it because I believe it allowed the story to veer into a deeper, sadder place.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? You have to have subplots. In Through Any Window, one subplot whirls around the tensions of rich and poor living side by side, and another concerns a young man who recognizes a property where he once lived. The subplots give rise to possible motives for the murders.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I wrote my three-volume Branigan Powers series about a homeless man who helps a news reporter (Branigan) solve murders. Because he glides through their town virtually unseen, Malachi sees and hears things that other people don’t. I based him on a dear friend, a homeless man who attended my church for 15 years. As for Branigan herself, I’m sure she has aspects of me, as does her friend, Liam, a pastor in a homeless ministry. (I also wrote my dog, Annabelle, into Murder, Forgotten).
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I don’t know that term! But I don’t outline, so I guess I’m a pantser. I think it’s more exciting if you can constantly surprise yourself. I had so much fun writing Murder, Forgotten, because I couldn’t wait to see how it turned out. It was quite literally almost as much fun as reading a twisty thriller.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I mix them all together. The Branigan Powers series was set on my grandparents’ farm in northeast Georgia, but I plopped it near a city that doesn’t exist. In each book, Branigan usually travels to the South Carolina coast. Murder, Forgotten was set on Sullivan’s Island, SC, and the eastern coast of Scotland. I mixed actual villages and streets and restaurants with fictional houses. Through Any Window is set in fictional Greenbrier, SC, but I draw on much of what is going on in Greenville — and any growing American city.
What is the best book you have ever read? Oddly, not one by my favorite authors. I’d have to say Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Or possibly Ira Levine’s Rosemary’s Baby. I get shivers thinking about both.
How do our readers contact you or learn more about you?
Contact for Deb: email@example.com
To purchase: www.debrichardsonmoore.com or any online seller