Apr 20, 2023 | Mystery, Police Procedural / Crime |
D.P. Lyle is the Amazon #1 Bestselling; Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Award-winning; Edgar(2), Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, Scribe, and USA Today Best Book(2) Award-nominated author of 22 books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Dr. Lyle hosts the Crime Fiction Writer’s Blog and the Criminal Mischief: The Art and Science of Crime Fiction podcast series. He has worked with many novelists and with the writers of popular television shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write both fiction and non-fiction. In the latter category, I have three reference-type books on forensic science and three in my Q&A series, where I take story questions from writers and explain the needed science and show how it might be used in their story. I have two older thriller series (Dub Walker and Samantha Cody) and two active ones (Jake Longly and Cain/Harper). The Jake books are comedic but still deal with serious crimes filtered through Jake’s quirky brain. The Cain/Harper series is darker, and these stories are more true thrillers.
What brought you to writing? I grew up in the south where they won’t feed you if you can’t tell a story. Southern storytelling’s a great tradition that goes back centuries and has created many of the great names in literature. I grew up around people (family, friends, classmates) who could spin a yarn and I could do so myself. But writing a tale is a different animal. Twenty five years ago, I took a couple of writing classes at the University of California, Irvine, joined a pair of writing groups, and began writing. Took a while, and a lot of words, but finally it all worked out.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have a sound-proofed music studio/media room/office where I do most of my writing. Or I’m out in the pavilion we have off our kitchen. I don’t avoid distractions, I need them. If it’s quiet, my mind wanders so I always have the TV or music on. Helps me concentrate. I was the same in med school. I had to have music to study.
Tell us about your writing process: My first few books were outlined but the past dozen or so I avoided that. I simply have a few scenes in mind and start the story and see where it goes. I like that much better. More fun, and more creative, I think. I write the first draft fast and avoid any major editing during that process. I might clean up a few plot things along the way, but I wait for the second draft to begin any real editing. In other words, get the story on paper, then fix it. You can edit garbage but you can’t edit a blank page. All that said, I use Scrivener, which I love, so I usually know and make notes on the next few chapters/scenes while I’m writing—as they come to mind—but I don’t do a complete outline. Rather, planning the next few scenes as I go along is part of the writing process for me.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The first draft. The heavy lifting. I love the editing process. It’s where the story really takes shape and becomes publishable. After the first draft, you know all your characters, how they think, what they say, and what they do. So, when you begin the re-writes the characters come alive and the interactions among them are more realistic.
How long did it take you to write your first book? Two and a half years. Then another decade that included four changes of title, four changes of location, and a change in protagonist. And 27 re-writes. The only things that stayed the same were the bad guy and the basic story. I published other stuff along the way but finally after 10 years this story became STRESS FRACTURE, my first Dub Walker book.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Not really. I like my main characters even with all their flaws and quirks. Sometimes they do stupid things, at least things I wouldn’t do, but that’s part of who they are. My series characters are “set in their ways” to some extent but the other characters in a given story are fair game for creating interesting folks. I love minor characters as they can be so much fun to write and add to any story. A great example is the movie NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. The minor characters here are amazing and add so much depth and flavor to the tale.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Sure. I think virtually all stories do. The key, I think, is that the subplots should support and not distract from the main story. They add depth and texture, but should not take over the story or, conversely, seem to be simply tacked on. Subplots can help a story in many ways, including revealing character, creating complications and stress for the protagonist (or villain), as well as adding backstory, mood, and richness to the story.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? Both. I prefer to create small towns and more rural locations that are completely made up. Other times I create made up places in real settings. Maybe an office building, a bar/restaurant, a house or neighborhood, whatever, and place it in a real location. Map apps come in handy here. My Dub Walker series is set in around my hometown, Huntsville Alabama. In these stories, I use many real places but I also make up toters. Some of the made up ones are actually real places that I have altered in some way.
What is the best book you have ever read? That’s a tough one. Several that always stuck in my mind are Verne’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, Hemingway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, Steinbeck’s IN DUBIOUS BATTLE, Forsyth’s THE DAY OF THE JACKAL and Puzo’s THE GODFATHER. Then there’s Elmore Leonard’s RIDING THE RAP and James Lee Burke’s BLACK CHERRY BLUES.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? My next Jake Longly book, CULTURED, is coming in May, 2023 and my latest Cain/Harper story, TALLYMAN just came out in August 2022. So now, I’m working on the next books in each of these series.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Read—read—read, write—write—write, repeat. Writers must read—-a lot. And not just in their genre but rather in many other genres. Consider this a broader education in storytelling as any reading will help you write a better story.
How do our readers contact you? The best way is through my website: dplylemd.com. That will connect you to my books, my blog, my podcasts, and my old radio show.
Mar 23, 2023 | Crime, Mystery, Police Procedural / Crime |
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
By Force or Fear
Intent to Hold
With Malice Aforethought
Felony Murder Rule
Feb 23, 2023 | Mystery, Police Procedural / Crime, Thriller |
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)
Dec 21, 2022 | Crime, Fantasy, Mystery, Police Procedural / Crime |
I attended two writers’ conferences in 2022 in Las Vegas. The Public Safety Writers Association conference was held at the Orleans Hotel and Casino mid-July. It was intimate, with around fifty attendees. The other was 20Books Vegas 2022, held at Bally’s—a cozy 1,900. Both are reasonably priced.
PSWA has a first-day master’s class followed by two and half days of lectures and panels. For the most part, the attendees write crime, mystery, and thrillers. The catered lunches were fantastic.
I highly recommend PSWA, especially if you want to meet and get to know authors in your field.
Here’s the link for the 2023 conference if you want details:
Join Us for the PSWA Conference (policewriter.com)
20Books Vegas begins on Monday with a vendor’s day. Tuesday-Thursdays the presentations start at 9:00 a.m. (sharp); all sessions are forty-five minutes with a timer and are recorded.
While most attendees seem to work in fantasy and Si-Fi, there are more than enough sessions for the mystery and crime writers. The problem for me was that there were as many as ten sessions at a time, making it impossible to see all the presentations I wished to attend. One of my favorite presenters was Maxwell Alexander Drake. He was so valuable I attended four of his lectures. You are on your own for all meals—great room rates well below what you would typically expect to pay.
I recommend 20Books if you are interested in solid craft presentations. There are several meetups for crime, mystery, and police procedural writers.
Conference Sign Up – 20 Books Vegas Registration opens 7 a.m. Pacific Time January 2, 2023
I plan to attend both in 2023.
Dec 5, 2022 | Cozy, Mystery, Police Procedural / Crime |
Kirsten Weiss writes laugh-out-loud, page-turning mysteries. Her heroines aren’t perfect, but they’re smart, they struggle, and they succeed. Kirsten writes in a house high on a hill in the Colorado woods and occasionally ventures out for wine and chocolate. Or for a visit to the local pie shop.
Kirsten is best known for her Wits’ End, Perfectly Proper Paranormal Museum, and Tea & Tarot cozy mystery books. So, if you like funny, action-packed mysteries with complicated heroines, just turn the page.
Gingerbread Dead – Tea and Tarot room owner Abigail has her hands full for the holidays. But when a business owner on her street is murdered in her small California beach town, she and her Tarot-reading partner Hyperion are on the case. Now, with a cranky cop on their tails, the duo must find a way to solve the crime and stay out of the slammer. All before a killer cancels their Christmas.
Do you write in more than one genre? I stick to mystery novels, but that genre has been broken into several niches. I’ve written cozy mystery, witch mystery, urban fantasy mystery, and even some steampunk mystery/suspense.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No, though the way I write them sometimes does. But that’s why I edit the heck out of all my books. That way, I can fix character and other issues before publication.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? My stories are chock full of subplots. Since I write comedic mysteries, I usually rely on subplots for most of the humor. (Murder isn’t all that funny). And I like my heroes to have a life outside amateur detecting, something that will give them room to grow.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I work with a loose outline that allows me to plot my clues and red herrings but gives me enough flexibility to change things up a bit as I go along. Sometimes the best ideas strike as I’m writing. It feels like plotting and writing use two different types of thinking. Character actions or plotting ideas can seem obvious in the middle of a scene, but I don’t seem to catch those obvious twists and turns during the plotting process. Maybe I can get into a flow state while writing which allows easier access to the intuition, whereas plotting doesn’t get me there.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I like to stick to fictional locations based on real places. That way, if I mess up where a certain street or business is, no one will know! (And I most definitely will mess up actual locations).
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m continuing to write in my Wits’ End, Tea and Tarot, and Paranormal Museum series. But I also have a literary fiction project coming out next year, tentatively titled The Mysteries of Tarot. It’s ostensibly a book on reading Tarot cards by Hyperion from the Tea and Tarot series, but it’s actually much, much more.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Successful writers are those who don’t give up, keep learning and writing, and just stick with it. So, stick with it!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Since it’s the holiday season, readers may enjoy picking up the latest in my Tea and Tarot series, Gingerbread Dead. It’s got a lot of humor and holiday scone recipes in the back of the book.
How do our readers contact you? I’ve got a contact form on my website at KirstenWeiss.com. At the same site, readers can also pick up a free eBook copy of Fortune Favors the Grave, a Tea and Tarot novella.
Where to buy Gingerbread Dead:
Apple Books: https://apple.co/3OS7VvL
Google Play: https://bit.ly/3Q7dxTW
Oct 20, 2022 | Action & Adventure, Historical, Mystery, Police Procedural / Crime, Thriller |
With the impending release of George’s latest novel, Robbers and Cops, I suggested he let me interview him for his blog. I happen to know that George is a talented writer and that he’s also very modest. Tooting his own horn is not in this man’s DNA, but I insisted. So here it is: an interview with the author, the man himself.
Now I get to turn the tables on Big George and interview him about his new book and a few other things. Michael A. Black
Okay, George, let’s start with an easy one: In which genre(s) do you write? I’ll try to make it complicated. I began Robbers and Cops as somewhat of a memoir but got bored with the protagonist, switched to a police procedural thriller, and then stopped for eight years to write The Mona Lisa Sisters as historical-literary-woman fiction.
I also write some, very little, poetry. And I love writing flash fiction.
Why did you choose those? I get pieces of stories in my mind that determine what I’ll write. Flash fiction’s inspiration is about telling a story, beginning to end, on one page. Poetry is either about writing or a social issue, such as the 1864 massacre of a peaceful Arapaho and Cheyenne village in “Sand Creek.”
Now tell us a bit about your writing process–Plotter or Pantser? Outlining and I don’t get along. I begin writing with an idea and create ten thousand or so words either at the beginning or at the end. Then, I ponder how I got there, how or where the journey began. I take lots of detours.
Have you ever tried doing it the other way? Yes—total failure.
What do you need for your writing sessions? I still write in cursive, and my handwriting is so bad I need a laptop. Add a flat service and comfortable straight-back chair, and I’m set. I can be at my desk, kitchen table, library, or coffee shop. Conversations don’t bother me, except at home.
Does anything ever hamper your writing? Artificial sounds, music, radio, or television.
It must be hard to screen all of those out. Do you have a special place where you like to write? Libraries, surrounded by books.
What do you love about writing? The hope of using written words to paint a picture another person can experience in such a way as to place themselves in the setting and scene.
Painting a picture… That’s very metaphorical. Your first book references a rather famous picture—The Mona Lisa. Care to tell us what that one’s about? I was attending an introductory workshop when the instructor randomly handed out pictures of scenes. We were given fifteen minutes to describe the setting. Instead, I wrote the end of the manuscript. Eight years later, I finished the journey.
What’s the most challenging aspect for you about writing? It’s when I’m searching for the right colors (words) to paint that perfect scene.
What do you find to be the hardest thing about being a writer? Sitting down and writing that first word. Or when I’ve finished the manuscript, I’m about 10,000 words short. I don’t want to add fluff.
That’s interesting. Most writers try to cut words from a manuscript. How do you determine the proper length? When I finish adding 10K new words, I’ve cut at least 5K and have to go back again.
What is the easiest thing, if anything, about being a writer? The ability to take on any project that allows me to avoid sitting down and writing that first word. My best escape from creating new material is to self-critique and edit my already-written work.
Is there something that you always put in your books? Last year I heard that some author always puts his name somewhere in his work. I took that as a challenge, and I’m hidden in Robbers and Cops. In New Liberty, the first in the Hector Miguel Navarro Trilogy, George Cramer gives advice to a young detective.
Things you never put in your books: Steamy sex. I tried it once, but my two daughters were horrified that I would write about sex—never again.
What are your favorite books (or genres)? Now that is a tricky question. I like Bernard Cornwell immensely. I was not a fan of his until I read a few of his works while studying for an MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts. But that is strictly for fun. Among my favorites for content and impact, I would have to include Hard Times: For These Times by Charles Dickens in 1854; and The Stranger, the 1942 novella by Albert Camus.
Those would be considered classics by most people. Which current writers influenced you the most? Right up there is The Round House by Louise Erdrich and Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling. These two indigenous authors are incredible.
Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena should be a must-read for every person living in these trying times.
As far as right now, I choose Black Pearl by Donnell Ann Bell. I can’t wait to get her autograph and talk writing.
Are there any books you won’t buy? Horror stories by Stephen King. I can’t handle horror. However, I have a paper and hardback copy of Stephen King On Writing because he is such a phenomenal author.
All right, we’ve dallied long enough. Your new book is Robbers and Cops. Tell us about that one. I’m leaving that to you with the blurb you graciously wrote.
A fascinating odyssey of complex characters—robbers and cops that spans five decades in its telling. Imagine if Elmore Leonard had written The Grapes of Wrath, tossed in a dash of The Naked and the Dead, and finished up morphing into a pure Joseph Wambaugh police procedural. ~Michael A. Black – Amazon Bestselling Author.
Robbers and Cops will be released on November 1, 2022, and is available for pre-order.
So would you say it’s a crime story or police procedural, or a sociological novel? Wow! I would have to say a thrilling sociological police procedural.
You’ve got an extensive background in police work and investigations. Has this helped you with your crime fiction? With Robbers and Cops, I wanted to build a story around two brothers. I met one of them when I helped a San Mateo detective take him into custody. My involvement in the incident was limited to hours, yet the story haunted me for decades. When I fell in love with writing, I used four decades of investigation experience to go from the ending back forty years in time and created the road that ended with my completed manuscript.
What is one of the most daring things you’ve done? Overcoming my fears while becoming a certified scuba diver without knowing how to swim so I could dive with my oldest son, a professional deep water diver—we never did.
That sounds like it would make a good story. Have you considered writing about your experience as a memoir or fictionalizing it into a novel? Never going to happen.
Who’s the most remarkable person you’ve ever met: My Dad.
You’ve got a lot of fans out there. Anything else you’d like to tell them? Please visit my blog and then come make a guest post about your work.
All right. Thanks for the opportunity to let me place the master blog interviewer on the spot.
How do your readers contact you or buy your books?
Buy Books: There is a buy link on my website.
Amazon – https://tinyurl.com/4xw228ft
Barnes and Nobel -: https://tinyurl.com/4t4h6x8y
Thanks, everyone for your kind comments. And thanks George for a great interview.
Wow, D. P., you’ve made so much out of your intersecting interests in forensic science and fiction writing, and then you’ve gifted us in the writing realm with that. Thank you.
Insightful interview! Thank you to DP Lyle for his medical knowledge and his fiction. Love his humor, especially. I did notice an unfamiliar word, “toters” in the sentence: “I use many real places but I also make up toters.”
I’ve followed Dr. Lyle for years and the man is a legend. Thanks for the tips on writing and for sharing your story. Good luck with your new one.