ALFRED J. GARROTTO – Former Priest – Novelist / Screenwriter / Manuscript Editor / Author

I’m a native Californian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. My life path has included Catholic ministry, marriage, children, and a grandchild. The writing bug bit me somewhere along that path, and I’ve published 16 books ranging from spirituality to romantic drama to a trilogy based on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

 

Please tell us about your book and blurb and any comments about any other of your books:

Inspector Javert: at the Gates of Hell (Book 3 of the Wisdom of Les Misérables Trilogy)

Inspector Javert’s central theme: “What happens in the next instant after the heart beats for the last time.” Javert gazes into the River Seine. What future has he after freeing his enemy Jean Valjean? Rather than face his options, he leaps into the river.

  • Book 1… Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean (nonfiction)
  • Book 2… Bishop Myriel: In His Own Words

Do you write in more than one genre? I write both fiction and nonfiction. Topics range from romance/action to the arts and spiritual themes.

What brought you to writing? After a 20-year career in Catholic ministry, the writing bug bit.

Tell us about your writing process: I am gifted with (a) a love for the craft and (b) the ability to focus on the task at hand and stay with it for long stretches of the day. I don’t set goals about page count; I just stay with the process.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Most challenging is never allowing myself to fall in love with the draft I’m working on. Writing Inspector Javert brought that lesson home. At draft 10, I said, “Done!” The final book took 20+ drafts.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Without a doubt, my most important association throughout my career has been with the California Writers Club (Mount Diablo Branch). I tell people, “As a writer, it’s the only place I can go where people know what I’m talking about.”

Who’s your favorite author? If I have to pick one, it is Victor Hugo. He was such a complex human being in his personal life. That very complexity fed his mammoth ability to create the most varied and unforgettable characters.

How long did it take you to write your first book? My first three books came out as a series under the name Adult-to-Adult (Christ in Our Lives, Christians and Prayer, and Christians Reconciling, Winston Press). I drew upon material I developed during my ministry years.

 How do you come up with character names? When writing fiction, names just seem to come to me. This may sound sappy, but the characters tell me their names.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? My characters run the show, whether they behave themselves or misbehave. To me, a novel is boring if everyone “does the right thing” all the time. Characters must behave like real people. They can sin and repent—or not. There must always be a measure of growth as the story arcs to the end.

What’s the most challenging thing when writing characters of the opposite sex? As a male writer, it’s always a challenge to climb inside the mind and body of a woman character. In my trilogy (A Love Forbidden, Finding Isabella, and I’ll Paint a Sun), all the main characters are women. As is the protagonist in The Saint of Florenville. I’ve never heard a complaint from female readers that I “didn’t get it right.”

Do you ever kill a popular character? A protagonist, no. Supporting characters might need to die. Hugo modeled this in Les Misérables. At the barricade, the boy Gavroche dies first. Then his sister, Eponine, dies in Marius’s arms. Enjolras, the rebel leader, dies. Everyone dies except Jean Valjean and Marius.

How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Inspector Javert: at the Gates of Hell offers a good example. Javert’s ordered life turns upside down when he allows doubt to creep into his soul. Could a lifelong criminal be capable of goodness? That crack in Javert’s armor demands recognition. He might have gotten it wrong all his life. In an instant, the entire structure of his life falls apart.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? A hybrid “pantser.” I begin a novel with an idea arc. I don’t create an outline. I count on the characters to surprise me by doing something I didn’t see coming. In my Les Mis trilogy, I had to follow the plotline set by Hugo. E.g., Javert can’t be a warm-hearted, fun-loving cop. Nor could Jean Valjean act out of character. I worked within the parameters of Hugo’s storyline. After Javert’s death, I had complete freedom to do anything I wanted.

What kind of research do you do? Primarily, I focus on getting the historical time, place, weather, etc., as accurate as possible. It helps if I’ve actually visited the places where I set my story. For example, I’ve been to Paris four times over the years and have a feel for the local environment as I experienced it.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? It depends on the story. Inspector Javert bound me to get the time and place right. In another novel, I built my own world. Whether setting a story in San Francisco (I’ll Paint a Sun) or Peru (Circles of Stone and Down a Narrow Alley), I needed to get it as right as possible, though I’ve never been to Peru.

What is the best book you have ever read? Les Misérables. All 1,200 pages of it.

Do you have any advice for new writers? First, stop talking about writing and just do it. Don’t let your first draft be your last draft. Have faith in yourself and do the work.

Second, find a compatible writing community for moral support and learning the craft of writing. Third, have fun. Writing doesn’t have to be torture—if it is, don’t do it

If none of this appeals to you, find something else you like to do.

How do our readers contact you?

9 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    Afred, a fascinating interview about your process. Thanks for sharing this.

    Reply
    • Alfred J. Garrotto

      Thonie, thank you for your kind response to my interview. I’d be interested in knowing if you are a writer and what you write.

      Reply
  2. Judith Ingram

    An interesting and helpful interview for writers of any genre. Al seems to have touched on them all! Good advice about not falling in love with your draft(s). It’s hard to let go of those scintillating paragraphs that add nothing to the story. Congratulations on completing the final book in your beloved trilogy, Al. Much success!

    Reply
  3. Linda H

    This was a fantastic interview with an eloquent man who writes not just with blood, sweat, and tears, but also with full heart. As a prolific author who writes in many genres, researches fully or meanders around the world to place his stories just so, you have just completed an amazing interview that we can all learn so much from! Thank you in a million ways.

    Reply
  4. Rudy De La Cerna

    Good to be in touch since we both have the same seminary and parochial experiences and find anew ministry ! Good job!

    Reply
  5. Sister Alice Marie Daly IHM

    Hello George,
    I am very impressed by the Lenten Series of Alfred Garrotto that I have requested and received here in Philadelphia for the past several years. It is a wonderful series we use for our Faith Sharing groups during Lent. Some groups do continue on a monthly basis after Easter. It has been a wonderful instrument for group sharing and praying together. I am most grateful to Alfred for including us in his wonderful outreach for this opportunity to come closer to God and each other.

    Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Excellent advice, Al. You have a unique and interesting outlook on the writing process. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Alfred J Garrotto

      Thank you, Michael. Writing offers us a life of amazing adventure and risk. Putting ourselves out there in our writing makes us vulnerable to the slings and arrows of reader response. The truth is we cannot not write, come what may.

      Reply

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HEIDI ELIASON – Runaway to Adventure

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Runaway is an RV travel adventure about how Heidi sold her house, quit her job, bought a motorhome, and hit the road with her dog for five years. It was a journey that transformed her life.

Heidi Eliason is a freelance writer and an editor for Runaway Publishing. Her past work includes writing for an RV adventure company, producing more than fifty RV travel articles for an online news source, and developing training courses and manuals. Confessions of a Middle-Aged Runaway is her first book. It has been translated into Korean and is selling in six countries. Heidi lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find out more about Heidi’s travel and writing adventures at www.HeidiEliason.com.

Do you write in more than one genre? I write in multiple genres. Confessions is a memoir, and I’m currently working on a novel, a thriller. Although many readers have asked for a sequel to my memoir, the thriller is clamoring to be written now. I also have some ideas for a cozy mystery series, so that could be next.

What brought you to writing? I was a robust reader from an early age, but when I took a creative writing class in high school, I discovered I loved to write. I just didn’t think I could make a living at it, so I never seriously pursued it. I always figured I’d write on the side for pleasure. Oddly enough, I did end up making a good living as a writer, but I wrote training courses and manuals, not books.

During my motorhome adventure, I kept a blog to keep my family and friends informed about my journey. I also wrote RV travel articles and web content for an RV touring company. After my motorhome adventure ended, I wrote short pieces about my experience in a writing critique group, some of which were based on my blog posts. The members of that group encouraged me to turn the stories into a book. I never wanted to write a memoir, but it was such an incredible and life-changing experience, I just had to write about it.

How long did it take you to write your first book? It took six years of on and off writing to complete my memoir because there were months at a time when I didn’t work on it at all. I tried writing it as a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but it was awful!

The memoir started in disconnected five-page increments in my writing group, and I organized it into a book at some point along the way. Four years ago, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference and submitted a chapter to their writing contest. It won runner-up for nonfiction (under my previous name, Heidi Young). That gave me the nudge I needed to complete the book, and it was published in 2019.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Finishing something is the most challenging part for me. I get so many ideas for things I want to write that I’m great at starting things, but I struggle to finish the current project I’m working on. I get distracted or want to give up when the writing gets tough and instead work on the shiny new idea that just occurred to me. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, so I don’t always know how I’m going to get to the end of the story or how I’ll keep the reader’s interest along the way. That can cause my writing to stall out sometimes. Most people call that writer’s block, but to me, it feels like a loss of interest. That tells me something needs fixing.

I decided to try writing an outline with my current book to see if that makes the writing faster and easier. I created a rough outline of about eight chapters, and then I couldn’t stand it any longer and had to start writing. The pantser in me took over. I wanted to see what my characters would do and how they would shape the story. I believe what some authors say about how their characters sometimes lead them in unexpected directions because I’ve experienced that feeling when characters take over. It’s a wonderful thing.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? The California Writers Club Mt. Diablo Branch has been incredibly helpful to me and my writing. I’ve learned so much from the speakers and writers there, found writing critique partners, and made friendships. I also found out about the San Francisco Writers Conference during one of the meetings, and attending that was incredibly educational and inspiring.

I’m also a member of the Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA), which provides a ton of helpful resources, some of which also apply to fiction writing. The founder of NFAA, Stephanie Chandler, has written some exceptional books about self-publishing and marketing that guided me through the publication of my book.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I retired from my full-time technical writing job this year, but I’ll continue to do book editing through my company, Runaway Publishing. I hope to finish my current novel in 2022, now that I have more time for writing. After that, I’ll get going on one of the many other book ideas I have waiting in the wings. Since I was born with wanderlust and my husband retired at the beginning of this year, we want to do a lot of traveling. Hopefully, the Covid-19 situation will allow us to do international travel again.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Persistence is one of the most important qualities a writer can have. You need to keep going when the rejection letters come, self-doubt settles in, you wonder what the point of it all is, or you just don’t feel like writing. Keep writing, learning your craft, and reading. If you do those things, your work will improve, and you’ll get something published. Make writing one of your first priorities, and avoid the temptation to let other tasks and responsibilities have more importance than your writing. In other words, don’t do what I did! You’ll get something published much faster.

How do our readers find you and your books?

2 Comments

  1. Heidi Eliason

    Thanks, Michael! Hitting the road in my motorhome for five years was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I highly recommend it! i met the best people and saw some amazing sights. I also read Travels with Charley and loved it. A few years ago I visited the Steinbeck Museum and saw Rocinante, or maybe it was a reproduction. I also had lunch at the Steinbeck House in Salinas, which was really interesting.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Wow, you’ve got a lot of pluck to go on the road in an RV like that. My congratulations on the memoir. It sounds reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charlie, which he wrote about traveling around the US with his dog. Best of luck to you with the novel.

    Reply

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MARILYN LEVINSON – Teacher – Author – Agatha Nominee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can our readers buy your books and contact you?

Buy link: https://bit.ly/36OkDrG

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

Amazon page: http://amzn.to/K6Md1O

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarilynLevinson

5 Comments

  1. Pat Hernandez

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

    Reply
  2. Michael A, Black

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

    Reply
  3. Marilyn Levinson

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

    Reply

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JONI KEIM – Technical, Spiritual, Memoir Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can our readers contact You?

Website: www.jonikeimbooks.com

Email: contact@jonikeimbooks.com

2 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

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

    Reply
    • Joni

      Thank you Michael. Wishing you a happy holiday season!

      Reply

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JANE K. CLELAND – Jane Austen’s Lost Letters

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

 

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

 

JANE AUSTEN’S LOST LETTERS

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

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

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

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

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

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

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

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

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

 WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?

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

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

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

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

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

ADVICE FOR NEW WRITERS

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

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

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

Thank you.

18 Comments

  1. Madeline Gornell

    Your plotting roadmap was very thought provoking! Continued success.

    Reply
  2. Alfred J. Garrotto

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

    Reply
  3. Vicki Batman

    I enjoyed reading about you and your books.

    Reply
  4. Jacqueline Vick

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

    Reply
  5. Jane Cleland

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

    Reply
  6. Jane Cleland

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

    Reply
  7. Jane Cleland

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

    Reply
  8. Jane Cleland

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

    Reply
  9. John G. Bluck

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

    Reply
  10. Sue Ward Drake

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

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

    Reply
    • Jane Cleland

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

      Reply
  11. Michelle Chouinard

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

    Reply
    • George Cramer

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

      Reply
      • Jane Cleland

        Thank you, George!

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

        Reply
  12. Michael A. Black

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

    Reply
  13. Susan C Shea

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

    Reply
    • Jane Cleland

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

      Reply

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ELLEN KIRSCHMAN, PhD. – Public Safety Psychologist – Author

Ellen Kirschman, PhD. is an award-winning public safety psychologist and author of I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Firefighter: What the Family Needs to Know, lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know, and four mysteries, all told from the perspective of police psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff. She blogs with Psychology Today and is a member of Sisters-in-Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Public Safety Writers Association.

Thanks, George, for inviting me back just in time for the December 12th launch of my latest, never-before-published fourth Dot Meyerhoff mystery—The Answer to His Prayers—and my first venture into the world of independent publishing.

Poor Dot is in trouble again. She’s trying to plan her wedding to Frank when a 911 dispatcher takes the worst call of her young life. As Dot helps track down the possible arsonist, she proves herself a sensitive yet doggedly persistent sleuth—even when ordered to mind her own business. The case drags her through the seedy underbelly of her small town and finally to the local prison where she meets the imprisoned puppet master Badger, who is an unexpected acquaintance from her past. Badger believes Dot is the only one who can help him get what he wants most in life—contact with a son he’s never met. Stopping at nothing, including kidnapping, his efforts to bend Dot to his will endangers Dot and everyone she loves.

Crime is not the only thing on Dot’s mind. Her anxiety about getting married is causing rifts in her relationship with Frank. Memories of her family and her first marriage are overwhelming, prompting Dot to start therapy with Dr. Philipp Rogoff. Their relationship is contentious. Dot thinks Rogoff doesn’t know what he’s doing. Rogoff thinks Dot is resistant to his advice and only pretending to want help.

I had a good time writing this book, especially the dueling relationship between Dot and Dr. Rogoff. Therapists make the worst clients. Ask me; I’ve been on both sides of the couch. I loved writing about Rivka Meyerhoff, Dot’s plucky widowed mother. Rivka’s rants about anti-Semitism are timely, given the recent rise in hate crimes against Jews. Even though I am Jewish, writing and thinking deeply about what it means to be Jewish in the modern world is a first for me. I have written about religion before. Buddhism is at the heart of The Fifth Reflection, as the mother of a missing child cloaks her pain with kindness, frustrating the police who need her cooperation to catch the abductor.

What I’m Working on Now: Moral choice and moral pain are themes in many of my books, including my WIP, a standalone that is taking up a lot of my time. The provisional title is Call me Carmela. It’s the story of a young girl searching for her birth parents. What she discovers will destroy one family and heal another. The theme is courage: The courage to let go of someone you love, the courage to overcome trauma to help someone who needs you, and the courage to pursue justice, no matter the cost.

For the first time ever, I joined NaNoWriMo with my buddy, Anne Gelder, author of much short fiction and the enchanting, off-beat novel, Bigfoot and the Baby. Another first, I joined up with a NaNoWriMo sub-group of the NorCal Sisters-in-Crime chapter. About ten of us, including our blog host George Cramer, met online almost every day for a short chat and shared writing time. It was more helpful than I anticipated. It helped me stay on track, kept me accountable, and reduced the isolation that is part of any writer’s life. These groups will continue after NaNoWriMo. I intend to keep on going.

Another first is the entrance into the world of independent publishing. When my traditional publisher rejected The Answer to His Prayers, I decided to get my rights back so that I could publish the series all under one roof. I am working with an online marketer. All four books are now available as eBooks on Amazon, with a boxed set coming in January. So far, so good. The first book in the series, Burying Ben, was a #1 best seller in the Kindle Store, Literature & Fiction, Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals, and Jewish American Fiction. The others are also doing better than ever before. Stay tuned to see where this heads.

Thanks again, George, for the opportunity to vent, crow, and indulge in SSP. I am happy to assist my fellow writers with any questions they may have about police psychology, PTSD, psychotherapy, self-publishing, etc. Your readers can follow my occasional blog on Psychology Today or sign up for my occasional newsletter at www.ellenkirschman.com. New signers get a copy of my mini-memoir about my short-lived career as a dance hall hostess.

28 Comments

  1. Lisa Towles

    Great interview, George and Ellen, wonderful to hear more about your milieu and your forthcoming projects! #inspiration

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Thanks Lisa. Good luck with your launch of 95, it’s really a good read.

      Reply
  2. Vinnie

    Good books. I look forward to reading the fourth, Ellen.

    Reply
  3. Thonie Hevron

    I’ve read all your books and am eagerly awaiting the new one! Happy Holidays, Ellen. Hope to see you next year at PSWA.

    Reply
  4. Marilyn Meredith

    This was a wonderful post. So glad to see what you’ve accomplished. I too hope you can come to the next PSWA conference. Also wondered about your independent publishing experience and your online marketer. Would be a great panel topic.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi Marilyn
      I am waiting to see how being an indie works out. So far, so good. Fingers crossed we’ll both be at PSWA.

      Reply
  5. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I’ve read I Love A Cop and Burying Ben. That means I’ll be reading more of your books because I enjoyed those two so much. I Love A Cop was very insightful and made me see things I hadn’t seen before in my 41 years in law enforcement. Keep up the great work you do as well as your writing.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi Joe- what a compliment coming from you, such an experienced LEO. I’m blushing.

      Reply
  6. Ellen Kirschman

    Hi Vicki: thanks for reading and writing. So nice to meet new readers.

    Reply
  7. Ellen Kirschman

    Hi Margaret: Thanks for your wishes. I do hope our paths cross in person some day.

    Reply
  8. Heidi Noroozy

    Ellen, your WIP sounds intriguing! I’ll look forward to reading it. I’m also glad you will continue with the SinC Norcal drop in writing lessons. They help keep me on track!

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi Heidi
      Our online writing groups are fun and helpful. See you soon. I’ll miss all next week, but I’ll be back.

      Reply
  9. John G. Bluck

    Thank you for the interesting write-up about your books. I’m wondering if in your writing process you purposely pit different psychological types of persons against one other. Or do you just rely on your inner muse to guide you when creating characters?

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi John- interesting question. A combo of experience, inner muse, research, and an eye for individual differences.

      Reply
  10. John Schembra

    Congrats on your new release, Ellen! I’ll be checking our your books!

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi John
      Thanks so much. Hope to see you at PSWA next year.

      Reply
  11. Vicki Batman

    So interesting to learn about you.

    Reply
  12. Vicki Weisfeld

    She manages to weave current issues into these books in what sounds like a most effective way. Her WIP also sounds fascinating! The whole “birth parent” question is becoming increasingly complicated!

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Thanks Vicki. Things are getting more complicated every day.

      Reply
  13. Margaret Mizushima

    Ellen, congratulations on becoming a hybrid author. I know this transition has been a lot of work, and I wish you all the best. I hope we get a chance to meet at a conference sometime, and I look forward to reading your new book! Happy Holidays, blessings, and peace.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Hi Margaret: Thanks for your good wishes, I need all those I can get. Hope our paths cross in person in the near future.

      Reply
  14. Michael A. Black

    Good to hear about your latest writing ventures, Ellen. I hope to see you at the next PSWA conference. Good luck with your new one.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Thanks Mike. I share your hopes to meet up again at PWSA. Good luck with your new book as well.

      Reply
  15. Donnell

    My goodness, there are so many books I would love to own as a result of reading this blog. Thank you, George, for hosting Ms. Kirschman. I plan to look over her long list of books.

    Reply
    • Ellen Kirschman

      Thanks Donnell. All four in the series will be available as ebooks on 12/11. Some may even be free!

      Reply

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