I was born in London, England, a few years after World War II. I watched London being patched back into a vibrant commercial center. Sights of bombed-out buildings and devastation still linger in my memories.
At age 26, I moved to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco (an oil company.) I worked there for four years and traveled widely in the region. I grew to love and be intrigued by the local people and their culture.
Years later, as I neared retirement, my family requested I write down some of the many stories I had told over the years. One theme kept appearing in these pieces, my driving a Chevy Blazer from London to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia – a journey of 5,500 miles in 15 days. That became my first book, a memoir, Journey to Self, published in September 2019 – available on Amazon.
While working on that book, I said I had no idea how to write a novel. It seemed overwhelming. However, after one workshop, I saw I had the basic framework for a fictional story. Having never been one to shy away from a challenge, I started work on it. My story is set around a Syrian family and covers themes such as:
- most Syrians, most Muslims, like ourselves, want to live in peace – that is not fiction,
- how to counter a ruthless dictator,
- the roles of men and women in Syrian society,
- how to hold grief, love, and fear while fighting for your life,
- how people, despite their dire circumstances, can imagine a hopeful future.
In the past few weeks, I have received feedback from a group of beta-readers, and so far, there have been no show-stoppers but plenty of words of encouragement. While working through the multiple drafts of this first novel, I started work on the sequel: Syrian Rebirth – Ahmed’s World. This is now a completed initial draft. I have in mind the third and final book in the series, Syrian Rebirth – Fatima’s World.
Syrian Rebirth – Rashid’s World. Rashid wished his family to be safe. He joined the fight against Syria’s brutal president. How would that affect him, his family, and his country?
What brought me to writing: Writing is a way for me to purge demons that hindered me for too many years. I learned to read as a child, but I truly hated and, in some ways, feared it. I read my first book for pleasure when I was 26 years old. To many people, that may sound horrifying, but it was my world as a youngster. Numbers and logic were my saving graces. I became a computer software engineer for a career. Reading never became a pleasurable activity for me. I missed reading the classics, much to my detriment.
Over the years, I have displayed some competence in various artistic mediums: drawing, painting, woodcraft, story-telling, and cooking. Then I started writing, and it became a passion. I have taken many classes, and some teachers have had a profound impact on my writing.
Tell us about your writing process: I arise early each day and make my wife’s coffee (a survival technique I learned early.) Depending on the priorities of the day, I make time most mornings to review and edit what I worked on the previous day. I try to dedicate an hour or two each day to writing new material or making revisions to pieces that are my focus at that time. If I do not manage to find time, I do not judge myself but try to use my sense of frustration as an impetus for the following day.
Do I kill popular characters? Yes. My novels are thrillers. I think in my first novel, more characters are dead than alive in the end. And several of the dead are good/popular characters. One of my favorite characters in that first novel is among the dead, and I still grieve their loss. Reading that section still causes my eyes to tear up. A few beta-readers admitted they cried when that death happened.
How do you raise the stakes for the protagonist? One of my teachers frequently tells me to keep winding up the tension and never let it go. I understand this and try to do that. But I do find when a sub-plot comes to its termination, then along with that, some of the protagonist’s tension is released. So in my novel, the tension is more like waves with spikes along them. Even though some tension may be released at times, it still adds to the overall tension.
How did I come up with Character Names. Most of my main characters are Arabic. So names like Joan, Paul, Marge, and Randy are inappropriate. Thankfully, lists of Arabic names can be found on the web. I have selected names with which I am comfortable, and I hope readers will not trip over. I have tried to have each name start with a different letter for easier recognition. In the forward to each book, I have listed out the main characters and their relationship so that readers have a quick reference, e.g. Rashid is married to Fatima.
Do I outline, or am I a pantser? At heart, I am a pantser, but I will admit that I have my thoughts reasonably outlined in my head before I tackle a section. What fascinates me is how my mind conjures up a scenario that appears on the page/screen without me consciously thinking about it. Sometimes, as I fathom out how to write a section, I will realize in my wordy/ugly first draft I left a hook or a character that will allow for a smooth continuance of the current storyline.
Sources of Expertise / Advice. I have read posts, articles, and books about the book’s locations, particularly from current day journalists. Also, I found a local Islamic Center and talked with one of the leaders about these novels. He gave me some useful information and encouraged me to continue working on them. He agreed that, basically, Syrian refugees are people who have been forced out of their homeland by violence and intimidation. They are desperate to find a safe environment in which to raise their children. They are no more inherently violent than we are.
Going forward, I have plenty of work integrating the comments that I received from beta readers and improving the readers’ experience of the novel. After that, I will reach out to a few agents and publishers. If those connections raise no interest, I am prepared to self-publish, which I did for my memoir.
A reader of this post may be able to assist me with achieving one of my next steps. Does anyone know a Syrian or a person from the Middle East who may be willing to read the revised beta draft of the novel? I would be appreciative if anybody could suggest a female as the book addresses gender roles in Syrian society. But I am looking for any person from that region who may be willing to review the revised draft.
My website can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com
My blog can be found at: www.BDHWrites.com/blog
My email address is: BDHWrites@gmail.com
Laura Jensen Walker knew she wanted to be a writer ever since she read 103 books in Miss Vopelensky’s first-grade class.
A lifelong lover of mysteries, I never dreamed I’d someday be writing them!
Eager to see the world, I joined the Air Force at 19 and headed off into that wild blue yonder flying a typewriter across Europe. Although my clerk-typist job was boring, traveling was bliss. By the time I was 23, I had visited 15 countries and fallen in love with tea and the land of my heart—England. Later, I majored in journalism, but it took cancer at age 35 to push me to follow my writing dreams of becoming an author. My first book, Dated Jekyll, Married Hyde (non-fiction humor ala Erma Bombeck), came out in 1997. Since then, I’ve written ten humorous non-fiction books and ten novels (chick lit and cozies.)
Murder Most Sweet (Crooked Lane), featuring baker, breast-cancer survivor, and writer Teddie St. John, is my first cozy, released last fall during the pandemic. I wanted to see someone like me in a mystery—a woman who chose to “go flat” after having two mastectomies and is now living her best life. Breasts don’t make a woman. An early editor who read and loved my manuscript, said diversity is important in crime fiction, but diversity isn’t only about color. To my delight and gratitude Murder Most Sweet is nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Such a lovely surprise and honor.
Deadly Delights, the sequel to Murder Most Sweet, is my third cozy and twentieth book. (I never dreamed I’d have 20 books under my belt, and still more to come.)
August in Lake Potawatomi, Wisconsin, always means one thing: the annual baking contest. Picture The Great British Baking Show, writ Midwestern. Naturally, bon vivant baker-turned-mystery writer Teddie St. John has a pie in the ring. The white baking tent boasts an array of folding tables housing each entrant’s daily baked good. And at one of those tables sits the corpse of the lecherous head judge, his face half-buried in a delectable coconut cream pie with Teddie’s distinctive embossed rolling pin by his side…covered with blood. With the help of her friends, Teddie must concoct a recipe to clear her name–if the real killer doesn’t ice her first.
I’m thrilled by the great advance reviews Deadly Delights has received.
“Lively characters complement the twisty plot.”
“Deadly Delights moves along at warp speed… [Walker’s] writing and story development is top notch.”
—New York Journal of Books
The ironic thing about the ‘warp speed’ comment is that I wrote Deadly Delights in two-and-a-half months. For many, March and April 2020 were a scary, anxious time as we tried to understand and cope with this crazy pandemic, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in more than a century. Added to the overall anxiety, I have comorbidities that put me in a higher risk group. Scary. I couldn’t focus on anything, including writing and reading. I tried to escape in a good book—some I’d been eagerly anticipating for months—but couldn’t concentrate. Reading has been a joy and great escape my whole life. Except this time. Such a weird feeling—one that I’m happy to say has passed. I also didn’t write a single word on my third cozy during those first two months of the pandemic. The cozy that was due to my editor July 1. Luckily, I managed to get a two-week extension, then wrote like the wind to make that July 15 deadline. My journalism background of writing tight and fast saved me.
My second cozy, Hope, Faith, & a Corpse, a clerical mystery featuring the first Episcopal woman priest in Faith Chapel’s 160-year history, was released in January.
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve written non-fiction and chick-lit in the past and plan to write more non-fiction and also historical fiction.
What are you currently working on? I’m writing a “Pandemic Postscript” to the memoir I wrote a few years ago that my agent loved but couldn’t sell due to my lack of platform. In non-fiction, it’s essential to have a “platform” of some kind, whether it’s being on the speaking circuit and regularly speaking to large groups around the country who will then buy your book at the back of the room, having a YouTube channel with a zillion subscribers, or having a large/decent social media following.
At the time—prior to signing my cozy contract—I’d been out of the writing/publishing world for more than a decade and no longer had a reader following. I’d stopped public speaking, wasn’t on Twitter, and only had a couple hundred Facebook friends. Multiple editors at several publishing houses told my agent how much they loved the writing in my memoir, but regretfully had to turn it down since I had no platform. Hopefully (fingers crossed) now that I have readers again, a monthly newsletter with a decent number of subscribers, a larger FB presence, and a (small) Twitter and Instagram following, my memoir, the book of my soul, will finally sell.
I’m also started working on my first historical fiction—the book of my heart, set in WWII England—but I’m not ready to say anything more about it yet.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? Oh, they run the show. Before I began writing fiction when I’d ask a novelist about how their work-in-progress was going, and they’d respond with something like, “I’m waiting for my character to reveal what’s next,” I’d inwardly scoff and think, “You’re the writer; you’re in charge!” Then I started writing my first novel. Ha! In fact, when I started writing my first cozy (now shelved), one of the minor characters, an Episcopal woman priest, let me know she was a major character deserving of her own book. Thus, Hope, Faith, & a Corpse was born.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Outline is a dirty word in my house. I’m a total pantser. Mostly. Before I begin my WIP, I usually need to know what the ending is. That way, I have a starting point and an end point, and I fill in the middle. However, in both of my Bookish Baker mysteries, the endings I’d initially envisioned (including the murderer in one—I won’t say which one) changed as the story unfolded.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Hopefully, more cozies in both my series, the Bookish Baker Mysteries and Faith Chapel Mysteries and contracts for the book of my soul (my memoir) and the book of my heart (the historical fiction I’ve been yearning to write for more than three decades.)
How do our readers contact you?
Please contact me through my website, www.laurajensenwalker.com (if you sign up for my newsletter, you get a free gift!)
Facebook Laura Jensen Walker | Facebook
Readers can also connect with me on Twitter @LauraJensenWal1
Pestilence – In a changing world,
Impacted by global warming, a strange new fungus grows in the damp, humid climate. People have discovered its mind-altering effects – and everyone’s using. Dr. David Leeman has discovered a medicinal use for this compound – a miracle cure, to end antibiotic resistance and treat incurable disease.
Terry is an early beneficiary of the wonder-drug. She’s taking part in clinical trials, but her partner, Alex, is furious. He’s bitterly opposed to the pharmaceutical industry and won’t support her. Little Jessica is developing a drug habit, using the new legal high – then she develops a skin problem.
Dr. Leeman realizes, too late, that his wonder-drug has created a pathway for a new pandemic – a fungal disease that is causing mass deaths across the globe.
As civilization collapses, the three come together, forming a healing commune to boost their immune systems and fight the pathogen. But will they find a cure?
I’ve always enjoyed apocalyptic thrillers, so perhaps it was natural that this would be the theme of my first novel.
‘Pestilence’ published in January 2021, is a pandemic story about a deadly fungus that brings about the end of the world. The idea came to me when I was 16 years old. I was a keen horror fan, inspired by James Herbert. But the story got shelved and wasn’t published for another 30 years, by which time it had evolved into a thriller, substantially changed and improved.
It was pure coincidence that the year I spent pitching the book to agents was the year a real pandemic happened! I’m hoping people will think this makes the book more topical and enhances its appeal!
In the day job, I’m a freelance writer, covering health, travel, and lifestyle topics for a wide range of magazines. I also have non-fiction books on WWII, travel, and freelance writing.
How I Became a Writer – I’d always wanted to be a professional writer, but I had to get a proper job while I lived with my parents and ended up trying to build a career in marketing. The opportunity to become a writer came when I was 36 years old and took voluntary redundancy. With support from my husband, I decided to try my luck at freelance writing, and I’m still doing it 11 years later, so I must have done something right. I write every day from the sunniest room in the house – it’s bright and cozy when the sun’s out. I work from 8 am to 5 pm, taking a break for lunch. I also go for a walk in the afternoons.
My Current Work in Progress – Today I’m writing an article about a cold war nuclear bunker for a general interest magazine. The British government’s preparations for nuclear war in the 1950s were startling, and it came as quite a shock when I first found out how close we’d come to possible nuclear annihilation. They had the leaflets printed for circulation to the public, telling people how to survive nuclear fallout, but they were never distributed because the immediate threat of nuclear war never came.
My Favourite Character in the Novel – In my fiction, the end of the world is caused by a fungal pathogen, not nuclear war! I enjoyed writing the bad guy scenes the most. My bad guy, Alex, is a complicated character with a passion for animal welfare but a tendency to lash out and become violent with people. He’s spent a lot of time in jail, and in the book, he ends up in situations that challenge his character, exposing both the good and the bad. I’d be interested to hear from readers, whether they empathize with him or think he’s a nasty piece of work.
My Favourite Writers – Since becoming a professional writer, I’ve tried to read more widely. I still like James Herbert, but I also like Peter James, Paula Hawkins, and I’m particularly fond of autobiographies and memoirs. My latest read is Without Conscience, a non-fiction book about psychopaths!
Advice for New Writers – My best advice for new writers is to persevere. Even if you take a break, you can always come back to writing when the time is right for you. I suspect I didn’t have what it takes to be a professional writer when I was 16, but I do now.
Also, if you’re struggling with a particular project (remember that book?), it can help to take a long break from your work, because then when you look at it afresh, you can see more clearly which parts are good and which parts need to be improved.
When I drafted Pestilence, I was a pantser. I had a list of ideas but didn’t plot the story well. If I write another novel, I will plan it carefully to save time and energy. Then there will be fewer edits required along the way!
Amazon Author page Author.to/SusieKearley
My blog www.susiekearley.blogspot.com