Thursday, July 25, 2013

Writing Fiction: Seeking the Light Bulb Moments

By Libby Hellmann

You’ve undoubtedly heard those annoying TV commercials where the little girl says somewhat arrogantly, “Wow… you guys have it easy. Back in my day, we didn’t have…”  and proceeds to talk about how wonderful the product is.

The same can be said for publishing. Back in my day—alas, only ten years ago—publishing was static. There were publishers, authors, and agents. Everyone knew their place, and while you didn’t have to like it, you had to play by the rules.

Things change.

What we have now is chaos. Revolution. The Wild West. Roles and rules evolve on a daily basis. Authors become entrepreneurs. Agents become publishers. Publishers hang on to whatever they can.

Thankfully, though, one thing has not changed, and I hope it never does.  That is the craft of writing.

Notice I call it a craft, not an art. Writing fiction can be taught. I know. I had to learn. It took me four years and four manuscripts before my first thriller, AN EYE FOR MURDER, was published. And while I’m still not sure why I was stubborn enough to persist, I’m glad I did. I look back on those “practice” manuscripts now, and I am appalled by what I didn’t know. Or thought I could pass off— the “well, they’ll know what I mean” school of writing.  (Btw, they don’t know what you mean.)

So I understand where you’re at. I wish I could make it easier for you; I wish you could wake up one morning and know not to put in too much backstory… or how point of view works… or how to build suspense… but each writer has to learn on their own. Some of you will learn quickly; for others it will take time.

I do remember a few “light-bulb” moments, however, and most of them came from listening to other authors talk about how they approached their writing. Which is why I started teaching. And probably why ITW is offering a series of blogs devoted to craft. I applaud them for their foresight, wisdom, and willingness to offer you a light-bulb moment or two. Because if you don’t know how to craft a great thriller, the rest of it doesn’t matter. Story trumps everything in today’s publishing world.

My video series, WRITING LITE, is my way of providing some light-bulb moments.  They’re not long, certainly not intense, but you just might learn something that you can apply to your writing.  At least I hope so.  My plan is to have a new installment every week or ten days, so check back whenever you have the chance.

Good luck. I hope to see you on the Best Seller Lists soon.


Libby Fischer Hellmann writes Compulsively Readable Thrillers. Her 10th novel, HAVANA LOST, a stand-alone literary thriller and love story set in Cuba will be released in September, 2013. A BITTER VEIL, another stand-alone thriller, is set in revolutionary Iran during the late ’70s and was released in 2012.

SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE (2010), a stand-alone thriller, goes back, in part, to the late Sixties in Chicago. She also writes two crime fiction series:  
EASY INNOCENCE(2008), DOUBLEBACK (2009), which was selected as a Great Lakes Booksellers’ Association “2009 Great Read,” and TOXICITY (2011), a police procedural thriller, all feature Chicago P.I. Georgia Davis. In addition, there are four novels in the Ellie Foreman series, which Libby describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24.”

Libby has also published over 15 short stories in NICE GIRL DOES NOIR and edited the acclaimed crime fiction anthologyCHICAGO BLUES. Originally from Washington D.C., she has lived in Chicago for 30 years and claims they’ll take her out of there feet first.

HAVANA LOST coming September 2013:
On the eve of the Cuban Revolution, headstrong 18-year-old Francesca Pacelli flees from her ruthless Mafia-boss father in Havana to the arms of her lover, a rebel fighting with Fidel Castro. Her father, desperate to send her to safety in the US, resorts to torture and blackmail as he searches the island for her. So begins the first part of a spellbinding saga that spans three generations of the same family. Decades later, the family is lured back to Cuba by the promise of untold riches. But pursuing those riches brings danger as well as opportunity, and ultimately, Francesca's family must confront the lethal consequences of their choices. From the troubled streets of Havana to the mean streets of Chicago, HAVANA LOST reveals the true cost of chasing power instead of love.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Don't Kill Your Editor

By Linwood Barclay

Thriller writers spend a lot of time thinking about killing people. But the people we imagine doing away with it are imaginary. So, whack ‘em. No harm done.

There’s one possible exception.

There are times when we think about killing our editors.

They put us through hell. I’ve had calls from editors that made me want to step in front of a bus. They tell us things we do not want to hear. We may know it’s coming. The book is not quite right, but we’re hoping our editor won’t notice. Maybe we’ll get away with it.

Fat chance.

The toughest part of the process for me is not waiting for inspiration, or starting that first sentence, or working through the plot, or dealing with readers who all email thinking they’re the first to notice the typo on page 23, or even reading those first reviews once the book is out.

The toughest part begins once I hit “send” and my manuscript lands in my editors’ inbox. Waiting for the verdict is a killer.

But here’s the thing. Every book I’ve written has been made better – sometimes, a LOT better – because of an editor. Good editors – and I have been lucky to have almost no poor ones – have saved my ass.

We’ve all heard this a thousand times, but it bears repeating. When you’ve spent months and months toiling away on a novel, you lose all perspective. You’re in no position to judge its merits. Not only are you unlikely to be able to see what’s wrong with it, it’s very likely you can’t even see what works.

I know there are novelists out there who believe every sentence they write is sacrosanct. Thou shalt not change a single word, they tell their publishers. If they’ve got more clout than I do, it’s very likely they can get away with this. Good for them. And their book may be pretty damn amazing. But I’ll bet it could have been better, even just a titch, if they’d been willing to take some advice from their editor.

It’s not easy, but you have to get past your ego in this business. I’ve gone into tailspins of depression after hearing from an editor who believes my latest delivery needs to be rewritten. It’s hard not to take personally, even though the editor is being strictly professional. You feel stupid. How did I screw it up so badly?

But the truth is, if you hadn’t created this book in the first place, there’d be nothing for that editor to judge. This was your idea. This was your concept. The editor is going to help you shape your creation into the best book it can be.

Be grateful. (Okay, maybe that’s pushing it).

With each book, I’m getting a little better at sucking it up and getting on with the job. I’ve come to expect it. As the audience for your books grows, you can’t afford to slip up. You can’t coast. Readers notice.  

Everyone, and forgive the pun, is on the same page here. Everyone wants the best book possible. Let an editor help you make that happen.

But, if it makes you feel better, think about killing them. No harm done, really. 

Author Bio:
Linwood Barclay, a former columnist for the Toronto Star, is the author of a dozen novels, including No Time for Goodbye, the soon-to-be-released A Tap on the Window,  and Trust Your Eyes, which is in development for a movie with Warner Bros. He lives near Toronto with his wife Neetha. They have two grown children. Connect with him at his website. 

Latest Book:  
A Tap on the Window, to be published by New American Library Aug. 6, asks the question: What if the hitchhiker you picked up wasn’t the same hitchhiker you dropped off? Private detective Cal Weaver’s decision to give a young girl a ride draws him into a deadly small town conspiracy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Bumpy Road to Publication

By Don Helin

During my time in the military, I must have written a gazillion “Subject to” papers, but unless you care what some general has to say, no one bothers to read them.  As I was preparing to leave the army, I attended a travel writing symposium sponsored by The Washington Post.  I enjoy traveling and figured, why not get paid for it.

After about four years of travel writing, I decided to try fiction.  I enjoyed reading thrillers and thought, “Hey, I can do that.”  I remember the day when I received what most authors refer to as, “The Call.”  My wife thought I was nuts as I danced around the kitchen when the acquisitions editor at Medallion Press said, “We want you.” 

My first published novel, THY KINGDOM COME, was actually my fourth manuscript.  So don't pine away at your mail box when you finish one manuscript.  Get busy on your computer or as my friend says, “Slam your butt in the chair,” and start writing another one.  You'll get better with each manuscript.

In the summer of 2009, I signed a contract with Medallion Press for my second novel in the Sam Thorpe series.  Then the e-book frenzy hit.  The following spring, my publisher put up a detour sign.  “Sorry, we only want to publish your novel as an e-book, not an e-book and paperback like the first one.”  Once I decided to cancel the e-book only contract, I went to work on a new series featuring Colonel Zack Kelly. 

The key is to get involved in writers' groups and volunteer.  Early on, I joined Pennwriters, a state-wide writers' group in Pennsylvania. Conferences will help you make contacts, grow as a writer, and stay up to speed on the myriad of changes in the industry.  

Being a debut author at International Thriller Writers allowed me to receive mentoring from some of the best.  I made friends with my debut mates, who one day will become leaders in the publishing industry. 

On one Thrillerfest panel, I met a well-known author who introduced me to his publisher.  She liked DEVIL'S DEN, and here I am, doing book signings.  Contacts matter.

Whenever I do a signing, I always think of what Donald Maass said at a conference.  “It's not only about how many books you sell, it's about building a community.”  You are your brand.  If people know you, they may read your book.  If they like it, they might become life-long fans.  So, get out there and meet people.

The publishing industry is changing, but I see success stories every day.  I'm convinced these successes are facilitated not only by hard work and a thick skin when you get rejected, but by becoming involved with writers' groups, having a competent critique group, and staying abreast of what's going on in the industry.

Good luck to each of you.  Please check my website:  I'd be delighted to discuss my experiences so don't hesitate to ask.

About Don:
During his time in the military, Don served seven years in the Pentagon as well as multiple tours in the United States and overseas. His Washington D.C. insider positions have provided him ample material for his novels. His first thriller, THY KINGDOM COME, was published in 2009. Don is an active member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and Pennwriters, a state-wide writers group. He makes his home in Pennsylvania and is hard at work on his next Zack Kelly thriller, RED DOG.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

July Debut Authors

Happy Fourth of July!

As we celebrate the United States' Independence Day, let's also celebrate our fellow debut authors newest releases.

John Clement - The Cat Sitter's Cradle (St. Martin's/Minotaur) July 8, 2013 

Blaize Clement won fans all over the world with the charm and wit of her pet-sitting mysteries. Now, with the help of her son, author John Clement, Blaize’s beloved heroine Dixie Hemingway is back for yet another thrilling adventure in this critically-acclaimed series. 

Dixie has built a nice, quiet life for herself in the sleepy town of Siesta Key, a sandy resort island off the coast of Florida. In fact, her pet-sitting business is going so well she’s even taken on part-time help: Kenny, a handsome young surfer who lives alone in a rickety old houseboat. Things get a little messy, however, when on an early morning walk in the park with a client’s schnauzer, Dixie makes a shocking discovery. Hidden among the leafy brambles is a homeless girl, alone and afraid, cradling a newborn baby in her arms. 

Dixie takes the young girl under her wing, even though she’s just been hired by Roy Harwick, the snarky executive of a multi-national oil and manufacturing company, to care for his equally snarky Siamese cat, Charlotte, along with his wife’s priceless collection of rare tropical fish. It’s not long before Dixie stumbles upon a dead body in the unlikeliest of places, and soon she’s set adrift in a murky and dangerous world in which no one is who they appear to be. 

Smart, fast-paced and entertaining, The Cat Sitter’s Cradle is a perfect illustration of why Dixie’s loyal fans have come to know and love her and eagerly await the next installment of her adventures.

T.L.Costa - Playing Tyler  (Strange Chemistry Books) July 2013
When is a game not a game?

Tyler MacCandless can’t focus, even when he takes his medication. He can’t focus on school, on his future, on a book, on much of anything other than taking care of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in rehab for heroin abuse… again.

Tyler’s dad is dead and his mom has mentally checked out. The only person he can really count on is his Civilian Air Patrol Mentor, Rick. The one thing in life it seems he doesn’t suck at is playing video games and, well, that’s probably not going to get him into college.

Just when it seems like his future is on a collision course with a life sentence at McDonald’s, Rick asks him to test a video game. If his score’s high enough, it could earn him a place in flight school and win him the future he was certain that he could never have. And when he falls in love with the game’s designer, the legendary gamer Ani, Tyler thinks his life might finally be turning around.

That is, until Brandon goes MIA from rehab and Tyler and Ani discover that the game is more than it seems. Now Tyler will have to figure out what’s really going on in time to save his brother… and prevent his own future from going down in flames.

Terry Shames – A Killing at Cotton Hill (Seventh Street Books) July 16, 2013 

The chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in. He discovers that a lot of people had it in for Dora Lee. The conniving rascals on the farm next door want her land for nefarious purposes; her estranged daughter could be seeking vengeance; her grandson wants money for art school; and then there's that stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. Does Craddock still have what it takes to find the killer? 

In this debut novel, the strong, compelling voice of Samuel Craddock illuminates the grandeur and loneliness of the central Texas landscape and reveals the human foibles of the residents in a small Texas town-their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues.