What quirks, tricks, hacks, and devices do authors use to keep themselves motivated, inspired, and productive?
What I learned, through the following interview, is that it’s different for everyone. I’m always awed by writers who start churning out new material at 6am every day, but discipline comes in many forms.
After looking at my own process, I interviewed renowned thriller author, Cat Connor and award-winning author Leah Erickson about the every day, nitty gritty details of their craft: where they write, when, how much, how often. And the answers we all gave are both surprising and expected.
What I didn’t cover here was the WHY. That’ll be next month’s post!
Check out the interview, originally posted on the new blog for 9mm Press:
For this month’s Author Profile, meet the creator of the highly acclaimed Jonathan Brooks spy series, A.C. Frieden. I had an opportunity to interview Frieden about his fascinating past, his globe-trotting adventures, his military and legal experience, and the inspirations for his main character and what has become a tremendously successful series. Read about A.C. Frieden below, or jump here to skip to Amazon to buy his latest book, The Pyongyang Option.
You were born in Senegal to Swiss/Brazilian parents and have lived all over the world. How did your upbringing overseas influence you and your writing?
My familiarity with different
countries and cultures has made it easier to bring in an international flavor
to characters, settings and historical realities that are essential to my
globetrotting espionage/political thrillers. That multicultural background has
also shaped who I am today. I believe that the line between good and evil is
often blurred and that positive or negative traits cannot be assigned to any
nationality, race, culture or other categories, so I make sure my characters
don’t fit stereotypes. I also use my background in the military and my piloting
experience to enhance the action in my thrillers.
do your international travels and experiences fuel your writing?
Having lived and worked in various
countries, I tend to bring these experiences into my thrillers. My career as a
lawyer working in Europe, India and the U.S. also gives me the ability to embed
reality into the travails of my protagonist, New Orleans attorney Jonathan
Brooks. There are so many interesting venues, including many off the beaten
path that can capture the interest of readers. And I’ve explored many of these
places over the years.
did your world travels help form the character of Jonathan Brooks?
Jonathan was born and raised in New
Orleans, so his international experiences come mostly from legal cases he has
worked on and that form the plots in his novels.
Jonathan Brooks modeled after you? How are you similar or different?
I would probably be more conservative
and cautious than Jonathan when faced with the challenges he encounters in the
stories. However, the fundamentals are similar: value for human life, respect
for the law, seeing the good in people. More importantly, Jonathan is a normal
person, not a spy, nor a hired gun. He makes mistakes, as I have in my life and
career, but learns from them. He handles the threats, injuries, and near-death
experiences in ways many of us can relate to. I’ve tried to make him real, with
the baggage that life’s mistakes make you carry, while also unleashing his high
tolerance for risk when needed. A tolerance that exceeds mine in most
situations, I think.
give a sneak preview of something in your forthcoming book, The Pyongyang Option?
Pyongyang Option begins as a mystery and turns into a
thriller. While it takes place in 2005, there is a dramatic turning point in
the story that throws readers into the thick of today’s confrontation with
North Korea. I also was able to tie in my research in Chernobyl into the story,
so readers will experience what it’s like to walk around an abandoned,
contaminated town near the nuclear reactor.
What does Jonathan need the most, and what is he searching for throughout all the books in your Jonathan Brooks series?
Ultimately, justice. Jonathan’s rather
comfortable life growing up changed drastically in Tranquility Denied. Then again in The Serpent’s Game. These life-changing events forced him to change
as a person, to reevaluate the essence of life, his dreams, his ability to
handle adversity, and shape his destiny as a fighter for doing the right thing.
And in The Pyongyang Option, he’s
tested to his limits, and this too pivots him into a different direction for
the upcoming book 4 in the series, Letter
is sort of a personal question, but is there something you’ve been searching
for in your life that Jonathan is helping you find?
A sense of belonging. Jonathan is the
only (remaining) child of a small family. And the challenges he’s faced in his
stories had turned his world upside down, making him realize so much of his
life had been comfortable but artificial in many ways. That sense of belonging
left him, and now he realizes that the rest of his life might simply be a
never-ending search for that unattainable goal.
the most interesting aspect of fiction writing?
While my series is mostly espionage,
the protagonist is a lawyer and this trait anchors the story to events and
circumstances that are not typical of spy thrillers. In other words, his work
as a lawyer brings in a legal thriller element to the stories. And other
characters bring a political feel to the stories as well. So, this broader
stroke at the spy thriller genre is what interests me. Making a lawyer and
political figures act in very unusual ways to handle extraordinary challenges
that are normally left to professional spies, assassins, and political/military
Who were the writing teachers or mentors that inspired your writing path?
New York Times and USA Today bestselling
author Patricia Rosemoor was my teacher in two genre fiction writing class and
later pulled me into her writers group. She became my mentor and helped fuel my
passion for mysteries and thrillers and improved the quality of my writing. Also,
my long-time editor, Julia Borcherts, who has tremendous expertise in crime
fiction, has been a strong supporter of my writing and helps to make the
Jonathan Brooks series an engaging experience for readers.
you the kind of writer who wakes up at 5am and writes for three hours every
No. Unlike when I wear my lawyer hat,
as a writer I’m a procrastinator. But I’m generally organized for the first
half of writing each book, but then I have to herd the remaining storyline and
chapters as if they were cats.
do you use outlining to map out the complex plots in your novels?
Outlining is important, for sure. I keep a centralized general outline, and then I add more detailed paragraphs (tied to that outline) at the top of each blank chapter to guide me. I also map characters, settings and spot elements on large eraser boards in conference rooms and then take pictures of them for later reference.
has your writing style changed since your first novel was published?
Generally tighter writing. Perhaps
what has changed most is the depth of the character descriptions. My strengths
have always been in settings and plot, so I have focused on improving the depth
of characters and their interactions and thoughts, particularly in The Serpent’s Game. And this improvement
continues in The Pyongyang Option.
do you most love to read?
I read mostly nonfiction. My home library consists of political,
espionage and military books for the most part. However, I also read crime
fiction, and occasionally political/espionage thrillers, but mostly with
has your experience been with agents?
I did not use an agent to be published
by Down & Out Books, which, by the way, has an awesome team and has been
tremendously supportive in my literary endeavors. I would still advise aspiring authors to try
to get an agent but explore alternate paths to publication as well.
you share any tips or guidance for novice writers just getting started, or for
experienced writers working hard to build a successful platform?
Whether right or wrong, I approach each book with this question first: what sensation do I want to give the reader when they finish reading the book? This is why I write the last chapter first. Though it will change by the time I write the rest of the book, the dominant theme of that final feeling becomes a beacon for the rest of the chapters. This was particularly true for The Pyongyang Option, where the ending is a dramatic life-changing turn for Jonathan. From a more general standpoint, I would advise new writers to be thorough in their research. To understand the settings. More knowledgeable readers demand more precise writing by authors. I always do my best to make sure no reader will ever find substantive errors in my settings or plots – and my fellow lawyers are often the ones who try hardest to poke holes in everything I write (but I love them all!).
Thank you, A.C. Frieden, for sharing your reflections, guidance, and inspiration with us today! And learn more about the author through the links below.
AND NEXT MONTH… I’ll be featuring noted thriller author, A.C. Frieden, creator of the acclaimed Jonathan Brooks spy series, in an author profile and interview. Tune in to learn about his forthcoming book, ThePyongyangOption, the 3rd Jonathan Brooks novel, and the fascinating life that has inspired his work.
For this month’s Author Spotlight, I’m happy to focus on author ANDREW RICHARDSON, whose latest book The Faerie Handmaiden of Annwyn was just released (today), adding to his already impressive list of published fiction in several genres. Congratulations Andrew on your latest release!
Andrew lives in Wiltshire, England with his wife, a rescue cat, and a son who occasionally pops home from university. He’s within easy reach of Stonehenge and other historical places whose regal solitude provides a clear mind for working out plot difficulties and story ideas. And with a background in archaeology and having worked on sites in England, Scotland, and Wales, it’s not surprising that much of his writing reflects this interest and experience. Most of Andrew’s published work falls in the horror or historical fantasy genres.
Synopsis of The Faerie Handmaiden of Annwyn:
Dancing with her friends in the mortal realm, Penni, the fairest Tylwyth Teg, has no idea of what she will unleash by disobeying the law. A mortal attacks the handmaidens and blocks Penni’s return to Annwyn. Banished for breaking the law, Penni is forced to take refuge with Pelling, a mortal, and his family. Penni and Pelling find love and marry, despite his brother’s hatred of the fairy folk. He wants to sell her – Tylwyth Teg slaves fetch a princely price, a great temptation for a poor farmer. The couple moves to the capital of fifth century Wales where King Maelgyn rules. Subjected to prejudice and cruelty, they are trapped in the bitter struggle between Christianity and the Old Ways of paganism. Accidentally burnt by iron – the fairy folk’s greatest fear – Penni seeks sanctuary and a cure in Annwyn. Can their love surmount the differences in cultures and religion? Can their marriage survive their separation?
I talked with Andrew about details of the mythology surrounding his new book and other aspects of his successful writing career.
Can you talk about the mythology of your new book and what inspired you to write it?
One of my passions is sixth century Britain (The Age of Arthur), particularly north Wales where I studied the period at university, and another interest is north Welsh myths and legends. ‘The Faerie Handmaiden of Annwyn’ combines the two. It follows an ageless story about a man who married a fairy. I set it in sixth century north Wales so I could include some of the period’s events and people, particularly the colourful King Maelgwn who is a fascinating character with countless myths and legends surrounding him.
Tylwyth Teg (fair folk) are the Welsh equivalent of fairies and feature a lot in Welsh stories. Their kings and nobles appear in a lot of different places – even Shakespeare – so it was fun including some often-used characters around Penni, the story’s main focus. The original is set in the Nant y Betws, a stunningly beautiful Welsh valley I know well, although sadly the meadow where the fairies danced and where Penni met her husband is now a sewage works. Annwyn is the traditional Welsh Otherworld where Tylwyth Teg live, and while there’s no obvious sign of an entrance in the Nant y Betws these days, walking through the valley it’s easy to imagine the fair folk watching from behind one of the ancient field walls.
You have an impressive list of publications, and even more impressive is your experience writing in very different genres. Is there one genre you feel more at home with than others?
Horror and historical fantasy are the two genres I work in most and I enjoy each equally. As a generalisation, horror stories tend to be relatively simple and linear, while fantasy has a more complicated structure and needs subtle sub-plots. I like being able to just get on with a horror novel without having to plan too much, but on the other hand historical fantasy is more rewarding when it comes off because of the extra work involved.
Which genre made the biggest impression on you as a child and as a young reader?
My parents don’t like horror or anything remotely dark, so I wasn’t brought up with it. That led me to wonder what it was all about when I was in my teens so I read a couple of horror novels (James Herbert’s ‘The Rats’ was my first) and I was fascinated not so much by the horror itself, but by discovering a genre I hardly knew existed. In my teens and early twenties I read as much horror as I could get my hands on, so the structure of horror stories slowly sunk in which is why my first writing attempts were in the genre. Historical fantasy came a little later with my interest in Arthur’s period. I wanted to see how different authors explained some of the more improbable elements of his story.
For novice writers wanting to break in, what are some of the industry “rules” about writing historical fantasy? Are there any challenges, or else any advantages to writing in this genre that you might not have in other genres?
The usual rules for writing fiction apply, like strong characters and imaginative plots. An important ‘extra’ is to know the period because although you’re writing fantasy you’re also writing history, so you need to get the clothing, habits, beliefs, and the like right. That’s why my fantasies are set around Celtic Britain; the time and place has always fascinated me and I feel comfortable setting stories there.
An advantage of writing stories set in a period where there are hardly any written records is that events and characters are often very shadowy. This gives writers a wonderful opportunity to interpret what happened, and the people involved, in the way they want or the way that fits best into the story, which is great fun.
How and when did you start writing books and who was your most important teacher or writing-mentor?
My wife works shifts, and when our son was born in the mid-nineties I wanted a hobby to keep me occupied in the evenings after I’d put him to bed. I’d always enjoyed writing at school so I decided to give fiction a go, and loved it.
I’ve never had a formal teacher or mentor but after writing for a few years I met both Phil and Carole. Both are an invaluable help in terms of critiquing early drafts of my work and giving moral support when I’ve needed it, and have become very good friends as well.
What else do you have brewing at the moment and do you have any future publications lined up?
I’ve just finished a horror about a group of archaeologists who uncover an ancient goddess, which is looking for a publisher. It’s not a fresh idea so while I’m happy with it I’m not sure anyone will want to take it on, but it’s in the sort of 1980s fiction I grew up reading and it was rewarding to do a homage to the style.
I’ve also started work on a fantasy/horror about changelings. Changelings were babies believed to be fairy children swapped by malevolent fairies for human babies in the night. I’m writing about what might happen if this still took place in the modern day.
Is your latest book a standalone or part of a series?
It’s a standalone. I’ve never written a series, I’m itching to try something different by the time I’ve finished a novel. And my first interest was horror, which isn’t a genre lending itself to series so I’ve never really thought about it.
Thank you, Andrew, for joining us this month and sharing your writing experience and inspiration with us!
Adding to his long list of published books in both fiction and non-fiction, award-winning author NZ Grant celebrates the publication of his latest thriller, The Feeding, a supernatural thriller released in April of this year by Rebel ePublishers. His book Mesquite Smoke Dance won the Richard Webster Popular Fiction Award, and his book Hawks has been sold to a UK-based film production company. And writing is just one of his many talents. Grant was formerly a professional hunter, and has been a bodyguard, a TV stuntman, merchant seaman, and is a competitive pistol shooter and instructor. With his native New Zealand as his base, Grant’s real love is travel, and he describes he and his wife as constant travelers. I asked him about this and other things in our Q&A below, so read on and learn about the man behind a most fascinating read.
About The Feeding:
Indian Mountain – spiritual home to the mysterious Ontchean tribe of medicine men, has been uninhabited for over a century. This rural southern Georgia setting is the backdrop to the unspeakable, grisly death of Abel Loomis and a train of otherworldly events and murders that follow.
As you’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, do you prefer one over the other?
I do prefer writing fiction to fact. With factual writing, such as my ghosted tales on euthanasia and medical themes, you are bound very much by facts. You can take the subject’s tale and spin it any one of a dozen ways, but they’re still facts. In fiction, you have total freedom to go where you want and explore what you want with the subject matter, storyline, characterizations, etc. I do love that freedom, though it doesn’t always pay the bills like ghostwriting or journalism can.
As you’re incredibly prolific, I find myself wondering about your writing process. Are you a highly disciplined writer in your approach?
In addition to my 14 or so books, I also write for several magazines on a semi-frequent basis and one monthly publication as a staff writer covering historic themes. I also write voice material for a local radio station. Yes, I am very disciplined. In a normal working day, I kick myself out of bed into the shower, dress, have a good breakfast and am at the keyboard by about 8 am. I find that creativity is higher in the mornings. The afternoon is generally spent doing mundane writing tasks, like proofreading and research.
Your books seem to have very intricate plots. Do you outline your novels before writing them, and can you share a bit about how you do that?
I don’t outline my novels, but I do outline my non-fiction books. Those require careful plotting because we are dealing with real people and events. I generally start with an idea – something perhaps sparked by a news item, a chance remark, an encounter, or just a thought that worms its way to the conscious center of the brain. The Feeding, for instance, was first written 15-years ago in rough draft and had languished in a file box all that time. I’m a great fan of horror tales, as written by King and Koontz and their contemporaries. I wrote The Feeding as an experiment between other projects. I re-read it two years ago and decided that it had legs, so rewrote it to bring it up to date.
As to the intricacy of the plots, I let the characters dictate what takes place. They take up lives of their own. And while I know what I want the outcome to be, I let them find their own way there. I often finish a first draft and find that one or more characters have developed certain traits along the way. That being the case, on the second draft I often re-write the first third of the book to accommodate what I have discovered about the characters at book’s end.
How does traveling ignite your creativity? Do you get most of your ideas when you’re away from home?
Travel is a wonderful way to fire up the creative juices. I spent much time in our mountains as a professional hunter. That lead to my book Hawks, which has been sold as a movie project and reprinted 3 times. As a seaman, I gained inspiration for Tyler’s Gold, another novel. Death in the Kingdom was set in Thailand, a country I have visited more than a dozen times. Singapore Sling Shot was set in Singapore, my second home. The Feeding was in part inspired by the time I spent in Georgia, USA, even though Indian Mountain and surrounds are a totally fictitious landscape. But, to the reader who has never been down in that part of the world, it is real and that’s the beauty of writing fiction. However, there’s one rule to follow: know the rules before you break them. Go large if you fictionalize anything and don’t be tentative.
Even if you can’t travel, get online, get to the library, and soak up everything you can about a location so you write about it from a position of knowledge. Speak to people who have been there. Little things you and your posse see and experience along the travel pathway in real life or even onscreen can foster some great ideas.
Where did you get the idea for The Feeding? It’s such an interesting story with a somewhat typical process of investigation amid a very atypical cultural backdrop.
The premise for The Feeding came from a story told to me about a vanished tribe of Maori here in New Zealand. The People of The Mist were a tribe that supposedly vanished into the mists of one of our sacred mountain areas. That got me wondering if I could transpose that to Georgia, because I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the southern US. The forests in those states are so different from those in our country and I love being among the trees and mountains. I mountained up my fictitious south and created my southern counties and built the story from there. I wrote two collections of tales of the supernatural in New Zealand and four volumes of Asian supernatural tales so it would be fair to say I have an interest in it. I also have an ebook, In The Widow’s Shadow set on a mountain in Alaska. So I’ve definitely got a thing about spooky mountains.
What advice, tips, or tricks could you give novice writers about the writing path?
When you’re writing there will always be plotholes. I don’t worry about them on the first draft (I always print out and correct draft 1 on paper before revisiting the screen for draft 2). The important thing is to get the basic story down. If you haven’t researched everything, don’t worry. Capture the basic tale. The time for research and hole-filling will come later.
Once you have draft one, don’t show to anyone, you have 3-4 more drafts to go. Take a breather – figure out what technology, location, and research are still needed. Plotholes will suddenly become caverns at this point. Don’t fret. Take your time and solutions will come to you. Once the research is done to your satisfaction, go for draft 2. When complete, now you show it to someone who you can trust to give you a no BS opinion. I use 3 trusted no-nonsense readers, and they are genuine readers, all of them devour books like popcorn. These are the people you need to get an honest opinion from. Best friends will tell you what you want to hear and that will not advance your writing in the slightest. So, take your reader’s comments, good and bad. Don’t be discouraged and burn your manuscript. Take a deep breath and consider what they have said, then go to draft 3. And on it goes. At some stage, you should get a professional editor involved. Put your pride to one side and heed their advice. An editor is there to improve your book and make you look good.
Another thing I’ve learned is the importance of nailing the location (if it is real) or if it is created really paint a vivid picture in your mind. Sketch out salient points on a whiteboard. The mountain and valley in The Feeding only exist in my mind but I can draw it. The same with technology, weapons or whatever – nail the 2-3 main elements then let the characters navigate their through your story, knowing that the technology/terrain/detail on the important steps is covered. I love exploring a concept and learning all I can about a subject. That’s a real joy – becoming an imaginary expert on a subject or location.
One of the worst instances of this failing was a book written in a Bangkok setting by an author who was visiting Singapore. Big Fail. Bangkok and Singapore and the relevant cultures are two totally different animals. It was obvious the author had never been to Bangkok and experienced the wonderful chaos of that amazing city. Lonely Planet just doesn’t cut it. You have to smell a place to know it.
What do you like to read most?
I love American crime noir and authors like John D. MacDonald, Ed McBain, James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard, Daniel Lehane, Michael Connelly, Jo Nesbo and James Patterson.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a crime thriller set in both New York and the stunningly beautiful West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, an area I know well from my years as an airborne hunter in the area.
Thank you NZ GRANT for spending time sharing your story and experience with us!
Ask him a follow-up question: firstname.lastname@example.org
And thank for reading! If you like this interview, feel free to post a comment below. And if you’re a newly-published author and would like to be featured on this blog, email me at email@example.com.
Whether you’re an experienced, mid-career book author or you’ve just released your debut novel, Spotlight features are a great way to launch a new book, broaden your exposure as a published author, leverage the networking power of social media and, ultimately, drive more potential book-buyers to your Amazon or retail book site to increase sales.
The process is most effective if a post is published immediately after the release of your book, so readers can learn about you as a writer, read about your story, get interested in your main character, and then go directly to your Amazon page.
So far I’ve covered fiction and nonfiction, and I’d welcome any genre, as well as short story collections or poetry. Traditional, small press, agented, unagented, and self-published authors are all welcome.
If you’re interested in being featured in an Author Spotlight on this blog, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, give me a few weeks’ lead time, and send me the following:
High quality photo of your book cover and head shot photo of you
Synopsis and the first few chapters of your book
Your bio and a press release (if you have one)
I’ll go through your materials and email you a list of interview questions. Feel free to check out my prior Author Spotlights to see how they’re formatted and structured.
And once the piece is finalized and published, you can use the URL to your heart’s content. Share it on Facebook or any social media site, or post it on your own blog or author website. WordPress is mobile-optimized, so your post should display well on an iPhone or similar device.
The writing path is difficult and solitary, so writers need each other for support and encouragement. Writing a book is a REALLY BIG DEAL, and getting it published is a huge accomplishment! I want to help you celebrate the success of your book release to encourage you to a) keep writing and b) help other authors by encouraging them. You can do that by taking the time to review books on Amazon and Goodreads, attending book-signing events, retweeting posts on new releases, and celebrating their successes. Comment here or email me with questions, and see you on the trail!
I’m a little late compiling my annual list this year, but there are still plenty of conferences scheduled across the US and it’s not too late to get in on the fun.
First things first: “Why bother?” you might ask. Regardless of where you are on the path of your writing journey, conferences have tons of useful benefits that can reignite your passion, inspiration, and drive you to move forward:
Networking with other writers, which can lead to lasting peer relationships, additional support, and even the forming of critique groups
Direct 1:1 access to literary agents in your genre during informal social events or more formal “pitch sessions”
Access to new agents looking to build their list of clients, or new publishers focused specifically on your genre
Updates about the business of writing, including marketing, sales, tips, tricks, best practices, and industry trends
Exclusive opportunities for conference attendees
And if those aren’t enough to whet your appetite, I’ve found that the conferences I’ve attended deepen my commitment to the writing path, remind me that I’m investing in the improvement of my craft, boost my confidence, jack up my networking and communication skills, and generally motivate me to keep going!
Here’s the catch – they’re expensive. Yep, there’s no getting around it…but is there? Most of the conferences I’ve highlighted below have different rates and several options. Entire conference, one day only, and for some you can even just pay for a pitch session without attending the entire event. Some conferences have an early bird rate if you register way ahead of time, and others allow you to a la carte your way through the conference lineup.
Without further ado, I’ve pulled out a few conferences for the rest of this year, along with links to more extensive lists at the bottom. If you find that any of these links don’t work, or you know of other conferences you’d like me to add, post a comment or email me at email@example.com.
This is actually the past. In the present, you used a time machine to come back to this point in time and correct a mistake you did. Unfortunately, your memory of events from this point to the present was erased in the process.