The Elusive Writing Process

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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:

https://9mmpress.blogspot.com/2019/06/writing-process-secrets.html

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What aspects of writing would you like to hear about?

And if you’re a book author and would like to be interviewed on this blog, email me at lisamarietowles@gmail.com. Writing is a solitary, challenging path and I want to support you 🙂

Thanks for visiting! ⭐️

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Author Profile: A.C. Frieden

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A.C. Frieden

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.

And how 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.

How 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.

Is 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.

Can you give a sneak preview of something in your forthcoming book, The Pyongyang Option?

The 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 from Istanbul.

This 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.

What’s 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 experts.

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.

Are you the kind of writer who wakes up at 5am and writes for three hours every morning?

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.

How 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.

How 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.

What 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 international settings.

What 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.

Can 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.

Author website

Amazon Author Page

Blog

Book Trailer on YouTube

Follow him on Twitter

Till next time,

Happy Reading!

Coming soon:

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My new thriller, The Unseen, will be published by 9mm Press in Kindle and paperback in April, 2019.

Watch the Book Trailer

See my Facebook author page @LisaTowlesAuthor for updates and news.

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, The Pyongyang Option, the 3rd Jonathan Brooks novel, and the fascinating life that has inspired his work.

Can’t wait till February? Check out acfrieden.com.

See you next month!

#books #thrillers #writing

Ever been to a Writers’ Conference??

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gotham-writers-workshop

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 lisamarietowles@gmail.com.

Las Vegas Writers Conference

April 19-21, 2018

Sell More Books Show Summit

May 4-6, 2018

Santa Barbara Writers Conference

June 17-22, 2018

Annual Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference

June 22 – 24, 2018

Sun Valley Writers Conference

July 21-24, 2018

2018 Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference (northern California)

September 27-30, 2018

Florida Writers Conference

October 18-21, 2018

Kauai Writers Conference

November 9 – 11, 2018

Additional 2018 writers conferences published in The Writer magazine:

https://www.writermag.com/writing-resources/conferences/

And for Canadian authors or those traveling to Canada this year, here’s a list of

Canadian writing conferences in 2018:

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

Author Spotlight: MARILYN MEREDITH

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For this month’s Author Spotlight, I’m happy to introduce you to longtime teacher, speaker, and award-winning crime novelist, MARILYN MEREDITH.

Marilyn has written over 30 novels in two ongoing mystery series – her Deputy Crabtree series and her Rocky Bluffs P.D. series (written under the name of F.M. Meredith0. As one of the earliest adopters of ePublishing, all of Marilyn’s books are available via Kindle. But we’ll get to more of that at the end of this post. For now, let’s hear directly from Marilyn about her books, her characters, and her writing process.

Of your many activities and contributions to our literary world, which brings you the most happiness and fulfillment? (writing fiction, writing nonfiction, teaching, speaking) Though I certainly love writing, I truly enjoy teaching and speaking about writing, and talking to young people about writing is particularly satisfying.

Of the writers you’ve admired in your life, who had the biggest impact on your writing career? One of the first published writers I became friends with was Willma Gore, who was in the critique group I joined. She taught me more about writing than anyone else or any of the writing classes I attended over the years.

Where did your idea for the character Tempe Crabtree come from? Is she based on you, or someone you know personally? Tempe is actually a combination of three women: A Tule River Indian I met who grew up on the reservation and is the one I see as Tempe, a resident deputy who told me about her problems as the only female, and a police officer who was a single mother who I did a ride-along with. All three have strong personalities.

What has Tempe Crabtree taught you over the years you have been writing her stories? If someone is in danger, Tempe will rush in to help regardless of her own safety. I’m afraid I’m not that brave—though in my younger years I did much of the same.

Did you plan your Tempe Crabtree and Rocky Bluff series’ ahead of time, or did you write a standalone novel and thereafter decide to bring back the same character for another book? (and another, etc.) With both series, I didn’t know that I would continue on when I wrote the first books. I fell in love with my characters, and the only way to find out what would happen to them next was to write another book, and on and on.

What advice would you give to new writers about how to navigate the publishing world? Things keep changing. You have to find out what is going on and what path would be the best for you to take. Though I have been published by one of the New York publishers at the beginning of my career, I’ve gone through several small publishers with both series. If self-publishing the way it is today had been available, I might have gone that direction. For those thinking about doing that, it is most important that a professional editor goes over your novel before you publish.

Do you maintain a strict writing process, and can you share some details of how you stay motivated and on track with your writing goals and publishing schedules? I wish I did have a strict writing process—but life often interferes, as do other writing jobs. I do try to write at least a few hours five days a week, but I’m not always able to do so. I’m a great list writer—I keep track of what I need to do each day, writing and everything else. I also keep a calendar that I check each morning so I don’t forget anything important.

What is your forthcoming book about? I’m almost finished with a first draft of an as-yet untitled Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. In this one, two of the characters are named after two people who tied in a contest to have a character named after them. It’s been fun, because I do know these folks and their characters are nothing like either one. The plot is about the murder of two people—the mayor, and an old lady.

About Marilyn’s Latest Book: Seldom Traveled, which was released in August 2016:

The tranquility of the mountain community of Bear Creek is disrupted by a runaway fugitive, a vicious murderer, and a raging forest fire. Deputy Tempe Crabtree is threatened by all three. Tempe Crabtree is a female resident deputy in the mountain area surrounding Bear Creek which is located in the Southern Sierra. She is also an Indian (she like, others in the Tule River tribe prefer Indian to Native American) and at times she receives spiritual insights. Seldom Traveled is the latest in the series and was inspired by the fact that a fugitive on the run disappeared in our area, a spark of a story about a murder in a mountain community, and the fact that the area is prone to forest fires.

Available in Paper, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and from the publisher, http://mundania.com/

Marilyn’s website and blog: http://fictionforyou.com/ and http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/

Please post any questions or comments, and thank you for reading!

Always keep the writer vibe alive…

 

Author Interview: CAT CONNOR

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If you don’t know her already, I’d like to introduce you to successful, New Zealand-based mystery/thriller author, CAT CONNOR, and the star of her highly acclaimed Byte series – Ellie Conway.

Did you invent Ellie Conway, or did she find you and ask you to tell her story? I saw a video in my head. I could not see the main character but I could hear her. I had no idea what her name was, but I knew she was FBI and she was living in Virginia. She never really introduced herself, she just showed me scenes and expected me to keep up. I only knew her screen name until another character called her by name. Which was a little bit weird, but fun for me. The other thing is that I didn’t know what she looked like for a long time. Everything she shows me is from her point of view so I couldn’t see her unless she looked in a mirror. She doesn’t so much ask me to tell her stories as show me video of scenes that don’t let up until I write them down. She is fun, though. Her sense of humor is great so I enjoy having her in my head.

Did you consciously set out to build a series around Ellie, or was the first book a standalone and then you later decided that Ellie had more to tell? The first book was a standalone based on a ‘worst case scenario’ after some real life chat room death threats. My rights to my book Killerbyte were tied up in the bankruptcy of my first publisher, and a very wise author (Jeffrey Deaver) told me to write another book while I was waiting/fighting to get my rights back. So I did. Turned out Ellie had a lot more to tell me. So I wrote another one … and by the time I signed with Rebel I had three of the Byte novels under my belt. So the answer is no, I never set out to write a series. Ellie just has a lot to say, and every time I think we’re done, something new pops up. She doesn’t like to tell me everything at once. For example, all the way through this series Ellie has mentioned New Zealand. We know she likes the place and she vacations in NZ, and that she’s worked there (both undercover with the CIA and also with the FBI), but it’s not until the 9th book that everyone will find out a bit more about her ties to the country.

Is Ellie you, and what do you personally have in common with her? Ellie isn’t me. I wish I was her. She’s someone I’d really love to hang out and drink tequila with. We share a birthday (Dec 12), we both dislike honey, although Ellie really hates it and I can tolerate it, if I’m sick. We are both a wee bit smart mouthed. Physically we are the about the same height and body shape – that makes it easier when I’m writing some scenes. For example, I know that (when both are standing) if someone is six foot tall, Ellie can look them in the eye quite easily but if someone is six foot six she needs to lift her chin to do that. But no, she’s not me.

What would you tell a mystery writer who writes standalone books if they want to write a series? Do you do a lot of planning to keep track of what you write about Ellie from one book to another? If you were planning to take a standalone novel and turn it into a series – get a notebook and make damn sure you keep really good notes regarding your characters. ALL of your characters. (Even the dead ones.)

I don’t plan. I rely heavily on Ellie to show/tell me the story, she never shows me the end until I’m about to figure it out for myself.

Every book I write has at least two large notebooks attached to it (I’ve kept them all, they live in a HUGE lidded plastic storage bin). The notebooks are for everything I think is important while the story is unfolding. (Formulas for explosives, locations of CCTV, names of people who were killed, partial scenes, chapter summaries (which I write AFTER the chapter is finished), chapter titles (which are always songs), occasionally photos of locations.

Because I’ve written the series and I’ve also written about twenty short stories about Ellie and her team, I have a lot of information in my head. I do trust myself to insert the right name/character detail/reference a lot of the time without checking I was right until I’m almost finished the manuscript.

I don’t usually need to check things regarding Ellie or her team, although I did have an issue with Lee’s eye color in DATABYTE, because I couldn’t remember if his eyes were brown or blue, or if we’d ever mentioned them. They’re brown. His brother has blue eyes 🙂

I have no overreaching plan for the series. I don’t have a development plan for characters either – they evolve as things happen. Maybe because they live in my head and are not confined to a definite set of black and white characteristics they are more fluid and more capable of evolving as the stories progress. Each story emerges through my fingers as Ellie starts showing me video.

What’s coming up for you as a writer in 2017? The 9th Byte book is coming up in 2017. I finished the writing of METABYTE last night and it will be with my publishers and editor by the end of November. METABYTE was previewed at the end of PSYCHOBYTE, and is quite the twisty tale.

Metabyte Preview: SSA Ellie Iverson nee Conway’s world is turned inside out by a late night call from her husband saying his teenage niece, Harley, is missing. Harley’s parents are out of the country and suddenly incommunicado, thus raising Ellie’s internal alert level from yellow to orange. Adding to the rising alert status is the discovery of freshly dead formerly deceased federal agents. Crime scenes and dead agents emerge at an alarming rate. Working under a directive from the Director of the FBI and with the Wayward Son Protocol, Ellie and Delta A try to stem the flow of death. Cryptic messages from missing Ret-NCIS Special Agent Noel Gerrard alludes to the seepage of sensitive data, and then undeniable CIA involvement. Coded messages hidden in attempted hackings of Iverson Technologies provide clues regarding the missing parents of Harley Iverson and a potential link to the Wayward Son Protocol. In the midst of turmoil, the sudden death of a team member leaves Delta A reeling. The team struggles on to uncover layers of deceit culminating in more death. 

Apart from METABYTE, I’m not sure. I expect Ellie will start pushing me to write another book soon enough. I thought 9 was the last, but she seems to think there’s another story to be told…


Cat’s books are published by Rebel ePublishers

For more information about CAT CONNOR and her Byte thriller series, check out: www.catconnor.com

@cat.connor (facebook)

@catconnor (twitter)