Flying High with Thriller Author David Freed

David Freed is a screenwriter, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, pilot, father and dog lover with a passion for Mexican food and “virtually all things with wings”. He’s also one of my new favorite authors. David’s debut thriller, Flat Spin, is a witty, entertaining tale chock-full of captivating characters that never lets go. The Library Journal called it “a delightful romp” and “highly recommended.” Kirkus Reviews said it’s “full of interesting episodes and feels authentic…” TRUE THAT, says me.

Flat Spin overview:

Based in sunny Rancho Bonita – “California’s Monaco” as the city’s moneyed minions like to call it – Cordell Logan is a literate, sardonic flight instructor and aspiring Buddhist with dwindling savings and a shadowy past. When his beautiful ex-wife, Savannah, shows up out of the blue to tell him that her husband has been murdered in Los Angeles, Logan is quietly pleased. Savannah’s late husband, after all, is Arlo Echevarria, the man she left Logan for.

Logan and Echevarria were once comrades-in-arms assigned to a top-secret military assassination team known as “Alpha.” The only problem is, the LAPD can find no record of Echevarrias ever having toiled for Uncle Sam. Savannah wants Logan to tell the police what he knows. At first he refuses, but then, relying on his small, aging airplane, the “Ruptured Duck,” and the skills he honed working for Alpha, Logan doggedly hunts Echevarria’s killer.

His trail takes him from the glitzy Las Vegas Strip to the most dangerous ghettos of inner-city Oakland, from darkened, Russian Mafia haunts in West Los Angeles to the deserts of Arizona. But that’s the least of his problems. It is his love-hate relationship with Savannah, a woman Logan continues to pine for in spite of himself, that threatens to consume him.

Sounds thrilling, right??? Well, I have more good news. David is here with us today, in the form of his insight. Grab your favorite beverage and take a seat. I suspect you’ll want to take the time to savor what he has to say. ;)

AM: First, congratulations on your book release! How does it feel to have your first thriller published? What was launch day/week like for you? 

DF: Thanks, August. The experience has been thrilling, no pun intended, and surreal. As you know as a writer yourself, you spend many months or even years in a room all by your lonesome, filling one blank page after another with words conveying fanciful ideas from a world you’ve concocted in your head. Then, one day, if you’re incredibly fortunate, some publisher says, “I like the way you’ve arranged those words enough that I’m going to pay you—though not very much–to put them in the form of a book.” A year or so later, your friendly UPS delivery driver dumps a cardboard box on your doorstep and there you stand, hefting in your hand that very book, many copies of which you hope will find favor across the land.

All hyperbole aside, opening that box certainly rated as one of the great moments of my life to date. However, my ego balloon was quickly shot down by the handful of good friends I invited over to help me celebrate what a huge honking success I am. They quickly reminded me that I’m still the same guy who picks up the dog poop in his backyard, prefers turkey burgers over fine dining and wears his T-shirts into the ground.

AM: Not to re-inflate that balloon or anything, but I think all of that makes you cooler. What inspired you to write Flat Spin?

DF: I’m a journalist by background, and I don’t think there’s ever been a journalist born that didn’t secretly aspire to write a novel. My goal, having reported more than my share of stories exploring the dark side of humanity, was to write a book that would be fun to read while incorporating into the plot subject material of which I was at least somewhat familiar. I also wanted to write something that I could claim at the end of the day was truly mine. When you’re hired as a writer in Hollywood, which is another hat I’ve worn, you sign a contract that literally states the studio is the author of your work. I cannot tell you how my scripts I’ve cranked out that ultimately and absolutely bore no resemblance to what I wrote.

AM: You really put the reader in Cordell Logan’s head. I felt like I was the secret military assassin turned Buddhist flight instructor. (I mean that as a compliment.) How similar is Logan to you?

DF: Thanks for the compliment. Hey, I’ll take all I can get! You’ve asked a tough question. In terms of life’s experience, I’d say that I’ve traveled on the periphery of where Logan’s gone—though, certainly, he’s led a much more bombastic life than me. For example, I didn’t played football for the Air Force Academy, as Logan did, but I did play football. I never flew Air Force A-10s during Desert Storm, but I did help cover Desert Storm for the Los Angeles Times. Like Logan, I’m an instrument-rated pilot. Unlike him, I am not a flight instructor. Nor am I an aspiring Buddhist, though I am intrigued with the religion. One more thing: Logan is a former member of a covert, since-disbanded government assassination team. I can assure you I have never worked for such a team, though I have done work in the intelligence community. If Logan and I share any undeniable similarities, it is that we both really enjoy flying airplanes and eating really good burritos, though not necessarily in that order.

AM: Nice. I liked the fact that you didn’t go overboard in describing characters’ appearances. I envisioned Savannah like Anna Nicole Smith for some reason… Way off? 

DF: Waaay off! [*August laughs, LOUDLY.*] But that’s cool. As a reader, you should have the right to imagine fictional characters however you wish. If you see Savannah as Anna Nicole Smith, you’re not gonna wreck my day, even though I may have conjured her with a completely different image in mind.

As a screenwriter, I learned that movie casting options dwindle proportionately to the degree of description you write into a script when it comes to your  characters’ physical attributes, or lack thereof. The perfect dilemma of too much detail can be found in the upcoming Jack Reacher film. Author Lee Child describes Reacher, a former military police officer, as a big, brawny guy, well over 6 feet. Who’s purportedly going to play Reacher?—5’-7” Tom Cruise. Not that Cruise wouldn’t do a great job with the role. But fans of Child’s books are already grousing about how casting Cruise will absolutely ruin the franchise. I’ve heard that author Sue Grafton refuses to sell the film rights to her wildly successful Kinsey Millhone series simply because she doesn’t want her readers equating Kinsey with the likes of a real life actress.

AM: What was the toughest part of the process, from beginning your first draft to publication?

DF: With Flat Spin, it was having no choice but to set aside the draft to work on gigs that paid. By the time I’d get back to the novel, weeks and sometimes months would have gone by; I would’ve forgotten major plot points and even characters’ names. It’s much easier to build a head of steam and maintain a daily momentum, writing a book start and finish without distraction.

AM: I imagine many writers can relate to that. Anything you’ll do differently next time around?

DF: I already am. I’ve turned down or postponed several other writing assignments to devote myself full-time to Flat Spin’s sequel.

AM: Love that. Your career background is extremely  intimidating impressive. How does thriller writing compare to your work as a journalist?

DF: They’re two distinct animals. A journalist is married to facts. In both reporting and writing a news story, you go where those facts take you. Writing a fictional thriller can be vastly more exhilarating and intimidating if for no other reason than the immensity of the potential creative landscape you, as a novelist, look out upon. You must make myriad creative choices that you don’t typically make in a news story. The process can be analogous to feeling your way through a minefield: every step bodes potential success or disaster.

Writing a thriller versus a journalistic story is also different because of the much more subjective nature of the final product. When you’ve published a first-rate piece of journalism, there is usually broad agreement you’ve accomplished something significant. With fiction, a writer rarely achieves that kind of consensus, if only because of the disparate tastes of individual readers. It’s like a Jackson Pollack painting. Many people will see genius in it; others will see it as one huge paint splatter.

AM: How many secret sources have you met in smoky bars? Has the work put you in danger? Do I watch too much crime TV? (If yes to that last bit, feel free to make up something saucy.)

DF: Meeting sources in bars is not nearly as sketchy as meeting them in underground parking garages or empty parks at night, where there are fewer witnesses to identify your body. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been a few occasions when I felt like things got a little gnarly in such places. I remember once making arrangements to rendezvous in a bar with a really sketchy dude who’d called me, claiming to have direct knowledge of the alleged second gunman in the John F. Kennedy assassination. He insisted after we met that I come with him to his apartment where he had all of the “evidence” in safekeeping. I went to the men’s room, called my editors, and gave them the address, so that if I didn’t show up for work the next day, they’d know where to send the coroner. Turns out the guy, who proved to be a totally harmless whacko, had devised some theory that the second gunman was secretly hidden in the trunk of JFK’s limo. Yeah, right.

On another occasion, I was working on a series of stories targeting members of organized crime in a major land fraud scam. I came home late one night and my phone started ringing immediately. The anonymous caller proceeded to spent about 30 seconds telling me where things were in my cabinets and drawers that you wouldn’t have otherwise known about unless you’d been inside my apartment—and I lived in a secure building. The next morning, I went out to my car and discovered somebody had put a screwdriver through the fuel tank. There were was gas all over the parking lot. I carried a pistol for several weeks after that. For the most part, however, investigative reporting is incredibly tedious. You spend vast amounts of time interviewing boring bureaucrats, and hours sifting through government archives where you are much more likely to catch some obscure respiratory disease than you are a bullet.

AM: Yipes. Aside from staying healthy and bullet hole-free, what’s next in the pipeline? 

DF: I’m hard at work on the next Cordell Logan mystery. If all goes well, it’ll be out next year. I hope you enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed this!

*****

He’s GREAT, right??? To purchase Flat Spin, zip over to Amazon.com or David’s website for more options. In the meantime, or after, any thoughts or questions to share with David?

Marc Schuster on The Grievers — A Hilarious, Inspiring Must-Read

Sometime during high school, I watched The Dead Poet’s Society on VHS. I remember thinking, “This’ll be good,” before watching it, and “Holy crap, that was awesome!” at the end. Watching the two-ish hour film felt more like living years within the character’s lives. I laughed, cried, wondered and learned along with them. The story made me examine my own life and decisions, and has stuck with me since.

Marc Schuster’s The Grievers reminds me of The Dead Poet’s Society, only slightly because it involves a prep school. The relatively short book felt as rich as a series. I laughed, ached and learned, thanks to the main character, Charley. (Did I mention laughed?) He had me pondering my own life and changed the way I look at the dancing chickens on Hollywood street corners…forever. Though it’s not been long since I read it, I have no doubt I’ll think of The Grievers again in the coming years. In a word, I found it inspiring.

Synopsis:
When Charley Schwartz learns that an old high school pal has killed himself, he agrees to help his alma mater organize a memorial service to honor his fallen comrade. Soon, however, devestation turns to disgust as Charley discovers that his friend’s passing means less to the school than the bottom line. As the memorial service quickly degenerates into a fundraising fiasco, Charley must also deal with a host of other quandaries including a dead-end job as an anthropomorphic dollar sign, his best firned’s imminent move to Maryland, an intervention with a drug-addled megalomaniac, and his own ongoing crusade to enforce the proper use of apostrophes among the proprietors of local dining establishments.

Desperate to set the world right and keep his own life from spiraling out of control, Charley rages through his days and nights, plotting all the while the ultimate eulogy for his deceased friend and a scathing indictment of a world gone wrong. (The Permanent Press, 2012)

The Grievers officially releases today. (CONGRATS, MARC!) I’m so thrilled to bring you insight from the author himself…

 

AM: You’ve called The Grievers “a coming of age story for a generation that’s still struggling to come of age.” What did you mean by that?

MS: There’s such an emphasis upon entertainment in our culture that we’re losing the ability to take things seriously. We’re really into melodrama, into quick laughs, into anything that amuses us. Look at The Daily Show for example. I love watching it, but there’s something mildly disturbing about the fact that I get a lot—if not most—of my news from John Stewart. It’s like I can’t digest serious information without a heaping teaspoon of humor to help me get it down. What does this say about me? About people of my generation? When am I going to start taking things seriously? Questions like these were in the back of my mind as I was writing the novel, and they’re also the kinds of questions that plague its narrator.

AM: Tell us about the main character, Charley Schwartz. How similar is he to you?

MS: It’s probably fair to say that he’s an extremely exaggerated version of myself. What separates us, I hope, is that I think before I speak, whereas Charley is a lot more impulsive. As a result, he puts his foot in his mouth far more frequently than I do. In terms of biography, though, we do have a few things in common. We both went to prep schools in our teenage years, and we are both the products of our respective educations. Perhaps most importantly, Charley and I have extremely patient wives who let us know when we’re making fools of ourselves. The difference, again, is that I usually have the good sense to listen, whereas Charley doesn’t.

 AM: The Grievers presents numerous lessons. Was that intentional?

MS: I don’t think I set out to teach specific lessons as I was writing. Had I done that, I’m pretty sure those lessons would stifle the novel, or it might come across as preachy. Instead, it’s probably a matter of having certain values, beliefs, and assumptions in the back of my mind as I was writing, and they crept into the finished product on an unconscious level.

AM: You came close to self-publishing The Grievers some years back. What prompted you to consider that option and then change your mind? 

MS: I’d written a few novel-length manuscripts by then, but The Grievers was the first one that I thought really had potential for publication. Unfortunately—or so I thought at the time—agents and editors didn’t agree with me. So I imagined self-publishing might be the way to go. At about the same time, I wrote a fan letter to Chuck Palahniuk in which I told him about the book and my plans to publish it on my own. He wrote back saying that he liked the idea for The Grievers, but he urged me not to self-publish. His point was that instead of putting my efforts into publishing the novel, I should start working on a new one and then return to The Grievers with fresh eyes. In the end, I decided to take his advice, and I’m glad I did. Setting the manuscript aside for a couple of years gave me the perspective I needed to do a thorough revision, and having another novel published in the interim taught me a lot about publishing.

AM: You’ve shared some great deleted scenes from The Grievers on your blog. How did you decide what to cut and keep? 

MS: In many cases, the cutting had to do with the pacing of the novel. I might, for example, realize that I’d already established an idea or theme and cut a passage because it was redundant. In other cases, I was striving to make the novel as much a work of fiction as possible. The germ of the story started with my own life and observations, but for the novel to work as a piece of fiction, I felt I really needed to make Charley his own person. So I cut anything that struck me as too autobiographical. The final thing that helped me decide what to cut and what to keep was input from other readers. I’m fortunate to have a lot of avid readers in my life, so I had a lot of very strong, very informed opinions to draw upon. If someone I respected enough to show the manuscript told me that something wasn’t working, we’d talk a bit about why and whether or not it was something that could be fixed or simply didn’t fit. If, in the end, we decided it didn’t fit, I’d cut it.

AM: Any chance we’ll see it on the big screen someday? (Spielberg might read this. You never know…) Who would you cast as Charley?

MS: I could definitely see Jason Schwartzman as Charley. I loved him in Rushmore, and to an extent, I see an affinity betweenThe Grievers and that movie. Charley could conceivably be described as an adult version of Schwartzman’s character, Max Fischer.

AM: You’ve received some awesome praise from reviewers. (Congrats, by the way.) Do you have a favorite? Any nail your book on the head or surprise you?

MS: Thank you! I’ve been so flattered by all of the praise that the book has received. A blogger named FP Dorchak made me smile when he wrote, “To be utterly blunt if not politically correct, this book had me laughing my ass off.” But I’m also glad that reviewers are picking up on the balance between humor and tragedy that I tried to bring to the novel. Robin Black is an author I admire immensely, so her praise also meant a lot to me: “The Grievers is a an extraordinary weave of humor, insight and intelligence. Marc Schuster has written a perfect comic novel, one that never strays far from either poignance or hilarity.” He book If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is one of my favorite short story collections.

*****

For more information, check out Marc Schuster’s blog and follow him on Twitter. To purchase The Grievers, zip over to Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Any thoughts or questions to share with Marc? I’m sure he’d love hearing from you!


Genre Love Stories: How Did You Fall?

I was twelve years old and babysitting, at least in body. In my mind, I was Jenny MacPartland—a single woman who’d been knocked punch-drunk breathless in love with an alluring man she at a trendy New York art gallery. While the real, live characters—i.e., the kids—played in the background, I stayed with Jenny as she began discovering clues to Mr. Seemed-So Right’s sordid past. As her marriage and life neared their perceivable ends, so did my babysitting career. (I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say it involved twin toddlers, one’s digestive issues, a locked bathroom and some unusual, um, “artwork…”)

Mary Higgins Clark’s A Cry in the Night had me at page one.

During middle school, mysteries and thrillers saved me from math and science class boredom, kept me entertained during lengthy car rides and distracted me from insecurities that run too rampant in teens. After high school, the spine chillers kept me company at New York modeling castings and became my only “friends” in an apartment full of roommates by whom I felt intimidated. One clue that I was in dire straits later on, while living in Paris, was the fact that I couldn’t enjoy the stories I’d so loved.

So, it came as no surprise when my first novel turned into a thriller—before I had a grasp of genres, much less which one my story suited. I suppose the takeaway from my genre love story—likely from yours, too ;)—is this: Read and write what you love. Oh, and if you have kids, do not hire a hyper-focused daydreaming girl with a book bag…

What’s your genre love story?

Beautiful Breakups: What the Revision Process Can Teach Us

The other day two things happened that seemed so connected, I had to share them. Within the same hour, I learned that a close friend is going through a significant breakup and received an ultra-thoughtful card from another friend I adore. Not seeing the link? Hang with me.

When I called the first friend, I was amazed at the calm confidence in her voice. She barely had to utter three sentences for me to know that she was definitely breaking UP, not down. I read the card’s message straight to her: “Bold is beautiful…and so are you.” Now do you see???

When managed properly, I believe that breakups can serve as catalysts for the most empowering, fulfilling, growth-filled and joyous experiences of our lives. Think about it. We don’t say we’re breaking down with someone. Sure, we may experience a breakdown before or during, but the right partings of ways life us up…eventually.

While I haven’t experienced a romantic breakup since I met my husband six years ago, I  have undergone other types. I’ve “broken up” with my acting career, a close girlfriend and, most recently, a sweet elderly woman my agent suggested I ex-nay from my book. None of these breakups were easy, but there was no “dumping” involved. And much like the romantic breakups I’ve endured, I learned and grew from each one.

Yesterday, I finished a major novel revision. With my friend’s bold and beautiful breakup in mind, I’ve been struck by the parallels between revising our personal lives and revising creative work. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from both processes:

What the Revision Process Can Teach Us About Relationships—And Vice Versa

1. Listen to your instincts. If your novel begs to be written in a particular style, genre or tense, do it—regardless of what seems practical marketing wise. If we try to please everyone but ignore our gut feelings, our story is likely to fall flat. Same for relationships. And if after meeting a guy you, say, sleep with mace in your hand? Don’t date him. Not that I’ve done that. Or anything.

2. Consider your motivation. If you feel confused as to who or what to take out, add to or leave in your novel, consider why you wrote it in the first place. Just as motivating factors fuel our characters’ actions, they fuel our composition. Though my draft has changed significantly, the story I wished to tell from day one hasn’t. If you’re unsure whether to stay in a relationship, ask yourself why you joined it in the first place and why you might stay or leave. Love, like, family and happiness are great reasons to work things out. Loneliness, fear and codependency, not so much.

3. If a character or scene doesn’t enhance your story, cut it. Not only does this make sense from a practical standpoint, keeping the train moving in the right direction and preventing reader boredom, it leaves room in the story for characters and scenes that do enhance it. I’ve found the same to be true with relationships. The busier we become, the more difficult it is to nurture plentiful close friendships. Choose wisely and nurture those who mean the most and bring the most to you. For the others, heck. We have Facebook. ;)

4. Become a plantser: plotter + pantser. I am by nature a seat-of-the-pants-er. But the revision process has taught me the value of planning head. With no plan, we run the risk of writing ourselves off the deep end, in way too many directions and into a tangle of confusion. If we don’t allow for wiggle room, however, we may short ourselves of fabulous characters, scenes and plot twists. In regards to relationships, don’t stay in one solely because it was part of your plan or for fear of the unknown that follows. And don’t choose your mate based on your “outline” of criteria. He or she may not look anything like that page your tore out of GQ or Glamour, or have the job, interests or personality you expect.

5. Don’t compromise your non-negotiables. There was an important word in my first chapter I was asked to change. I considered it, pictured it, even tried typing other options. But it hurt. A lot. So my original choice stayed put. From what I’ve seen, most agents, publishers, editors and readers leave the details and final decisions largely up to you. As the talented author and editor Mike Sirota once told me, “You are the goddess of your book.” ;) We are also the gods/goddesses of our lives. Compromising our personal goals, dreams or values for the sake of another seldom provokes happiness.

For more on romance and revising, check out these fantastic links:
Girls with Pens: The Business of Writing with James Scott Bell 
Bartlette’s Integrated Health Journal: The Healing Power of Love
Mike Sirota: Romantic Horror: An Oxymoron?
Ingrid Shaffenburg: When Someone Shows You Who They Are
Natalie Hartford: A Palooza of Romance: Hubby’s Top 5
Psychology Today: Ten Tips to Survive a Breakup 

What have you learned from breakups—romantic or otherwise? Any of the above lessons resonate with you? I always love hearing from you.

Author Roni Loren on Writing Sexy and Her Novel Debut

If the blogosphere were high school, Roni Loren would be a the cool girl. Maybe the coolest. When I stepped in as the new kid this past summer, I found her witty Tweets and fun, gossip-inspiring blog posts a wee bit intimidating. But unlike stereotypical teen cliques, Roni is far from snooty. Twitter led me to her blog, which led me to her website and information on her contemporary romance novel, CRASH INTO YOU. It sounded AWESOME. The only crushing part? We can’t read it until January. Being the impatient reader I am, I did the next best thing—approached her for an interview. I’m honored and thrilled that she accepted… :)

Roni’s bio:
Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Though she’ll forever be a New Orleans girl at heart, she now lives in Dallas with her husband and son. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars, er, rock concerts. Yeah, that’s it.

About CRASH INTO YOU:

Brynn LeBreck has dedicated herself to helping women in crisis, but she never imagined how personal her work would get, or where it would take her. Her younger sister is missing, suspected to be hiding from cops and criminals alike at a highly secretive BDSM retreat—a place where the elite escape to play out their most extreme sexual fantasies. To find her Brynn must go undercover as a sexual submissive. Unfortunately, The Ranch is invitation only. And the one Master who can get her in is from the darkest corner of Brynn’s past.  – CRASH INTO YOU, Berkley Heat 2012

AM: Um, can we say HOT? How did you come up with this premise?

RL: It was one of those ideas that came to me when I wasn’t looking for it. I was working on a non-erotic contemporary romance at the time and then this idea started nudging at me. Before I started writing, I was a social worker and I had worked with a number of women who had been victims of rape. So I had the thought—what would happen if a woman who’d previously enjoyed being sexually submissive suddenly had this major trauma happen where her power was truly taken away? How would that affect how she viewed that role afterward? How could she learn to trust anyone again? What if she had to put that trust in someone who formerly betrayed her to get what she wants (in this case, to find her sister)? I answered those questions and CRASH was born. : )

AM: CRASH INTO YOU is the first in a series. Was this your plan from the get-go?

RL: No, I didn’t have the conscious thought to make this a series when I started. But I think I start every project with the vague hope it will be a series. As a reader, I’m a huge fan of series because I like to hang out with characters for a long time, so I think that’s why I naturally veer that way with writing too. And as I was writing CRASH, the hero’s friend Jace became such a strong presence in my mind that I knew I’d have to write his story too. (His story, MELT INTO YOU, comes out in July.)

AM: When did you first realize you wanted to write romance novels?

RL: After I started staying home with my son, I got the writing bug again. I’ve had it off and on since high school, but this was the first time I really decided, “Let’s do this.” But the first manuscript I wrote was actually paranormal YA. When I sent it to one of my beta readers, she said—whoa, this is very sexy for YA. LOL And, of course, the romance and steamy bits were my favorite parts of that book to write, so I realized—duh, write adult romance and you can write as sexy as you want! : )

AM: What’s your writing process like?

RL: This is an ever moving target. I used to be a hardcore, don’t-tell-me-anything-different pantser. I did no plotting ahead for CRASH. I had my characters, their backstories, and the hook, then off I went. I didn’t even decide who the true villain was until halfway through the book, lol. But writing that way also meant going down a lot of rabbit holes I didn’t need to. So I went to the craft books and picked up Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and that book saved my writer butt. It’s just the right amount of story planning for me—not too detailed but hits all the important stuff. Now I can write a synopsis before I’ve written the story and I have a general map guiding me. Now I’m working on my edit-as-I-go obsession because I need to learn to write faster and not obsess over every word in a first draft.

AM: And (I’m sure you’ve never heard this question before ;))—how did you get your agent and publisher?

RL: A middle-grade writer (Natalie Bahm) who I met via blogging contacted me one day to let me know that her agent (Sara Megibow) was looking to sign more romance writers before RWA Nationals. Natalie had read a few excerpts on my blog that I had done for blogfests and liked my writing, so she offered to give me a referral. Sara was already on my dream list, so I took Natalie up on that kind offer and submitted CRASH. Two weeks later Sara offered me representation. We did a pretty major revision then went out on submission. She told me to expect the rejections first, but Kate Seaver from Berkley Heat made an offer before we’d even heard back from anyone else. I was a total Berkley fan girl and couldn’t have been happier.

AM: How do you envision the release in January? Will you be nervous? Totally stoked? Have you envisioned your novel on bookstore shelves??

RL: I’m experiencing a full range of emotion. I’m over the moon excited but also nervous about what people are going to think of it. Writing is such a personal thing and having your writing on display for the world kind of feels like standing in the middle of an auditorium naked and asking for opinions.

AM: What role do you expect your blog will play in promotion and sales of your book? Has it helped you in other ways?

RL: I love blogging. As I mentioned above, I wouldn’t have gotten a referral to my agent without my blog, so it’s played a big role so far. The people I’ve met and the support that’s out there for other writers are by far the biggest benefits of blogging. As for promotion, I take the mindset that it’s all about building relationships and being a real person. My blog isn’t there for me to yell “buy my book!” I just hope that the relationships I’ve developed will naturally translate into people being open to trying my book and being supportive.

AM: What’s your top tip for up-and-coming bloggers?

RL: Be genuine and be uniquely you. Your blog is about letting people in and getting to know you (and all your quirks and weirdness). Don’t start a blog with the intention of replicating what someone else is doing. What’s successful for one person may be the wrong path for you. Play to your own strengths. (Guess that’s more than one tip, LOL.)

AM: What do you most hope readers will gain from CRASH INTO YOU?

RL: A world they can get lost in with a few laughs, a lot of sexiness, and a hero and heroine they can root for.

AM: I don’t know about you all, but I’m rooting for Brynn, Jace and Roni already.

Roni’s debut novel, CRASH INTO YOU, will be published by Berkley Heat January 3, 2012. For more information, visit her website: www.roniloren.com and writing blog.

*****

Are you as eager to read CRASH INTO YOU as I am??? Any thoughts to share with Roni?

How Does Your Story Grow?

My dad is a master gardener. He taught me early on that canned peas are to fresh what beef jerky is to top sirloin and that it takes skill, patience and passion to cultivate organic works of art. While I’m grateful to have inherited his zest for creating, I gained not a cell of his green thumb. (My dead Chia Pet’s ghost will vouch for me…May it RIP.)

Gardening philosophies work well in writing. Some proper planning and nurturing can help ensure that our stories grow, thrive and nourish ourselves and our readers. So don your grungies. We’re about to get dirty…

Lesson #1: Assess Your Seeds
Many of us recall the moment the “seed” of our work first appeared. Sometimes we seek it out—”Hmm… I’d like to write a novel. It will be about..hmm…” More often, the notions strike us out of the perceivable blue—”Give me a pen! HAVE to write this down.” These “seeds” can strike at any time of the day or night, whether you’re half way through your first novel or haven’t yet scripted a sentence.

People often ask writers where we get our ideas and whether we fear we’ll “run out.” This makes me laugh. We’re overloaded with ideas; we need only stay open to them. I have a Word document and several notebooks of ideas that have struck me at random times. It doesn’t matter where you jot them down, just that you do.

Lesson #2: Prioritize Passion
Tomatoes may seem easier to grow then, say, avocados. But if your dreams feature artichokes and you crave homemade guacamole at every meal, plant artichokes!(Lucky for us, we don’t have to worry ourselves with season or soil-appropriate ventures…) I asked my agent recently which book he’d prefer I focus on completing next. His reply? “Whichever you feel most strongly about.” He knows that this is where the best, sellable stories begin—with passion. Ask yourself what you want to write, then write that.

Multi-published author, Marc Shuster, shares some fantastic thoughts on writing “for love” in this post.

Lesson #3: Start Small
As a kid, authors were some of my heros. One thing that awed me about each book was the fact that someone wrote it. (“It’s so long! So many words… Seems so complicated. How do they keep their facts straight? Must take forever…”) If you focus on cultivating an orchard when all you have is an apple seed, intimidation can damage your soil and send you dashing in the opposite direction.

My first novel started as a short film that became a short story and so on. Don’t obsess over the end at the beginning; start with one line, one page, one chapter… If you’re approaching a second or third work, or wish to try something in another format or genre, apply similar principles. Write some lyrics, not a symphony. Sketch out a few scenes before the whole series. You get the idea.

Lesson #4: Grow First, Prune Later
A talented friend of mine is working on his memoir. “I have a hard time knowing what I should put in and leave out,” he said, in part because he fears offending people in his story. Such fear can sabotage your process. I suggested he get his entire story out, with awareness that he can trim away whatever he’d like later on.

Whether you outline or not, allowing what crops up to unfold as you write can lead to some of the most genuine, unique and riveting additions to your story. Yes, you’ll create some needless, perhaps ridiculous, bits. Who cares? Consider them weeds and pluck them out during the revision process.

Lesson #5: Keep A Mulch Pile
Our hearts can ache as we delete that “totally amazing sentence” we wrote. I place whatever I cut away from my work in a Word document titled “omits.” Do I end up using any of it? Rarely. But it makes trimming and editing far easier. If what you cut truly is fabulous but doesn’t fit your current work, save it for something else.

I also suggest “mulching” paper. I print out pages I’ve written to read and review, then recycle them. Use them as scratch paper or get creative. I made this at my “novel-tea” party—if you look closely you’ll get a scrambled sneak peak at my book. ;)

Lesson #6: Share Your Goods
Fruits and veggies only do some much good sitting in your backyard soil. Pick them once they’re ripe. (In other words, don’t send a manuscript or query letter out before you’ve raked over every detail and shared it with expert eyes.) Another way to share involves writing to and for others. This post by Joe Bunting, writer, editor and founder of The Write Practice, features excellent insight on writing for people you believe in.

Lesson #7: Consider Your Readers
“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.” – H. Fred Dale, gardening editor for the Toronto Star

You can cultivate the most splendid roses on the planet. But if the recipient is allergic, you’ll have problems… Who is your reader? What type of experience to you hope to impart? Read within your genre, if you have one. Print your manuscript and read it away from your desk, as a reader. And seek opinions from trusted, literary friends. Keep your readers in mind while revising in particular.

What about you??? How does your “garden” grow? Any tips to share? Challenges you’d like to overcome? I always love hearing from you… :)

How I Met My Agent (And You Could, Too)

If you’re like many writers, the moment you stamped “complete” on your revised and polished manuscript, you dove into agent-seeking mode. By the time I did so, I’d asked numerous authors how they landed their agents. And wouldn’t you know, every darn story was different. Gregg Hurwitz met his through an internship. Chris Rice was born lucky. (And talented.) His mother is the renowned author, Anne Rice. Ernessa T. Carter got hers through a good ‘ol fashioned query letter. And Stacy O’Brien, via the Southern California Writers Conference. 

A multitude of options exist for writers seeking representation. I believe in taking advantage of all of them. So I sent out a slew of e-queries and signed up for several writers conferences. I’m happy to say that my efforts paid off last July at AgentFest–the “pitch session” portion of ThrillerFest–in NYC. The coordinators asked me to share some insight on my experience, which I was *thrilled* and eager to do. ;) Here’s the story, which appears on their website:

Something Did Happen
By August McLaughlin

“So you’re going to fly across the country to one of the most expensive cities to attend a pricy conference? What if nothing happens?” a friend asked after I registered for AgentFest.

“I’m going. Something already is happening,” I replied, sensing that his skepticism was geared more toward his stay-in-Los Angeles plans than mine to attend.

I’d been to three other conferences since completing my novel, IN HER SHADOW. And although I benefited from every one, I’d met a grand total of twelve agents, several of whom did not represent thrillers. AgentFest provided an opportunity to “speed date” with rooms full of agents in my genre. (Can we say ‘heaven’???) Considering the stockpile of queries agents routinely receive, I figured any chance to stand out, demonstrate my commitment as an author and bypass the risks of accidental email deletions was worthwhile. Plus, what other opportunity do we have for immediate feedback?

It was costly, so I asked myself this: If you end up landing an agent at this conference, would the airfare, hotel and conference fees be worth it? Absolutely.

Lucky for me, that happened.

Before the two-and-a-half-hour pitch session, I stood in a long line of anxious writers, my heart pounding and palms sweating as though it really was an important first date. Thanks to a suggestion from the ThrillerFest website, I had my one-line, “What if . . .” statement prepared and an armful of information sheets with a synopsis of my novel and my name, photo and contact information.

I pitched to twelve agents and two editors. (Thankfully, my knees stopped shaking after my first.) Thirteen requested materials. About a month later, I received two emails requesting phone calls to discuss representation—one from John Rudolph of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. I knew as soon as I read John’s that I wanted to sign with him; he was my top choice of the twelve. We chatted by phone and I signed a contract the following day.

Even if I hadn’t gained representation, I would not have regretted attending. As writers, we often lead solitary lives. There’s little better than submersing ourselves in a community of others who “get” us—share similar passions and relate to the world through words and stories. You also get a gift bag of books and the opportunity to hear fantastic speakers. In this way, AgentFest beats most every conventional date I’ve been on.

I feel extremely blessed, both to have had the opportunity to attend AgentFest and to be working with agent John Rudolph.

As for my skeptical pal, he’s already signed up for next year.

******

ThrillerFest 2012 will take place July 11th – 14th in New York City. To learn more, visit ThrillerFest.com. Sign up now for an early bird discount!

For a database of literary agents and publishers, visit:
Query Tracker (Allows you to track queries sent and responses received–for free!)
Writer’s Market (Allows you to agent-seek and utilize plentiful writing/publishing resources for a modest monthly fee)
Agent Query (Super user-friendly “quick search” options – all free!)

To find writers conferences in your genre or geographical area, visit:
 Writers Conferences & Centers

What about you? Seeking an agent? Planning to pitch at a conference? Have an agent and willing to share your story? I’d love to hear from you!

Amanda Kyle Williams on Writing, Inspiration & Her Latest Hit

I was packing my bags in New York after attending ThrillerFest this past summer and nearly left Amanda Kyle Williams’ The Stranger You Seek as the hotel maid’s gift. Don’t get me wrong. The cool-book-take-away is a major perk of writer’s conferences. But I was using all of my might to close my overstuffed suitcase and refused to pay the $30 fee for checking it. (A matter of principle. Besides, wouldn’t you prefer books in lieu of cash tips?)

But then I read the first page. And the next and the next… I couldn’t put it down. The “stranger” I nearly abandoned kept me enthralled through a subway ride, airport security lines, a layover and a lengthy flight to Los Angeles, so much so I jumped when the flight attendant asked whether I’d like a beverage.

If you love thrillers, mysteries, suspense, captivating characters, supreme wittiness, great stories and great writing…Heck, if the last book you read was that dilapidated phone book in the back of your closet…I suggest you read this book. It’s so fantastic, I feel guilty having not shared it with the hotelkeeper and my bookworm heart aches at the thought of nearly missing it. (Reaches for a tissue. ;))

What others are saying about The Stranger You Seek:

“An electrifying thriller debut, The Stranger You Seek introduces a brash, flawed, and unforgettable heroine in a complex, twisting novel that takes readers deep into a sultry Southern summer, a city in the grips of chaos, and a harrowing cat-and-mouse game no reader will ever forget.”—Random House

“This is a character-driven, nonstop thriller with flashes of wit and romance that builds to a harrowing climax; fans of the genre will want to get in at the start.” —Booklist

“An explosive, unpredictable, and psychologically complex thriller that turns crime fiction cliches inside out….Those looking for a strong female protagonist not a sexpot and as intelligent, tough, and flawed as any male thriller hero will be richly rewarded.” Publishers Weekly 

Now, without further ado, Ms. Amanda Kyle Williams…


AM: THE STRANGER YOU SEEK is what one might call your “breakout” novel. How does it feel to move from pre-published mystery novelist to celebrated author?
AKW: Well, it is my first major market novel so I’m pretty excited.  It’s okay to walk up and down the street wearing a sandwich sign advertising it, right?   To be honest, I’m still a little amazed. I’m a new name in mainstream crime fiction, but I’ve been blessed with some really fabulous reviews from Publisher’s WeeklyKirkusBooklist, and The New York Times. And some wonderful established writers have taken me under their wing and been very kind in helping to promote the book. I have a great publishing house that supports me and is willing to invest in the success of this series. We’re hoping word will spread about a new kind of thriller with a very different kind of protagonist.

AM: Your main character is unique and likable. We really feel as though we’re in her head. How did you come up with Keye Street?
AKW: She’s in my head too.  Can you make her go away? Seriously. Okay, I’m kidding. Kind of. Truth is, Keye sort of just arrived on my doorstep fully formed. It’s the only experience I’ve ever had like this in creating a character. I heard her voice, her irreverent tone; I saw her face.  I knew a whole lot about her without doing any of the preliminary work I would normally do in sketching out a character. I really have no explanation for this. Keye was handed to me. But it took a bit of inspiration to get to that point.

I knew I wanted to write crime fiction. I’d been doing my homework for years to prepare to write a criminal investigative analyst intelligently. I wanted to understand how an analyst or profiler would approach a crime scene, an investigation, how one might work with a police department, and how a police department would work with a consultant. So all this had been running through my head, but I hadn’t found that voice, that right character. I ended up finding it in the most unusual place.

I was at my brother’s house one Thanksgiving. He had adopted my niece Anna from China as an infant. She was four or five that year. So this gorgeous Asian child looks up at me and says something. I don’t even remember what because I was so knocked over by her accent. She’d learned her English in the hills of North Georgia and she sounded like Ellie May Clampett. I started thinking on the drive back to Atlanta that night about what it would be like to grow up looking different from the neighbors in the South, while being a full-fledge Southerner.

I began to envision a character with these differences: Chinese, adopted by white southern parents. I pulled over that night on the Interstate and wrote the early lines for the book.  Everything else about Keye Street just landed on me. Her insecurities, her sense of humor, her propensity for inappropriate laughter,  and her Krispy Kreme habit.  And the dark side— her other addictions and demons, her past with alcohol, intimacy issues,  and her ability to make sense of behaviors evidenced at a crime scene. I was working two and sometimes three jobs at the time so it took more years to finish the book, but it began for me that night when Keye was born on I-75 South to Atlanta.

AM: What’s your writing process like?
AKW:
Well I can tell you that it was much more disciplined before The Stranger You Seek was released. Publicity is a welcome distraction. I’m so grateful for it. But it is certainly a distraction.  I’m fighting now to get back to my usual, which is treating it like a job, showing up after morning dog walks and chores by about ten a.m., and putting in a minimum of six hours, more if I have it in me. I’m a slow writer and a relentless content editor. I’m that writer that will spend an hour tweaking one sentence and feeling unable to move forward until it’s tweaked. This slows the process. It’s not recommended. I’ve read all kinds of books about silencing the editor within but it’s not happening for me.

AM: Please tell me you have a cat named White Trash! ;) What role do animals play in your writing? 
AKW: That’s so funny. Actually, my first cousin had a cat named White Trash many years ago. I thought it was hilarious. I was committed to bringing her to the page one day, this cat with the bad attitude and a mighty sense of entitlement. Animals are part of my life and, in fact, every one of my friends has animals. I had a pet sitting and dog walking business before I was a writer full-time, and I’m a founding director at a local no-kill shelter, which I link to on my website www.AmandaKyleWilliams.com. When I’m traveling, I miss my dogs and my cats. Besides bad coffee, I’m finding it’s the hardest part of leaving home.

It feels natural to bring this to my writing in small ways. Keye’s mother, Emily Street, has been working in the humane community for years and is kind of the crazy cat lady on the block. I will bring a dog into one of my character’s life by the end of the second book, Stranger In The Room.  I don’t want to distract from the fact that I’m writing a thriller series. The books are creepy as hell. But it feels natural for my characters to have to think about getting home to feed a cat or hire a dog walker or whatever.  And I will never, ever harm an animal in fiction. Never. I heard writers on a panel not long ago saying they do this to illustrate the disposition of their killer. Whatever. I’m not doing it.

AM: What do you find most challenging about writing?
AKW: 
Just f-ing doing it, man. (Laughing) Sitting down. Being still. Being calm. Clearing out the cobwebs.  Listening to the story, to the characters. Slogging through the first few hours of writing total crap to get to the good stuff.  The good stuff will come if I just trust the process and nail myself to the chair. Some days this is easier than others.

AM: What do you love most?
AKW: Reading back through something and discovering it works, that it flows, that it’s smarter than I am, that somehow my writing took flight.  That and hearing my editor say the draft was approved.

AM: Any tips for up-and-coming authors?
AKW: Don’t wait for the big idea. Don’t wait for a rush of inspiration. Just sit down and start building a foundation brick-by-brick, word-by-word. The inspiration comes for me after I’ve pushed through building some kind of framework. That’s when you get to write the fun stuff.

AM: Can we look forward to more Keye Street adventures soon?
AKW:
Absolutely. Stranger In The Room is being polished up right now and will be released sometime summer/fall 2012. The third book in the series, Don’t Talk To Strangers, comes out in 2013. Bantam will publish the next two. I have many more books planned in the series. And we’re fielding offers to adapt The Stranger You Seek for a television series… Did that sound cool or what? Like this kind of stuff happens all the time. I’m practicing being all casual. Apparently squealing like a little girl and jumping up and down is embarrassing to my friends and family. Go figure.

******

CONTEST! Purchase The Stranger You Seek and email me a copy of your receipt. I’ll place your name in a drawing for a $15 Amazon.com gift card.

Any thoughts to share with the fabulous Amanda Kyle Williams? Favorite books you almost didn’t read? I always love hearing from you.

Interact in Moderation: How Commingling Breeds Success

When I completed my first novel, I called my mother, somewhat farklempt. “Take a nap,” she said. “You just birthed a novel.”

‘Creativity’ has historically been used interchangeably with the term ‘genius,’ a Latin word derived from the Greek ‘ginsethai.’ Translation? “To be born.” In other words, Mom was right on that birthing bit.

And our creative artistry may require as much…um, pleasurable interaction as literal ‘birthing’ does. (No, I’m not referring to THAT type of interaction, although hmm… I do think that helps. Another blog topic entirely…) Back to my point.

In a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in Nov. 2009, researchers found a significant link between creativity and social interaction among corporate employees. Employees with intermediate social interaction exhibited significantly more creativity than those with weak or strong social ties.

We can take this to mean that A) sitting at home in our writing caves 24/7 can zap our creativity, B) partying every night and much of our days on Twitter, Facebook and other social media what-have-yous can do the same, and C) moderate amounts of social engagement can boost your creative juices. Yeah-oo!

Writers conferences provide an awesome opportunity for concentrated amounts of interaction so that we can spend most of our time in between with our craft.

Last week, I had the joy of spending several days at Bouchercon—an annual convention where readers, creators and devotees of crime fiction unite. As usual, I experienced the slightest bit of guilt before leaving Los Angeles. I should be writing. Is it worth the time “off?” Perhaps I’m spending too much money. Seeing as it wasn’t my first conference, I already knew the answers to my concerns: You’ll probably write there. Your writing will improve as a result. This IS part of your work. DUH, of COURSE it’s worth it. And important. And a blast.

I connected with friends I met last year, made new ones and experienced more than a few epiphanies regarding my writing throughout. In a word, it was inspiring. One highlight involved meeting Pat Frovarp and Gary Shulze—co-owners of the “Once Upon a Crime” bookstore in Minneapolis, near my former stomping ground and where I hope to have my first Midwestern book signing.

And now I’m back in my L.A. “office” (my bull dog-topped sofa), with heightened vigor for my writing routine. And see? I’m still finding time to pop in, post, Tweet, FB, etc.

If you’ve considered attending a writers conference and haven’t yet taken the leap, please do so. I can almost guarantee you’ll thank me. ;)

A few fabulous resources:

Southern California Writers Conference Open to all genres and levels; craft, business, fiction/nonfiction; tight-nit group with lots of support. A great place to start! For a fee, have some of your writing reviewed by an agent, editor or author.

Bouchercon 2012 Plenty of time to prepare/save up, etc. ;) For readers, writers, agents, publishers, book sellers and editors of crime fiction. Fantastic panels and speakers, fun fun fun!

Dallas Fort Worth Writers Conference Ample access to agents and others pros, terrific speakers, workshops, etc.

Writers Conferences and Centers Search for conferences by keyword.

Comment on your experiences or goals regarding writers conferences or similar interactions (clubs, critique groups, etc). One lucky winner will win a $15 Amazon.com gift card!

Secret Seduction

I saw a fabulous movie yesterday—”The Debt,” starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Marton Csokas. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t yet seen it (I hope you do!) but I will tell you this: It got me thinking…about secrets.

What would I do, if presented with the same secret? How many of us have secrets? What are the advantages of keeping or revealing them? What are the deciding factors that lead us to the secret-keeping decision in the first place? And what are the risks?

These questions are some of the reasons secrets make for such fascinating tales—whether we’re aware of the hidden truth or not. They seduce us with questions that challenge our own beliefs and choices, the proverbial “What if…?”

In “The Debt” three former Mossad agents keep a secret for decades. As viewers, we absorb the secret’s weighty consequences long before we (or at least I) realize what it is.

One of my favorite books, “The Big Picture,” by Douglas Kennedy, centers on a wealthy lawyer with a seemingly perfect life. From the beginning, we know about the snap decision he makes to save his life and his future, only to end it all for someone else. Yet, we can’t stop flipping the pages.

Keeping an unwanted secret makes way for tumult.

“People will tend to misread the return of unwanted thoughts. We don’t realize that in keeping it secret we’ve created an obsession in a jar,” said Daniel Wegner, a Harvard psychologist who investigated the effects of secret-keeping among humans.

The longer we keep it, the more capacity it has to magnify and grow. Although this makes for awesome fiction, it can zap the pleasure from our lives.

Secrets can also draw people closer together. Two siblings who keep a secret, positive or negative, from their parents, for example, create a common bond. The same might happen for a couple, both of whom cheating on their spouses. They share much more than the same hotel room bed…

One of the worst kinds of secret, in my opinion, are ones we keep about our desires solely within, or even from, ourselves: An artist who never puts his paintbrush to the page…a writer too afraid of failure to write Chapter One… Another in a damaging relationship who never admits she’s unhappy, and thus never leaves.

In an interview with “USA Weekend,” Anita Vangelisti, a researcher and professor of communication studies at the University of Texas-Austin, said that most people say they will keep a secret, only to tell another: “I promised I wouldn’t say anything, but…” Only about 10 percent of people reportedly keep secrets “no matter what.”

So what’s your deepest, darkest secret? KIDDING! I won’t make that silly move, but I would love to hear your thoughts on secret-keeping. If it’s for a good cause, is it all good? What has life taught you about secret-keeping? And…because I love a good thriller—any secretive books or movies you’d recommend?

If you do wish to share your secrets, “there’s an app for that.” Check out Post Secret to share and absorb others’ secrets from around the world.

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