Love Your Book? Choose A Great Cover

“Writing a novel… Now THAT’s hard,” my friend Phil said to me recently.

Phil is a neurologist. He’s brilliant enough to understand the inner-workings of the brain and that carving a creative path isn’t easy. To those of us who adore the process, however, it’s worth every brain cell and glucose molecule required.

Brains = Beauty

As many of you know, LOVE has been a theme in my life lately. Deciding to self-publish and related happenings have left me punch-drunk exhilarated. Thanks to Steena Holmes, indie author and graphic/book artist extraordinnaire, my latest heart swell derived from developing my cover—one of the most valuable ways we authors have of showing our work some love.

Having complete control over book covers is a huge benefit of self-publishing. It’s also one of the most important factors separating successful indie-authors and those whose books scarcely see the light of day.

The biggest giveaway that one is dealing with a self-published book is a poorly designed cover, says thriller author and executive editor of CNET David Carnoy, which is too often the case. Traditionally published books with ineffective covers also do poorly. Whether we like it or not, it’s human nature to judge books by their covers.

“Studies show that you have 12 seconds—in a bookstore—to turn a browser into a buyer… Covers are the way that we attract buyers.” — Midwest Book Review

Imagine how much more significant book covers are online, where we can view ten, twenty or more at once.

Choices, choices…

Stories we put our hearts, minds, souls and sweat into should appear as valuable as they are. Because my graphic “art” skills are limited to making 🙂 faces, coloring text and cropping photos, I knew that my cover decision would require serious research and expert insight. Here’s a handful of tips I learned in the process.

7 Tips for Choosing a Great Cover

1. Sit in your story. Close your eyes and think of your book without judgment. If you’re like me, an image (or images) and mood will surface. I carried this habit over from acting to writing, and most recently to choosing my cover.

2. Browse many covers. Go to Google images, Amazon or Barnes and Noble and peruse covers in your genre. Which ones stand out? Turn you off? Which would you buy? It can be tough to convey all we desire to a designer. Having an example can help us formulate our vision and relay it to others.

3. Hire someone awesome! If you’re artistically inclined, you may not want or need help. Otherwise, a fantastic, experienced designer can help ensure cover-creating success. If my book were a Christmas tree, Steena Holmes added lights and a star.

4. Make sure it looks fabulous small. With readers buying continually more books via iPads, smart phones and e-readers, it only makes sense that our covers look sharp as thumbnails.

5. Avoid clutter. Using one main image, not cluttering up the background and using readable, pleasing-to-the-eye font can help accomplish number four. And let’s face it. Clutter is generally unappealing. (Yeah, that funky bed I suggested Steena add? Not so much.)

6. Seek input from qualified others. I asked trusted friends and professionals who are familiar with my novel for their thoughts on my cover along the way. Sharing our covers with the masses too soon could confuse, frustrate or lead us astray. Agents, publishers, artists and experienced authors make valuable choices.

7. Go with your gut. While others’ opinions can help tremendously, choosing a cover that pleases others but doesn’t sit well with us isn’t wise. As with all aspects of writing, I believe that our instincts know best. Like deciding on Mr./Mrs. Right, you “just know.”

When I saw this rendition, the little voice at the back of my head yelped, YES! I’m delighted with it, and hope my readers will be too.

IN HER SHADOW will pre-release in December and officially release in January. I can’t WAIT to share the fun with you all. 🙂

Steena has a brand spankin’ new book, Dear Jack… A Finding Emma Novella, out TODAY! I’m eager to read the heart-wrenching, hope-filled story, told through love letters. I hope you’ll check it out, too.

What book covers resonate with you? Any design tips to add? Experiences to share? I love hearing from you. ♥

Boogey-Dog, Thrill-Seeking and Halloween

My dog cracks…me…up.

A few weeks ago, we were strolling the neighborhood when a dog rushed to its fence then ran to and fro alongside it, barking as we passed. Being deaf, Zoe couldn’t hear the dog and her highly sensitive sniffer was fixated on fragrant grass. When the dog finally caught her attention, she lurched up in the air, like a ghost-spooked kid in a haunted house. With her face and body weight like magnets to the pooch, I guided her on.

The next day, she headed straight for that house and sort of tiptoed toward it with her head low, eyes glaring. The dog rushed to the fence for an encore performance. Zoe duplicated her previous response—totally freaked out, as though she had no clue what was coming. The spooked “kid” walked had purposely into the booby trap.

It happened again the next day, the next day…and the next.

On the cusp of Halloween, the daily run-and-spooks have me thinking. Like people, Zoe isn’t merely seeking fear. She seems to dig the anticipation, the feeling of everything else falling away, leaving only the present, heart-pounding moment. And she doesn’t want or expect to get hurt. At 90 strong pounds she could definitely hold her own if the fence weren’t there, but that’s not the point. It’s the exhilaration she’s after, and perhaps the later calm. After leaving boogey-dog’s terrain, she gradually calms to a state of bulldog zen.

Many of us are drawn to suspenseful, everything’s-at-stake stories for the same reasons Zoe is drawn to that fence. We long for intrigue and anticipation, the vanishing of other matters in our lives, if even for a short story-soaked time. We want to feel as though our lives are on the line, without actually going there. It’s what lures many of us into reading, watching and writing stories, and what compels many writers to convey personal beliefs and world-changing ideas through fiction.

Yet for others, thrillers, horror flicks and haunted hayrides rank up there with root canals and food poisoning in desirability.

There are people who have a tremendous need for stimulation and excitement,” says Stuart Fischoff, a professor of psychology at California State University. It can also be counterintuitive, as the highest levels of anxiety during films are linked with the desire to seek them. Strong feelings make suspenseful films, books and TV cathartic.

Yes. All of that. Yet you couldn’t pay me enough to get on a bungie cord, deep-water diving board or speeding motorcycle. I suppose we all find thrills in different places.

More Thrill-Seeking Facts

* A few studies have shown that males are more into scary stories than females. (Yet more evidence that I may be part-guy. ;-P)

* For a big chunk ‘o change, $1,500 to $4,000, you can pay a New York company to arrange your abduction with details of your liking, from being tied up and gagged to having as much fear inspired as possible.

* When The Exorcist hit movie screens in 1973, several adult watchers experienced such intense distress, they landed in the hospital.

* Freaky films can rev the sexual engine, says Dr. Joanne Cantor, a researcher and professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin. After the movie, sensual glances and touches can be more stimulating. Cantor recommends psychological thrillers over gory chainsaw flicks, particularly if you’re hoping to turn on a newish partner. 😉

* For kids, Halloween provides a safe way to explore and experience fear, knowing it’s all make-believe. It can also help kids manage pent-up stress, says researcher and University of Colorado professor, Leon Rappoport.

* Americans get a thrill from dressing pets up. We’ve spent $370 million on pet costumes this Halloween season, a 40 percent increase since 2010.

Are you a thrill-seeker? Is your pet? Would you go so far as to hire someone to abduct you? (Yipers.) Share the wealth!

Star Struck: Meeting Heroes From Our Youth

Living in Los Angeles, I’m seldom star-struck. But partway through a writers’ conference in Cleveland, I morphed into a pile of quivering You’re my hero! mush.

I’ve just returned from Bouchercon—a convention celebrating crime fiction. In my three times attending, I’ve been struck by the incredible warmth of the community. And I’m not talking thriller-style heat. The general attitude among authors is “How can I help you?”

While the fest is a blast, it’s also work. Authors mingle about in professional/friend mode, soaking up the experience with business cards at the ready. On day two, I snapped from adult professional to quivering, twitter-pattered teen. Sitting in the front row before a panel featuring Mary Higgins Clark, my palms clammy and my heart beating triple time, I nearly burst into tears.

I first read Clark’s A Cry in the Night by Clark in fourth grade. The tattered library book I never returned accompanied me to school, bed and my first—nearly last—babysitting job. (Picture two-year-old twin boys “playing” in a bathroom to the ignorance of their book-obsessed babysitter. Not pretty.) I’d finish the book then try to repress parts before reading it again. In all, I probably read A Cry in the Night eight times. Thankfully, she had other books to fill the gaps.

Back then, the Indigo Girls, Oprah and Mary Higgins Clark were my peeps—the cool aunties I looked up to and relied on whenever times grew drab, confusing or tough. According to recent studies, I’m not alone.

Research compiled by the British Psychological Society showed that celebrity fandom often peaks during adolescence, and might function as part of our extended social networks. 

It makes sense that we look to those we admire when questioning and contemplating our identities and the plethora of changes that infiltrate our pubescent lives. The Indigo Girls taught me to play guitar, to share honest feelings through song and not place my self worth in brand-names or makeup. Oprah taught me—well, that’s another episode series. And Mary Higgins Clark cemented in me the incredible power of story. Seeing as I “grew up” to be a writer, she’s arguably the most influential of all.

Fearing I’d stand up and open the flood gates by asking Clark a question, I simply absorbed the talk then headed to the book room where I stood in line for an autograph. (Though the crowd and vibe varied, it reminded me of waiting for the Indigo Girls post-concert for the first time—minus my security blanket guitar.) By the time my turn came, time and Clark’s kindness induced calm. I thanked her, briefly shared she’s meant to me then answered her questions about my career. (Like I said, warm.) I walked away with an autograph and gratitude for what Oprah would call a full-circle moment. I’d done my inner-little-girl proud.

I don’t know about you, but as time goes on, I feel continually more connected to the little-kid me. It’s as though life’s struggles sent me on a detour then back to my authentic self. Having an opportunity to thank someone who’s played such a valuable role in my journey made Bouchercon feel like Christmas.


When we love what we do and do what we love, most anything’s possible. And while I don’t have any findings to support it, I suspect that connecting with fabulous others, putting ourselves out there, pursuing passion and expressing gratitude can make dreams we never realized we had come true. Experiences like Bouchercon show me that. Who knew a crime fiction fest could be so darn heart-felt?

Have you ever been star-struck? Or met someone you admired as a kid? What celeb makes your heart pound?

Thrilling TV: What Rocks Your Tube?

This photo reminds me of a friend of mine. Back in college, she’d sit at her computer comparing her list of “future husband” traits to online profiles. Her list was equal parts long and specific. Tall, thin, light eyed, sensitive, artistic, dog loving, kid loving, financially well-off but not snobby, smart but not nerdy, loyal, never married or first wife died… I’m not joking. A few years later she met the love of her life—a short, stocky, divorced businessman from Saudi Arabia. Though he didn’t suit 80 percent of her proclaimed must-haves, he had the most important ones: loyalty, a loving heart, a sense of humor that tickled her and a penchant for her values. Years later, I doubt she could be happier.

Like Mr. Gump and his chocolates, when we open our hearts, we never know what we’ll get. Stories we fall in love with work similarly. 

I’m a thriller-oholic, and have been for as long as I can remember. But if I chose TV shows based on the cover and apparent genre, I’d miss out on some of my faves. I’ve noticed that shows that have swept me off my feet share similar characteristics, all of which suit, but aren’t limited to thrillers.

My favorite shows all have:

  • Captivating, relatable characters
  • Fabulous acting
  • Dramatic, emotional, suspenseful plots
  • Seriousness, some level of darkness
  • Surprising twists and secrets
  • Adult and family themes—family meaning blood-related or chosen units
  • High stakes—often life or death
  • Believable plots and endings (Events are often extraordinary, but they could theoretically happen.)

And tend not to have:

  • Kid focus (I wasn’t into YA, even as a YA.)
  • Alien life forms or cartoon characters
  • Endless violence or visual effects
  • Slapstick comedy (Funny moments, yes, but I prefer shows that enthrall me than keep me giggling or eye-rolling. ;))
  • Too many hum-drum, unhappy relationships (Everybody might love Raymond, but I find such shows depressing.)

We can learn a lot by examining the stories we’re drawn to. If I’d analyzed my tastes before writing my first novel, for example, I might have know it was a thriller from the get-go… What we’re drawn to in television, we’re often also drawn to in books, plays and films. They’re all, after all, story mediums. And I’m fascinated by what stories float others’ TV boats. If my favorite show attributes match yours, I bet you’ll adore these, if you don’t already.

My Top Three:

Lie to Me I nearly cried when Lie to Me was cancelled. It aired on FOX from 2007 to 2009, and features Dr. Cal Lightman and his colleagues, who together form an investigative, lie detecting team using applied psychological interpretation. Lightman is based on a real psychologist and body language and facial expressions expert, Dr. Paul Ekman. Ekman kept up with the show on his blog, which is still available and makes for a terrific accompaniment or followup to the show.

Criminal Minds is considered a “cop show,” but it’s far more. It centers around an elite group of FBI agents who analyze the most dangerous criminal minds in hopes of anticipating and preventing additional strikes. The main characters are sharp as whips and lovable, and having read the FBI’s criminal behavioral text (yeah, I’m nerdy like that), it’s extremely well-researched. CM focuses more on the victims than the killers, which would make The Gift of Fear author Gavin de Becker mighty proud. Season 8 kicks off next month on CBS.

Prison Break is a crime/action thriller that aired for four seasons on FOX, beginning in 2005. After Michael’s older brother, Lincoln, is sentenced for a murder he didn’t commit, he devises an elaborate plan for his escape. But that’s just the beginning… Prison Break is hands down the most suspenseful show I’ve ever seen, rich with surprising twists and drama, and believe it or not, a tear jerker. And the acting will knock your socks off.

More Faves Worth Mentioning:

  • Brothers and Sisters
  • The Good Wife 
  • Damages
  • Homeland
  • Revenge

Fabulous related posts:

Ellie Ann Soderstrom: The Best TV Shows in the World
Tiffany A. White and Amber West:  Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday: Suspense & Stilletos
Diane Capri Reveals Karla Darcy (Shhhh! Secrets!)
Jess Witkins: Deadwood: The Town, the TV Show, My New Guilty Pleasure

What do your favorite shows have in common? Which thrill you the most? Do your reading, writing and TV interests match?

Urgency to Write: How to Keep The Fire Burning

ur-gent adj.

1. Compelling immediate action or attention; pressing.
2. Insistent or importunate: the urgent words “Hurry! Hurry!”
3. Conveying a sense of pressing importance: an urgent message

We hear a lot about creating a sense of urgency in our writing. But do you have it in your writing life?

A recent ADOBE study showed that 8 in 10 people see unlocking creativity as vital to economic growth and nearly two-thirds consider creativity an asset to society. Yet only 1 in 4 people worldwide believe they are living up to their creative potential. Yipes. Though it’s refreshing to hear that creativity is valued, those results are frightening. And I couldn’t help but wonder how many writers feel similarly.

I’m not suggesting we run around in a “MUST WRITE” panic, as…entertaining as that might be. 😉 And I know many of you are eager go-getters who interact on social media between intense bouts of writing, or have deadlines keeping you on your toes. Regardless, I think we can all use tips and reminders when it comes to maintaining writing glee. Remember that wheeee feeling we talked about a few posts back? The following steps have helped me ignite it when the swing set seems slightly out of reach.

 10 Ways to Relight Your Writing Fire & Keep it Burning

1. Write when ideas strike, or shortly thereafter. There’s a reason ideas are illustrated by cartoon lightbulbs a la head. When they strike us, they are HOT. If we wait hours, days or longer to put them down on paper, they’re likely to fizzle out. Keep a note pad in your car, purse or workplace, or type your thoughts into your computer or phone.

2. Nurture ideas you’re excited about. It can be tempting to choose a topic or premise only because it seems profitable. But writing for (what I believe are) wrong reasons shows. I believe we should write stories because if we don’t, we might explode, stories that have us jumping out of bed in the morning. Think about the book you’ve always wanted to read, then write it.

3. If you don’t have a full-fledged story idea, start with a character, place or issue you’re revved up about. In other words, get excited about something. Don’t sit there waiting for exciting story ideas to crop up. Excitement attracts ideas; boredom nukes them. You could also try brainstorming a list—quickly—of possible ways to build on your starting point, or simply write about it until something forms. Then go to a quiet place you find inspiring and let the ideas flow.

4. Take breaks. Staring at the computer, awaiting the muse, won’t do much good. I like to use FAR—an acronym developed by author and physician, Dr. Matthew Edlund. It stands for Food, Activity, Rest. By creating a rhythm of eating, doing something active (writing, exercise, cleaning…) then something restful (walking, meditating, taking a bath…) we can feel more rested and sleep-ready at night, and sharper creatively during the day. Some of our best ideas arise when we’re away from our computers. That’s still writing, in my opinion—a vital part, at that.

5. Manage stress. I don’t much believe in writer’s block, but I do believe in life block. If we’re stuck in toxic relationships, jobs we hate or other stressful situations, our writing lives can feel like cement—unmovable or changeable. If you tend to write your feelings before you recognize them, incorporate morning pages into your routine. Julia Cameron features the exercise in her book, The Artist’s Way. Free-writing—some call it “word vomit”—first thing each morning can not only ease stress but show us how we feel. It also clears the pathway  for other writing.

6. Take a novel outing. Cameron recommends Artist Dates, or taking yourself on solo expeditions to do anything your heart desires. I take my actual projects on dates. (No, not in a delusional Lars and the Real Girl type way.) When I feel unproductive, I take my computer or notebook to parks, Starbucks or where ever for quality one-on-one time. We all need solace for our writing to soar. Pets, family members and home or office distractions can interfere. These outings work every time.

7. Interact with driven, creative friends. Chatting with fellow artists who are totally on fire for their work can light our fires. Hopefully you’ll have a similar effect on them. Simply talking about our work adds meaning and value. Just try not to do so on Twitter, Facebook and the WANA Tribe all at once, all day, or with friends who love talking about creative work, but seldom do it.

8. Do something really boring. I’ve never done this on purpose, but before I’d fully quit theatrical and fashion work, I had several jobs that required standing very still for very long periods of time, for a purpose I didn’t care about whatsoever. It took all of my might not to bust out of there and start typing.

9. Remind yourself why you’re a writer in the first place. If you love writing, you should write. Whatever led you to start putting words and stories on paper can keep you going. If not, ask yourself what has changed? Like stress, stagnancy can be a symptom of a deeper problem that needs addressing.

10. Repeat after me: I am my muse. My muse is in me. I’m a writer. I’m a writer! I MUST WRITE! Now ignore the funny expressions poised at you right now. They’re just jealous. 😉 If you want to write, you can and should. I believe that. And the more you write, the better you’ll become. Don’t judge, just write.

More ideas worth mentioning:

  • Enter writing contests.
  • Set deadlines that stick.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Join a quality writing or critique group, or seek coaching or counsel from a trusted agent, editor or beta-reader.
  • Get therapy. (We can all use emotional check-ins, if we can’t manage stress or stagnancy in particular.)
  • Go to a conference.
  • Take a WANA class, and join a tribe.
  • Use the buddy system, trading pages every week or month.
  • Write in short increments—give yourself at least 30 minutes each day.
  • If you’re a morning person, write first thing most days.
  • If you’re a night-owl, write first thing most nights.
  • If social media is swallowing too much of your time, take a break. Or save it for breaks.
  • Exercise. (Activity stimulates creativity.)
  • Create a mini writing retreat in your home or, if you can, away.
And check out these fantastic, inspiring posts:
Tameri Etherton: Rewriting the Ending
*******
Are you as compelled to write as your characters are to fight, overcome or win? What helps you stay motivated and on-track?

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?

Author Interview: Kyle Mills

ON WRITING, GEEKING OUT & HIS LATEST WORK

What do you get when you pair fascinating characters, a devastating disease, masterful writing and real life experience as an FBI kid? The Immortalistsone of the fastest-paced, intriguing thrillers I’ve read in some time.

Today I’m honored to bring you New York Times bestselling author of twelve books, Kyle Mills. (If you haven’t read The Immortalists or others of Mills’ work, you’ve got some serious reading to do… ;))

Description: Dr. Richard Draman is trying desperately to discover a cure for a disease that causes children to age at a wildly accelerated rate–a rare genetic condition that is killing his own daughter. When the husband of a colleague quietly gives him a copy of the classified work she was doing before her mysterious suicide, Draman finally sees a glimmer of hope. Its stunning conclusions have the potential to not only turn the field of biology on its head but reshape the world. Soon, though, he finds himself on the run, relentlessly pursued by a seemingly omnipotent group of men who will do whatever it takes to silence him. (Thomas & Mercer, Dec. 2011)

AM: You’re known to hit up hefty issues in your work, from the tobacco industry to terrorism. Why did you decide to focus on “anti-aging” in The Immortalists?

KM: The myth of the fountain of youth is one of the oldest and most widespread in history, with writing on the subject dating back before Christ. The one thing that all those stories and elaborate quests had in common, though, was that they were nonsense—just another example of our superstitious nature.

With all the recent advances in genetics, though, the myth is becoming reality.  There may be children alive today who will never get old, and that brings up a lot of interesting issues that are perfect fodder for a thriller novel. Change can very easily turn into chaos and chaos makes for great stories.

On the other hand, it could just be because I’m getting old…

AM: Beats the alternative, right? 😉 Speaking of aging, progeria, the genetic disease featured in The Immortalists, is a real disease. What was your research process like?

KM: It was pretty extensive with this book—a lot of genetics and evolutionary biology texts. Thank God I’m actually interested in that stuff or it would have been brutal.

I wanted to really understand the current state of the science and where it’s heading because it’s a story that hinges on believability.  Having said that, I didn’t want to go overboard.  I made a pact with myself that I’d put all the science-geek stuff I wanted in the first draft and then take exactly half of it out in the second.

AM: The ending surprised me, in good ways. Do you plot your stories and endings out from the get-go? 

KM: Absolutely. I’m a fanatic for outlining. In fact, the outline for the book I’m working on now is already 35,000 words long.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t surprises in the actual writing process, but I like to keep them to a minimum.

My goal is to make sure everything is tied up at the end—but sometimes in a more messy way than people expect. Life rarely provides neat, painless endings.

AM: Your father’s career as an FBI agent has been credited for making your stories and characters so “real”—along with talent, of course. What other factors influence your writing?

KM: It sounds a bit clichéd, but the world around me. I do an enormous amount of reading on history, science, and politics to come up with concepts that inspire me.  And often the idea doesn’t come from just one of those categories, but a combination of all of them. My favorite themes are simple (if brutal) solutions to seemingly intractable problems and the power of the individual to change the world.

AM: One of the greatest attributes of thrillers, that last bit. What if your dad was, say, a plumber or gym teacher… How different might your stories be?

KM: Probably very. When I wrote my first novel, I chose the thriller genre not only because I was a fan but because of my family history with law enforcement. They say write what you know and I took that to heart. If I’d come from a plumbing family, I may well have written about that.

AM: Was your upbringing as exciting as movies and our imaginations make it out to be? (If not, please less us down gently…) 

KM: It might be close. I was having dinner with my father in London when his deputy came in and told him that a plane had gone down and they needed to get to a little town called Lockerbie right away. I’ve had drinks with a guy who, by law, can’t be photographed. I’ve heard first person accounts of gunfights that actually involved monkeys.

AM: I hope the monkeys weren’t hurt! Wait—don’t tell me… What do you enjoy most about writing?

KM: It gives me an excuse to completely geek out on subjects that interest me.  I’m not sure that expertise in areas like the tobacco industry, oil extraction, and the genetics of aging are very useful in the real world, but I love that stuff.

AM: And the downsides?

KM: It’s an industry in constant turmoil and that turmoil is getting more violent every day. I’ve written a lot of books and there’s never been a single one that I didn’t think would be my last. It’s a little nerve wracking if writing is how you pay the mortgage.

AM: Yes, I’d prefer such danger stay on the page… What are you most proud of career-wise?

KM: That’s a tough question. I think maybe the effort I put into each book. I tend to sweat over every line, every fact, and every character. Hopefully, it shows.

AM: It absolutely does. The Immortalists is your twelfth novel, correct? What’s next in the pipeline?

KM: Somewhere around there—enough that you wouldn’t want to lift them all at once.  Next up is a new Ludlum book. It’s an opportunity to explore the progressing science of man/machine integration, something that’s accelerating quickly and will have a lot of impact in the next quarter century.

AM: Any advice for up-and-coming novelists?

KM: I don’t know, it’s hard to even keep up with what’s going on in the industry from one day to the next. My best piece of advice is to not get into the business with the idea that you’re going to make a million dollars or even a living. Write because you love it.

AM: (Note to self: Stock up on Top Ramen. Er, rice, bananas and beans…) Great advice. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. On behalf of my friends and readers, I wish you all possible success.

Support fantastic authors! To learn more, visit www.kylemills.com. To purchase The Immortalists, visit Amazon.com or your local book store.

*****

If you’ve read The Immortalists, what did you think? Any thoughts to share with Kyle? What do you love most about writing?

Daniel Palmer on Writing, Success & the Dog that Saved his Career

Had my number-dyslexia not kicked in on the last day of Bouchercon this year, I might not have read what’s become one of my favorite thrillers of the year, written by one of my new fave authors. (I still swear my flight itinerary said 5pm, not noon. Ironic, or maybe not; Daniel Palmer’s book, DELIRIOUS, is chockfull of such mind trips. Hmm…)

Because of my “bonus” time at the conference, I had the opportunity to meet Daniel, thank him for his contributions to a panel I’d attended and learn more about his work. When I told him I write psychological thrillers, he said I might like his. Forget ‘might,’ I loved it. The characters, including those with psychiatric disorders, are relatable, the plot wicked smart and the opening and ending gratifying and unique. Books as enjoyable as DELIRIOUS are what led me to pursue a career in writing and keep me enthused about the thriller genre.

One day, Charlie Giles is an up-and-coming electronics superstar. The next, he’s a prime homicide suspect as his former employers are picked off one by one. Charlie watches his life unravel as his company and inventions are wrenched from his control, and his family is decimated. With nowhere else to turn, he enlists his schizophrenic brother to uncover the dark family secrets that lie at the heart of the unfolding terror. “Delirious” is a mind-bending story where the line between what is real and what is imagined twists and turns…an addictive literary puzzle that every reader will want to solve.
(Kensington, 2011)

What others are saying about DELIRIOUS:

“Smart, sophisticated and unsettling…not just a great thriller debut, but a great thriller, period.” —Lee Child, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Delirious is one awesome kick-off for an exciting and multi-dimensional talent. It’s an electrifying ride, whetting the reader’s appetite for more. Daniel Palmer is a writer to watch. This guy is going to be around a long time.” —Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author

 “Daniel Palmer delivers a high-speed thrill ride, filled with shocks and mind-bending twists. Delirious is a terrific debut!” —Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author

Palmer is also a super nice guy who took the time to share some insight with us all…

AM: I loved DELIRIOUS. What inspired you to write it?

DP: Thanks so much, August. I’m so glad you enjoyed the story. DELIRIOUS wasn’t my first attempt at novel writing. I started out writing romantic comedies from the guy’s point of view, only to discover that women, who tend to buy the majority of romance books, don’t particularly care about the guy’s point of view. I decided to take a swing at writing suspense novels, which happens to be the genre I love the most. I set off in search of a compelling ‘what if’ question that could be the basis of a thriller. I looked to my background in e-commerce and Web start up companies for inspiration. I thought, what if a super successful software/electronics entrepreneur, suddenly and inexplicably starts to go insane? I guess you could say the novel evolved from there.

AM: You threw some mighty intriguing twists into the story. Were these planned? Did you know the ending before you began?

DP: I wanted DELIRIOUS to feel like a trip down the rabbit hole. To pull the reader into the story I knew I had to emphasize how it might feel to go crazy. I made up a lot of the scenes showing Charlie’s decent into madness as I went along. However, I wrote with a framework for the story already in place. I knew how it would open. I figured by the middle of the book he’d be forcibly committed in a mental hospital. I had a rough idea of how it was going to end. Basically, I had markers I wanted to hit, but I didn’t have a detailed outline of how I was going to hit them.

AM: I felt you handled mental illness in a respectful, realistic way. Was this your aim? Can you tell us a bit about your research?

DP: I’m so glad you felt that way. Next to delivering non-stop suspense, it was my top priority for the book. It was important to me that I portrayed Joe’s schizophrenia as accurately as possible. I set out to write a story that avoided stereotypes of the disease without being didactic or sounding preachy.

My cousin is a Harvard trained neuropsychologist. In addition to her being my inspiration for Rachel’s character, my cousin educated me about the disease and various cognitive therapies. I read a ton on the subject as well, but she validated and vetted everything I wrote. In addition, I leaned heavily on an uncle who is a neurologist and a psychiatrist cousin. Bottom line, it helps to have really, really smart people in your family, or a network of friends who are generous with their time and expertise.

AM: I think I have a crush on Monte, the beagle. 😉 Was he based on a pet? Can I have him?

DP: I seriously owe my writing career to Monte. Acquiring editors at various publishing houses loved the book, but thought Charlie was too rough around the edges. He wasn’t a very kind person at the start of the story. I conveyed my publishing woes to a good friend of mine over burgers and beers and he suggested I give my protagonist a dog. It took me about two seconds to see the genius of his idea. I contacted my agent who took about one second to see it. “Yeah, a dog,” she said. “Give him a dog.”

From there, I reached out to a cousin (see a theme here?) who happens to be a veterinarian. We spent an hour talking about dog breeds, searching for the best breed for Charlie. We settled on a beagle. From there I gave Monte his quirks, chewing shoes and his devote love for the neighbor’s poodle, Maxine. A few weeks later I signed a three book contract with Kensington. Oline Cogdill wrote a blog post for Mystery Scene all about Monte. Soon after, I got a letter from a delighted reader informing me that she named their new family dog Monte. Apparently, a lot of folks were taken with my beagle.

AM: *Pauses to gush for Monte* You’re also an uber-talented musician. How does your experience as a songwriter influence your book writing?

DP: That’s very kind of you to say. I think of songwriting as just another form of storytelling. Often times, the magic beans that go into making a song work can be found in a compelling novel as well. A suspenseful story requires the right mix of conflict, character and stakes in order to take flight. I try to write songs that contain some (hopefully all) of those elements, albeit in a very condensed format. Songwriting has also been great for developing my sense of word play. The craft challenges me to write emotionally, without being obvious or clichéd. I try to bring that sensibility to my longer prose as well. I love writing novels and songs with equal passion. My only wish is that I could write a novel in one sitting the way I can sometimes pull together a completed song.

AM: I’m excited to read your second book, HELPLESS, come January. Was it easier, harder or otherwise different to write?

DP: The simple answer to your question is yes. Parts of it were easier because I had a better grasp on the craft of storytelling. There is something to be said for experience. At the same time, it was a very challenging book to write. I wanted to show the reader the hidden dangers of our tech-centric world without losing them in the jargon and concepts. I also wanted to show the inherent dangers of sexting without sacrificing the scope of my story.

HELPLESS is part family drama and part action thriller. A friend described it as Tom Clancy invades the O.C. I think that’s a pretty fitting description but those incongruous elements made for some interesting writing challenges. Library Journal gave HELPLESS a starred review so hopefully others feel that my efforts have paid off. The research for HELPLESS was similar to DELIRIOUS in that I had experts at the FBI and Navy SEALs who helped me bring the story to life in a realistic fashion.

AM: What are you most proud of in your writing career thus far?

DP: Pride is an interesting thing because it’s not woven into the DNA fabric of most writers I know. In this business, we’re as good as our last book. From what I’ve seen, the fear of losing our touch doesn’t really go away, regardless of having a publishing track record. I think a healthy dose of the skepticism is good for fueling the drive to write and create to the very best of our abilities. So if I had to pick my proudest moment, I’d say it was the first time I heard from a truly satisfied reader. That said, I haven’t made any best seller lists yet, so I reserve the right to change my answer.

AM: Ha… So granted! What do you find most challenging about novel writing?

DP: Solidifying the idea is for me the hardest part. It’s easy to come up with ideas, but to mold something into a workable structure, one that could carry the reader for four hundred plus pages, takes time, patience and the discipline to stare at your computer screen, or pad of paper, without jotting anything down.

AM: Any major goals or aspirations you hope to reach—writing or otherwise?

DP: I just hope to stay in this game.  I have a tremendous passion for creating. It’s a true blessing that I can do something I love and call it working.

AM: Many unpublished writers consider themselves “aspiring authors.” What’s your take on this? Any suggestions for newbie/ wanna-be/gonna-be authors?

DP: Writers write. I was never an aspiring songwriter. I was just a songwriter. If you want to write, then do it. Don’t think about it (unless you’re thinking about your idea).  To be good at this craft you’ve got to read a lot and write a lot. It takes time and perseverance. Unlike reality TV, there are no short cuts to success. There’s a reason nobody has made a reality show about becoming a novelist. Well, perhaps the reason is it would be a really dull reality show.

AM: Except for maybe the contestants… 😉 Thanks so much for sharing your time and insight, Daniel. Wishing you all possible success.
To learn more, including where to purchase DELIRIOUS, visit DanielPalmerBooks.com.
*****
CONTEST: Purchase DELIRIOUS today and email me a copy of your receipt for a chance to win a $20 Amazon.com gift card.
What about you? Any insight you’d like to share with Mr. Daniels? Do you consider yourself an “aspiring” author? Has adding/changing a character taken your book from good to great?

Brett Battles on Writing, Getting Published & What Life’s Like Since

New York Times best-selling author James Rollins calls Brett Battles’ work “addictive,” and I can see why. I came upon his recent release, LITTLE GIRL GONE, via Twitter, started it that day and have since added his other works to my must-read list. (See how useful #FridayReads are??? ;)) Lucky for us, this gem is the first in a new series.

LITTLE GIRL GONE description:

Logan Harper isn’t looking for redemption. He just wants to live in peace and forget his troubled past. But one morning his quiet life is upended when he interrupts the attempted murder of his father’s best friend Tooney.

The next thing he knows, Logan is on his way to Los Angeles, searching for Tooney’s missing granddaughter and uncovering a sinister plot connected not only to Tooney’s past, but also to the boardrooms of corporate America.

As the odds stack up against him, Logan must fall back on old skills from the life he’d rather forget. He’s made a promise, and the only way to fulfill it is to bring the girl home alive.

Here’s what others are saying about Battles and LITTLE GIRL GONE: 

“Captivating characters, nail biting tension, breathtaking action – LITTLE GIRL GONE is pure gold.”—Andrew Grant, author of Even and Die Twice

“Battles has a true gift for writing thrillers…”—CRIMESPREE magazine

“Quinn is one part James Bond, one part Jason Bourne.”—Nashville Book Worm

“Brett Battles has established himself as one of today’s best thriller writers, right up there with Lee Child, Barry Eisler, and Thomas Perry.”—Deadly Pleasures magazine

Mr. Battles is also generous. He’s running a special on Amazon.com: LITTLE GIRL GONE—the Kindle version is only 99 cents! And he took the time to answer questions for us all…

AM: You’ve said that books are writers’ classrooms. (Love that notion, by the way.) What books or authors have you learned the most from? What have they taught you?

BB: Wow. Almost every writer I’ve read would qualify, but that list would be huge. Let’s see, a few of my favorite “teachers”…Stephen King (great dialogue, description, suspense), Tim Hallinan (excellent dialogue, great characters & story), and Graham Greene (story, character, mood).

AM: If you had to trade lives with one of your characters, who would you choose? 

BB: Hmmm…Well, Jonathan Quinn is constantly in danger of getting killed, but he does go to some pretty cool places, and I love to travel, so I guess I’d have say him…hopefully minus the bullets flying in my direction.

AM: Your books move along at a rapid, “page-turner” pace. How do you accomplish this? 

BB: That’s just how I write. I don’t mean that in an arrogant kind way. I just mean I don’t know how to write a thriller any other way. It’s how the story comes to me, so that’s how it goes onto the page.

AM: What aspect of your writing career are you most proud of?

BB: That I’ve been able to write a lot of stuff that readers seem to love. That’s truly gratifying.

AM: Anything you’d change if given the opportunity?

BB: I’ve been very lucky and blessed, and am thankful for all that’s happened. So, nope, wouldn’t change a thing.

AM: How did you first get published?

BB: Ha. That’s a loaded question. I’ll give you the short version. I’d been shopping around my first novel, THE CLEANER, for about six months with a few nibbles but no bites. An author friend of mine, who was being published by a small but prestigious press here in L.A., said he’d give me an introduction to them. Long story short, the publisher—Ugly Town—bought the novel. BUT…before they could bring it out, financial issues with a distributor that had gone bankrupt forced them out of business. That could have been the end of everything, but instead of just releasing me and putting me back at square one, they sent the novel to an editor friend of theirs at Bantam Dell. That editor ended up purchasing THE CLEANER, and giving me a three book deal. All of that happened, by the way, without an agent, which I didn’t get for another four months or so.

AM: How does life as a multi-published, award-winning author vary from your pre-published writer days? Aside from perhaps fewer Ramen noodles…? 

BB: It’s completely different. Before I was on the outside looking in at a prize I’d wanted since I was in fifth grade. Seeing my book in a store was life altering. I’d always been a writer but the few people who knew that probably thought it was just a hobby. (Side note: I don’t believe in the term “aspiring writer,” if you write you’re a writer.) Once I was published, they realized it was a hell of a lot more than just a hobby, and that I actually kind of knew my way around a sentence.

AM: What can your fans look forward to next?

BB: Several things, actually. Since I’ve firmly moved into the independent writing world of ebooks, I’ve already released four novels, three shorts and a novella since last April. At the end of this month (early November latest) I’ll be releasing EVERY PRECIOUS THING, the sequel to LITTLE GIRL GONE. (By the way, in anticipation of that I’m running a special on the Kindle and Nook versions of LITTLE GIRL GONE, a full novel available for only .99) By Christmas, the plan is to release EXIT NINE, the second book in my Project Eden series. Bantam Dell is releasing my book NO RETURN at the end of January. And, finally, in the spring, I’ll be bring out my fifth Jonathan Quinn novel, THE RETURNED.

*****
What do you love about Brett Battles’ work? His insight? I always love hearing from you.

CONTEST: Purchase Little Girl Gone or any of Brett Battles’ books and email me a copy of your receipt for a chance to win a $20 Amazon.com gift card between now and December 1st. Good luck!

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!