Joeseph Finder’s Tips for Writers

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture at The Center for Fiction given
by Joseph Finder, The New York Times Best Selling Author. He shared his story
—a fascinating one—of how he went from working for the CIA to writing thrillers.

51e-V7ZwpwL._AA160_He also shared his10 Tips for Writers from which he believes every writer can benefit. Here’s a summary:

1. Rejection can be useful. It can prompt you to do more work and get it to the right      editor.
2.   Be stubborn but be smart about it and be persistent.
3.  Learn to value criticism. It can give you good feedback.
4.  The best fiction is about character, not plot. The plot should arise from the character.
5.   Avoid backstory dump. It takes people out of the story.
6.   Every scene should do some work Ask yourself why is it there.
7.   Reveal. Surprise. Cut out the slow parts.
8.   Never underestimate your readers. Surprise them rather than fool them.
9.   Just write the book. Don’t get hung up in the prose or the words.

10. Get lucky. Hopefully get in front of the right people at the right time.

I’ve read several of Joe’s books and have enjoyed them all very much. His last thriller, THE FIXER, a stand alone, certainly proves he takes his own advice.

How about you? What, if any, rules do you apply to your writing? We’d love to know.

Madam President and Her PI

Don’t you love it when you find a new series you truly enjoy? Not only are you reading something between new releases, you can add a new writer to your list of favorites. I’ve very much enjoying the exploits and investigations  in Joseph Flynn’s Jim McGill series. A former Chicago cop, Jim is now married to the first female president of the United States, and instead of cutting ribbons and organizing luncheons, he is a licensed private investigator, with an office on P Street in Washington, D.C.

McGill1Jim is referred to as The President’s Henchman, which is also the title of the first book. In this one, we’re introduced to the ensemble cast that makes these books so entertaining. In addition to Jim, there’s Patricia Darden Grant, the president, Jim’s ex-wife and three children, along with her new husband, Sweetie, Jim’s longtime partner who now works with him, along with various politicians, Secret Service agents, military personnel, and the president’s staff.

I’ve read the first two books and am deeply into the third book. This series is quickly moving up the list of my favorites. When I finish these books, I plan to check out the two otherMcGill1 series Flynn has. I’m happy as a clam that I found something new to read during one of my lulls. If you love mysteries, I think you’ll enjoy these books too.

Have you found any new authors this summer? Share and we’ll all have plenty to read until the fall releases!

Opening Lines: A First Impression

large_open_bookIn a recent Huffington Post Blog, author Mark Rubinstein, talks about the power the opening sentences of a novel have to grab the reader and pull them into the story.

With examples from authors as diverse as Charles Dickens and David Morrell, we see how they structured their opening lines to make us want to read on.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the craft of novel writing and just how important a good opening is in making that first impression, not only in enticing your readers, but also in setting the premise of the story to come.

Some of my favorite first few sentences are from the novel BACKSEAT SAINTS by Joshilyn Jackson, the story of a young woman who’s finding her way back to herself.

“It was an airport gypsy who told me that I had to kill my husband. She may have been the first to say the words out loud, but she was only giving voice to a thing I’d been trying not to know for a long, long time.”

I read on, curious to find out whom the protagonist was and if she was really going to do the deed, why. I won’t tell you here, but I think you’d find it fun to read the book.

Here are a few sentences from a novel I’m working on, OUT OF TIME. It features
Nick Donahue, the protagonist from the novella, NICK OF TIME.

“Just ask Marina.
If you want to know how I wound tethered like a sacrificial goat to a flimsy spire swaying
in the wind on top of the world’s tallest building, maybe she can explain it.
Because I definitely can’t.”

How about you? Any first sentences that drew you in? Or, any that you’re working on?
We’d love to know.

I Spy With A Writer’s Eye

gallery-thumbnails.phpA recent blog post from thriller and suspense author Ed Kovacs, discussed gadgets every thriller/spy novelist should have at their disposal. Many were digital and some seemed items you would think of immediately, such as a camcorder watch for undercover videos and a smart phone, a great multi-tasker, while others, such as four-cipher locks and hide safes were things I hadn’t heard of before.

As you may know from previous posts, I’ve always wanted to be a spy. So, I decided to do a little research and add my own must have spy items, if not for myself, for the next time one of my characters goes undercover.

Here are my results:
Night vision goggles, perfect for stakeouts

Voice activated recorder pen, so you never miss a word

Air freshener hidden security camera, for those hard to spy on settings

Tripwire, the invisible alarm

A drone, for the complete overview

And a pair of oversize dark sunglasses for glamorous camouflage

Now that I’ve amassed these items (figuratively that is) I’ll have to write a story
in which to use them.

How about you? Have any equipment your sleuth could use on a case? Let us know.

Summer Reading Contest…

…AND  A CHANCE TO SEE YOUR NAME IN PRINT!
Here’s the deal: purchase a copy of my novella, NICK OF TIME, between now and July 4th, and send me a line from the book along with your name & email info and I will enter your name in a contest to be a character in my next Nick Donahue Adventure.
UnknownNICK OF TIME is a great summer read, an international adventure of a Blackjack player hoodwinked by a beautiful woman. If you want to enter my Summer Reading Contest, the Kindle edition is just $2.51 over at Amazon. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

Well Heeled An Emily’s Place Mystery

51tKXwGTGSL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_A few weeks ago, Roz Siegel, one of our Sisters In Crime (the group from which this blog arose), gave us a preview of the first chapter of her new novel, Well Heeled. It was so funny and witty it had me  pacing the floor in anticipation of the rest. Now, that I’ve read the entire novel, available on Amazon, I can truly say the pacing was worth it.

If Emily’s Place existed in reality on Manhattan’s Upper East Side instead of in fiction on its Upper West Side, I’d certainly be a customer. Not only for the great deals on Manolo’s, Jimmy Choo’s and Louboutin’s but to chat with Emily herself. Siegel has captured the spirit of her protagonist and her neighborhood and brought it to life. I could easily visualize Emily stocking the shelves, dealing with her customers and walking along its brownstone-lined blocks.

The cast of colorful characters that inhabit the novel are just that—a variety of West Side  characters who patronize her store looking for bargains or just stop by for a cup of coffee. When one of them, Sophia Sarfatti, a long time customer, complains about her shoe being uncomfortable, Emily looks into it and finds a fistful of diamonds secreted in the heel. When Sophia turns up dead and things begin to heat up.

The shoes were a find for Emily who bought them for a good price from a neighborhood kid who got them when they “fell off a truck.” As things progress, Emily scrambles to get back the other pairs she’s sold. As she does, she becomes involved with the Italian mafia, the Russian mob and several neighborhood pals, any one of whom could be a murderer. The only saving grace is that all this running around puts her in the path of Murphy the Cop, who she met when she helped him nab a killer and would definitely like to get to know better.

Well Heeled is the second book in Roz’s Emily’s Place Mystery series following Goodie One Shoe, but can be read as a stand alone. And, I for one, am tapping my foot as I type this, impatient for Emily to step out again.

 

Elvis is in the Building

WebbElvis is back, and he’s on the case. In the seventh book of her series about Elvis the bloodhound, Peggy Webb has another great cozy mystery. Elvis and the Buried Brides has the Valentine girls, Callie and Lovie, getting ready for the big renewal of vows for Callie and Jack.

Elvis is beyond thrilled to know that his human parents are finally getting back together. Though Callie and Jack have been separated for quite awhile, neither of them ever felt motivated enough to sign the divorce papers. However, everything is topsy-turvy when Callie and Lovie don’t show up at the church.

Peggy has another winner with this little book, and there’s a bonus short story included too. Southern humor abounds in this series, and it’s always enjoyable. From Fayrene’s bad case of malapropism to the antics of Callie’s salon customer, these characters become old friends in no time.

Fayrene trots over to me, wearing so many green sequins I’m nearly blinded.

“We’re headed home, Callie, but I want you to know I’ve got everything ready for your wedding deception.”

“I’ve got his favorite German chocolate cake and Jarvetis had such good luck on his hunting trip to Missouri I’m serving peasants under glass.”

Thank goodness I’m not eating a second helping of the red velvet cake Lovie is handing out to department guests, or I might choke to death trying to hold in laughter.

Mama prances up and gives me a big hug. “I’m so happy I’m about to die!”

“Ruby Nell Valentine, wash your mouth out with soap!” Fayrene says. “The mere thought of another death at a wedding makes me want to fall into heart dropsy on my sexual sofa.”

“Flitter, Fayrene. I was just kidding around.” Mama puffs up her hair that doesn’t need a thing, thanks to my expertise with scissors and blow dryer. “What do you think about my hair, Cal?”

“You know perfectly well what I think about your hair, Mama. It’s gorgeous, even if I do say so myself.”

The Valentine ladies are always in a mess, but, thank goodness Elvis is there is sniff out the problem. This book will stand alone, but I think you’ll enjoy it more if you read the entire series.

Helen MacInnis, Spy Mistress

I’ve always had a secret desire to be a spy. (I think I may have confessed that here once or twice.) But since that profession didn’t readily present itself when I was ready to choose a career, I had to settle for reading about them.

John LeCarré, Eric Ambler, Len Deighten, Ian Fleming, all captured my young imagination with their daredevil characters and exotic settings. But no one more so than Helen MacInnis.

A Sunday New York Times Book Review Critic’s Take article “Spies Like Her” brought it all back to me. As the writer, Sarah Weinman, suggests Helen MacInnis, Spy Mistress, was ahead of her time, writing about such events as Israel bombing Gaza and the Russians invading a part of the Ukraine years before the recent events.

She was married to Gilbert Highet, a classics scholar who was also a MI6 British intelligence agent. And, it was generally thought she might have used classified information in creating some of her 21 books. In fact, according to a biography of the writer on Wikopedia, her third novel, Assignment in Brittany was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French Resistance against the Nazis.

Her novels took me all over the globe and painted a vivid picture of a world very different from mine filled with more intrigue and adventure than a girl from the Bronx could expect. A world I would love to have been a part of, and I like to think, that I’ve captured in my own writing.

I checked my bookshelf before writing this and found two of her novels, Agent In Place and Message from Malaga, both of which I plan to reread as soon as possible.

51lvZbTY-QL._AA160_Agent In Place
When the idealist is duped to reveal sensitive information, when the ‘agent in place’ is forced into the open, disaster strikes.
The NATO Memorandum, classified Top Secret, is the lethal prize sought by Soviet Intelligence in the deadly game that continues relentlessly beneath the dubious veneer of détente. A cryptic telephone call to a Russian ‘sleeper’ in Washington, a mugging-murder of an unidentifiable man in New York’s Central Park, an anonymous Memorandum—and Helen MacInnes’s new adventure is launched.

51hZgAgV7kL._AA160_Message From Malaga
Sunny Spain, sudden death!
Ian Ferrier, on vacation from the U.S. Space agency, would not have believed his reunion with a trusted friend would lead to murder, or that he would hold the key to expose a vicious conspiracy for assassination, or that he would be plunged into a desperate pursuit in which he was as much the hunted as the hunter. Yet that is the opening of this spellbinding tale set in the deceptively serene and vividly picturesque cities of Malaga and Granada.

 

 

Virgil’s Working on Deadline

Deadline by John Sandford is the eighth Virgil Flowers novel, and the quirky detective continues to put the pieces of some truly challenging jigsaw puzzles together. What sets these books apart is Sandford’s trademark humor and interesting police procedures.

51o81BLmPEL._AA160_Virgil is visiting his old friend, Johnson Johnson, who asks a huge favor of the BCA agent. Some scoundrel in the town of Trippton is kidnapping dogs. Though this hardly seems like a case for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Virgil starts investigating with the hope of avoiding trouble from the gun-toting citizens who are searching for their prized hunting dogs and valued pets.

In the midst of this curious investigation (and it is a strange one), Virgil is called in to check out the random murder of a local reporter. Like most of Virgil’s cases, the murder is the tiny tip of an iceberg. Much of what he needs is hidden well below the surface.

I feel Sandford scored another winner with this one. There was lots of humor, some good fight scenes, and an interesting case study. We know who the bad guys are, but it’s interesting to watch Virgil struggle to bring all the pieces of the whole together.

There’s a lot of hillbilly lingo and local slang in this one, but Sanford handled it well. It’s a small town, with small-town problems, and small-town people who think they can get away with, among other things, murder. As always, it has the perfect recipes: secrets, lies, and family squabbles.

Check out Deadline, especially if you’re a dog lover!.

The Yankee Club: Fiction Filled With Characters

51WyTkX4X-L._AA160_In Michael Murphy’s new novel, THE YANKEE CLUB, a noir thriller set in 1933, Prohibition is almost over and the country is struggling through the depression when Jake Donovan returns to New York. A former Pinkerton detective, and now a famous author, he’s come home to win back the woman he left behind, Laura Wilson, after she refused his proposal of marriage.

But not so fast and not so easy. Laura, a Broadway star, is now engaged to, a millionaire banker involved in a nefarious plot to overthrow the government. Plus, Jake’s old partner, Mickey has been murdered and it seems part of the conspiracy. Getting together with his buddies at their old hangout, The Yankee Club, a speakeasy in Queens, Jake decides to find Mickey’s killer and is shot and kidnapped for his trouble.

Besides great storytelling, what I enjoyed most about this mystery is how Murphy mixes his characters with real people from that era. As Jack investigates, he not only pals around with Dashiell Hammet and Lillian Hellman, but also helps them overcome writers block and work out the plot of a new play, in that order. He runs into Babe Ruth who’s out on the town, and doesn’t just hang around with Cole Porter, he’s in on the creation of his new musical. In this story, virtually anything goes. And, as the plot thickens, we meet Joe Kennedy newly appointed head of the SEC, as Jake tries to save the country from a terrible fate. To me, it was a treat to rub up against these famous people I didn’t expect to encounter and see them in situations I wouldn’t have imagined.

Does it all work out in the end? Do Jake and Laura get back together? You’ll just have to read THE YANKEE CLUB, a story with wit and style, to find out.