Friday, October 29, 2010

FFF: What annoys you about the thriller genre?

Before you answer that question, answer another. Have you entered our 3 Ways to Win Contest? Today's your last chance.

JB Lynn: I can’t stand descriptions of weapons that go on for multiple paragraphs. I don’t care if a gun can shoot the wings off a mosquito, I just want to know if it will fit in a woman’s evening bag.

I also can’t stand it when I get to the end of the thriller and I have unanswered questions AND the author hasn’t addressed them. IF a book ends with, “But we still don’t know who sent the poisoned bonbons to the writer” I’m okay with that, but if I think a writer just forgot to pay something off it annoys me.

I’m betting that someone will say that they hate it when characters are “too stupid to live”. You know the ones…they hear a mysterious noise and go to check it out, they accept a ride from a stranger or they abandon their car when it breaks down. While I feel a twinge of annoyance when writers have their characters do such foolish things, I also know that in real life people do those very same things…and end up dead.

Jenny:  I can't stand long-winded descriptions of forensic analysis. It's fun to watch CSI on TV because you get to watch what they're doing, but in a book... yawn.

I also get annoyed when thrillers ignore characterization. I can think of a big-name thriller (that went on to become a big-name movie) where the characters almost didn't need to exist, because it was all about solving the puzzle and racing from one clue to the next. The characters were secondary, and while I realize that in a thriller the plot is really important, the characters shouldn't be reduced to mere plot devices. As a reader, it's hard to feel invested in the outcome of the story if I don't at least care what happens to the characters.  My favorite thrillers are the ones that strike that perfect balance between character and plot.

Joann: Ditto JB and Jenny PLUS I hate it when characters are "too stupid to live"...hehehehehe. No, seriously, authors often have the advantage of building credibility, but this does tend to bug me in films where there are only two hours to make us believe or give us the opportunity to suspend our disbelief. I think Scream does this extremely well. Though the characters are always walking into situations that eventually get them killed, it's totally believable they would.

I also hate long-winded descriptions AND lists. Lists are on my list (I'm looking at you, Dragon Tattoo).

I really, really, really dislike when something is mentioned for a split second in the beginning of a novel or film and then that something is used as a murder weapon at the end (I'm looking at you, Last House On The Left). Give us some context, some meat!

So, how 'bout it, Killer Friends? Any annoyances you'd care to share?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Easy Writer

Torture Porn, animal cruelty, misogyny: my personal trifecta of “OH HELL NO!” Aren’t you tired, dear friends, of reading about women too stupid/too drunk/too weak to know they’re in danger of The Big Bad? And aren’t you tired of reading about defenseless creatures meeting their end at the hands of The Big Bad With A Case Of The Animal Cruelties?

It’s no secret I love all things dark – horror, thrillers, even true crime. BUT within that love is an abiding need for smart, complex characters who have a ton of options and more than one potential destiny. I’m going to pick on one of my favorite Dark Masters, Stephen King, because I think he does this particularly well…with some exceptions.

In THE STAND Stu Redman doesn’t wear the proverbial pants in the mutually-respectful relationship he has with Frannie Goldsmith. Instead, King wrote Stu and Frannie as equals, both reliant on the other to survive. On the other hand, what was up with Nadine Cross? Born and bred to the be the Dark Man’s bride? (Patting self on back for all that alluring alliteration!) You could argue Nadine had free will, that her choice was agonizing, but when you’re moving toward a specific outcome your entire life, how do make a different choice and still be credible? I wanted to see more options for Nadine. I wanted to see Old Randy NOT use his Bad Boy Mojo Powers to sway her decision.

Ok, you know that part in APT PUPIL where Dussander starts in on the kitties and doggies? I would argue it was completely unnecessary and, in fact, gratuitous (sorry, Mr. King). By the time Todd and Dussander are in the thick of it, we know the old SS officer is dark and twisted. I really REALLY don’t need furry evidence to further prove this fact. IMO, these scenes are some of the worst I’ve skimmed in any book. Awful stuff. If you haven’t “gone there” yet and animal cruelty sticks with you (like it does with me), just don’t.

Even with the Easies King chose in the two examples above, he created some amazingly memorable characters. But you know what made Dussander and Flagg fascinating for me? It wasn’t their arrogance, though they certainly had that. It wasn’t their cruelty, though they both engaged in some really awful stuff. It was how their arrogance and cruelty destroyed them.

Here’s my point: we can use Easy Memes without becoming Easy Writers. Let’s plump our MC’s so they’re full of roundy goodness, yes? Complexify our casts, I say! Give them more to do! And can we take a hiatus on misogyny for misogyny’s sake and animal cruelty for animal cruelty’s sake? Okay? OKAY!

And let's not forget Le R's Important Words Of Wisdom: "I think that it is useful to remember that what makes crime and thriller novels compelling is not necessarily THE MOST GROSS DISMEMBERMENT EVER WITH SEXUAL TORTURES OF ALL THE LADIES...Also, NO MORE ANIMALS IN ORIFICES. I seriously do not want to read that ever again as long as I live."

Any Easies on your shit-list, friends?

Bonus: I got my rant on over at my blog today too and posted two of the MOST AWESOME VIDEOS EVER. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mystery novelist Alice Loweecey: she is, indeed, an ex-nun

I'm excited to welcome author Alice Loweecey to the Killer Chicks blog today. Her debut mystery, Force of Habit, will be released February 2011 from Midnight Ink.

Yes, she really is an ex-nun, and yes, she has a flair for writing villains who are psychopathic stalker-killers. Intrigued? Read on!


About the author

Alice Loweecey is a former nun who went from the convent to playing hookers on stage to accepting her husband's marriage proposal on the second date. A regular contributor to BuddyHollywood.com, she is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. The author lives with her family in Amherst, New York. Force of Habit is her first novel.




Force of Habit
by Alice Loweecey

An ex-nun takes a wobbly leap into private investigation.

Giulia Falcone is going straight to hell. First, because she left the convent. Second, her new job with a private investigator has her sneaking around and lying. Adjusting to life outside the habit isn't easy. Make-up, dating, and sex are all new to her. And despite a crush on her boss Frank Driscoll—a foul-mouthed, soft-hearted ex-cop—Giulia is sure he'd never fall for an ex-nun.

Her first case involves drop-dead handsome Blake Parker, a man with immense wealth and an ego to match. He and his fiancée are getting disturbing "gifts" with messages based on Bible verses. When Guilia is drawn into the stalker's sights, salacious photos appear, threatening her job and her friendship with Frank. No one imagines—least of all naïve Guilia—the danger ahead, when a date with an online gamer turns into a fight for her life.

* * *

Alice, thank you so much for doing this interview. You and I know each other because we were in a critique group together for a little while last year. The one question I've been dying to ask you all this time is, as an ex-nun, what inspired you to write books about psychopathic stalker-killers?

Jenny, thanks for inviting me! People might think of ex-nuns as the type who watch heartwarming family movies and read prairie romances. But I’m not one of those ex-nuns. I started watching horror movies with my dad when I was five years old. I love a good scare. The psychopath in Force of Habit is a many-layered villain, and that’s what made him so much fun to write.

No, really—I do mean “fun.” His mind is like an old-fashioned carnival funhouse: lots of dark corners, twists and turns, things jumping out at you, spiderwebby and slimy feelers trailing over your face as you try to navigate it. He’s such a contrast to my ex-nun MC, with her hang-ups and cluelessness and attempts to dress like a “real woman”. Writing a psychopath who revels in the power of stalking and playing games with his victim is like taking a trip into a good horror movie—because I always knew I could hit the pause button on my imagination and come back to the real world. I know many people who enjoy being creeped out in the comfort of their sofas. I happen to be one of them.

So “write what you know” also applies to “write what you enjoy”. In my safe, sunny living room, of course! If someone wants to read my book alone at night, I can’t be responsible for the consequences. Can you see my evil grin from there?

Yes, I can, and is that an evil little cackle I hear? I love that your villain is multi-layered. We're big fans of villains here at Killer Chicks, and the more complex, the better.

Since Guilia, your main character, is also an ex-nun, you know I have to ask: how much of yourself did you write into Guilia? Do her experiences as a nun mirror yours, or is she completely fictional?

Giulia is the “write what you know” part of my book. I know the convent and I know what it’s like trying to return to the regular world after you jump the wall. (That’s the term used among us exes. For the record, there was a wall, but I exited down the driveway in a friend’s car.) I drew on my convent experiences in general when writing the book, but not, of course, on any real person.

Giulia doesn’t look like me, but she is of Italian ancestry like me. That choice allowed me to use some colloquialisms and have her able to make homemade pizza. But she has a lot more hang-ups and is more repressed than I ever was. Her learning curve is a steep one! She has the idea that Cosmo magazine will give her a crash course in reassimilation. Yeah. Ten years a nun and she chooses the magazine that the grocery store masks from innocent eyes.

Now that was some fun research.

Jump the wall – that could make a great title for a future book. Did you write while at the convent? When did you know you were a writer?

I journaled in the convent the first 2 years. We were expected to keep a “spiritual diary” while there. Except that the Novice and Postulant Mistresses could request to read it at any time, which they did on an irregular schedule. So… not many of my real thoughts made it onto those pages. My last year inside, when things were crashing and burning, I started writing short stories. It was catharsis, of course, and it freed me up in ways I didn’t expect. They were of the “Choose your Own Adventure” kind: I wrote alternate solutions for their problems as I was trying to find a solution for my own.

When did I know for sure and certain I was a writer? High school, I think. That was when I started writing a bit of everything: Poetry, plays, short stories, the beginnings of novels. I searched for my voice and imitated my favorites (HP Lovecraft, Lloyd Alexander). Writing was something I did every free moment because I loved it. Perhaps my lightbulb moment came when one of my poems won first place in a local women’s organization contest. Earning money for writing was a new experience for me. I realized if I could get to this point once, I could get to it again. That was a very good day.

Journaling, poetry, plays, short fiction – as it is with many writers, your path to becoming a novelist has certainly been diverse. Tell me more about your writing process these days.

Do you write longhand or on the computer?

Both, depending where I am. I use "found time” a lot: those 15 minute to half-hour blocks waiting in line, waiting for the kids, etc. That’s often my edit time, since I can’t always get into a scene in a 15-minute slot. So I keep a zippered binder with me that has my WIP in its current state.

Do you outline?

Religiously! I started life as a pantser, and it took me forever to finish a first draft. When I decided to try a mystery, I knew I’d need an outline to plant clues and keep suspects organized. Now I write up a detailed outline (5-10K) before I start the actual book. As the book and characters evolve, I change and re-order and update the outline as needed.

How long did it take you to write Force of Habit?

About 8 months for the first draft. Another 2 months to incorporate comments from beta readers and streamline it into a tighter book.

How many drafts did you do?

Three, before querying it.

When do you do the brunt of your research? Before, during, or after your first draft?

Before, when I’m creating the outline. However, I’ll pop onto the Net as I’m writing if there’s a fact I need to check. I’m the type of person that MUST know the answer/fact/trivia before continuing. Although I write a lot on vacation and don’t have my laptop there. When I get home, my longhand is peppered with notes like [LOOK THIS UP!]

Is there is a special place where you always write?

In my living room, with headphones in my ears playing Celtic or Medieval music, while my husband watches sports or reads.

Do you stick to a schedule or do you only write when you feel inspired?

I have to stick to a schedule or deadlines would leap out at me from dark corners and scare the life out of me! I’m quite the anal-retentive writer. Besides, I have a contract that I promised to fulfill. Thus: schedules.

Who's the first person to read your finished work?

One of my beta readers. I have awesome betas. We beta for each other and I’ve learned so much from them.

Your discipline has certainly paid off! I'd love to know more about your path to publication. Were you one of the "lucky" ones where everything happened really fast, or did you receive your share of form rejections along the way? And after you signed with your agent, how long was the book on submission?

First, thanks again for inviting me for this interview! It's been a lot of fun.

Ah, yes, the "Passes" folder on my hard drive. It represents four solid years of work. Back in 2006, I had a finished novel that I thought was All That. A thorough critique by a published writer cured me of that. (She and I are friends to this day, despite the fact that she writes sweet Christian fiction and that particular novel was my religious horror, which one critiquer refused to read while alone in the house.)

In 2007, after 2 complete rewrites and invaluable help from the regulars on the Absolute Write Water Cooler, I began querying. I found a new agent who loved the book. A year later, that agent quit the business and I was back to square one. However, I had three complete novels by this time and several layers of rhino hide. I was ready to hit the query trail again.

That was in September of 2008. I researched every agency that represented one of the genres of my books (mystery, paranormal, and horror). I sent out queries in batches of six, ready to send a new query out for every rejection or non-response. I gave each query three months. If I heard nothing by that time, I assumed it was a pass and crossed them off my list. This turned into roller-coaster time. I got requests for partials and fulls. I also got form rejections on requested fulls (ouch!). I got two offers to revise and resubmit on two different books. I had one agent love my characters and another say they were bland. It truly is a subjective business.

Then in spring of 2009, I sent a "Why not?" query to Kent D. Wolf, an agent whose list of sales and genres he was seeking looked interesting. The next day, he called to request the full of the mystery. (Agents don't normally call for that. I was a bit startled.) Two days later, he called to discuss the book, the characters, the convent, and how I felt about revising. (Is the sky blue? Of course I was willing to revise!) Two days after that, he called to offer representation.

Six days. Okay, four years, 185 rejections, and six days.

My submission story went faster. We went on sub in June. 6 months and something like 8 passes later, we sold to Midnight Ink. An agent who knew and loved my genre, had sales in it, and knew the people involved in it was my goal, and it paid off. I have to plug Absolute Write again, because the pros and amateurs there gave advice, critiqued, held my hand during the rejections, and did it freely because we're all fellow writers and we're all in this together. Without them, my journey would've been much longer.

Again, thanks, Jenny! It can be a long road to publication, but the rewards are worth every bump, tear, and piece of chocolate.

I definitely agree. Your story is so inspiring. Congratulations again, Alice! Thanks so much for being here, and I'm looking forward to reading your book.

* * *

Killer Friends, stay tuned. I'm going to bring Alice back in February when her novel debuts. Force of Habit is the first in the Falcone & Driscoll series, and I can't wait to ask her more questions about writing a series character, the unique pressures of a multi-book deal, and anything else she's brave enough to share.

Check out her website here: www.aliceloweecey.com

(And don't forget, there are still 5 days to enter our 3-3-3 Contest! Follow us here or on Twitter for a chance to win a $25 gift card, or write a flash fiction story for a chance to win a $50 gift card!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

National Novel Writing Month 2010 -- Do you dare?

Congrats to Renee G. who won a copy of Laura Griffin’s romantic suspsense novel UNSPEAKABLE and don’t forget there’s still time to enter our 3-3-3 contest (and who wouldn’t like to win an Amazon gift card?).

Next Monday marks the official start of National Novel Writing Month . Or as they call it, “30 Days of Literary Abandon”.

If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo let me explain the basics. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel between November first and thirtieth. (Obviously 50k words does not a novel make…but it’s a damn good start.)

If you’re into crunching numbers, that means writing 1667 words per day. (actually it’s more like 1666.67 but decimal points always screw me up) That’s a lot of words. But it’s doable. And that’s the appeal of NaNoWriMo – it’s a challenge. Make no mistake, we’re talking quantity, not quality here. Be prepared to tell your internal editor and censor to take a month-long vacation together. This 50,000 word draft won’t be pretty, but it’ll be yours.

I first became aware of NaNoWriMo years ago when I met author Lani Diane Rich, the first previously unpublished writer who published a NaNo manuscript. She was signing that book, Time Off For Good Behavior (a fun read, btw) at a conference I was attending and she gushed, absolutely gushed about this writing challenge with a weird name.

Every year since, I’ve considered signing up, but I never have. Earlier this year I eyed my November calendar and thought, “Maybe this is the year.” Then Carina Press accepted my romantic suspense novel for publication next summer. Now I find myself waiting for my revision letter (and with it, an accompanying deadline). Between the revisions and other obligations, there’s no way I can hit that 50,000 word mark. Now is not the time to sign up for NaNoWriMo.

Or is it?

Last year over 165,000 writers participated (over 30,000 of those ended up as official finishers, meaning they wrote their 50k in the allotted time). That means that 165,000 made the attempt. They tried. They didn’t talk themselves out of taking the challenge, they embraced it.

That’s what I’ve decided to do this year. I’m going to run full tilt at the challenge knowing full well there’s a good chance I won’t “win”. Hell, chances are, I'll fail spectacularly (and in public) but at least I'll have given it a shot.

I’ll be updating you on how I’m doing with my word count in the Monday Status Updates here on Killer Chicks and I hope you’ll share yours. I’ll also be providing hints, prompts, rants, doses of inspiration, and glimpses of my insanity, over at JB Lynn’s Confessions of a Crime Writer on a daily basis, and of course I’ll be at NaNoWriMo using the name JB_Lynn (don’t forget the underscore).

What about you? Are you up to the challenge of National Novel Writing Month? Have you tackled it before? Do you want to join me this year?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Status Check Monday: Jenny gets paid, Joann learns about beat sheets, and JB joins two groups

Happy Monday! Is it us or are the weeks just flying by? You only have one more week to submit your entry for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card!

Jenny: I had a very exciting week last week. First, FedEx rang the doorbell with a copy of my fully-executed contract from Simon & Schuster (meaning, it's now signed by the publisher). Then, as if that weren't awesome enough, I checked the mail. And there, waiting for me amidst the stack of bills and flyers, was my very first check from S&S! A great day = money in your mailbox (and a yummy chicken pie, because that finally arrived too after weeks on backorder). Picture me running around the living room like a 3-year-old who just ate a jumbo bag of M&Ms. Why can't all weeks be like this?

Goals for the week: Finish the first draft of my current WIP.

Joann: Woo hoo, Jenny! That's very exciting and that potpie sounds delish.

This week for me has been a series of very cool breakthroughs with WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT. The biggest ah-hah moment came when I realized I was STILL trying to hold the whole book in my head. Though I've seen the storyline, soup to nuts, right from that initial lightbulb moment, I couldn't keep all the details straight. For one, the book is told out of order and, for two, it's really complex. And wouldn't you know it? My genius hubby sent me exactly the right link I needed at exactly the right time: http://johnaugust.com//. John August is a screenwriter (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie's Angels, Big Fish, Go) who freely shares his writing process on his site. The most useful discovery for me has been beat sheets. Once I sat down and forced myself to write out two beat sheets (one for each aspect of the storyline), I felt much more confident to delve into the second draft (which, as the story evolves, will require some additional first-drafting - nothing new for me). So...yay! My excitement for this story is building again and I'm now thrilled to tackle it head-on.


JB: My week was not nearly as exciting as the other two ladies. No checks in the mail or WIP breakthroughs, but I did join the International Thriller Writers and the Carina Press Authors Group. I stumbled around trying to get the lay of the land of both groups (I'm directionally challenged) and was continually amazed by the talents of my fellow writers.


What's going on with you, Killer Friends?

Friday, October 22, 2010

FFF: Flash Fiction Friday!

Ha! You thought FFF stood for Free-For-All Friday, didn't you? But not this week, Killer Friends!

In honor of our 3-3-3 Contest, we're all posting our own flash fiction stories using the words killer, chicks, and Halloween. Because we really can't expect YOU to give it a shot if we don't, right? So here goes:


Mean Girls
by Jennifer Hillier

The cool chicks always sat at the corner table. A Playboy Bunny, an Elvira, and a Barbie. Halloween always brought out the slut in St. Benedict's girls. Why was that?

I weaved my way through the cafeteria crowd, knife concealed in my sleeve. Bunny saw me coming and smirked.

"You lost, Chubby?" Bunny's false eyelashes fluttered. "You didn't even dress up."

I was wearing my uniform. Blouse, St. Benny's kilt, sweater vest. "I'm a killer."

They laughed.

"This is what a killer looks like?" Bunny's glossy lips pursed. "That's lame, Chubby."

I slid the knife out and plunged it into Bunny's neck. Her blood, warmer than I expected for such an icy bitch, sprayed over my face and collar. Elvira and Barbie screamed. The cafeteria exploded into chaos.

"No," I said, licking her blood from my lips. The tang was delicious. "This is what a killer looks like."

* * *

A Killer Costume
by JB Lynn

“Don’t you just love Halloween, Maggie?” my best friend Charlene asks, smoothing her barely-there skirt of her Sexy Nurse costume. She’s one of those chicks who complains when she’s treated like a sex object, but thinks nothing of dressing as one because it’s a “holiday”.

“I’ve hated it for the twenty years you’ve known me. Why would you think I’d change my mind this year?”

Ignoring my response, she preens in the mirror. “Think I’ll win the costume contest?”

I shrugged. It wasn’t as though her costume was creative or original.

Mine on the other hand…mine, the one I wear every day, is damn good. I hide behind the mask of being a boring office clerk when in reality, I’m a professional killer.

The doorbell rang. A chorus of voices called out, “Trick or Treat!”

Quite the trick I pull off 365 days a year.

* * *

I, Zombie
By Joann Swanson

Marcy and I sidled up to the throbbing house. Killer Chicks played on the stereo while strobe lights pulsed to the beat of each incoherent lyric. Zombie fight club in full swing.

Marcy pointed to a one-armed cop and a half-rotted secretary chained together on the couch. “We could only find a few this time. Halloween’s tough.”

“Not much of a challenge.”

She pointed again, this time to the kitchen table where a giant farm kid hunched. Newly dead, could be tricky. Drool dripped from his chin.

“Hungry,” I said.

“Starved,” Marcy said.

They set him free. He lunged, mouth open for tasty flesh. I swung the axe.

“Off with his head!” Marcy said.

I complied.

Then the secretary. Easy.

The cop still had fight. And teeth.

When it was over I was stored in a cellar until the bite killed me.

Then it was my turn to fight.

* * *

Think you can do better? Go for it! Submit your entry in the comments of our original contest post. Remember, you can enter as many times as you want. A $50 Amazon gift card could be yours!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How Dark Is Too Dark?

We discuss a lot of dark topics on Killer Chicks: true crime so horrific most fiction writers couldn't make it credible on the page, novels that plumb the depths of human endurance, what topics are appropriate for which age group, movies that both entertain and terrorize. We’ve gone over favorite murder weapons and favorite villains and favorite serial killers. I can’t speak for Jenny and JB, but I don’t get a chill when I write my posts or my comment responses or my paragraphs for Free-For-All-Fridays.

And yet…

When I sit down to write my own novels I am excruciatingly aware of (and struggle deeply with) the darkness eating up my pages. My current work-in-progress is: 1) young adult (of course!), 2) about some stuff that scares the crap out of me in real life, and 3) terribly difficult to write. I never know where to draw the line, especially given that I’m writing for a younger audience. I was reading Stephen King at eleven. I have no perspective. And obviously I’m pretty desensitized if I can type up a paragraph on burying someone alive without so much as a quickened pulse.

I don’t think I could ever limit my writer’s imagination by saying “here and no further”, but I do it all the time as a consumer. I love horror movies, but I won’t watch torture porn. I love writers who push the boundaries of what’s deemed “appropriate”, but if I discover beforehand that a novel contains, say, animal violence, I’m more than likely going to skip it. And so on.

I was so uncertain about my current book I did something I’ve never done before: I pitched it to my husband before he’d read a single word. His response? “That is completely awesome. Dark. Really dark. But awesome.” He’s right – it is dark, really dark, but there’s no way to sugarcoat the storyline. In fact, backing off wouldn’t serve the book well and I’d be caving as a writer. Unfortunately knowing that doesn’t make it easier to write.

For our writer friends, do you also struggle with putting your deepest, darkest fears on the page? How do you push through, keep your sanity, and give your story everything it deserves?

For our reader friends, where/how do you draw the darkness line? What’s dark, too dark for you?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sorry, your villain isn't scary!

At ThrillerFest 2009, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop seminar hosted by literary agent Donald Maass, called "Sorry, Your Villain Isn't Scary." 

It was one of the more memorable seminars I participated in, because Donald had us really thinking about our villains and who they were. Were they complex enough? Were they unusual, unpredictable, and interesting? Or were they, as he called it, a "Mwa ha ha!" villain, who was just bad for the sake of being bad with no other interesting character traits? His focus was on helping us avoid the clichés that make so often villains seem like cardboard cut-outs.

Here are many of the characteristics you'll find in villains (of the serial killer variety):

Male
White
Not too old, not too young
Terrible childhood;  mommy or daddy issues
Menial job
Introvert, no friends or family

Can you think of any more clichés?

Now. Let me be clear. The above are clichés for a reason because the majority of real-life serial killers do fit these characteristics. But for the purposes of fiction, it's often more fun (and surprising) to mix things up.

For example, a villain who's likable. Maybe he has a dog he adores, or he cares for his sick sister, or he volunteers in the community. Not only do traits like this add complexity to the character, but they also make the villain that much more chilling when he's doing his evil deeds. A villain I find myself relating to in unexpected ways is a villain who scares me because I'm drawn to him.

Here are three of my favorite villains:

Chelsea Cain's Gretchen Lowell, a.k.a. the Beauty Killer (and yes, she even has her own website!), is interesting because she's a woman, and gorgeous to boot. Plus she's not just a stab-you-and-run kind of girl – she has a lusty appetite for dismemberment and disembowelment (and she loves to take her time).




The Trinity Killer from Dexter is fascinating because he's older, almost a senior citizen. He has a family. He's a pillar of the community.






The vampire in John Marks's novel, Fangland, was nothing short of awesome because he was a Romanian mob boss, of all things. It was a refreshing and very modern spin on Dracula (and can I just add that this book creeped me out for days after I finished it).





So, let's talk villains! Which ones "fit the mold", so to speak? Which ones break the rules?

(And psst… don't forget to enter our contest! We're giving away gift cards, and it's easy!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

DEADLY PROMISES author Laura Griffin + book giveaway!

As if yesterday’s Three Ways to Win Contest wasn’t exciting enough, today we’ve got a Q&A with romantic suspense author Laura Griffin and she’s generously offered to give away one of her full-length Tracer novels to one of our readers!

I’m stealing the copy from the back cover to tell you a bit about the romantic suspense anthology DEADLY PROMISES: “New York Times bestselling authors Sherrilyn Kenyon, Dianna Love, and Cindy Gerard and rising romance star Laura Griffin mix seduction and suspense in three romantic adventures.”

While all three stories in Deadly Promises are terrific reads, I must admit that Laura’s Tracers novella UNSTOPPABLE is my personal favorite. In it, “forensic anthropologist Kelsey Quinn goes to a remote Texas border region to dig up ancient bones, but ends up unearthing a deadly secret. When Kelsey’s discovery jeopardizes not just her dig, but her life, she turns to US Navy SEAL Gage Brewer, who may be the only person brave enough—and lethal enough—to help.”


Let’s get to it!


JB: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Laura. With Deadly Promises just releasing on September 28th, you must be extremely busy.

Laura Griffin: What a week it’s been! I turned in a book today (Book 4 in the Tracers series). And Wednesday I received the fabulous news that DEADLY PROMISES made the New York Times best seller list (#35) and the USA Today best seller list (#123). I’m so thrilled!


JB: Speaking of being thrilled, your books are full of danger and intrigue -- what's the most dangerous thing that's happened to you or you've done?

Laura Griffin: Oh, let me see. That might have to be jumping out of an airplane! Skydiving was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It was a major rush, too. I’d love to do it again someday. I put a skydiving scene in my second novel, ONE WRONG STEP, which was fun to write.


JB: You mentioned that you’ve just turned in the fourth book of your Tracers series, I’m curious, how did you come up with the idea for the series?

Laura Griffin: I started thinking about the Tracers series as I was interviewing a cold case detective up in Dallas. I was fascinated by his job and thought how cool it would be to write a character who went back and tried to solve the toughest cases that had been haunting detectives for years. (This character ended up being Ric Santos, by the way, from UNSPEAKABLE and UNFORGIVABLE).

Many of these cases are solved through DNA, and so that led to the development of the Delphi Center, where the mission is to help catch up on our country’s tremendous backlog of DNA evidence. Homicide cops will be the first to tell you that real life isn’t like CSI and investigators have a host of challenges when it comes to solving cold cases, even when DNA evidence is right there.

I’ve met so many dedicated, passionate people in law enforcement—from cops to forensic scientists. And I try to bring that passion to the characters in the series.


JB: What can readers expect from you next?

Laura Griffin: Next up is UNFORGIVABLE, which is Ric and Mia’s story. Ric is a homicide detective and Mia is a DNA expert. They worked together to help solve a cold case in UNSPEAKABLE. They’re back now with another murder case, and this time they’re working even more closely, which is how the romance develops. Funny how that happens.

I’ve been so happy with the popularity of the Tracers series, and it’s going to continue with several more books (including the one I just turned in this week). People always ask me if they have to read the books in order, and the answer is no. The characters overlap, but each suspense plot stands alone, so people can dive right in!


JB: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I’m looking forward to reading many more Tracers novels!

Laura Griffin: JB, thanks so much for reading and inviting me to talk with you all on KILLER CHICKS!


Read the following excerpt of UNSTOPPABLE (and find out why I fell for Gage from page one) from the Deadly Promises anthology and tell us in the comments section, what kind of gun Gage carries. You’ll be entered in the drawing for Laura Griffin’s most recent full-length Tracers novel UNSPEAKABLE. Entries must be received by 11:59pm EST Sunday, October 24th, 2010.Winner will be chosen at random and announced next Tuesday, 10/26/10 -- be sure to check back then!

UNSTOPPABLE

Chapter One

Kandahar, Afghanistan
0200 hours

Sometimes they went in with a flash and crash, but Lieutenant Gage Brewer always preferred stealth. And tonight, because the team’s mission was to outsmart a band of Taliban insurgents, stealth was the operative word.

The night smelled like smoldering garbage and rot as Gage crept through the darkened alley in this industrial neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. They were in a hot zone, a place where anyone they encountered would like nothing better than to use them for target practice.

As the SEAL team’s point man, Gage moved silently, every sense attuned to the shadows around him. Particularly alert at this moment was Gage’s sixth sense--that vague, indefinable thing his teammates liked to call his frog vision. Gage didn’t know what to call it; he only knew it has saved his ass a time or two.

In the distance, the muted drone of an electrical generator in this city still prone to blackouts. And closer still, footsteps. The slow clomp of boots on gravel, moving steadily nearer, then pausing, pivoting, and fading away.

Wait, Gage signaled his team. Lieutenant Junior Grade Mark Colter melted into the shadows, followed a heartbeat later by Petty Officers Mike Dietz and Adam Mays. Gage approached the corner of the building--an unimposing brick structure that was supposedly a textile factory. Crouching down, he slipped a tiny mirror from the pocket of his tactical vest and held it at an angle to see around the corner.

A solitary shadow ambled north toward the front of the building, an AK-47 slung casually across his body. The shadow told Gage three things: the intel they’d been given was good, this building was under armed guard, and what was going down tonight at this factory had nothing to do with textiles.

Gage eased back into the alley.

“Sixty seconds,” Colter whispered.

Gage had known Colt since BUD/S training. Besides being a demolitions expert, the Texan had the best sense of time and direction of any man in Alpha squad, and tonight he was in charge of keeping everyone on schedule.

Soundlessly, they waited.

Then like clockwork, a distant rat-tat-tat as the rest of Alpha squad exchanged carefully staged, non-lethal gunfire in an alley much like this one.

Beside Gage, the building came alive. Footsteps thundered in a stairwell. Excited voices carried through the walls. A door banged open, and more shouts filled the night as men poured from the building. A truck engine roared to life. Gage and his teammates watched from the shadows as a pickup loaded with heavily armed insurgents peeled off, no doubt to help wipe out the American commandos gullible enough to walk into a trap.

Twenty more seconds and Colt gave the signal. Gage peered around the corner. The guard now stood in a pool of light spilling down from a second-story window. The sour expression on his bearded face told Gage he wasn’t too happy about being stuck guarding hostages while his comrades got to slaughter American soldiers. His lips moved, and Gage guessed he was cursing his prisoners--two Afghani teachers whose heinous crime had been taking a job at a newly opened school that allowed girls.

Their boss, the school’s principal, had been beheaded on live Webcam just two days ago.

Watching the footage had made Gage’s blood boil. But his anger was tempered now, a tightly controlled force he would use tonight to carry out his mission.

In addition to rescuing the Afghanis, the SEALs were tasked with finding and retrieving forty-two-year-old Elizabeth Bauer, an American reporter who had been working on a story for the Associated Press when the Taliban stormed the school. She was thought to be next in line for execution, if she wasn’t dead already.

Gage chose to believe she was still alive, mainly because pictures of her beheading weren’t yet bouncing around cyberspace. The picture Gage had seen--the one provided during the briefing--had reminded him of his aunt back in Chicago. The minute he’d seen it, Gage had felt an emotional connection that went beyond his usual one-hundred-and-ten-percent commitment to an op.

The guard turned the corner. Colt and Dietz fell back, circling around to the building’s other side.

Follow me, Gage signaled Mays. The kid was young, green. He’d grown up in Tennessee and spoke with the thickest accent Gage had ever heard. But he could shoot like nobody’s business, and Gage was glad to have him on the team.

A quiet thud as they rounded the corner told Gage that Colter and Dietz had neutralized the guard about ten seconds ahead of schedule. Gage stepped over the lifeless body and entered the building with his finger on the trigger of his M4. He glanced around. The space was dim and cavernous, empty except for few junked out trucks and some tires piled in corners. A band of light shone onto the dirt floor from some sort of upstairs office. Given the satellite dish they’d seen mounted outside, Gage figured it was used as a media room. According to their intel, the hostages were being kept in the basement.

Colter went up to take out any hostiles who might have stayed behind. Gage scanned the room’s perimeter and quickly located an open doorway leading down to a lower level.

The earthen steps were steep, and Gage took them silently. Clearing out the bulk of the tangos with a diversion had been a good plan, but one that relied on a fair amount of luck. Gage was a gambling man, and the first rule of gambling was that luck eventually ran out. He expected an armed guard at the foot of the stairs, and that’s exactly what he found.

Gage delivered a well-placed blow with the butt of his rifle, rendering the man unconscious before his weapon even clattered to the floor. A collective gasp went up from across the room as Gage knelt down to collect the Kalashnikov. He slung it over his shoulder while Mays zip-cuffed the guard. Their orders were to keep at least one of them alive, if possible, in case they needed him for information.

The hostages stumbled to their feet, and Gage turned his flashlight on them. The beam illuminated two slightly-built Afghani men and a fortyish woman.

“Lieutenant Gage Brewer, U.S. Navy.” He zeroed in on the woman. “Ma’am, are you--”

“Betsy Bauer.” She reached out and touched his arm, as if to make sure he was real. “And I’ve never been so glad to see anyone in my life.”

Colter tromped down the steps to join them. “All clear up there.” He held up a black piece of cloth. It was a flag with a skull and a sword painted on it, and Gage recognized it from the video footage.

Colt had found the beheading room.

“Anyone injured?” This from Dietz, the team corpsman. “Anything that might prevent you from--”

“We’re fine.” Betsy Bauer cast a worried look at the door. “Let’s just get out of here.”

Gage’s thoughts exactly. He led everyone up the stairs. Mays and Dietz guarded their flanks and Colter watched their six.

“Five minutes,” Colter said from the back.

They were ahead of schedule. Another stroke of luck. More than four minutes until their helo would drop down in a nearby field. The other half of their squad would already be on it, after having spent a few minutes pretending to be ambushed by Taliban fighters before vanishing into the night.

Gage started to get anxious as he neared the door. That damned sixth sense again--

His gaze landed on something long and black, sticking out from the back of one of the trucks. He jogged over to investigate.

“Holy shit.”

“What is it?” Mays asked.

Gage blinked down at the truck bed. “I’m looking at a shit ton of weapons. RPGs, AKs, a couple Carl Gs.” He glanced up at Colter, and a flash of understanding passed between them.

“Let’s hit the extraction point,” Gage said, jogging back to the group. He checked the surrounding area before hustling the hostages to a nearby clearing. Gage watched the reporter, relieved that she seemed to be moving okay. No telling what hell she’d endured these last forty-eight hours.

A familiar whump-whump grew louder as their helo approached. Gage scanned the area, ready to eliminate anything that might try to botch their extraction. Dust and trash kicked up as the Seahawk dropped down onto the landing zone. Gage loaded in the hostages, then counted the heads inside. Every man in Alpha squad accounted for. They were good to go.

Another glance at Colter. He was a demo man, as was Gage, and they were thinking the same thing.

“Two minutes,” Gage yelled at his commanding officer.

Dirt tornadoed around them as Gage squinted into the Seahawk. It was too loud--and time was too short--for him to explain what he wanted to do. It was a critical moment. Did his CO trust him or not? The officer gave a brief nod.

Gage and Colter took off at a dead run. In less than ninety seconds, they had the two truck beds rigged with enough C-4 to blow up a tank. No way were they going to leave a fuckload of ordnance around for the enemy to use against U.S. troops.

“Ten seconds,” Colt said.

Gage’s heart pounded as he added more C-4, just to be sure. Then he and Colter got the hell out.

An earsplitting blast ripped the night. Gage’s face hit the dirt. The earth shook beneath him as the building fireballed and then fireballed again. Debris rained down around him--concrete, mud, chunks of brick.

Burning embers pelted him as he tried to move, but his body seemed cemented to the ground. Colt grabbed his flak vest and hauled him to his feet just as a truck careened around a corner and barreled straight for them.

“Go, go, go!”

They leapt for the helo as dozens of arms reached out to pull them aboard. And then Gage was inside, his heart hammering, his face pressed flat against the metal floor as the Seahawk lifted up into the air. Machine gun fire sputtered below, and Gage sat up, shocked. He gazed down at the inferno. He glanced at Colter.

A little too much boom, his friend’s look seemed to say, and Gage smiled. He couldn’t believe they’d made it out of there unscathed.

A bullet whizzed past his cheek. Gage whirled around.

And he wouldn’t smile again for a very long time.

# # #
Copyright 2010 Laura Griffin

Monday, October 18, 2010

3 contests! 3 prizes! 3 ways to win!

Hello, Killer Friends! We're super excited to announce our first ever contest!

Guys, this is a big deal. A Really Big Deal. And since we don't do anything small here at Killer Chicks, we're going for the triple threat. As in, 3 contests. With 3 prizes. Totalling $100. All running at the same time. And yes, you can enter all three!

To show you just how serious we are about this contest, the lovely and talented Joann made a video about it for your viewing pleasure:


Our (ridiculously simple) contest rules:

Contest #1 – Win a $25 Amazon gift card!
Follow us here at killerchicks.org and automatically be entered to win. Easy!

Contest #2 – Win a $25 Amazon gift card!
Follow us on Twitter (@thekillerchicks) and automatically be entered to win. Easy! 

Contest #3 – Win a $50 Amazon gift card!
Write and post a flash fiction story in the comments of this post and automatically be entered to win. Okay, so this one requires a little creativity, but it's FIFTY BUCKS. Who couldn't use fifty bucks? Flex your writing muscles (we know you got 'em) and jump in and show us what you got!

A few more details:

The contest will run starting today (as in right now!) until Sunday, October 31st (Halloween). 

The winners will be announced on Friday, November 5th. Your gift cards will be sent to you via email.

If you're already a follower here or at Twitter, you don't have to do anything further to participate in these two contests – you're already entered. Winners will be selected by random number generator.

For the flash fiction contest, you can enter as many times as you want up until Halloween. That's right – the more stories you write, the more chances you have to win. Here's the criteria:
  • The story can't be longer than 150 words. 
  • Your story must include the words killer, chicks, and Halloween
You won't be automatically disqualified if you go over the word count or forget to use a key word – but do your best!  Submit your flash fiction entry in the comments of THIS post.

The Killer Chicks will vote on the winning story.

Since we want to spread the wealth as much as possible, you can't win more than one contest. If you win more than one, you'll receive the largest prize.

See? Simple, right?

Let's get to it! Happy Halloween from the Killer Chicks!

Friday, October 15, 2010

FFF: When did you become a thriller fan?

It's Free-For-All Friday!  So tell us, what made you a fan of the thriller genre? A particular novel? A movie? A real-life event?

JB Lynn: When I was six, my grandmother got me a subscription to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. (To this day I still think it was one of the best gifts ever!) Every month a new package would arrive with one of each series. A new mystery. A new adventure. A new villain. And new clues to uncover!

I read the books multiple times and spent countless hours with Nancy, Bess, George, Frank, Joe, and Chet. As I got older, I started reading the books my parents took out of the library, Robert B. Parker, Ed McBain and Ken Follet were my constant companions. So basically I’ve subsisted on a diet of suspense and violence from an early age, but can’t point to any single book that made me a fan.



Jenny:  I was 21 and suffering the worst bout of insomnia, which lasted about a month.  TV wasn't helping.  I'd find myself lying in bed at 3 a.m. counting the dots on the ceiling.  Since I was living with my mom at the time, I started picking through "her" books.  She had every John Grisham, David Baldacci, Jonathan Kellerman, and Michael Chricton novel ever written (along with plenty of other books by other thriller writers), and I started reading.  I went through about fifty during that sleepless period and emerged a die-hard fan.  Soon "her" books were "our" books and we began trading everything back and forth.  (My mother has by far been the biggest influence on what I read.)

The one book that cemented my love for thrillers, though, was Jonathan Kellerman's The Butcher's Theater, about a serial killer in Jerusalem (cool, right?).  It's one of Kellerman's earlier books, and he hasn't written anything like it since.  Too bad.


Joann: When I was eight my oldest brother went missing. I think it was his disappearance that first sparked my interest in all things mysterious, including fiction. This shifted pretty naturally into darker stuff (mostly horror, but definitely thrillers too). I'm especially fascinated by a mind-bending twist you never see coming, but when you go back to review the clues, they're all there (Sixth Sense comes to mind as a good movie example). I think Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child do this exceptionally well in their novels. 

We never found my brother, but I like to think he's somewhere writing mind-bending mystery novels under a pseudonym and that perhaps I've read one or two.


Your turn, Killer Friends! What got you into thrillers?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview With The World Famous Rejectionist!!!!!

The Rejectionist, aka Le R, has (so very kindly) agreed to do an interview with the Killer Chicks. How cool is that? If you aren’t following her blog, OMG what are you waiting for?? Join! Join NowRead Often! Le R is hilarious and brilliant and socially conscious and has a huge heart (even though she claims to be quite cranky). Sometimes she runs these fabulous uncontests that allow you to link to your own blog in her comments, which totally makes you cool-by-association for at least that day.

Le R is a self-described “cranky, underpaid, whiskey-swilling, snack-deprived assistant to a Very Important New York Literary Agent” and reminds us not to “fuck with the assistant.”

You have managed to be both anonymous and famous, so you clearly have crazy skills of stealth and coolness. If you were going to commit “The Perfect Crime”, what would it be and how would you do it?

Obviously, I could not reveal the details, but it would involve marine espionage, forged passports, a lot of money, and The Sting-era Paul Newman. Probably I would have to have a cigarette holder and learn how to play poker.

As lady thriller writers, what can we do to elevate the genre from the “easy” woman-as-victim approach to something more, well, elevated?

Well! I think that it is useful to remember that what makes crime and thriller novels compelling is not necessarily THE MOST GROSS DISMEMBERMENT EVER WITH SEXUAL TORTURES OF ALL THE LADIES. I think Henning Mankell (among lots of other people) is a great example of someone who uses the vehicle of the police procedural, for example, to talk about larger cultural issues, certainly including misogyny. We live in such a violence-saturated culture that I think writers often forget that what matters most is not the act of violence but how the people affected respond: in other words, the story. Obviously, bad things happen to women, and there's no reason you shouldn't write about them. For me as a reader, though, what's interesting is not the horror of the crime itself but the way the writer chooses to deal with it. I would argue a little subtlety goes a long way. If you need to add more bodies to make your story more "attention-grabbing," you're doing something wrong. I think if you want to tell a story that's disturbing, ask yourself: Why is this story disturbing? Is its violence gratuitous, or is it telling the reader something important? Do I need to detail every second of someone's sexual trauma in order to convey its horror, or am I just being titillating and creepy? Also, NO MORE ANIMALS IN ORIFICES. I seriously do not want to read that ever again as long as I live.

If all else fails, write snappy heist capers instead.

(If you haven't seen Le R's review of The Lady With The Dragon Tattoo over on Tiger Beatdown, it is not to be missed. Seriously. And boy do I agree about the animals in orifices thing. So say we all.)

What characteristics do you find most compelling in a kick-ass leading lady? How about a kick-ass leading guy?

I tend to like characters who are lovable fuckups or unapologetic masterminds (or both!), regardless of gender. Short fuses, poor decision-making skills, inability to appropriately process emotions, excellent musical references, supreme toughness. Elizabeth Hand's Cass Neary is probably one of my favorite lady characters of all time; a close second would be Mattie of True Grit (which is, incidentally, one of the most under-read novels of the twentieth century). For the gentlemen, you can't really top Mikhail Bulgakov's Woland. Or Sherlock Holmes. Or Easy Rawlins. I do have a huge and inexplicable fondness for Philip Marlowe but I think it's because his masculinity is so over-the-top that it completely undermines itself. I'm sure it's no coincidence I love real-life people who are larger than life, complicated, really smart, and kind of crazy.

One day you wake up to find a famous thriller writer (your choice) sitting at your bedside. After he/she has fed you coffee and snacks enough to clear the cobwebs, this person insists you help him/her write The Best Thriller Of All Time (TBTOAT). Do you:

a. Ask Lola Pants and/or Support Staff to kindly escort Famous Author to the door.
b. Tell Famous Author TBTOAT has already been written and he/she can find it under Author Name: ________, Title: _________.
c. Break out the laptop and start with the following brilliant words: __________.
d. Roll over and go back to sleep.


I can't help but picture an extremely scandalous option e.

(Man oh man, I wish I knew what Le R considered "extremely scandalous"!)

As someone who reads a whole lot of query letters, what advice would you give aspiring author friends who are trying to write genre fiction (thriller or otherwise)?

I know this sounds ridiculous, but: relax. Don't try too hard. Do your research, understand the basics, and then stop looking at the internet. Lots of deep breaths. Be yourself (unless "yourself" means "write the query in the first-person voice of a serial killer" or "make a lot of bad sex jokes"). Definitely make sure the query is addressed to an agent (it doesn't even matter if it's the RIGHT agent. Just AN agent. Not DEAR agent).

Do you have a favorite dark fiction author? And who is it – PLEASE TELL US? If so, what is it about his/her style that appeals to you?

If by 'dark fiction' you mean creepy, I am a huge Angela Carter fan. Incest, totally whacked-out versions of fairy tales, dismemberment, scary puppets, circuses, Siberia, winged ladies--you can't go wrong with anything she has ever written. Elizabeth Hand as mentioned above writes some amazingly dark stuff. Anne Rice, obviously. I like gothic excesses in my dark fiction. A lot of crushed velvet never hurts. I am reading The Orange Eats Creeps right now, which is about nineties punk teenage vampires, and is about as dark and mindblowing as it gets. Kind of like if Francesca Lia Block started doing methamphetamine.

Old Alfred Hitchcock himself pays you a visit (even though he’s all dead and stuff). He tells you there are at least three elements that should go into every thriller. They are:

Well, if it was Alfred Hitchcock, they would probably be 1. A lot of boring parts of Deep Symbolism 2. some scary birds 3. sexy ladies that are bad! bad! bad! I would rather ask Jean-Pierre Melville (1. Good outfits 2. tragic outcomes 3. Alain Delon).

(Isn't she fabulous, folks? I'm a Le R FanGirl through and through. Her point of view, stunning prose, and sharp wit keep me checking her blog daily and participating in those brilliant uncontests.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

1% inspiration... the rest is sweat

After all the excitement of JB Lynn's post yesterday about her road to publication (YAY, GIRL!), I thought it would be interesting to downshift a little and talk about how hard we writers work to actually finish a book, never mind what might or might not come afterward.

I think it was Thomas Edison who said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  I'm by no means a genius, but I can definitely apply this percentage to my writing.  My books are definitely 1% Aha! moments and 99% white-knuckling and teeth-gritting to get the damn book done.  In other words, writing is WORK. 

And yes, this surprised me.  It really did, once I got serious and decided that I wanted to see my name in print.  I didn't find it hard as a kid, writing bad poetry that my teachers peppered with little gold stars.   I didn't find it hard in high school, where I had copious amounts of angst to fuel my inspiration.  Writing got hard once I grew up.  Once I started thinking about publishing.  Once I realized I'd have to make sacrifices for it (like time, money, energy).

I'm not one of those writers who gets a ton of ideas.  I envy my writer friends, some of whom carry around notebooks because they so get so many ideas for stories, they can't possibly keep track of them if they're not written down.  Stephen King once said that he's happy if he's three story ideas ahead.

THREE ideas ahead?  Guys, I'm thrilled if I have ONE idea RIGHT NOW.  Seriously, I'm lucky if I get one decent idea a year.  Maybe I'm not a very inspired person, but ideas don't magically appear to me.  I don't have a muse.  I don't write as if possessed by a higher power.  I have to think up an idea, start writing it, and hope like hell it turns into something worth reading.  Most of the time, it doesn't. 

What I do have going for me is that I'm stubborn and I'm task-oriented.  I know that when an idea starts to take shape, I'd better milk it for all its worth, because unlike buses, trains, and fish in the sea, there really isn't more where that came from.  And this is where the perspiration part comes in.  I've written 75,000 words for my current work-in-progress and I started in mid-August.  Not too shabby, right?   But what you don't know is that I started this book three times before over a period of eight months.  And all three times, it fizzled around 25,000 words.  That's a lot of writing that went nowhere.  I wish I could say it was okay and that those three attempts paved the way for this draft to take off, but I don't think so.  Sometimes wasted words are just wasted words. 

What about you?  What's your percentage?  10% inspiration and 90% perspiration?  50/50?  100% one way or the other?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nine years to get THE CALL

Since yesterday I broke the news that Carina Press will be publishing my romantic suspense novel in June, I thought I’d use today’s post to tell you the story behind the story. (If you want to know what the actual story is about, I posted that on my blog yesterday.) For the purposes of this post, I’m going to call the manuscript STOLEN because that’s the title I’ve been using for years (yes, years) even though the publisher wants another.. Since we haven’t decided on one yet, I’m just using Stolen for now.

I apologize for this post being so long, but next week I’ll be using my space on Tuesday for a Q&A with Laura Griffin, who will be telling us all about her NY Times and USA Today best seller “Deadly Promises”! (and there will be a book giveaway, so don’t miss it!)

Our story begins a long time ago, on a dark rainy night. No, really, I first wrote Stolen in 2001 as a screenplay (a script that was good enough to be optioned, but the movie was never made) and I remember getting the initial idea for it while I was driving on a dark and rainy road.

A few years later I switched my attention to writing novels.

I wrote a couple of books that went nowhere, but I couldn’t let go of the story of Stolen. In 2005 I wrote it as a novel. And then wrote it again. And again.

I started querying agents and I queried one New York publisher. The agents all passed, but the publisher asked for a revision. (I heart the editor that wrote my revision letter. I really felt like he wanted to help me make a better book.) So I rewrote the book for the publisher and continued querying agents. The agents kept passing. (I got an awful lot of, “I can’t get behind a book where violence is committed against children”. For the record it’s teenagers that are killed.) The editor wrote another revision letter, so I rewrote the book yet again.

Meanwhile I was writing other books.

Then I landed a literary agent and Stolen went out on submission to a round of New York publishers. Who all passed. Plus, the editor who’d requested two revisions passed.

Stolen was dead.

I left my agent.
And I kept writing other books.

Until finally, Long Suffering, a wise and wonderful man who, for reasons unbeknownst to me, shares his life with me, suggested, “Why don’t you send it to Angela James?”

I met Angela James about five years ago at a writing conference. Back then she was the Executive Editor of Samhain Publishing. My first impression of her was that she’s a smart, savvy woman who is passionate about what she does. Five years later, I’m certain my first impression was dead on.

I’d never submitted anything to Angela while she was at Samhain because I didn’t feel my books fit their niche, but now she is the Executive Editor of Carina Press, Harlequin’s digital-first press, which has a wider focus and is doing exciting things. . I didn’t think that my story was Angela’s cup of tea. (I’ve never gotten the impression she was into romantic suspense. On the other hand I can remember her gushing about steampunk five years ago when no one even knew what the genre was.) Still, Long Suffering was insistent, and frankly I wanted to get him off my back, so I subbed the manuscript.

Angela forwarded my manuscript to an appropriate editor at Carina Press and within a few months I’d received a “revise and resubmit” letter. Not just any letter, an AWESOME letter. The kind of letter that told me that I’d finally found an editor who “got” my book. (Hopefully I’ll write another post soon to explain exactly why I thought we were a perfect match.)

After finishing another book I was working on, I took the editor’s suggestions to heart, implemented the changes she’d suggested, revised the manuscript, and sent it back to her.

On September 16th I got THE CALL. Angela James telephoned to let me know that Carina Press was interested in acquiring Stolen!

It took nine years and countless versions (for the record there is not a single scene from the screenplay that ended up in the book, lol) but I’ve found a home for Stolen.

So that’s my long-winded story -- any questions?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Status Check Monday

JB Lynn: I received my contract last week, so I'm finally ready to share the news I've been hinting at for weeks. I've sold my romantic suspense novel to Carina Press (the digital-first division of Harlequin). It will be released next summer, so I'll be sharing my journey with you from here on out. I didn't want to take up all the space here, so I've posted the story description that I used in my query over here.

Goals for the week: Go to the post office to mail back my contract! I should be getting a revision letter from my Carina editor in a couple of weeks so I need to get as much done as possible on my current WIP (which is a different story/genre).


Jenny:  Super, super happy for you, JB!  Huge congratulations!  I can't wait to read your book.

Nothing remotely exciting going on with me.  I'm almost at 71k for the WIP but the story shows no sign of ending.  What is it with me and massive first drafts?

Goals for the week:  Write faster.  Write better.


Joann: CONGRATS, JB!! I also cannot wait to read your book. So thrilling.

Exciting things are afoot, namely an interview I scored with none other than herself, THE REJECTIONIST! I'll be posting the interview on one of my upcoming Thursdays, so stay tuned.

The handwritten opus (LOL) is going very, very well. Just LOVING this process so much. I'm having a tough time with my second draft of WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT, though. I'm not sure why, but I have a feeling it has to do with getting some distance. Either that or I'm not hitting it hard enough. For all you writers out there, what do you do when you keep coming up against a brick wall with a WIP?

Goals for the week: Write, work, sleep, repeat.

How's everything in your world, Killer Friends?

Friday, October 8, 2010

FFF: Favorite series character

It's Free-For-All Friday, Killer friends! And the question we're asking today is: Who is your favorite series character?

Jenny: For once, I didn't have to think about my answer. My fave series character is, hands down, forensic expert Lincoln Rhyme. He stars in nine Jeffery Deaver thrillers, and what makes Linc extra-special is that he's a quadraplegic. Yet this doesn't stop him from catching the baddest of the bad-ass serial killers. Quite possibly, as Linc himself wondered in the most recent book The Burning Wire, it might actually be his disability that keeps his mind so damned sharp. If you haven't read a Rhyme novel, I highly recommend it. Start with The Bone Collector (which was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie). The books don't have to be read in order, but the author's character development is one of the best parts of the series, and it's fun to watch them grow.

Joann: My favorite series character is Aloysius Pendergast, who appears in several novels by the amazing writing duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Pendergast is an incredibly intelligent FBI agent who commands the respect of anyone who meets him. I love how well-developed he is and that Preston and Child don't hesitate to put him into situations that call for a whole lot more than just following police procedure. In fact, they love to throw Pendergast into supernatural mysteries that test the limits of his abilities. My favorites are Brimstone, Dance of Death, and Book of the Dead (the Diogenes trilogy). In fact, it feels like it's about time to pick them up again!

JB Lynn I have a thing for ambiguous series characters...those that you're never quite sure which way they're going to go.

Books -- I loved the character of Hawk in Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels. He wasn't exactly sidekick material. Instead he served as a dark counterpoint to Spenser. Like the title character he had his own code, and usually came through in the end, but he definitely leaned toward the shadier side of life.

TV Series -- US Marshall R aylan Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) may be the hero of the series Justified but the reason I keep tuning in is to see what his childhood-friend-turned-criminal Bo Crowder (played by Walter Goggins) is going to do. I hated the character in the first episode, spent the middle eps wondering what the hell he was up to, and found myself hoping that he wouldn't die in the last episode of the first season.

Movies -- Severus Snape is not my favorite character in the Harry Potter books, but with a raising of an eyebrow or a sneer of the lip, Alan Rickman has elevated him to one of my favorite movie characters of all time.

So tell us: Who are your favorite series characters?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Unfaithful

Friends, you can’t throw a virtual rock without hearing about how eReaders are taking over the universe. I resisted my own questionable desires as if I was cheating on my paperbacks, the manifestation of my guilt resembling the warning signs you might see in an unfaithful spouse. Looking at my dusty paperbacks evoked a sense of guilt and longing because I hadn't wanted to touch them in awhile. If you're like me, you too have struggled with the moral dilemma of switching from the comfortable folds of familiar book to the forbidden pleasure of an electronic device. As the (purely made-up) list below indicates, you are not alone.

You know you're falling in love with your eReader when...
  1. You're confronted about how much time you’re spending with your Kindle/iPad/Nook and you respond, "We're just friends."
  2. You find yourself withdrawing from your “real books”.
  3. You’re preoccupied and daydreaming about the feel of hard plastic more and more.
  4. You're no longer interested in taking your “real books” to bed.
  5. The amount of time you and your “real books” spend together is dwindling.
  6. You find yourself anticipating when you can hold your eReader again.
  7. You find reasons to touch your eReader when no one's looking.
  8. Your eReader seems to understand you better than any old paperback ever did.
  9. You find reasons to give your eReader personal gifts, like a new title every two days.
  10. You’re keeping your eReader a secret from your “real books”.
I've heard it's a rare thing to stay with the one you cheated with, but my eReader is a most alluring device. I do wonder, though, how long it will be before I'm stealing glances at "real books" again, longing for the touch and smell and comfort of familiar paper.

So, dear friends, are you a “cheater” like me or do you remain faithful to your bound darlings?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Interview with Victoria Skurnick, Literary Agent

I'm very proud to introduce you all to my agent, Victoria Skurnick of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency in NYC.  Before we get started, here's a bit more about her from LGLA's website:

Victoria Skurnick came to Levine Greenberg after being at The Book-of-the Month Club for almost twenty years.  As Editor-in-Chief, she relished the opportunity to devour every kind of book, from the finest literary fiction to Yiddish for Dogs.  Anne Tyler, John LeCarre, Amy Tan, Tom Wolfe, Stephen King, Michael Lewis, Lee Child, Roddy Doyle, Alice Sebold, Tracy Kidder, Julia Child and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are just a few of the authors that make her deaf and blind to anyone around her when she's reading.

Victoria's other addiction besides reading is music. She has sung in many choirs in New York City and spent a few ostensibly happy years singing rock in groups like Big and the Evolution. No, you haven't heard of it – if you had, she wouldn't be an agent. She also is the co-author (with Cynthia Katz) of seven novels written by 'Cynthia Victor.'

Raised in New Rochelle, NY, Victoria went to the University of Wisconsin where she studied political science with an emphasis on constitutional law, a subject that still fascinates her. Neither adventurous nor peripatetic, she has remained within a 20-mile radius of home since her day of birth.


Victoria, thank you for taking the time to indulge me.  You've been in the publishing business a long time.  How'd you get started?  And what made you decide to transition into agenting?

I got started the good old American way – knowing someone who knew someone.  My old friends happened to know Susan Petersen (now Susan Petersen Kennedy, chairman of Penguin), who needed an assistant.  I needed a job, found I could write promotional copy (total news to me!) and was hired as advertising and promotion assistant at Avon Books.  Went on to marketing jobs at Pocket and Holt, then became an editor.  I decided to become an agent after 19 mostly glorious years at the Book-of-the-Month Club.  Toward the last years, the clubs had lost ground to Amazon, price clubs and modernity in general, and had become much less fun to work at.  I had been in a number of publishing jobs and had written a bunch of novels with my friend Cynthia (we were Cynthia Victor), so the newest challenge seemed becoming an agent.  I thought I'd love it, and I do!


What do you like best about being an agent?

I like finding talented new writers, with fascinating and original material.  This is similar to what I've liked best about all my jobs.  But, as an agent, I get to edit people and then excite publishers about them.  It's very satisfying to be in from the beginning, to unlock a world to a writer who has a load of talent, but might not otherwise have entry.


How many authors do you represent?

A bunch.  Don't know the number.  More than 25; less than 100.


Tell me what a typical day for you is like.

Reading manuscripts, putting out fires for clients or editors, talking to and/or lunching with editors to recommend projects.  Hard to put in words, but an agent could work 24 hours a day and never get finished with what's on your desk.


When reading queries, what turns you off immediately?  What turns you on?

I'm old fashioned, and bad grammar really is deadly for me.  Self-aggrandizement in a query letter, lack of pagination, sloppy writing, bad writing, unoriginal plot – all kinds of things turn me off.  Turn-ons – obvious intelligence on the part of the writer, writing that has flair, a plot I haven't seen four hundred times, a short but to the point query letter, a sense of humor, again, just plain good writing.


This question has been asked of agents many times, but I'd love to hear your take.  How important are an author's publication credits in a query letter?  

If it's fiction, they don't really matter, although, since agents get millions of query letters, some kind of literary magazine credit or award or something may impel you to ask to see the whole book.  For nonfiction, platform, credits and stuff are very important.  Do you already have people out there waiting for your book?  This is the question publishers want answered.


It's your M.O. to request the full manuscript if you liked the query.  How much of the manuscript would you have to read before you deciding it's not for you?  Five pages?  Fifty?  And what reasons would you typically have for passing on it?

This just completely depends.  Of course, there are those manuscripts that are just terrible from page one, but those are really in the minority. Many are quite readable, so I end up reading almost the whole thing before realizing that I really can't sell it, and then find myself hundreds of manuscripts behind.  But there's no general answer to your question, unless the author is simply awful.


You helped me revise the hell out of my manuscript before we went on submission, taking the novel from 106k words down to under 95k (clearly you're not afraid to put on your editorial hat – and thank God for that!).  Why is it easier (or better) to sell a novel under 100k words?

The reason for this is mostly commercial.  Books aren't really sold to book stores; rather they're put out on consignment.  Stores return all unsold merchandise for their full price.  This gets picked up by publishers. Since almost every book gets returned in some quantity, how much each unit costs to produce is really important.  Paper has become very expensive.  So, if a book costs around two and a half bucks to produce, and 50% come back to the publisher, that's one expense.  If they cost four bucks to produce and come back at that rate, it's a death knoll to the publisher's bottom line.  The horrible news about book publishing is that it's the rare book that DOES make any money for the publisher, especially in the last couple of years, so keeping all costs down going in has become even more important.

There's another, possibly more important, reason.  Most books over 100,000 words are just too damned long.  Obviously that does not go for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Gone with the Wind.  There are many exceptions.  But, for the majority of books, the plot and characters don't deserve this much space.  They get boring, or the author repeats him/herself a thousand times.  Most novels simply read better and are better when the extra is shaved away.


Why do you think fiction is such a tough market right now?  

People are on Facebook or web surfing.  Or raising their children, or making out, or driving their cars.  They certainly are not reading.  And those who are reading are buying James Patterson, Stephanie Meyer or Suzanne Collins.  The number of book buyers interested in a few name-brand authors vs. the buyers interested in all the other authors out there has never been more disproportionate.  A novel that used to sell 4500 copies now sells 600 copies. 


A while ago, Poets & Writers magazine did an interview with four agents, and they were talking about manuscripts they'd lost out on that went on to become big hits (The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Kite Runner).  Has anything like this ever happened to you?  Have you ever regretted passing on a manuscript?

I've been lucky and so far it has not happened to me.  But that's probably because I only started three years ago.  There were books in my book club career that I passed by – lucky you did not ask that!


Are you still accepting queries?  If so, what kinds of books are you looking for right now?

I always accept queries since I'm looking for new authors.  As to what kind of books – good books.


What's your best advice for writers looking for agents?

Go to your local bookstore and check out writers whose books appeal to the audience your book should appeal to.  Check the Acknowledgments page and see which agent they thank.  Make a list of those agents and send your queries to them, since they have been successful with your kind of thing.  I also recommend that writers send in brief but well written queries, and that they paste the first chapter or so at the bottom of the query.  If you attach something, chances are I'm not going to have the time to open it and read; but if you put it right there on the page, my curiosity forces me to at least look at a few lines.  If I like it, that will impel me to ask for the whole thing.


All right, time for not-so-serious stuff!  Famous person you'd most like to meet (dead or alive)?

There are too many – how about Eleanor Roosevelt or George Clooney?


Name five things you absolutely hate doing.

Getting my apartment painted, gathering tax material, standing in line, eating on the grass,  re-reading a manuscript for the eleventh time.


Your home is on fire.  You have ten seconds to grab something and run.  What do you grab?

Photographs.


I love that you used to sing in rock groups.  Picture this: you and I are in a karaoke bar celebrating my book deal (because that's how we roll… don't ask, just go with it).  What songs would you sing?

Love Hurts, Crazy, and anything Gershwin.


Thank you for your sharing your insight and expertise, Victoria.  And thanks also for being a good sport!

Killer friends, I hope you enjoyed the interview.  I know I did!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Start with a Bang! Famous First Lines

I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a bookstore, deciding whether to buy a book, I have a fairly set ritual. First I read the jacket copy or back cover blurb, then, if I like what I’ve seen so far, I flip the book open and skim the first page.

For me, the first page makes or breaks a sale. Heck, often it’s the first line, which is why I enjoyed the American Book Review’s 100 Best First Lines from Novels.

Here are the Top 10.

1. Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

3. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

10. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)



Isn’t it amazing how much (tone, voice, setting, plot) can be expressed in a single line? Reading this list reminded me why I've read some of these books, and why I'll never read others. What about you?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this applies only to Classics. I pulled three books from my shelves, all published in the past five years. Check out how these talented ladies use their first lines:

“At the very beginning, she had seen his face and knew he would not let her live.”
Allison Brennan, Speak No Evil
No surprise that this book is about a twisted serial killer.

“When I was twelve years old I accidentally substituted salt for sugar in a cake recipe.”
Janet Evanovich, Twelve Sharp
If you haven’t read a Stephanie Plum novel before you still know immediately that she’s sort of off-kilter.

“Sometimes they went in with a flash and crash, but Lieutenant Gage always preferred stealth.”
Laura Griffin, Unstoppable (part of the anthology Deadly Promises)
We know immediately that Lt. Brewer is all about getting the job done.

Don’t forget: I’ll be posting a Q&A with Laura Griffin later this month!

How important do you consider first lines to be? As a reader, have you ever put down or picked up a book because of a first line? As a writer, do you spend time perfecting your first line?

Oh, and just for fun I’ve posted some of my own first lines on my blog.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Status Check Monday

Jenny: Woo hoo! My contract (hard copy) should arrive today via FedEx. I'm excited to get everything signed and sent back.

I don't think I mentioned I was in Portland for a few days, but I was, and it was a nice little getaway. Bought a bunch of books at Powell's (of course) and did a little shopping (no sales tax in Oregon, gotta love that). Didn't write one single word. Oh well. The break was good for my brain. I'm at 60k in the new book and it seemed like a good spot to take a breather.

Goals for this week: Get my contract signed. Add another 10k to the WIP. Finally post the interview with my agent on Wednesday – it's fabulous. You guys don't want to miss it.

Joann: Congrats, Jenny! A hardcopy of your contract has got to feel realer than real!

Last week I hinted about a confounding thing happening in my world of writing. I wasn't sure it would go anywhere, but it has, so I might as well talk about it. I'm working on a new project that is 1) handwritten and 2) comes at a strange time - right on the heels of the completed first draft of WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT. It's been AGES since I hand wrote anything more than grocery list, but I'm finding my connection with the story to be significantly deeper AND it's a better written first draft. So...

Goals for this week: Keep plugging away on the first draft of handwritten OPUS (lmao) and continue second-drafting WAM.

JB Lynn: I'm waiting. Waiting for a contract on one book so that I can find out what revisions are necessary. Waiting back to hear from all the agents who have another book. (I know I'm getting a second read (which is great) from at least one agent, but it means more waiting.) And I'm waiting to find my flow with my WIP. I'm eeking out this story at a snail's pace...maybe a dead snail.


Goals for this week: Add 15k GOOD words to the work-in-progress. Decide whether or not to submit another book to an e-publisher.