The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

Showing posts with label ThrillWriting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ThrillWriting. Show all posts

Monday, January 29, 2018

Inclusion in Your Storyline: Writing Characters with Cognitive Proocessing Issues with Kris Austen Radcliffe

Today, we are talking about diversity in our writing by including adults who have cognitive processes that are atypical - though atypical does not mean lesser by any stretch of the imagination. Kris can you give us a glimpse at your background and personal experience as it pertains our topic?

Kris -

I've always been interested in cognitive processing, even back when I was a kid. I was fascinated by the process of thinking -- and storytelling. I toggled back and forth between the two, wondering about people, and imagining them.

The fascination with storytelling resulted in a BA in film studies. The fascination with cognition motivated a lot of my post-graduate work.

My first dip into post-grad life resulted in me co-authoring a book about the differences in how people process information. This led to graduate work in Ed. Psych.

The plan was to get that PhD and become a science writer, thus melding my two passions. That didn't happen.

I have two kids, both of whom carry disabilities. Because of a lot of issues and reasons, life did not mesh in a way that allowed me to finish my degree. But it's the kids, really, that brought me to develop characters with disabilities.

My eldest daughter lives with severe ADHD. Being immersed in her life, plus my two passions for cognitive science and storytelling, led to the creation of Rysa Torres, the heroine of my Fate Fire Shifter Dragon series. Rysa, like my daughter, has ADHD.

I wanted to write a character who represented the struggles of ADHD for women in a realistic way, even if the universe is science fiction/ fantasy.

Fiona -
No two people experience the same disability in the same way physically, mentally, socio-economically. Can you explain how you looked at symptoms of ADHD and determined how to apply them to your character and how it impacts her ability to function in her role in your fantasy world?

Kris - 
I know there is disagreement about ADHD, about what it is, how to diagnose it, etc. Some people even think it's a made up syndrome meant to get naughty kids out of schoolwork.

It's real.

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder, and like every syndrome, it manifests differently across all sort of factors.

Boys tend to be more hyperactive. Girls, less attentive. My daughter is also hyperactive.

Basically, with ADHD, the executive functions in the front part of the brain move from task to task too fast.

The underlying cause is often (but not always) counterintuitive, in that the jumping is caused by slow processing.

Look at it this way: The executive functions operate as gatekeepers, among other tasks. It's all about sorting and organizing thoughts, application of effort, delaying gratification -- all those fun things we associate with being an adult.

What happens with ADHD is that the operation of those control functions happens too slowly. A moment is not labeled important quickly enough, so it is passed by.

This is why Adderall and the other amphetamine drugs help a lot of people with ADHD. They speed up the necessary processing.

Now, with boys and girls, we run into all sorts of society's stereotypes about who is supposed to be active and who is not. 
Which is why boys get diagnosed earlier and more often -- physical hyperactivity is more obvious with them. With girls tend to fidget, get in trouble, and ignore their homework. They're more likely to labeled as not as smart.

But really, ADHD has little to do with intelligence, though it does effect working memory, which interferes with learning.

My daughter had all the symptoms -- and I mean all of them. She's a cut and dry, textbook case.

She still had an unending number of problems in school.

I wanted to give her, and all the women out there who are dealing with ADHD and any of the issues related to it, a heroine who represented them. So I wrote Rysa.

Fiona - 
Can you explain how you looked at symptoms of ADHD and determined how to apply them to your character and how it impacts her ability to function in her role in your fantasy world?

Kris - 

The character's journey into the fantastic side of the universe is fast, intense, and overwhelming, which mirrors life with ADHD.
She has a hard time keeping track of who has what power and why.
She also has a hard time dealing with her own power set because it's very much like dealing with all of her own little voices.

A common symptom with girls with ADHD is low self-esteem and hyper sensitivity to criticism.

Life's ups and downs are extraordinarily high and extraordinarily low, and everything is a high or a low.

This is one of the truths of Rysa's life -- that the battles ahead of her are extraordinary not only in a fantasy way, but also in an internal, "How is it that I have this power?" way.

And it's reflected in everything.

Rysa, like my daughter -- and me, to be honest -- has a rich inner life. All her struggles have a "voice" and she looks at the world in a metaphorical way, so her power set manifests for her as something that is not quite her.

My daughter will occasionally see her hyperactivity that way.
Her reconciliation of the otherness into the whole is also part of the character's ADHD.

But in the end, her scattered way of looking at the world, and her powers, are what allows her to save the world.

Ultimately, Rysa harnesses her ADHD for the good of everyone.
That's really what I wanted to do with the character. To have her grow into herself and to figure out how to live with and use her atypical cognition.

As a side note, it's really important for anyone with ADHD to have support. Most of the characters around Rysa help instead of hinder.

Fiona - 
When you're constructing your characters with atypical processing do you define this for your readers? Do your characters know they have, for example, ADHD? Or are you allowing those who have experienced this either within themselves or with friends and loved ones?

Kris -
Rysa knows she has ADHD and lampshades it.

Lampshade is  a TV Tropes thing: Putting a lampshade on an issue to point it out for the viewer or the reader. MORE HERE

Basically, it's when extra care is given to the explanation for a character's behavior because it's not "normal."

"Oh my God, he's sucking that person's blood!" "It's okay. He's a vampire." is an example. Without knowing that you're dealing with a vampire, that behavior could be all sorts of nasty.

Rysa explicitly tells everyone that she has ADHD. Now, it's also an excuse on her part, so there's a balancing there.

But the reader knows. They know they're in the head of someone who switches topics, moves between stimuli, and has a hard time paying attention.

It's hard from some readers. I have one review that says the reader wants to punch everyone with ADHD because of my book.
Again, though, a lot of people don't think ADHD is real. They think it's just an excuse for the character to behave "badly."

I also have the POV of Rysa's love interest, who doesn't have ADHD, as a counterpoint. He's not as... speedy. He also has a lot of compassion for her and her difficulties.

Oh, and there's a dragon.

Every girl needs a dragon, and like any good dragon, he's the wise one who takes care of everyone.

Overall, several other characters in the same universe live with some type of issue. One main character is hearing impaired, and his brother lost the lower half of his leg. Another is blind. Several suffer from an immortal form of PTSD.

There are genetic issues that arise when the two groups with different powers have babies. I try to bring in some scientific realism when fleshing out worlds, even in fantasy.

But then again, it's really a science fiction universe, so it's just world building.

Stay in touch with Kris Austen Radcliff:


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Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Difficulty of Writing Perspective with New York Times Bestselling Author Diane Capri

ThrillWriting welcomes the amazing Diane Capri.

Diane had long been active in Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and other writing organizations. After her publisher’s bankruptcy, while she was writing the new Jess Kimball novel, Fatal Distraction, she was invited to join International Thriller Writers at its inception and shortly thereafter, became a member of the board along with her friend, the #1 International Bestselling author, Lee Child.

At a cocktail party in New York in 2009, Lee and Diane discussed a great question: Where is Jack Reacher? The answer was unknown, which inspired Diane to write a series of suspense novels answering the inquiry with Lee’s blessing. The first of those novels is Don’t Know Jack, introducing FBI Special Agents Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar, now available to buy or download a sample here: Don’t Know Jack. The short story singles, Jack in a Box, and Jack and Kill quickly followed, allow readers to learn even more about Otto and Gaspar. The second novel in the series opened to rave reader reviews on September 15, 2013, and is now available to buy or download a sample here: Get Back Jack.

Fiona -
Diane, I've just finished reading Girl with the Pearl Earring which was the story of the woman in a famous Vermeer painting of the same name. We know that no two people can see the same event the same way. Having studied the artist, it was interesting for me to read the fictitious accounting of the model's experience.

Psychology understands that each person presents with a different goal, different perspective, different need. The Rashomon Effect tells us that two people often have contradictory interpretations of the same event. I think your series does a marvelous way of exhibiting this effect.

Can you tell us about your series and how you applied the Rashomon Effect in developing the story line?

Diane - 

My Hunt for Jack Reacher Series is all about two FBI agents, Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar, who have been assigned to complete a background check on Jack Reacher for a highly classified assignment not disclosed to them. 

Otto and Gaspar learn about Reacher a little at a time from people who knew him in the past. Some of those people are on Reacher's side, so they refuse to disclose information because they don't want to get Reacher in trouble with the FBI. Some are not on Reacher's side, so they have an ax to grind as well, which makes anything they do say unreliable. And many are simply suspicious and threatened by Otto and Gaspar the moment they walk in the room. 

All of this presents significant challenges to Otto and Gaspar, and to writing their stories. Of course, they Don't Know Jack. (Fiona: Book #1 is titled "Don't Know Jack") They've never read one of Lee Child's books. And they have no frame of reference for this guy. Beyond that, they're operating off the books, meaning that they're on an assignment that's not authorized as "under cover," and they have no team backing them up. They're on their own. 

And if those handicaps weren't already enough, all of Reacher's files have been removed. There is nothing in any database anywhere referencing Reacher since he left the army fifteen years ago. Of course, this could only be accomplished by someone with a lot of power working against them. So right off the bat, Otto and Gaspar are in trouble. 

Someone big is looking for Reacher, and they don't know who is looking or why. On top of that, Reacher's army records reveal that he had, let's call it a difficult career. At the end of his career, he was given the opportunity to retire instead of facing charges. Otto and Gaspar are FBI agents, which essentially means they are cops. And they're good. Which means they are suspicious by nature. 

As a result of this unusual and dangerous assignment, and because of their basic natures, Otto and Gaspar are worried about Reacher right out of the gate. And what they learn about him doesn't increase their comfort level. Quite the opposite. Readers of Lee Child's novels know that Reacher is a guy with little or no conscience about doing what he thinks is the right thing. In the original books, Reacher often works with law enforcement to handle the bad guys in ways that are far from legal. Those law enforcement officers don't want the details of those earlier operations to come out now to ruin their careers or, in some cases, send them to prison. 

The challenge for Otto and Gaspar, then, is that everyone they meet knows way more about Reacher than they do. And everyone who knows Reacher is suspicious of them. No one who has worked with Reacher before wants Otto and Gaspar to succeed. So what we have as readers, if we've been reading Lee Child's Reacher novels, is a lot more knowledge than Otto and Gaspar have or will have. The picture of Reacher that unfolds for them is like a giant puzzle that they must put together, one piece at a time -- when the pieces often don't seem to fit. 

FIona - 
How fascinating all of that is. And what a wonderful way for readers to understand what's going on for investigators in the real world. 

I can imagine as a writer that this gets very confusing. Can you talk about your approach? How do you map out a plot line who knows what when and how? It must be daunting to keep strait.

Diane - 

The Hunt for Jack Reacher novels are very difficult to write, Fiona. I'm not only trying to do all of the things I mentioned, but I need to do it without spoiling the original Lee Child novel for those readers who haven't read those books yet. 

I'm not writing sequels to the original books. I'm writing spin offs from them. The first novel in this series took me two years to write. I used Killing Floor as the source book and asked Lee a ton of questions along the way. Whew! 

The second novel took eighteen months, and the third took more than a year. Now, I can write the books in about eight months, because I know Otto and Gaspar much better and I understand where the series is going. My process always begins with reading the source book several times. For Jack the Reaper, which is the fifth novel in the series releasing on September 26, the source book is The Hard Way

When I'm analyzing the source book, I'm looking for ways to spin off an Otto and Gaspar story that will suit all of my goals for the series and for each individual thriller. Of course, I want to create an exciting great read every time. So those are the big issues at this stage. For Jack the Reaper, I'm using two characters and a landmark. A private detective and Reacher's love interest from The Hard Way, Lauren Pauling. A character identified only as Brewer originally. and The Dakota, one of the most famous apartment buildings in New York City. After I find the characters, I work on the plot. I start with a skeletal outline and fill in as I go along. I also research a lot and I do that both before and during the writing. My brain enjoys complicated plotting, so that's an inherent bonus! 

Thank you.

A traditional question at ThrillWriting is: Please tell us the story behind your favorite scar or harrowing story. Would you indulge us?

Diane - 
I've done a lot of crazy things in my life, and I usually don't know they're harrowing until they're over. One of the best examples is the time I was driving from the softball field to the bar to join my team mates. This was in Detroit, years ago before cell phones, and not in a great neighborhood. A woman ran out in front of my car, waiving her arms, acting terrified. I stopped the car to avoid hitting her and she ran over and jumped inside. She was hysterical, crying, almost incoherent. She said, "I need to find a phone! I just shot my husband!" 

Fiona - 
Holy moly, that is harrowing! 

Thank you so much, Diane, for sharing about your writing. And thank you, ThrillReaders and ThrillWriters for joining us. I hope you enjoy Diane's novels when you snag your copies.

You can stay in touch with Diane Capri through her website.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ready? Steady. Go! Getting Started on Your Novel with USA Today Bestselling Author H.B. Moore

Hi Fiona.
Thanks for hosting me at ThrillWriting.

In new novel POETIC JUSTICE, which I hope will be a start to a great series. I traditionally write historical thrillers, and POETIC JUSTICE is my first contemporary thriller.


Claire Vetra is looking for two men. The first man she’ll kill. The second man she’ll also kill after she makes him watch her destroy everything he’s ever built.

This is only the start of her revenge against the World Alliance Organization that held her hostage for a year and subjected her to live human testing all in the name of medical science.

But when Claire begins to unravel her past, she discovers that unlocking the memories of what happened to her might destroy the remaining shreds of her sanity.

Fiona Quinn asked me to share a little about my writing journey, and so I thought I’d talk about how to start your book.

When I meet writers who are looking to get published, they often ask me how I decide where to start my story, who the characters will be, and how I plot.

So as I’m preparing to write my next book, I thought I’d give you some insight into my process.

1. Thinking. Maybe mulling is the more correct word. I have to have the main character pretty well defined in my mind before starting to write. The secondary characters come into the story to support the main character—and sometimes they surprise even me.

2. Creating a schedule. Writing, of course, is not always controlled by that effervescent muse (Fiona—I’m probably using effervescent wrong). Writing is part creativity, and part science. Editing definitely falls into the science category, as well as actually completing a book. Like any writer, I’m constantly pulled in different directions. But once I decide on a book, I need to create the schedule to get it completed, and limit any other stories in my head that are trying to derail priority number 1. For example, if I decide to turn in a book on December 1st to my publisher and I start on August 1st, I divide the word count by the number of writing days. And I leave a couple of weeks in for editing. August: 25,000 words (average 1,000 words a day, 5 days/week). September: 25,000 words, October: 25,000 words, November: 10,000 (2 weeks), 2 weeks of edits.

3. Character sketching. This is an evolving process and changes and grows as I get further into the writing process. For instance, when I write my first draft, my character motivations aren’t usually ironed out. I’m writing mostly plot and dialog. About half-way through draft 1, I’ve had to make solid decisions about my characters, so I’m adding information to my character sketches as I go. So during the 2nd draft, I’m inserting more characterization to the beginning of the book.

4. Point of view & tense: I take into consideration who my audience will be and who the most important characters are. Will the story happen in real time (present tense) or past tense? Will my characters speak in first person (ideal for YA), or third person? It’s a lot of work to change this part of the process, so doing your research beforehand will save you a lot of time later.

5. Conflict. This goes hand in hand with character sketching. I have to ask myself what is the main conflict of the book, and of each character.

6. Beginning. Now that I have some basics going and I actually sit down to write, I usually concentrate on where I want the story to begin. Not to say that the first chapter I write will be the actual first chapter of the book, but I start pretty near the beginning. Before I start a chapter/scene, I ask myself: “What is the point of the chapter? What will be accomplished? What will it show that may/may not be relevant to the story as a whole?”

7. Creating a scene. I create scenes in several phases. Phase 1: writing and not caring too much about “fleshing out” the characters or the description, but I am nailing down the direction of the scene. Phase 2: revising the scene and inserting more description, making more concrete decisions about the character. Phase 3: this will happen when the whole book is drafted and maybe new developments have happened along the way. So I now have to go back through each scene to make sure the story is properly directed. As you can see, creativity has just been replaced by careful analysis (science).

Okay, looking over this list makes me wonder why I even start a new book. Every writer has what works for them. My style might be convoluted, but you never know, it might work for you as well.

About Me:

I write thrillers under the pen name H.B. Moore. My latest thrillers include Slave Queen and The Killing Curse. Under Heather B. Moore, I write romance and women’s fiction, and my newest release is Condemn Me Not: Accused of Witchcraft. She’s also one of the coauthors of the USA Today bestselling series: A Timeless Romance Anthology.


Facebook: Fans of H. B. Moore


Instagram: @authorhbmoore

Twitter: @HeatherBMoore

Thank you for stopping by today. Remember when you buy HB's and my books, you help to support future articles on this blog!


Monday, August 21, 2017

Drama Queen

English: Municipal theatre Baden-Baden, German...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently I was teaching an all day seminar in writing for high schoolers at a local library. 

A few of the participants were serious about pursuing a fiction writing career. One of the young ladies asked me what kinds of writing classes she should take. 

To be frank, writing classes are okay for learning the techniques of good writing but there are classes outside of the English department that I think serve the writer well. 

  • Psychology classes to learn about how humans tick. 
  • History classes that teach research and might spur some great ideas for  novels set in the past. 
  • Photography classes that help you to really look at the world around you and help you define what you want in that lens - what stories you can tell with a single shot, removing all of the extra information. 
  • Travel! I told them. 
    • Find semesters abroad. 
    • Find American businesses that will let you intern in a foreign country. 
    • Learn a new language so your language skills become deeper. 

"But right now in high school," I said, "become a thespian."

Janet Evanovich will tell you that she believes her smooth dialogue comes from her time doing improv. LINK.  Ms. Evanovich learned a lot from the stage, and as I write, I too credit much of my personal style/technique to what I learned in theater classes with Mrs. Baugher, especially studying Stanislovsky's Method. LINK.

Through theater I learned to ask:

  • What is my motivation in this conversation?
  • What body gestures make sense? 
  • Where do I place my character in the defined space allotted vis a vis the others in the scene?
  • Body language!
  • Facial expressions - don't just say it, think it. Oh wait! That means I have to think through what I'm seeing instead of just thinking, "what's my next line?" Writing the thought process helps the reader grow with your character.
  • What is the dynamic between my character and my fellow characters?
  • What about the lighting/the mood as compared to other parts of the story line?
  • How is this scene important to the overall composition?
  • What do I need to convey here? How can I bring my audience with me as I move them through the story.
  • What would my costuming look like? How would the way a character is dressed effect their movements, how they see themselves?
  • What kinds of things would be in the room to help give information to the audience? What props would be on hand?
  • How do you block a fight scene? How do you break a scene down in a physical or  emotional fight?
  • How do you throw in a joke when things are dark to surprise the audience and make it stand out against a dark scene? How do you place a moment of poignancy in a light/funny scene for the same reason?
  • When do you let a character riff - and when does that just muddle things?

Tons of wonderful things that you learn taking a theater class (available through parks and recreations in many communities) and participating in plays, that have a place in your fiction.

In the end, a writer should write what they know. The more they know--the wider and richer their experiences--the better their prose. This I truly believe. 

Happy writing!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Well, That's Alarming!

Our guest blogger is Christina Patchell (Chris), whom I met when our books were chosen as Kindle Scout winners.

Chris Patchell is the bestselling author of In the Dark and the Indie Reader Discovery Award winning novel Deadly Lies. A former tech worker turned full-time author, Chris Patchell pens gritty suspense novels set in the Pacific Northwest.

Chris is out with her newest book. Woohoo! And, I invited her on to share some of her research.

Chris, I'm going to sit back and take notes.

Sweet Dreams – Fun Facts about Security Systems

“Protect your home with the best home security system.” That’s what one popular home security system provider claims. And the truth is that we all want to keep our families secure. How many of us have spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars installing home security systems and hundreds more on monitoring contracts every year? Once the systems are safely installed in our homes, many of us do something else that we think will act as a deterrent. We plant a sign in the middle of our flower beds outside of our houses that proudly lists the name of the security company whose equipment protects our homes, in the hopes that if a potential thief rolls down our street in the middle of the night, seeing the sign posted out front will compel them to drive on by. But is that true?

I was talking to a friend of mine about the kinds
of things I learned
while researching my latest book, Dark Harvest, and this little fun fact was one of those things that stuck in my mind long afterwards. When something goes bump in the night, the first thing I do is open my eyes and glance across the alarm to the alarm panel wondering if in my sleepy stupor, I actually managed to arm it. Through the dark I see the red light shining like a beacon, and know that it the system is armed. A deep sense of security wraps around me like a warm blanket, and I drift off to sleep once more.

But what if that little sign or sticker adhered to a window isn’t the deterrent you think it is? What if they know what I learned while I was doing my research, that there is a way to block an alarm signal from broadcasting to the monitoring station?

We’ve all heard the claim that you can find anything on the internet, right? Well, if you know where to look, you can find the frequency certain security companies use to broadcast their alerts. So, if a technologically savvy thief knows what to do, they can actually jam the frequency by blasting “white noise” to that signal, thereby preventing the alarm system from sending the alarm.

‘How is this even possible?’ you ask. Easier than you might think. There are devices, like a H.A.M. radio, to tune to the right frequency and blast a signal. A software-defined radio can also be configured onto a laptop and run from there. In essence, a software-defined radio behaves in much the same way the hardware version does, by scanning a range of radio bandwidth to detect activity on specific frequencies. Once the wireless alarm activity is found, it can be exploited by overpowering or jamming the signal issued by the alarm. Some alarms come with anti-jamming protection that can be circumvented by jamming the signal for short bursts (say 20 seconds) then turned off for a second or two, before repeating the process.

This isn’t as easy or cheap as I’m making this sound. There is a fair bit of technical know-how required to setup the system and jam a signal. Setting up a software-defined radio can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $4,000. Since some of these vulnerabilities have been exposed, companies have been hard at work putting solutions in place to stop hackers.

So, how do I keep my family safe? First, don’t make it easier for thieves by posting the sign. Let the blasting alarm be deterrent enough if they target your house in the middle of the night. Or if you really like the idea of posting a sign as a deterrent, post another alarm company’s sign in your yard and keep the bad guys guessing.

In Dark Harvest, Henry Cahill, a computer hacker with a Robin Hood complex, uses a similar technique to break into a business and search for information that will help him solve a crime. Things don’t work out for Henry quite the way he expects, but hey, that’s the kind of wrinkle that makes fiction fun.

If the ins and outs of how things works intrigues you like it does me, here are a few links if you’d like to do some reading of your own:

Hacking home alarms

Hacking alarm systems

Hacking alarm systems

In your writing, reading, and your everyday life, knowing the truth can help you stay one step ahead.

I hope you buy and enjoy Chris's newest book!
Let us know what you think!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

How to Avoid the 3 Most Common Weapons Mistakes Writers Make

ThrillWriting is thrilled to have
Benjamin Sobieck guest posting today!

I'm just going to sit back and take notes.

Benjamin Sobieck - 
Once you know what to look for, it’s hard to “unsee” weapons errors in fiction. Readers may be more forgiving in this department, but for writers with “the eye,” these are opportunities to learn something new, discover what not to do or quietly retreat into a hole of writerly purgatory for having committed the same sin.

I’m only half kidding. Despite a career in non-fiction publishing that requires me to know something about firearms, knives and other stabby/shooty things, I committed my fair share of biffs. Then I course-corrected and wrote The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction for Writer’s Digest Books. Now I’m not the only one with “the eye” out there.

Whether you have it or not, here are the three most common mistakes writers make when it comes to weapons, as well as how to fix them in ways that don’t shamelessly plug my book.

1) Forgetting What the Character is Using

Recently, I received a message over Twitter that sums this up perfectly:

“I just read part of a novel in which the author referred to a character’s weapon as both a rifle and a shotgun - wtf.”

This happens time and time again, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m the moron for granting the benefit of the doubt. Did the writer seriously forget from chapter to chapter if that bang-stick was a rifle or a shotgun? This is a yes-or-no question that ought to be, at the very least, answerable more than once. Was the character using a rifle or a shotgun? Wearing pants or no pants? Presently on fire or not on fire? Interested in real estate investments on Mars or not interested?

I suppose a writer could be confused about the differences in those terms. That’s addressed later in this article.

Solution: Consistency, writerfolk, will save you a load of trouble in the weapons department, even if the terminology is confusing. Write it down if it’s hard to keep track of the weapons involved. You are, after all, a writer.

2) Fidgeting

I once interviewed a comedian for a newspaper who never went on stage without something to drink in his hands. I asked him why, and he said drinking helped with the timing (and, perhaps, with stage fright, but I digress). It let the audience know when to laugh, and it gave him a brief opportunity to reset.

Some writers have adopted a similar technique. Characters will fidget with their weapons to heighten drama, chew scenery, look tough, wait in dentist offices, etc. If you’re well familiar with those weapons and what to avoid, this isn’t an issue. But if you’re only lukewarm on firearms, knives and other methods of fictional mayhem, this is precisely the moment your naivete is put on full display.

I’m talking about cocking, working the safety, racking slides, pumping, loading, reloading and the lot. You know the tropes. It’s the equivalent of characters picking their noses.

Fiona - Sorry, I spit my drink when I read that last bit, and I think I got a little on you, there. Here's a towel. Uhm, I think I interrupted your solution...

Ben - 
Solution: Stop it with the fidgeting. Have the characters sit on their hands if this becomes an issue.

Writing Weapons!

3) Using Incorrect Technical Terms

I’ve biffed on technical weapons terms even when I knew better. This is challenging stuff, especially with how different the canon of hand cannons you get from pop culture is from the real deal. Even when you play it straight from the firearm industry, things change. I’m old enough to remember the days before the terms “modern sporting rifle” and “MSR” came into play to describe “anything that is or looks like an AR-15 for the civilian market.”

These nuances aren’t something you learn overnight, but there is a core lexicon you can adopt to get you through most of those hurdles. I can’t list them all here, but you might find some help from oh, say, The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction. Or you could hire someone in the know to audit your work for proper terminology.

Writers satisfied with dubious definitions dispatched by pop culture do so at their own risk. It doesn’t matter if you’re left of Mao on the issue of gun control or the reincarnation of Charlton Heston. Certain words mean certain things. A rifle is not a shotgun. The capital of the United States is not New York City. No one actually enjoys eating Peeps. Facts are facts.

Solution: Either read up, use these things for yourself or go as generic as possible (“rifle” instead of “AR-15”).

It’s OK to Make Mistakes

I’m not here to scold anyone. I’m actually not the smartest guy in the room. You are, because I’m not the one writing your story. I want you to put your best foot forward

when it comes to this stuff. If you’re at all interested in not looking like you fell off the turnip truck, check out my book, my website or bounce questions off someone familiar with these things. It’s OK. They won’t bite. They have guns. Why bother with teeth?

About Benjamin Sobieck

Benjamin Sobieck is the author of The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction, published by Writer’s Digest Books. 

He maintains a blog about weapons and writing fiction at

He’s also a Wattpad Star, with more than a million reads on fictional work such as When the Black-Eyed Children Knock; he has also won a 2016 Watty Award.

Additionally, he is the creator of The Writer’s Glove, a thin glove for keeping hands warm while typing on a keyboard.

So check out Ben's links! I hope the takeaway from this week is a little research makes you and your story credible. When readers aren't shaking their head saying, "What? That author's just wrong!" then they can put all that energy into saying, "What? I totally didn't see that coming, what a great author!"

Happy reading and happy writing!

Hello, RITA - Romance Writers of America's Prestigious Prize

Romance, ah...

Do you read it? Do you write it? 

A Rita judge, Liz O'Connor, who writes as LG O'Connor will be talking with us about her experience as a RITA judge.

Fiona - 
Liz can you tell us a little about you and your writing? How long you've been at this your genre etc...

Liz -
Thanks for asking...I'm fairly new to publishing. I spent most of my career as a corporate strategy and marketing professional. However, I've been an avid reader my whole life. When the recession hit in 2009, I left an executive role to pursue other opportunities. During the six months been that job and my next, I started writing the first book in my urban fantasy / paranormal romance series. I finished the first draft in 2012, and Penguin requested it during a pitch conference. They ultimately turned it down, but after another rewrite and some editing, it was accepted in 2013 for a spring 2014 launch through She Writes Press. Since then, I've published 4 books
in that series (2 more to go!), and then started a new contemporary romance series about three women in the same family and their second chance at love. Caught Up in Raine just won the 2017 Bronze IPPY Award in Romance, and Shelter My Heart was selected by Kindle Press for publication May 16th. It's been an interesting and fantastic road so far!

Fiona - 
Can you tell us what the RITA is and how you got involved as a judge?

Liz - 
One of the first organizations that I joined was the Romance
Writers of America (RWA). It's a wonderful organization (and the largest) for writers in the romance genres. The RWA runs peer-based romance awards annually. There are many local chapter contests, as well as the big national contests. 

The RITA and the Golden Heart are the two large national RWA contests. The RITA is like the Academy Award of Romance books for published authors, while the Golden Heart is the same for unpublished authors. Before I was a published author, I entered Caught Up in Raine, and missed finalist by 1 point. One of my dear author friends, Carla Susan Smith, prodded me to enter CUIR in this year's RITA. So I did. One of the requirements as an entrant is that you must participate as a judge in the first round in a non-conflicting genre.

Fiona - 
How much time did that take? And did they provide you a metric by which to judge? 

Liz -
Every judge receives a minimum of 5 books to judge. As promised, they were in genres other than the one that I submitted for. Judges are not allowed to disclose the names of the books they receive or judge. I'm a pretty fast reader, but even so, it took me about four weeks to read all the books and judge accordingly. 

The books are judged on a 10-point scale with fractional points allowed in the scoring, ex: 9.6. They also must satisfy three criteria: 

  • romance as a central theme 
  • happy ever after or happy for now ending
  • they must fit the genre for which they submitted. 
It was a fascinating process to read books not normally part of my genre selection list. For instance, I'm not a big historical romance reader, but one of my books fell into that sub-genre. I really enjoyed it. Although I can't tell you what books I judged, one of them made it to the finals and into the next round of judging.

The winners are announced at the RWA National Conference this July in Orlando, FL. I'll be there, and looking forward to it!

Fiona - 
Even though you were reading outside of your sub-genre what are some take away lessons learned, now that you read with a judges hat on, that you will apply to your own writing?

Liz -
I think the thing that struck me the most (and disappointed me a little) was that for some of the books - I could not suspend my disbelief enough. Too much triteness in the plot trope. I write smart, sexy romance, and I need a little more "something-something" with my romance novels (which is why I love your books so much, Fiona!) - good twists and turns that keep me interested. The plain old boy-meets-girl (or boy)-loses g/b-reunited with g/b-HEA bores me a little if there's nothing else going on. So for me, I'll continue to strive for genuine emotion, a little raw, but deeply soulful.

Fiona - 

Adding - With some plot twists to keep them coming back
We all love that pull to go back for more.

And thank you for your kind words.

Liz - 
Yes! I strive to leave them with a book hangover!

Fiona -
So readers should look for RITA winners because they are well vetted, and writers could probably gain a lot by reading the winners to see what others find to be quality romance.
What would you like to add that I haven't asked you about?

Liz - 
Here is my take on the RITAs. We all strive to be chosen by our peers. But as with everything it is subjective to the judges and who you happen to draw to judge your book. For instance, when I saw my Golden Heart scores, I had everything from a perfect 50 points to an average score, with several in between - with only a 1 point miss for finalist. So, yes, the books are vetted by your peers, but you are also pulling from a pool that may not read your genre, so there is also bias built in that cannot be controlled. 

As an example, the book my favorite book of the 5 I judged didn't make it to finalist, yet another that I judged lower, did. So, yes, the books are all quality, but it's possible that good / better books did not place. So, I wouldn't use the winner's circle as the only judge of quality, but it certainly helps!

Fiona - 
How does one get involved with the contest?

Liz -
To get involved, the RITAs open usually in December / January, and get flooded with applicants within the first 2-4 days. When they reach a set limit, they stop accepting applicants due to volume.
So, on the RWA website. You need to be a member to submit.

For published authors, it is both the author and editor.
It's for both traditional and Indie published books.

Fiona -
Liz is a recent Kindle Scout winner with her book Shelter my Heart.

Devon, an ailing, young CEO-in-training due to inherit his dead father’s conglomerate saves the day for Jenny, an engaged young woman on her way home to see her family. To repay his kindness, she agrees to be his date for his family’s annual society gala and convince the board that he’s healthy and going to marry. Two weeks are all Devon needs, and two weeks are all Jenny can give—until the stakes rise, forcing Jenny to answer the question: How far is she willing to go to save Devon’s life? Shelter My Heart is the second novel in the Caught Up in Love series which centers around three New Jersey women: romance writer, Jillian Grant, her sister, Katherine “Kitty” McNally Lynch, and Kitty’s daughter, Jenny Lynch. They are all part of a family plagued by loss. Each woman harbors her own guilty secret and must journey through her personal pain to find redemption and ultimately surrender her heart for a second chance to get caught up in love.

BIO: LG O’Connor is a corporate marketing exec by day who takes her author cape out at night. An avid reader, she loves books with memorable characters that make her heart sing. She’s the author of the urban fantasy / paranormal romance series, The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles, and Caught Up in RAINE, her contemporary romantic women’s fiction debut. A native ‘Jersey Girl,’ she’s always in search of the perfect cup of coffee and fine Italian leather. Advice she lives by: Enjoy every day. Go barefoot.

Amen to the barefoot!
Now everyone, go grab a good book and enjoy your read.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Space Archaeology? I dig it!

As many of you know, I'm on a Virginia Search and Rescue team and am training as a man tracker. One of the fabulous people that I've met during my time there is a Search Manager, named Mary Beth, whose job is to map. 

Maps are a problem, a BIG problem when we're on a search. Most of the US maps with contour lines (so we know where the cliffs are), called topographical maps, were developed in the mid-twentieth century. Things have changed a bit. Whole cities now take up spaces where my map tells me there is forestation.

Enter GPS information and satellites. We use a combination of the two to try to find our missing person. As you might imagine, my friend Mary Beth is stellar at this because she manipulates GIS information every day for her day-job. Geographic Information System, GIS, is "designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data." (1)

I was so interested in this topic that I was doing some reseach, and I learned that all kinds of jobs depend on this information - the military, government, farmers, NASA and archaeologists. Yes, archaeologists! 

Archaeologists can develop the coloration that is produced by the GIS system, and they can tell where a "tell" is located. A tell in this case being an area that has been built up by a civilization and then covered up by earth over time.
Uncommon Enemies

I used this information to start my research for my book RELIC, where two space archaeologists (archaeologists who use GIS to find dig sites) pit their expertise against ISIS who is unearthing and selling relics on the black market to fund terror. 

Another group who uses the satellite imaging information are animal migration scientists and those who are working to stop the extinction of many beloved species. Jane Goodall Institute, for example was able to show images of forestation several years ago and then newer images of the area to tribespeople so they could see the changes in the landscape. There was a massive deforestation area. The tribes were destroying the chimpanzees habitat. 

Armed with the information shown in the pictures, the tribes developed new policies and already they are seeing the brown and barren areas returning to green. This not only helps the animals in the area but also the people.
Uncommon Enemies

In DEADLOCK, available now for pre-order, animal migration specialist Dr. Meg Finley is using GIS imaging to help her help the tribes in Tanzania. Unfortunately, while Meg and her fellow scientists are trying to bring peace and prosperity, there are those who want to make sure things remain turbulent. 

In both of these novels, Iniquus special ops are on the scene and adding their areas of expertise to that of the scientists to try to stop those whose aim is death and destruction. 

If you're interested in finding out more about GIS follow this LINK

Happy Reading!
~ Fiona


Monday, May 8, 2017

How Fast is FAST?

Most of us have read about our military elite operators: the SEALs who are connected with the United States navy, the Delta Force and Green Berets who are with our army. But few people have heard about our Marine special units. 

We talked about one of them the Marine Raiders HERE, but there's another Marine unit called FAST. Marine Fleet-Anti-terrorism Security Team.

I featured a Marine with the Marine Raiders in WASP, the first book in the Uncommon Enemies series, and in the second book, RELIC, Brian Ackerman, our hero, is retired from a FAST unit.

FAST units are deployed all over the world. You might be most familiar with them as the team that responded to the Benghazi attack from their base in Spain.

If there is a terrorist attack anywhere in the world that involves US forces, these guys are ready to be deployed. They have received special training to handle terrorists.

"They are highly skilled in counter surveillance, physical security, urban combat techniques, close quarter combat, and martial arts... Companies contain six platoons of fifty Marines. On deployment, FAST can be stationed in Spain, Japan, and Bahrain." (1)

Right now we have three FAST companies in the US as well as a training company. Companies A and C are located in Norfolk, Virginia, and Company B, which is located at Yorktown, Virginia. These companies operate under the control of the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment located on Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia.

The Security Force Regiment Training Company is located on Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, in Chesapeake, Virginia. (2)

Can I just say all four units are about two hours from my house where there is also a SEAL team - so in the event of a zombie apocalypse, or any other disaster - I know where I'm headed. 

Marines assigned to FAST have:

  • SOI (School of Infantry).
  • Security Force School - (NSA Northwest, Chesapeake, VA) - Teaches Combat Marksmanship (shotgun and pistol), Close Quarter Battle
  • FAST Training (5 weeks)-(NSA Northwest, Chesapeake, VA) Additional training in Advanced Urban Combat. (2)
Elite US Marines, ready, willing, and more than able!

In RELIC, Retired Marine FAST member is now working for Iniquus where his work as one of the nation’s top security professionals has fueled his lust for adrenaline-laced danger. While Brian’s private life may seem risky, his professional life is strictly business. Until he accepts two private protection contracts that is. 
Available on most e-readers
Two security assignments seem simple enough. Brian’s been wrong before.

The first assignment involves protecting archaeologists, Sophia Abadi and Nadia Dajani. While digging to uncover a remote site is a bit mundane by Brian’s standard, he welcomes the chance and the challenge.

The second assignment requires Brian to do his own digging to uncover the truth. The thrill seeker is contracted by the FBI to discover who is financing ISIS through the sale of conflict relics from Syria. Problem is, his suspects are also the two archaeologists.

His initial introductions to both esteemed scientists not only reveal the challenges of protecting them, but a shocking dilemma of honoring his security contract. Seems the woman he’d fallen for after one incredible night in New York is the very same Sophia he’s now charged with protecting and leading into an FBI trap.

Meet Brian Ackerman. He has a gun. He also has a heart.

I hope you enjoy reading RELIC, I look forward to hearing what you think!


Information for his article comes from:
  • (1)
  • (2)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Great Escape - Surviving a Car Ambush with Michael Connik

ThrillWriters and ThrillReaders,

In my newest romantic suspense/thriller, WASP, I introduce you to Gage Harrison, a Marine Raider with an excellent skillset. But sometimes, even a highly trained warrior can find that the deck was stacked against him. 

There are a few times in WASP where the bad guys come gunning for Gage and Zoe. Does he have what it takes to get them to safety?


When I was writing WASP, I of course did my homework to figure out what works and what does not. Would you like to know some of the things that Gage knows?

Help me welcome guest blogger Michael Connick who has come to hang out with us.

Michael Connick retired in 2015 from a long career with the intelligence community, the Department of Defense, and the technology industry. He has over 35 years experience working with firearms, and has participated in extensive firearms and self-defense training from governmental, law enforcement, and private organizations.

He now resides in the little college town of Huntington, West Virginia, where he writes, competes in Practical Pistol and Rifle competitions, and is very happily married to a truly wonderful wife. He is the author of two Cold War spy novels, Trapped in a Hall of Mirrors: How The Luckiest Man in the World Became a Spy and Funhouse Mirrors. More information can be found about Connick at

Michael agreed to talk about the dos and don'ts of being fired upon while in a car. I'll now leave you in Michael's very capable hands:

Your protagonist is driving in their car, not a care in the world. Suddenly, after turning a corner they find themselves in the middle of an ambush by armed men. What should they do? How can they effectively fight back?

The first thing they need to know is that the deadliest weapon they have is the automobile they are driving. Since it weights around two tons, it's far more destructive than the most powerful bullet on earth.

Their first reaction should be to keep moving and run over their opponents. If the road is blocked, they should drive around on the sidewalk. If their way forward is blocked, they should reverse and back out of the ambush. They need not be concerned if any of their tires are flattened during the attack. Most automobiles can be still driven even with four flat tires. There may be limitations to speed and control, but they can still keep moving.

What if they are completely hemmed in and have no way to drive away? If they have a handgun, can they stay inside the car and fight from that position? Can they shoot bullets through the windshield, side windows, or back window from inside a car? Will the bullets still hit their attackers? Will the car itself stop bullets fired at them? Can it provide the protagonist with effective cover during a gunfight?

Most firearms experts won't be able to answer these questions with confidence. That's because they haven't been able to run live-fire tests using real automobiles. I have done such tests, so I can provide you with accurate answers to these questions.

So, can you fight from inside a car using a handgun? The answer is a definite “yes”. It takes training to be able to safely and accurately shoot from inside such a confined space, but it can be done. I've had such training, as shown in the picture below, and so can attest to that fact. In the picture you can see me shooting at an awkward angle and holding the pistol in an odd manner. Even so, I'm getting accurate hits on the target at the side and towards the rear of this car.

Can you shoot bullets through a car windshield without damaging them? Will the windshield slow them down too much? Will it deflect them off target? The answer is a "you can". The picture below shows a shooter firing at steel targets on the other side of a car windshield. The bullets he fires are striking the targets with full force. They are deflected only a little upwards by the angle of the glass. I also fired my own pistol through this windshield with the same results.

Your protagonist can compensate for bullet deflection in two ways:

1. They can aim a little low on all their targets.

2. They can fire through the same hole in the windshield. The first shot they fire will make a hole in the windshield. That shot's bullet will impact slightly high. If the next rounds are fired through that hole, they will be completely unaffected. I've used this technique, and as odd as it may sound, it works.

You can also shoot through the rear window of a car in a similar manner. The picture below shows me firing at a target behind the car in which I'm sitting. I'm firing from an awkward position. My shots defect slightly upward because of the angled glass. Still, I'm getting good accurate hits on the target.

The biggest challenge here is getting the seatbelt off and drawing the handgun without it ever pointing at any part of their own body. You don't want the gunfight to end with your protagonist shooting themselves by accident.

Side windows of a car are a different matter. The first bullet through them will tend to completely shatter the glass. The entire window will fall away in pieces. After that, your protagonist is shooting through an open window without any glass in the way.

The next question is: should your protagonist stay inside the car? Can they expect it to protect them from incoming rounds during a gunfight? Alas, the answer to this question is a very definite “no”.

The picture below shows a group of us testing out the ability of handgun bullets to penetrate parts of a car. We pretty much shot this poor car, along with another one, to pieces that day with some amazing results. All the handguns we used, from a puny .25 ACP pistol all the way up to a .45 ACP handgun, penetrated the metalwork of these autos. We found only two parts of a car that would stop handgun rounds: the engine block, and the rear axle assembly along with its steel wheels. Otherwise, the car offered no protection to its occupants from handgun bullets. Rifle bullets would be even worse.

The best strategy for your protagonist is to first deal with any immediate threats from inside the car. Then they should bail out of it and take up a position where either the engine block or the rear axle and wheels stand between them and their attackers.

The picture below shows a shooter in a position shown in countless movies and TV shows. They crouch behind an open car door. Since car doors don't offer any protection from bullets, this is a bad strategy. It would soon result in tragedy in a real gunfight.

The picture below shows a much better use of car's covering capabilities. The shooter gets protection from the car's rear axle assembly and steel wheels. They also get a good deal of concealment from the rest of the car, making them harder to hit.

Fiona interrupts:

And here's the big one:
Can you explode the gas tank with a bullet?

Did you click on the link to watch the video?
Bet you were surprised by what you found out - now go write it right!

Back to Michael:
Hopefully your protagonist will never find themselves in such a ticklish situation. If they do, at least they will now have some valuable knowledge for surviving it!


Would you enjoy reading Michael's expertise in action? Grab a copy of his book!

During the height of the Cold War, a naive computer nerd working first for the NSA, and then for the CIA, dreams of becoming a clandestine intelligence officer. After a very successful tour of duty in Iran, his new boss, the Vienna CIA Station Chief, is calling him the “luckiest man in the world”. Nevertheless, he's managed to accidentally attract the enmity of the KGB, the malevolent attention of an East German seductress, and the absolute hatred of a psychopathic KGB mole at the heart of Austria's counter-intelligence agency. Will he be lucky enough, or skillful enough, to survive all these forces now converging to destroy him before he ever has a chance to realize his dream?

Okay, it's time to get your read on! Go load up your e-reader. 

You can get your copy of Michael's book HERE and you can also READ it for FREE - if you KU!

Also, if you KU, below are my books that are available in that programAMAZON LINK