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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Who Has Jurisdiction? A Question for Crime Writers with Tina Glasneck

This post was written by ThrillWriting friend Tina Glasneck, who jumped in to help me out as I am furiously trying to meet a deadline for my publisher. So a big thank you and welcome to Tina. Tina's other articles on ThrillWriting are: Paralegals 101  and Prepping the Alleged Perp.

Who has jurisdiction?

Being a part of a writing community provides opportunities that are not always possible to enjoy alone. This past weekend, I attended a wonderful workshop regarding the Cop Culture and the Organizational Differences in Law Enforcement.This workshop was about getting the details right.

There are different branches of law enforcement including, Tribal, Federal, Task Force, State Police, Private Security, Sheriff, Local Police, and even Campus Police. When creating a crime story, a mystery that entails that a crime occurred, it is important for to question jurisdiction, and to know which law enforcement agency might respond.

In understanding the jurisdiction issue (and it is not always based on county, city, state or country lines), let's look at the example of a laptop being stolen. If it happens on a college campus, it’s usually something reported to Campus police, but it could also be reported to the city or county police who have jurisdiction over that campus, based on where the campus is located.

What about the state police? Would they look into something as benign as a stolen laptop? Well, it all depends. For example, in Virginia, Virginia State Police would be called in “to investigate any matter referred by the Governor.” Additionally, “[t]he Attorney General, commonwealth's attorneys, chiefs of police, sheriffs and grand juries may request the Department to investigate matters that constitute Class 1, 2 or 3 felonies.”

Class 1, 2, or 3 felonies include: murder, and malicious wounding, and although it does not include burglary or grand larceny, I think that if it is connected to such a matter, it could then still fall under the perview of the State Police.

Now let’s suppose that this laptop has something egregious on it – say it is connected to a serial killer, and all of his victims, for such a matter the FBI would be quite interested. According to the FBI’s website: “The Bureau concentrates on crime problems that pose major threats to American society. Significant violent crime incidents such as mass killings, sniper murders, and serial killings can paralyze entire communities and stretch state and local law enforcement resources to their limits. Particular emphasis is put on criminal street gangs, bank robberies, carjackings, kidnappings, interstate transportation of stolen property and motor vehicles, assaults and threats of assault on the president and other federal officials, and the theft or destruction of government property. As part of this priority, the FBI also investigates crimes against children, art theft, child prostitution, fugitives and missing persons, and crimes on Indian reservations.”

Can you see where we're going with this? It is not just the object but how it connects to the overall crime.

And what about these organizations working together. Borders do not always stop one law enforcement's jurisdiction. This is called concurrent jurisdiction. Concurrent jurisdiction means: "The authority of several different courts, each of which is authorized to entertain and decide cases dealing with the same subject matter.”

It is important to understand concurrent jurisdiction, especially in our understanding of the FBI, DEA, and others working in a task force. “In law enforcement, “concurrent jurisdiction” may exist, where a crime may be a local, state, and federal violation all at the same time.” See FBI on task force.

This is where task forces come into play, and there will be agents from multiple agencies on the task force.” Task forces typically focus on terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, gangs, bank robberies, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft. “Ibid. As a side note, the FBI does investigate matters which take place on Tribal land, as well, just as it can have an attache in the embassies located outside of the US borders..

Another jurisdiction to consider is the sovereign jurisdiction of the Tribal nations. The Federally recognized tribes, who have reservations, are their own sovereign nations. While some of these reservations have their own tribal law enforcement officers, those that do not have their own police force use officers from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). For more information, see BIA.Gov

When writing that next piece and working on solving that next case, consider that question of jurisdiction. Not only do we have to look at the crime itself, but as to the severity of the crime and if concurrent jurisdiction is indeed possible. The theft of this laptop can, from my understanding, be a jumping off point for multiple agencies to get involved in the investigation, and it will depend on the details on who actually takes the lead.

A special thanks to Lilianna Hart and Scott Silverii for leading such a wonderful workshop in making sure us writers get it right, and can take our writing and careers to the next level!

 (Look for Scott Silverii ThrillWriting articles by doing a search at the top right-hand side of this blog)


TINA GLASNECK writes in an array of genres and loves a good story. She appreciates a good cup of coffee, characters that cause visceral responses, and a nice helping of laughter to balance it all out. Learn more about Tina and her writing at

Some things are worth killing for.... Alexandria "Xandy" Caras was charged with murder - a mass murder. The charges were dropped; the case dismissed. Or was it? A serial killer with a "Moses complex" is out for blood - Xandy's blood - and the blood of those who have sinned against the 10 Commandments. The bodies are piling up, and he's getting closer to his number one target: Xandy. Only her death will make it all stop, silencing the deranged killer who thirsts for far more than just revenge.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Blind Date with Freddie Krueger and the Art of Thrill Writing with Chris Patchell


Grab a cup of something warm and let's settle in for a chat with my fellow Kindle Scout winning author, Chris Patchell.

Chris, please tell us about your background and how that brought you to writing novels.

Chris - 
I was a shy kid who didn't make friends easily. We lived way out in the country, so there were no kids nearby. I would escape into my own head for hours at a time, making up stories. Imagining I was somewhere else -- a flight attendant up in the blue sky flying to exotic places. I'd imagine shapes in the clouds. I'd act out scenes with my barbies. In the third grade, I was given my first creative writing assignment and discovered the magic of writing--of creating a new world, all of your own making.

It was awesome.

Better than friends.

I wrote on and off through high school and my early twenties and then quit. I got busy building a career in tech, and a family. 

I hit a point in my career where I was feeling burned out. My girls were little, and I remember thinking that there was no part of my life that was mine anymore. I needed a little piece of myself back. I thought about what I used to like to do, and I remembered that I used to love to write. But being type A, I didn't just sit down and open up a word processor. I researched some writing courses I could take. Found one through the University of Washington. Went to the information session. Loved what I heard and STILL, it took me a year to sign up.

My husband says to me, "did you ever sign up for that course?" Um... No...

"Why not?"

"I'd never have time to write. You know, with the job, the kids..."

He fixed me with this hard stare. "Stop making excuses. Just do it."

So I did. That was 10 years ago, and I've been writing ever since.

My analytical mind has served me well working in the tech industry. I set my first book in a tech company, and used some of my experience as a woman working in tech in building the book's main character, Jill. Little bits of tech make it into my plots.

I've managed a lot of projects from small mobile apps, to large scale, complex deployments. This experience--the ability to organize and deploy multiple projects simultaneously translates well into devising complex plots. I love weaving multiple story lines together into big bang endings.

I can remember a lot of detailed dependencies off the top of my head, which means when I make plot changes, I can go back and change all of the places in previous scenes where the info becomes relevant. It's handy.

I like the high-stakes and fast paced plot lines in suspense novels where characters struggle against external obstacles to get what they want. I also like creating their internal obstacles--the emotional baggage they carry with them that limit their actions. Fear. Anger. Rage.

The minute I started writing my first thriller, I was hooked.

I also like creating strong female characters. Jill Shannon, the anti-hero in my first book is a great example. She's smart, fierce, and a little ruthless. Not what you'd expect lurking underneath her pretty face.


Fiona - 
What do you think makes a good thriller - what components do you try to include? What are you consciously aware of as you're putting your plot together?

Chris -
It has to be high stakes. Typically life and death, or loss of freedom. Both figure prominently into my plot lines. There also has to be a personal stake in the story. What motivates your hero to conquer the obstacles in the story and risk it all? Single mother, Marissa Rooney, will stop at nothing to find her missing daughter. Then there is the element of time (pacing). Everyone knows that the first 48 hours are critical in a missing person's case, but beyond that, what provides a ticking clock--the tension that moves your characters (and your readers) through the story? The kidnapped girl in In the Dark is a type 1 diabetic. She's got her insulin pen with her, but it's not ideal (she needs 2 types of insulin and only has one) and her supply is limited. When it runs out, she dies.

It's a compelling ticking clock. It's selection wasn't random. My husband is a type 1 diabetic, so I know a little bit about what happens (high blood sugars, low blood sugars, etc.).

If your hero has a good reason to care, your readers will too.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about that pacing. I find books that are written with the gas pedal being pushed down the whole time wears me out. I appreciate a few scenes with introspection or a little more quiet so there are highs and lows. Is that something you include in your pacing or is it go go go?

Chris - 
Like you said, it can't be go go go all the time. It gets boring. It's like the never-ending car chase scene.

There are moments when your characters are alone and they're struggling with their inner demons. The action isn't high, but the emotional tension is. I also like to inject a little humor where I can into the story.

That was probably more true of my first book than my second.

You also need to let your hero win every once in a while to keep people invested. There was this t.v. show years ago, about an Irish family. Modern. T
he Black Donnelys. But everything went wrong for this family. It went from bad to worse. I watched 2 - 3 episodes then quit. It was too depressing. They took it off the air before the season finished.

Another way that you can hold the reader's attention is with complex plotting. Beyond the pantser v plotter question, how do you develop the ideas for your plots and how do you refine so it's the Three Little Bears not too twisty not too straight?

Chris - 
Yes, I'm a big fan of complex plotting. I'm definitely a plotter. I start with the seed of a story. An idea. I spend some time nodding on the idea, growing it, to see if it's big enough to support a plot. Then I write a summary 3-Act Plot. This is maybe 5 - 10 pages long. Then I start breaking it into scenes--more of a formal outline. I usually start writing. Evolve the outline as I go. Major plot twists are built into the idea of the story. Part of how do you make it interesting or surprising. For instance, In the Dark has a big reveal in the prologue. Sometimes though, you delay a reveal to build tension, or a new idea comes to you during the writing phase that makes a reveal or twist better.

Good twists are part of my original story design. They're what makes the story interesting. So, while I do outline, I use my outline as a guideline and not a blueprint, so if my characters take me in different directions (deviate off the path), I go with it. If it works, I keep it, if it doesn't, I dump it and move on.

Each of my characters have their own story lines, even the secondary characters. While they play a role in the major plot, their stories weave into the whole making it richer.

Fiona - 
Go back to the original three parts. What does that breakdown look like?

Chris - 

The first act sketches out the main character. Who are they? Why are they here? The inciting incident that puts the characters on the path. My first act usually ends with the characters gaining momentum, they reach the point of no return on their journey, which propels them deeper into the story.

The second act is the bulk of the story. The obstacles they face, setbacks in the plot. Pushing against the obstacles to learn more about the case, battle with their own demons. You know. At the end of the second act, they acquire knowledge that moves them into the third act. In In the Dark, the investigator learns the identity of the kidnapper. The climax of the story. The showdown. Do they find the missing girl? Can they save her? Slay the demon? In a romance it's usually about whether the relationship survives the crisis and how.

The end of Act 3 is the resolution. I usually tie the ends of my acts with a big reveal or twist; a moment in the action that propels you into the next phase. You up the stakes.

Fiona - 
Do you apply special choices of words or sentence structures to encourage people to read in a section in a particular way? For example how would you change between the physical action high stakes pages v. the emotion angst introspection pages to change the rhythm?

Chris - 
Sentence structure is obvious. Shorter, choppier sentences for action scenes. Longer, more complex sentences for more introspective parts. Atmosphere plays a role too; setting the scene. Because I set stories in the Northwest, I use a lot of physical scene setting (barriers like mountains and mudslides, raining, flooding, typical things we experience in Northwest winters). Word choices are important--how you describe something reflects the mood of the character. Marissa Rooney has made a lot of mistakes with men. When she thinks about these mistakes, her inner critic calls her a loser. The voice of her inner critic is probably her mother's, and she struggles against her poor self-esteem the whole book. Only at the end does she accept her mistakes and move past them. Get stronger. Those emotional moments where she's waging her own inner battle use words that reflect what her inner critic (and by extension herself) believes.

The emotional stuff is harder for me to write.

Takes longer. I have to dig pretty deep to get it out.

Fiona -
For me sex is hardest to write -- I can write emotion all day long.

Chris - 
I hear ya!

When I'm writing a sex scene, I have to block out the idea that anyone else will ever read it. If I didn't, I would never be able to write one.

Fiona - 
Amen to that one -- especially the idea of one of my kids reading it! Ha!

Chris - 
I'm in denial about my kids reading my stuff. I started to write again about the time my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. That's when I instituted the rule, you never read mommy's stuff. Eventually though, they will. Luckily we're still years away from that.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about staying motivated.

Chris -
I think the hardest thing for me is finding ways to stay motivated during the edit cycle. It always feels endless to me. Ripping a scene apart. Rewriting it, until you get it right, or as close to right as you can while not over-obsessing to the point you can never let it go. So, one of the things that helps motivate me is getting feedback from my writing group, or other sources that I trust. When I'm struggling with a scene and I think it's a piece of crap, getting feedback helps identify what's working, what's not, and provides an opportunity to brainstorm how to fix what's there. Writing is solitary. Building a community of support will help motivate you when the going gets tough.

Tracking what you do also keeps you motivated. Tracking word count in the initial draft, watching your manuscript grow. And then keeping track of where you are in the edit cycle. While it may feel like slow going, just being able to see progress helps. Remembering that there is an end in sight. I know there's a point during the edit cycle where I want to burn the manuscript, or kill myself. Or both.

Having finished several books, I know that this is part of my process. I need to keep pushing to get past it. Eventually I will and the book will be finished and I can write something else.

The promise of writing something new is the carrot at the end of the string fore me.

Fiona - 
It's time! We want a good scar story, please.

Chris - 
My favorite scar story...

Well, I've got a three-inch scar at the base of my throat. One of my coworkers asked me how I got it and this is what I said...

I was working in Vancouver, BC, in an area of the city called Yaletown. It was late. Winter. Raining. I was meeting some of my friends downtown and stopped at a bank machine to pick up some funds. Vancouver is an interesting city--parts of it are upscale, pretty. Safe. But step one or two blocks out of the "zone" and it can get a little sketchy. So there I was at the bank machine, paying no attention to what was going on around me when a man approached from behind. I felt the cold chill of metal against my throat and..."

"Whoa," he says. "Is that what really happened?"

"Uh, no. But it makes a better story."

The real truth was that I had surgery to remove a cyst. Apparently the surgeon was either drunk, or used popsicle sticks. Maybe both. 

Afterwards, I had a drainage tube and a long row of staples closing the wound. I looked like I'd gone on a blind date with Freddie Krueger. I should have been horrified when I looked in the mirror. Instead, I burst out laughing. That was 20 years ago.

Fiona - 
Ha! You got me -- I totally thought you were a crime victim. Thanks so much for coming and hanging out!

Readers, you can stay in touch with Chris:
Website -
Twitter - @chris_patchell

I hope this was helpful. As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Chat Conversation End

Sunday, October 23, 2016

I Haven't Got a Clue: Clue Awareness for Crime Writers

English: Pensacola, FL, September 19, 2004 -- ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Do you have a character looking for clues?

It is important for your investigators to be calm and in the right frame of mind to be effective. So by adding distractions - personal or professional -- your investigator can make mistakes.

This article can pertain to a search because of a crime (for clues or perpetrator), a severe weather event, or a missing person. 

Your investigator is a human being. And humans, even the best of the best, can and do miss clues along the way.

Negatives to successfully finding clues might include:
  • fear
  • stress
  • grouping (when searchers cluster together)
  • some medications
  • noise
  • chatting
  • speed
  • ego***
  • preconceived ideas - for example, you're looking for a missing toddler who wandered off; you discount the beer can and cigarette. The baby didn't use those, but maybe this is a crime scene not a missing person.
  • alcohol
  • nicotine
  • caffeine
The larger the search area, the harder it is to contain, protect, and find pertinent data. GO HERE for a blog article to understand more about this and to understand means such as vacuuming that can be employed to find every possible piece of evidence.

  • Knowing about the subject helps
  • The investigator needs to open all of their senses, including their intuition.

But let's say you're in a larger area - a state park for example. Weather, bugs, animals can all work to degrade evidence. AND it is extremely hard to find.

I recently was on a training weekend where I followed a clue trail. This trail was bound by markers and we walked at normal pace, using searching techniques to try to find the hidden clues. I found the two bottles, the stuffed dog, the golf balls, and wrapping papers. I missed the brown glove laying in the brown soil under the brown log. I missed the pile of bullets at the end of the log in the leaves. I missed the weathered map caught in the tree branches. 

I hit 65% of the possible clues from the beginning of the trail to the end. And that's when we knew exactly where the person of interest had travelled.  That meant 35% of the clues I passed over. As a matter of fact, everyone missed the bullets and casings. 15 trained searchers following the same trail, looking for clues, and not one of us found the bullets (Or the rubber ducky who was sitting in the yellow leaves). 

Clues are going to go unfound. Every time someone goes into that area, details change. Bring a trailing or tracking dog in and that's going to have it's own set of changes. 

Another task we were sent on was to clear large areas for clues when we didn't know if someone had gone in that direction or not. We bagged, tagged, and GPS identified locations on a whole lot of trash. Some of the garbage in our sweep we could identify as weathered to a time period prior to the timeframe we were working with. But still, if you're sweeping large areas, it's a mixture of luck and experience that's going to find something of importance. I found two golf balls and a pair of glasses. Turns out the glasses weren't part of the clues that were laid -- sorry to the guy who lost his glasses, I hope he got home okay.

How you go about a sweep:
You have a search team of say 4 people. You place a paper on the ground and person A goes as far right as they can until they are just catching that paper in their left peripheral vision.  Then the middle person B puts the paper in their right peripheral vision and a second paper in their left peripheral then person C  puts that paper in their peripheral. So hopefully as the eyes are sweeping, the whole area is seen. (x = paper). 

Person D is the Field Team Leader and is watching navigation and communications.

A        x          B         x        C


Person C is tying a piece of marking tape every few feet on the right. At the end of the tsked search area, they reconfigure so that they return to base searching the next space over. 
^ and v = direction of travel.

^                        ^                   ^
^                        ^                   ^

A        x            B         x        C           x

      D                                                                                                    D
                                                           x               C        x          B         x        A

                                                                             V                   V                   V                                                                                                                                                      V                   V                   V

Teams of 6-9 are the norm. The team can be bigger and work this way. However, more than nine, and it's a problem.

What are your investigators looking for?
  • signs - indications that someone has passed that way.
  • tracks (a track is a sign that is identifiable to a specific person/animal)
  • clue - is an indication of a subjects passage through an area. These might include:
    • physical items - personal items, campfire, foot prints
    • occurrence - like noticing that the animals are spooked. Birds suddenly taking flight.
    • information - such as interviewing. "Sure, I saw Billy-John on the trail today. He were about say two miles east as the crow flies. You ain't gonna find him round here no more. He was hot footin' it up the mountain."

What happens if a clue is found?
The person who finds something calls a halt to the search team. The team leader examens the item, and will call it in to command and command will inform the team what to do. 
  • Bag it, flag it (put marking ribbons in the area. 3 ribbons is the signal), and get GPS coordinates.
  • Leave it in place. If it is to be left in place then the searcher must do their best to protect the clue from further degradation. For example if it's a footprint, a cage of sticks might be set in the ground to stop others from walking over it. A plastic bag might be placed over the top of the cage to preserve against wind, rain, dew. . .
Speaking of tracks - they are often the most numerous clues. The average human leaves more than two thousand steps in a mile. That's a lot of clues (direction of travel etc.) to be found. The best place to look for tracks are in track traps. A track trap is any area that can hold an obvious track if someone steps in it. (So those on the search for clues need to NOT step in these areas.)
  • ant hills
  • mud 
  • stream bank
  • snow
  • crop fields

I hope this was helpful. As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Changing Reader Paradigms: Info for Writers with Sean McLachlan

In this article, we will be looking at two ideas that writers who want to write it right come across. First, how do we write authentically about another culture? Second, once we have done our research, and we know that we are writing in opposition to what our reader understands as true, how do we bring them along with the plot and make the story believable?

A big welcome to Sean McLachlan. 

Sean, can you tell us about your new book and how a man who lives in Spain found himself writing about the west from the POV of Apache Indians?

Sean - 
Back in my archaeology days, I spent 12 years living in Arizona. I got to visit a lot of the sites from the Apache Wars, plus excavate at Tubac Presidio near Tucson, where I lived. So I've always had an interest in various Southwestern peoples, the Apache especially. A couple of years ago, Osprey Publishing, a leading military history publisher, asked me to do a book on the Apache Wars. Osprey's books tend to be brief, heavily illustrated histories, so I had a lot of material left over. Since I'd always wanted to write a Western, I decided to write one from the Apache point of view in order to debunk a lot of popular myths.

Fiona - 
Popular myth busting is our favorite sport here at ThrillWriting. Can you you share some of the ways that you helped to dispel myths in your book without lecturing your reader? 

If they have a paradigm in their head, you have to make them believe your information is more credible in order to keep them agreeing with your premises. 

Sean - 
Amazon Link
Warpath into Sonora is set in what is now Arizona in 1846 and is about a group of young Apache warriors just into manhood who are eager to prove themselves. To do this, they raid Mexican settlements and other tribes. So basically it's a Western from the Apache point of view. Their carefree life disappears when a nearby Apache settlement gets destroyed by a group of Mexican and Texan scalp hunters, who take Apache scalps for a reward from the Mexican government. Under the leadership of their war chief, who has gone insane with the desire for revenge, they pursue the scalp hunters deep into Sonora.

The main myth I'm trying to debunk here is that the Apaches gleefully took scalps any chance they got. Actually they were more often the victims of scalping than the perpetrators.

The provincial governments of northern Mexico offered a reward in gold for Apache scalps—100 pesos for a warrior’s scalp, 50 pesos for a woman’s, and 25 pesos for a child’s. At this time the peso was worth about the same as an American dollar, and thus killing even one large family would be enough to support a scalp hunter comfortably for a year. The scalp bounty in the province of Chihuahua continued as late as 1886, with the notorious Ley Quinto (Fifth Law). Established in 1849, the Ley Quinto offered 150 pesos for each live woman and for each child under fourteen, 200 pesos for the scalp of a warrior aged fourteen or above, and 250 pesos for each live warrior. Slavery as well as extermination became official policy.

Movies and poorly researched novels have consistently shown Apaches scalping their victims. While this was the practice with some tribes, especially on the Great Plains, scalping was not generally practiced among the Apache. Their culture has an aversion to death and Apaches avoid dead bodies, graveyards, and recent battlefields. This is documented in nineteenth century accounts by both the Apache and Americans. Numerous passages written by U.S. cavalrymen relate how the Apache rarely if ever took scalps, and that if they did so it was in the heat of the moment and the scalp was quickly discarded. The Apache maintain that they never took scalps or mutilated bodies before the Mexicans started doing it to them.

Fiona -
So interesting. And I'm assuming you use the plot, inner thoughts, and dialogue to educate as well as entertain your readers.

On the topic of dialogue. How do you construct the Apache's internal and external dialogue to show culture without doing what the cowboys and Indian movies of the 1950s did with their scripts?

Sean - 
Dialogue is tricky. It is easy to avoid the grunting savage dialogue of old Westerns, but making it accurate is very hard, especially since this is a full generation before any Apache wrote down their memoirs. I modeled it a lot after the style of the few precious memoirs we do have of Apache from the last decades of the 19th century. Also, what's not said can be equally important. For example, it was a very sexually conservative culture and so the hero, Nantan, and his love Liluye, don't even speak to each other in the entire book. They're not married and so it would be inappropriate to talk to each other much. Of course a lot can be said with eye contact and with actions.

Also there's the misconception of what a chief is. Western cultures, accustomed to Western ideas of hierarchy, would deal with chiefs thinking they had complete power. They did not. They were more like respected specialists. The war chief in the book, Tarak, is the best and most experienced warrior in the group, but he can't command people to follow him, he must convince them.

Fiona - 
If writers don't have the benefit of an education and over a decade of interaction with a foreign culture they would like to portray in their book, how would you advise them to proceed. For example, I am about to write a book that includes a man who was born in El Salvador from an American mom and and El Salvadorian dad. I picked a mix lineage so I didn't have to be worried about the linguistic issues mentioned above, but that doesn't mean culture wouldn't shine through. If you were mentoring such a project how, in your opinion, should a writer proceed?

Sean - 
Research, research, research. Get thee to the library! Also, Youtube and other video sites are handy too. They help you see the style of talking, physical mannerisms, how individuals interact. And don't be afraid to ask questions. It's remarkable how open people are when you say you're writing a book. For example, in my Toxic World post-apocalyptic series, Chinese-Americans are persecuted even worse than Japanese-Americans were during WWII. So people of Chinese descent take on Korean names to hide their identity. I spoke with a Korean woman married to a Chinese man about Chinese names that could pass for Korean, and also common Korean names that Chinese people with distinctively Chinese names could take on.

Fiona -
Here on ThrillWriting it's our tradition to ask you to tell us the story behind your favorite scar OR a harrowing story that you survived.

Sean - 
When I was 19, I went on my first archaeological excavation overseas. It was in Israel, and it was my first big trip alone. While I was staying in Jerusalem, I heard a bomb go off outside my hotel. It was a car bomb in a parking lot near the Damascus Gate. Being young and stupid, I went out to see the wreckage. Luckily, no one was hurt. The police were pushing everyone back away from the bomb site, and I soon discovered why. A second car bomb, in a vehicle parked close to the first, blew up right in front of me. The tactic was obvious: attract a crowd with the first bomb, and then blow it up with the second. Basically that was the world saying to me, "Hey, you wanted to experience life outside your First World bubble, well here it is! Sure you want to continue, Sean?" I did. I've spent much of the past 25 years in the Middle East and Africa and don't regret a moment of it. Well, except for a few cases of food poisoning, but that's just the price of admission.

Thank you so much for sharing.

You all can stay in touch with Sean:

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Under the Weather? How to use Mother Nature in Your Plot

I'm blog hopping from ThrillWriting over to Thriller-Writer in this article.

BTW, I wanted to name my blog Thriller-Writer but someone beat me to it. And then, I found out it was my friend Eric - great minds and all that. So join me as I hop.

My Guest: Fiona Quinn

My Guest this week is a little under the weather...  in fact, we all are, as are the characters in the novels we read, and she's going to show us some clever ways authors can use this to immerse readers into scenes on the page. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Fiona Quinn

How’s the Weather? 
In Your Novel, 
It Makes a Difference.

Last weekend, I was out in the woods on an Evacuation Team with Search and Rescue. It was ninety degrees (32º C). Things had cooled down quite a bit from the last time I was out on a manhunt; that day it had been over a hundred (39º C) with a wall of humidity. 

Amazon Link
Since I write Romantic Suspense/thrillers, I always try to note my experiences so I can bring my written words to life. In the case of searching for someone in the woods, weather matters. And I want to make the broader point that weather matters in all of our writing scenes.

Let’s start with my evac event as an example. In order to go into the woods, rescuers need to dress out; that is, we’re required to wear certain clothing to maintain our safety: boots, wool socks, long pants, long sleeved shirt, eye protection, helmet, heavy leather gloves. I was covered from head to toe except for the three or so inches between my glasses and my shirt collar. On top of that, I carried a rescue pack and equipment like rappelling webbing, a backboard, and a litter, as well as first aid bag, water for the victim and food. Water weighs a lot. Especially the amounts carried in for the heat. Ninety degrees. Remember that.

Amazon Link
In ninety-degree weather, a rescuer can quickly need rescuing. Rescuers are human beings, too. While often portrayed as heroic and never being aware of things like heat, Mother Nature really isn’t that kind. In ninety-degree heat, with or without the extra equipment, in that clothing, your character will be sopping wet with sweat. The sweat will make the dirt on the skin muddy. It will bring the bugs a-buzzing. It will make the character thirsty, tired, and probably a bit irritable. It will make the clothing cling uncomfortably to the skin, will increase the friction on the feet, forming blisters. Physical exertion in that weather will increase the need for water. Increase the chance of heat stroke. Use the weather to increase the misery of your character (nothing should be going well for them anyway.) 

Think about all of the wonderful ways you can describe the event once you take into account the weather: heat, cold, rain, drought, wind – it’s all plotting fodder.

The weather gives a writer plenty of ways to add beats into conversations instead of tags. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term 'beat', what I mean is that I would give environmental information or physical activity to the scene. It’s very important to resituate a reader. . . 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What I Learned Playing the Victim in a Mock Bombing: Info for Writers

IN THIS ARTICLE: None of the photos depict anything real; this is all MOCKed up. 

There. Right there. That's where the imaginary bomb went off. And then all hell broke loose.

For a long time, it was just us victims lying on the ground, confused and "injured."

Injuries were sorted beforehand. 

I had bilateral leg breaks, so I was non-ambulatory, but not in a life threatening situation. That's moulage on my legs - they made us up so the first-responders were better able to interpret this situation as real. You'll also see on my task sheet that I was a sixteen-year-old male and somehow also alert and following directions. I don't remember ever meeting a sixteen-year-old who was both alert and following instructions. Mostly, I get eyerolls and mumbles that sound like "no way, dude" from my sixteen-year-olds.

Let me tell you a story here about communicating in an emergency. First, I texted. You should text in an emergency so the cell towers aren't overburdened. So, good on me.

This is what I texted though:
Kid #3 has a broken ankle and head trauma. I have two broken legs.

I attached the above picture of my startlingly white legs and these photos of kid #3.

Hubby knew that #3 and I were volunteering in a mock event. He knew we'd be moulaged. He wondered what injuries they would give us. That's why I sent him the quick text. Sigh.

Hubby did not remember any of that in the middle of his national sales meeting where he received my quick text and three photos. My husband, bless him, was terrified that he was on the wrong coast when we needed him. He had a full blown adrenaline rush and horror/fear for us. I learned that we should never assume and be very very very clear in our real life communications.

In your book? The more confusion the better.

Things I learned:

  • It will be a very long time before responders get themselves organized and treating people. They have to get the call and get themselves on scene. There's a hierarchy that is put in place. Organizing that has to happen. Practiced and quick, for sure, but seconds count.
  • They can't send the responders in until it is deemed safe. This makes sense. If the responders are hurt, then who is there to help? The responders had to sit outside of the perimeter and wait for the bomb dogs to come and check out the area before an all-clear was called. (for some people, that was a lot of bleeding time.)
  • Your character had better have some first-aid skills in their personal mental toolkit, and some supplies in their purse.
  • When it's ninety degrees outside, your character will cook if you lay on the road until help gets you moved. Serious skin burns. I'm not kidding. Please remember that when you lay someone on the ground in heat or cold in your writing - save them some extra agony. Or don't. Who am I to make it easier on your characters?
  • If you are ambulatory, get your character up and ambulate. Seriously. No. One. Is. Coming. They're last on the list, and they confuse the workers trying to get to those with life or death injuries. Just need to prove that character is a prima donna? Fine, leave her out their crying over her scraped knee while someone is looking for the bottom half of their leg. Character development at its clearest.
  • If your characters are non-ambulatory, the responders will put them to work if they're conscious. I, for example, was next to a kid with an amputated thumb. I did my best to help him until they set up the triage tents (green, yellow, and red - indicating who gets treatment first). Then I sent him on his way. His feet worked, no need to fry him on the macadam.

 (That's a rubber thumb, and some blood gel and he tucked his real thumb and screamed bloody murder.)

  • There will not be enough first aid supplies.
  • There will be an insane amount of chaos; it's noisy and confusing, smoke, debris, people's belongings scattered as they escape. . .
  • People who are in bombing events have the same issues they had before the bombing event. So heart patients have heart issues. Diabetics can have low blood sugar. People with mental health issues still have mental health issues. These things increase the problems.
  • The first responders are human. They get hot. They get tired. They get overwhelmed. They get frustrated. 
  • The hospitals divide the patients based on capacity and expertise. They may send Hubby to trauma hospital C because they can take 4 more traumas there. They may send Wifey to hospital B because they have two extra orthopedic surgeons on hand. They may send Kid #3 to the pediatric hospital because they have expertise in adolescent head trauma. Now the family has to find each of their missing members and go from hospital to hospital to talk to doctors and give support.
I hope this has given you some new insights for the mass casualty event your writing. I have other such articles available with more information about how responders respond and what it felt like to be on the receiving end of their care. Look at the top of this blog for the Out and About tab or go HERE

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Study in Cultural Viewpoint and Writing: Information for Writers

Welcome. This article is meant to be an opportunity to "hear" the voice of an author from a different culture and to recognize the impact of cultural norms and understandings on our writing. As we are writing for global audiences, I think it's very interesting to consider our own personal lens and cultural understandings - how we choose what goes into and does not go into a story line. It gives us a chance to ask ourselves how the nuances of our understanding influences our characters.

To this end, I have invited Jannath Al-Firdhaws to visit with us. 

She writes as Ann AriEl Wilson.

Hi Ann, can you tell me about your writing life? How did you
become a novelist and in what genre do you like to write?

Ann - 
I had a nice dream in the morning of August 15, 2007, which inspired me to write a novella-my first work.

Besides, I've been writing tiny poems in Tamil since childhood.
I have written a novel, some short stories, etc.

Then, the My Brother Satan series happened.

I had to make changes and make Satan anti-human, which made the Second Edition.

I removed adult parts after converting to Islam, which gave the Third Edition.

First, I thought it was funny to portray Satan as human-friendly, but right after the first book got sold, Lucifer appeared in a dream and said: "When would you give your heart completely to me?" I said: "That would never happen!" I woke up and made the second edition happen in anger.

Book-1: The Princess and the Serpent 


Book-2: The Fire Lord against his Vampire Sister

The books revolve around the New World Order and Armageddon Conference.

Fiona - 
I should interject here that Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by the Tamil people of India and Sri Lanka, but also by the Tamil diaspora, Sri Lankan Moors, Burghers and Chindians. 

Ann, can you tell everyone where you live? Is English your second language?

Ann - 
Tamil is a proto-language believed to be the first by some scholars. My mother tongue is Tulu. Yes, English is my second language.

I live in Chennai, India.

I can understand, read and write Malayalam, Telugu and Tulu. Hebrew a bit. I'm learning Arabic.

Fiona - 

Ann, you and I were on Twitter having a discussion that I thought other writers would enjoy reading about and thinking about in their works, so I moved it here to the blog. 

You had read a ThrillWriting article about What Not to Wear about clothing choices for a heroine who will be in a physical fight.

You asked me about men's clothing and my response was - most men wear clothes that would work in a fight. But then you explained that you had to make up most of what you know about men. 

Can you talk about why that is true from your culture and how you research men to try to get them right in your works?

Ann - 
I have to research men by watching movies or reading books. Most men here are incapable of a friendship or acquaintance with women. We can't trust anyone and open up and ask for ideas.

Arranged marriages are still prevalent because men are not trustworthy.

They are playboys until they or their parents find the big fish.

Men are dangerous to be acquainted with. Lots of date rapes.

I mean in India.

Fiona - 
At what point are men and women separated in your culture? As a girl, did you play with boys? How does your culture deal with brothers and sisters - fathers and daughters?

Ann - 
A girl is secluded since they enter school. Children befriend without sexual knowledge or differences, but part up during adolescence as most boys misuse friendship. Men of the family would be chided not to touch the female child, but still abuses such as lip-kissing babies are prevalent.

Brothers get abusive during adolescence but turn towards other girls when they get to be teenagers.

Lack of sex education and moral education relating to sex contributes to these.

Sisters are testers, but if parents are strict in "not touching or staring at the female sibling," abuses can be avoided.

Father-in-laws and brother-in-laws here mostly at least ogle at the new bride and make her uncomfortable while the bride should live in the husband's home and be the no-salary cook, servant, pleasure unit, etc. Good families and men do exist, which can be attributed to about forty percent of the populace.

Fiona - 
In your culture kissing a baby on the lips is considered an abuse. It is so interesting to learn about the ways different cultures interpret different acts. 

When you write, who is your audience?

Ann - 
My books are mostly global. I grew up with Hollywood, which almost made me unable to think locally.

Sometimes I've dialled 9-1-1 instead of 1-0-0 in emergencies.

I don't generally write for anyone. 

Fiona - 
When you are accessing Hollywood, are you talking about films? TV? Both?

Ann - 
Yes, films. I'd have seen at least 11000 Hollywood films since childhood.

I skip TV serials as they are far from reality and mostly boring.

Fiona - 
Reality - that leads to my next question. Have you traveled outside of India? Or is your only immersion in western culture through these films?

Ann - 
I haven't travelled abroad.

Fiona - 

What would you say is the hardest thing as a writer to depict in your writing from only experiencing an other's culture through movies?

Ann -
I don't write of culture much. I write from the mind of the characters. Hence, not a problem.

Fiona - 

Thank you, Ann for sharing. 

Personally, most of the men I write about are those with military and law enforcement backgrounds. Backgrounds that I do not share. I do a lot of one-to-one interviews. I read a lot of biographies. I watch a lot of documentaries and also films that I have been assured by those who do that job are accurate and good study pieces. 

But I can't imagine starting from the beginning of not having male conversant relationships. That must be very hard indeed. I imagine this is true of many genre issues. Many of you who are writing a historical perspective or from diverse cultural backgrounds. 

We have a diversity tab here on ThrillWriting to introduce topics such as economics, disability, newly arrived citizens, and ethnicity. Keep an eye open, I am doing an article soon with a man in Spain who has written an American western from the Sioux POV. I'm very interested in the subject of preparation for a book like that as I'm planning a book from one of my Iniquus character's POV, and he is El Salvadorian.

You can keep in touch with Ann:

Jannath Al-Firdhaws writing as Ann AriEl Wilson

As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Spend a Year in Cupid's Coffeeshop: Info for writers about serial publishing.

Fellow Kindle Scout winning author, Courtney Hunt, joins us ThrillWriters and ThrillReaders to talk about her year-long writing project, Cupid's Coffeeshop.

Fiona -
Welcome Courtney. Can you set the stage by telling us a little bit about your writing and your project?

Courtney - 
I prefer to write in the contemporary romance genre, though I'd like to eventually branch into women's fiction. I also have some paranormal and sci-fi ideas rattling around that I hope to get to before 2050.

As to how I became a writer, I've always enjoyed writing down the stories I created. I pursued traditional publishing for about 10 years before giving up after the birth of my son. In my day-job I'm an attorney for the federal government. When we furloughed in October 2013, I suddenly had the life I'd always dreamed about. My son was in school and my husband at work. I wrote 54k words in 17 days. I self-published my first novel in July 2015.

Fiona - 

You are working on what I would call an ambitious if not daunting adventure. Can you explain how you got this idea? And tell truth, was this a dare accepted over too many rum and Cokes?

Courtney - 
COURTNEY HUNT - author page
No, but there was some cough syrup with codeine involved. Like many writers, I often write in coffee shops and thought that a coffee shop would be a great "meet cute" place for a hero and heroine. But, I couldn't settle on one hero and heroine. Finally, while I was sick with bronchitis (that's where the cough syrup with codeine comes in) and lying in bed, I jotted down a list of 10 story ideas. From there, I got the idea to do one per month throughout 2016. Still on the cough syrup, I came up with the three core characters who own the coffee shop and the Cupid's Coffeeshop series was born.

Fiona -

Would you take us through your production process? Writing a first draft is simply a step on the path to a reader's hands.

Courtney -
When I structured the Cupid's Coffeeshop series, I based it more on episodic television writing than a traditional romance series. So, I had the three main characters, who each get their own "very special episode" in their own books. And then, from there, I branched out to the other stories.

I have a four stage process--Capture, Development, Drafting, and Production. I use Evernote to capture all my story ideas. I usually tend to think in series, probably because as a life-long romance reader, I enjoy reading romance series. Once I decide to develop an idea, I do some basic research and character work to build an outline. I have to limit myself on the character work because I'd spend months on it if I let myself. I usually work on it for about a week and have a few favorite character exercises, like Holly Lisle's the Shadow Room and the intimacy questions. Once I have an outline or a scene list, I draft from beginning to end. I usually write 2-5k words a day on my writing days. Once a first draft is done, I consider the book in production. It goes to my developmental editor, my copy-editor, my formatter, my cover designer, and it's up on Amazon.

Fiona - 
If someone else were to think this was an awesome idea, first they should download all of your books and see what you did and how with the stories, but second could you share some of your insights? What worked? What didn't? How would you change things if you were to do this again? And would you consider doing this again? Ha! I piled on this time.

Courtney -
First, yes, I absolutely would consider doing this again. In fact, I have ideas for two different year-long series that I'm seriously considering pursuing in the future. 

Having said that, yes, there are some things I'd do differently. I would have all the stories written before I published the first one: 

  • I wouldn't be writing under so much pressure.
  • I'd have had the same editors for the entire series. My copy-editor abruptly closed up shop over the summer which left me scrambling to find another. 
  • I would make them longer so I could charge $2.99 per book. Right now, I have them at about 50 pages and 99 cents. The sales volume has been very good but the revenue is lower than what I'd prefer.

As to what worked, I had all the covers designed at one time so they are well-branded and look great together. I also released a boxed set of the first four which I had made into an audiobook that has sold really well.

I also think setting up a core story, with the three main characters that appear in each book, helped a great deal with writing it. It always comes back to the three owners. And, while two of the owners have already found their happily-ever-afters, the last one doesn't until the final book. Readers have been clamoring to know what happens to Patrick.

I also think I've built up a core of really loyal readers who love this series and that's been great too. So, overall, it's been great to get a lot of titles up on Amazon quickly (I've been published just over a year and have 12 titles for sale and 3 for pre-order).

Fiona -
You brought up the idea of branding through your cover art. Who is your audience, and how did you develop your branding to appeal to them?

Courtney - 
The books are small-town contemporary romance. I was really going for a Gilmore Girls vibe with the books. However, writing such a long series, I've been able to have an older couple (Cherry Blossom Cappuccino features a couple in their 70s) as well as a high school couple (in November's Thanksgiving Dream). I've also had some college-aged heroes and heroines. So, even within the small town vibe, I've had young adult, new adult, and--what do we call older adults? Hen lit?-- opportunities. The books also vary in their heat levels from sweet to mainstream steamy. So, by varying the ages and the heat level, I've attracted a wide swath of contemporary romance readers.

As for the branding part, I've used the same cover designer for all my books (Kim Killion) and she also designed my Cupid's Coffeeshop logo. I've used to get some great promotional photos to use.

Fiona - 
Let's talk about the big author time suck, marketing. You have a great story to tell, you've wrapped it up in a pretty package, and now you need to get it out into the world. Can you take us through your strategy?

Courtney - 
Marketing has been a challenge for this series because many of the popular sites, like Bookbub, don't advertise novellas. I spent a good amount of December setting up promos for the first book, Java Frost. 

To celebrate each new release, I've put the prior month's book up for free for 5 days. I have a newsletter and send that out each month. I'm also just starting to use Facebook ads after Mark Dawson's class. 

I think having each book up for pre-order for 90 days helps too. I had just 29 pre-orders of the first one and the more recent ones are in the 150 range. So, that's been better. I have a review crew too that has helped spread the word. But, like with all author promos, it's never enough, and I have to limit it or I'll never get new words on the page.

Fiona - 
What do you wish I had asked you but didn't know enough to ask?

Courtney -
How difficult it is to change course with a series like this. For example, I realized in the spring that 99 cents was just too low to be very profitable. But I had 8 more months, and I didn't want to triple the price because I felt I'd already set reader expectations. 

Also, when I got sick in April and got behind on my writing schedule, I'd spend the next few months frantically working to catch up. When I do this again, I'll have all 12 books done before I start publishing. 

But for the next few series, I think I'll stick to the trilogies and quartet model for a bit.

Fiona - 
As always, ThrillWriting would love to hear about your favorite scar.

Courtney - 
My c-section scar because it gave me my beautiful son.

Fiona -  
You can stay in touch with Courtney here:
twitter at @courtneyhunt71 


Courtney's current new-release is Apple Cider:

The boxed set of the first one is here: Cupid's Coffeeshop boxed set

And here is Courtney's Kindle Scout winner! Lost Art of Second 


As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.