Writing Advice from Owensboro

The Chase

As some of you may know, the finale of  The Chase, which I co-wrote with Janet Evanovich, is set in and around Owensboro & Hawesville Kentucky. Last week, author Joel Goldman & I trekked across the country to Owensboro for “An Evening with Lee & Joel,” a program put on by Riverpark Center and Daviess County Library. We talked about self-publishing, plotting, how we broke into the business, etc….and now you can see some excerpts from the event up on YouTube.

Here’s a clip of me explaining why I believe this is the Golden Age of Publishing for Authors…

Here’s Joel and I talking about how we broke into the business:

I’ll have more clips from that event up on my website in a few weeks.

One Reason Why I Write

Richard WheelerThere are lots of reasons why I write mystery novels and thrillers… To entertain myself. To make a living. To tell a story. But sometimes it’s not easy to put my butt in the chair and write. But then I come across a Goodreads blogpost like the one from author Richard Wheeler…and it’s a big motivator.

Each day I read to my wife a couple of chapters from one of Lee Goldberg’s Monk novels, based on the TV series about the obsessive-compulsive San Francisco detective Adrian Monk.

My wife, Sue Hart, is in an assisted living place three blocks from my home. She spent half a century as an English professor, specializing in Montana literature and other fields, before her short-term memory began to fade.

She loves the Monk novels. She had been unfamiliar with them until I started reading them to her in her room, and now she laughs and smiles right along with me, as I spin out the story for her.

There is a genius to the Monk novels. Mr. Monk is crazy and outrageous– but we don’t laugh at him, because there is the pathos about him, and what we feel is tenderness toward him, no matter how peculiar he seems.

These reading sessions, which light up my wife, have made me aware of how gifted Lee Goldberg is as a novelist and storyteller. There is something about reading a story out loud, and catching the response, that tells me more about the work than if I had read it silently to myself. And it is telling me that Lee Goldberg is a splendid storyteller with a great sense of the human condition.

I am touched, and very flattered, by Richard’s post. I’ve received quite a few letters from people who read my books while going through chemotherapy, or healing from an injury, and they tell me how much the laughter, or the mystery, or the adventure has helped them deal with, or forget, the pain. That’s just amazing to me. So now I think of those people whenever I sit down to write.

Create Suspense

Libby Hellmann
Libby Hellmann

From my friend, author Libby Fischer Hellmann

So…. Imagine this. You invite your neighbor round for coffee. You don’t like them much, they’re kind of irritating, not really your type. But you start up a friendly conversation anyway. Nothing particularly revolutionary, elaborate or interesting. Just a pleasant, enjoyable chat.

So far, so dull.

While you’re chatting, you casually get a roll of duct tape out of the kitchen drawer. You know, the one you keep for fixing stuff around the house? You come back and tie your neighbor’s hands and feet against the chair. Then I want you to take out your .38 revolver from your closet– you know, the one you keep around the house for emergencies– release the cylinder, put one bullet in the gun. Just ONE. Then close it up.

Now I want you to put the gun against your neighbor’s head. Nothing should change. You will still have that pleasant, inconsequential conversation. Except for one thing. Once a minute, every minute, pull the trigger.

I guarantee you that conversation will be the most riveting, suspenseful conversation you and your neighbor will ever have.

Why? Because suspense isn’t so much what is happening, but what might happen. It’s a situation in which the outcome is in doubt. You’re asking questions not immediately answered. Posing posing a threat that isn’t being immediately resolved. Raising concerns that are not addressed. The longer you stretch those questions, the longer you delay, the longer you parcel out information without providing answers, the more suspense you generate.

Hopefully, you’ll learn more tomorrow evening, February 20, 2014, from me & authors Lee Goldberg, Joel Goldman, and Paul Levine in a lively Google+ Video “Hang Out”. You’ll see us live, on video, discussing the secrets of creating top suspense…and you can ask us questions, too.

 

 

Happy Endings Can Be Hell

Change of Heart

And they lived happily ever after…

That may be a satisfying, romantic ending for a book…but it can be living hell for an author who wants to write a sequel, as New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jenna Bennett (aka Jennie Bentley) explains in this guest post. She writes the “Do It Yourself” home renovation mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and the “Cutthroat Business” mysteries for her own gratification. Her most recent book is the just-released Change of Heart, book six in the “Cutthroat Business” series. 

Once upon a time, I wrote a five book series of romantic mysteries.

More accurately, I wrote a very long romance novel in five parts, with a dash of mystery thrown in for good measure.

It had all the usual things you usually find in a novel: three high points of escalating stakes, a dark moment towards the end, and a climax and resolution.

The only difference was that each of my high points was its own book, the dark moment was a separate book, and the climax and resolution was yet another book.

And then I stopped, and started working on other things. The hero and heroine were together, after all. The story was over.

A couple of months went by, and people started asking when the next book was coming. I had to tell them that there would be no more books. There was nothing more to say.

“Oh, but…”

After I heard that enough times, I realized two things.

One was that although the hero and heroine were together, the story wasn’t necessarily over. When the fairytale ends, it doesn’t mean that nothing more happens. Life goes on. Life went on for my characters, too. I didn’t kill them, after all.

The other thing I realized—and call me mercenary—was that people wanted to read more about those characters. Like in the movie: if I wrote another book, they would come.

It was a no-brainer, really. We all want devoted readers, right? My readers were devoted enough to ask for more books. So why not come up with another story arc and write another few books? And make everyone happy. What could it hurt, after all?

Famous last words.

Come to find out, there’s a reason the fairytale ends with ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

It’s the same reason why, in romance novels, the book is over when the relationship is settled.

Happy, domestic, everyday relationships are damned hard to write.

Or maybe I should say that they’re damned hard to make interesting.

Who wants to read a book with no conflict, after all? No romantic tension? No stakes? Just page after page of cooking dinner and taking out the trash and going to sleep together and waking up together.

Even the sex becomes boring.

So the new book became about tossing wrenches into the works. I’d played the jealousy card before, but I played it again. I came up with a secret one party couldn’t tell the other. I threw in some extended family unhappiness about the relationship. I made sure that one party’s efforts to show the other party the beauties of domestic life had the opposite effect.

I did my level best to make trouble in paradise. And then I crossed my fingers and threw the book out there, holding my breath to see whether I’d succeeded.

It’s been a couple of weeks, and so far things look promising. The consensus seems to be that the series didn’t hit bottom once the hero and heroine were in a settled relationship. In fact, some people even said it was their favorite book in the series so far.

Of course, it’s early days yet. And I do have a few more books to write. And you can only play the jealousy card so many times before it becomes old hat.

But it turns out the story isn’t actually over when the curtain comes down. Life goes on behind the curtain. And the prince and princess don’t always live happily ever after. At least not every moment.

It’s more like they live mostly happily, with a little tension and a few arguments and some excellent makeup-sex, ever after.

And that isn’t so bad either.