Posts Tagged ‘suspense’

I’m a few days late wishing a happy book birthday here on my blog to Chloe Neill for DARK DEBT, the latest in her awesome Chicagoland Vampires series, and to Karen Whiddon for bringing us back to her small town Anniversary, Texas with THE RANCHER’S RETURN.  Two very different and wonderful novels, both with old wounds reopened, scandals and suspense.

dark debt DARK DEBT by Chloe Neill

A vampire never gets old. But neither do his enemies. When a figure from Ethan’s dark past makes a splashy debut in Chicago, Merit and her Master don’t know whether he’s friend or foe. But they’ll have to figure out soon, because trouble is brewing in the Windy City.

At an exclusive society soiree attended by the upper echelons of the human and supernatural worlds, Merit and Ethan barely stop the assassination of a guest. When the target turns out to be a shady businessman with a criminal edge, Merit suspects a human vendetta. But the assassins have fangs….

The connections to Chicago’s Houses go deeper than Merit knows, and even one wrong move could be her last….

rachers return THE RANCHER’S RETURN by Karen Whiddon

In the small town of Anniversary, Texas, pure evil will find you…

The night rancher Reed Westbrook makes love to Kaitlyn Nuhn, his life ends. While in the throes of passion, his brother is murdered…and Reed becomes the prime suspect. When Kaitlyn, his solid alibi, vanishes, Reed goes straight to prison and becomes a scourge of the town.

Finally released, Reed lives under the radar, until Kaitlyn reappears claiming she was held prisoner by the real murderer, a man so powerful he’s virtually untouchable. This killer will stop at nothing to eliminate Kaitlyn, and only Reed can protect her. The electrifying attraction that drove him to near-madness is still as powerful as ever. And the walls he’s built around his heart are in danger of crumbling.

nexus Before I do anything at all, I want to wish a HUGE congratulations to Ramez Naam for making the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for his debut science fiction novel NEXUS!  So proud!  So well deserved!

This past Saturday, the Florida chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Orlando Public Library teamed up to present a free half-day writers workshop featuring a panel and break-out sessions with  Jessica Khoury, Jessica Brody, Amy Christine Parker, Christina Farley, Vivi Barnes, J.A. Souders and Anna Banks.   I may be a bit biased, being one of the presenters myself, but it was a great day.

A few people asked about notes for my talk, and I promised to write them up for my blog, thus here they are.  Some of the information here I grabbed from previous posts I’ve done, so there might be parts here that are familiar to some viewers!

The Publishing Process: From Gaining our Attention through Publication

Of course, it all starts with your manuscript, so I want to talk a bit about standing out from the crowd.

First of all, don’t take the easy way out.  Don’t do what’s common or expected.  Don’t do something anyone else can do.  When you’re generating ideas, it’s often a good idea to throw out your first two or three thoughts.  They come quickly and easily because they’re rote.  You’ve seen them and heard them before.  They’ve been done, many times over.  Push yourself beyond those first few ideas.  Challenge yourself.

Come up with something unique, whether it be your character or storyline…or better yet both.  Just as you don’t want your storyline to be predictable or cookie-cutter, you don’t want to people your novel with stereotypes or cardboard characters.  You should know more about your people than ever make it onto the page.  If someone were to ask their favorite ice cream or how long they take in the bathroom, you should be able to answer without thought.

Don’t shy away from tension or true danger.  Your reader needs to truly fear for the emotional or physical wellbeing of your character.  Torture your characters/torture your reader.  It sounds cruel, but it’s honest.  Remember that in every scene there should be something at stake.

What often takes a novel from okay to amazing is the voice.  Your voice, your point of view character, is the lens through which we see the world.  Think of it this way—if you have two children and both told you about the same fight, would it sound the same?  No, it would have a slant…about who was at fault, who started things, who did what to whom.  Some details would make it in and others would be left out.  What words would be used?  Would they be uttered in anger?  In a rush, tumbling over each other?  What would the body language be?  Whoever’s POV we’re in should be distinctive and unique and they should have an angle on things. Everyone has an angle.  (Not necessarily a bad angle.  Someone might give too many chances or see the best in everyone rather than the worst, but his/her personality and experiences will lead him or her to treat an event or individual in a certain way.)

Okay, so we’ve got great stories and great characters.  What else?  Well, great writing, of course.  Your first draft is often just that…drafty.  It should never be the product that goes out the door.  Amy Christine Parker and I did a vlog for YA Rebels on Revisions, which I’ll post below, but here are some quick notes based on beginning mistakes I see time and again:

-Do your best to rid your manuscript of waffle words, like “just,” “only,” “seemed to”.  Also, “she decided,” “he thought,” “she mused”…that sort of thing. Thought tags like this are the equivalent of said-bookisms in dialogue.  (For example: “I hate you!” she shouted angrily.)  Some things are understood and telling them to us is redundant.  Show, don’t tell.  This will make your writing much more immediate.

-Avoid passive voice. For example: Passive: “The door opened to admit her;” Active: “Benny slammed the door open at her knock, shocking her back a step…”  As you can tell, the second option is much more effective.

-Go back over emotional scenes particularly.  Chances are you shied away from the true depth and these need to be further explored now that the full context surrounds them.

-Make sure you have sensory and physiological details where appropriate.  For example, if someone’s running for his/her life or being kissed for the first time, the body will react.  Blood flow will increase or rush to certain parts of the body.  Breathing will change…

-Make sure every scene is told in the right point of view, that of the participant, not the observer.

-If you’ve jigged when you should have jogged and gone down the wrong path with your novel, now is the chance to change that.  You’ll hear many professional writers say that they write two or three books for every one published.  That’s because of how much they throw out and start again or how much is rewritten beyond recognition.  I won’t say that first-drafting is easier, but revisions are where the real work comes in!  (At least for me.)

-Make sure that you’ve revised your work until you can’t stand to look at it anymore.  Then put it away for a few weeks to a month and look again with fresh eyes.  Readers and critique partners are invaluable in this process as well, because they don’t know what you meant to put down on the page.  They only know what’s there, and they can help you discover sections that came out differently than intended or plot points that didn’t come through at all.

-Mantra: Thou shalt send out no manuscript before it’s time.

Next, I discussed the querying process, what an agent does and what a publishing house does for you.  Since I’ve covered these things in previous posts, here are those links:

Finding an Agent

The Role of Agents in the Modern Publishing Landcape

Querying, Part 1

Querying, Part 2

Querying, Part 3

What a Publisher Does (aka It Takes a Village)

Other links you might find helpful that I offered in a hand-out:

My blog

My author website

Knight Agency website

TKA submission guidelines

Association of Authors’ Representatives

The SFWA Writer Beware site

Preditors & Editors



Defining Moments


YA Rebels vlog on Revisions:

Yesterday I posted about the Crossroads Blog Tour, coming October 21st – October 28th.  Well, guess what?  Just before that comes Teen Read Week!  It would be fabulous for you to choose one (or more!) of the authors from the tour so that it’s that much more meaningful when you follow us and maybe win that Kindle pre-loaded with great reads!  Other fabulous choices: The Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine, BRIMSTONE, HIGHWAY TO HELL, THE SPENDOR FALLS or TEXAS GOTHIC by Rosemary Clement-Moore, LEGACY by Molly Cochran, THE DARK ELITE and CHARMFALL by Chloe Neill, FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS by Diana Peterfreund, RADIATE by Marley Gibson, the Vamped series by, well, me…or any of my Girlfriends Cyber Circuit sisters, like Gretchen McNeil, interviewed below about her new release, TEN, a modern teen take on Agatha Christie’s classic TEN LITTLE INDIANS.


It was supposed to be the weekend of their lives – three days on Henry Island at an exclusive house party. Best friends Meg and Minnie each have their own reasons for wanting to be there, both of which involve Kamiak High’s most eligible bachelor, T.J. Fletcher. But what starts out as a fun-filled weekend turns dark and twisted after the discovery of a DVD with a sinister message: Vengeance is mine.

Suddenly, people are dying and the teens are cut off from the outside world. No electricity, no phones, no internet, and a ferry that isn’t scheduled to return for two days. As the deaths become more violent and the teens turn on each other, can Meg find the killer before more people die? Or is the killer closer to her than she could ever imagine?

Interview with Gretchen McNeil:

What is your writing process like?  Are you a plotter or a pantser?  Do you schedule time to write each day or are you a spree writer?

I’m like a plotpantser.  Basically, I outline the first act, and then I know what the end will basically be, but what happens between the beginning of Act II and the end of Act III is malleable!  When I’m on deadline, I try to write 1k words a day, 5 days a week.  That’s a comfortable pace for me.

What is the hardest part about the publishing process for you and how do you get through it? (For me, it’s copyediting and sour cream and onion chips.)

The waiting.  I’m not a particularly patient person, and so waiting for everything from notes to cover reveals to reviews to sales figures is so difficult for me!  I cope with champagne.  😉

We drop your hero or heroine on a deserted island.  Quick, what are the three things he or she can’t live without?

Meg can’t possibly live without her notebook, a pen, and T.J. Fletcher.

If your story were a film, who would you cast?

Funnily enough, someone tweeted last week how Michael B. Jordan (Friday Night Lights)  would be perfect as T.J. Fletcher.  I’m in total agreement.  And the only other character I’d definitely want the chance to cast would be Minnie – Elle Fanning would be perfect.

Are there any contests or upcoming appearances/interviews/etc. you’d like to plug?

Definitely check out the appearances page on my blog for all my upcoming events:

And if you want be in the loop for exclusive meet and greets with me, sign up to join the Army of Ten!

Congratulations on your fabulous new release!

For those of you who haven’t yet read I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga, he’s written an intense novel in which Jazz, the teenaged son of the world’s worst serial killer, becomes obsessed with hunting a new murderer in order to prove that the “training” he received from his father during his formative years can be used for good.  (This to counteract the fear that he and others have that Jazz may follow in his father’s footsteps.)  It’s a wonderful novel, both psychologically and suspensefully, and so realistic in the way that Jazz must constantly fight his father’s brainwashing and the fears raised about his future.  It’s not often that I write fan letters – I should probably do this a lot more frequently, but as an agent I always worry that people will suspect ulterior motives—but I met Barry years ago, and had to reach out to tell him how much I enjoyed I HUNT KILLERS and to pick his brain about how he was able to maintain his own sanity while getting into the right mindset to make the novel truly authentic.  Here are my questions and his answers.

Barry, I’m blown away with the way that you were able to put yourself into your protagonist’s head and to create someone at once so appealing and potentially scary.  What kind of research did you have to do in order to create Jazz and his father, Billy Dent?

Thanks! Before I wrote the book, I sort of immersed myself in all things serial killer. I spent a few months reading nothing but books about law enforcement and forensic science and serial killer profiles and the history of serial murder. There was a temptation early on to take all of that reading and use it very specifically and sort of make everything in my book a reference to that real-world information in some way, but then I just decided that it would be best to let my research linger in my head and inform the mood of the book, rather than the details. So Billy, for example, isn’t based on any real person. He’s a figment of my imagination, filtered through all of that reading. And Jazz is really just… There aren’t many books about the children of serial killers, at least none that I found or read. So I just did what I always do, for every book: I thought to myself, “Imagine you’re a kid in this particular situation. What happens now?” And I ran with it.

Did you ever find the mood of the story affecting you personally?  If so, were there strategies you used for getting into the mindset and back out again?

Nah. I know the safe answer is something like, “Oh, yeah, it was horrifying to write this… I was so disturbed…” But it didn’t bother me at all. My friends joke that I was born without a soul because I have no problem jumping right in and writing some of the gruesome and psychologically messed up stuff in the book. I don’t have to get into any specific mindset. I just sit down and boom! I’m there. And when I’m done, I’m done. Doesn’t bother me or affect me.

Was there any personal experience or background you were able to draw on to evoke the emotions within the novel?

I think everything written, no matter what it is, has some kind of background in the author’s self and history. It’s not like my dad’s a serial killer or anything, but I’ve had — we’ve all had — that moment in our lives when we think, “Am I going to grow up to be just like my parents?” And that can either thrill you or terrify you. It’s a universal thing and it’s easy to tap into. And I think Jazz’s fear of himself, of his own power, is universal, too, as we grow up and come out of the haze of adolescent hormones and begin to realize that there are people who matter in the world and that we have the ability to hurt them or to help them. So, yeah, I drew on that stuff and sort of ramped it up because for Jazz these issues are literally a matter of life and death.

As much as I love Jazz, his best friend Howie is probably my favorite character in the novel.  Do you want to discuss how he came to be?

Aw, I am so glad to hear that! I love Howie. I was so terrified that he was going to succumb to Best Friend Syndrome. I resisted letting him be funny at first because the best friend is ALWAYS funny and I’m sort of tired of that. But then he developed this dark gallows humor about him, and he’s got this knowledge that he could die so easily, and it made him feel very real and very new to me. At first, I just thought it would be sort of funny and interesting to have Jazz’s friend be a hemophiliac. It was the idea of juxtaposing the ultimate killer with the ultimate victim. Because you know Jazz could kill Howie in a fraction of a second. And then that knowledge sort of filtered down for me and I realized that by being friends with Howie, Jazz has put himself in a position where he’s constantly reminded of the frailty of human life. And Howie allows himself to be in that position, to be that reminder. It just all came together really nicely and I’m so happy with the two of them. There’s a lot more of Howie in the second book, so I’m glad people seem to like him!

Can you talk a little about the process?  How many drafts did you have to go through?  Did you have to dig yourself deeper with each one?  The momentum on the plotting and pacing are so strong that I wonder….

I typically don’t go through many drafts. I usually do one on my own and then do a clean up and then another with my editor and we’re done. But I’d never written a mystery before and when I finished the first draft of KILLERS, every damn person who read it figured out who the killer was! Every single one of them! So, I did some tweaking and some fixing and… I don’t remember, but I think I did two or three sweeps through it before I gave it to my editor. And then SHE figured out who the killer was! And I was like, “Goddamn it!” But it took her LONGER than it took my beta readers, so I knew I was on the right path! [Laughs] So we did another run-through and then just a quick little tweak after that and it was ready. The bones of the whole thing were there from the beginning, from the first draft: The character arcs, the plot, everything. It was just a little thing, you know — the goddamn mystery! I just had to keep tweaking things and modifying bits to make it work. It was a serious education for me. You can change the direction of the mystery in the reader’s head just by changing a line of dialogue. Like I said — I’d never written anything like this before, so I was sort of learning as I went along.

You mentioned momentum and that’s funny because I always feel like my books start really slow and then sort of build from there. And that was all right for my other books, but at some point, I realized, Duh! This book is a thriller! It has to MOVE. And I felt like the beginning was still slow, so I just arbitrarily decided that I would cut ten percent of the first hundred pages of the book. Don’t ask why — I don’t know. I just decided that out of the blue one day. When you break it down, it works out to something like twenty-five words cut from each page. So that’s what I did — I just went through and cut ten percent of the first hundred pages. And honestly, I still think the first forty pages or so are a little slow, but it’s better than it was before.

Given the subject matter, was it a challenge at all to convince your agent or the young adult editors that it would be appropriate for the YA market?

Not at all! I mean, I lucked out in that regard — my editor was itching to publish a YA novel about serial killers. She had mentioned the idea of such a book and I thought it was sort of too much and disgusting and disturbing, and then one night I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking, “His FATHER is a serial killer!” And I went to my computer at, like, three in the morning and wrote up a proposal. And bang — it all came together. She was a little worried that it was going to be too dark, but when she saw Jazz interacting with Howie and Connie, she saw what I was up to and it’s been smooth sailing all along.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?  Any other projects you’d like to mention or websites you’d like to direct us to for excerpts or further information?

Well, almost diametrically opposite KILLERS, I have a fun middle grade series called ARCHVILLAIN. The last book in that trilogy will be coming out in January. And the second KILLERS book will be out in April. Web-wise, I’m on Facebook at, I’m @barrylyga on Twitter, and of course I have my website at People can feel free to stalk me at any combination of them!

Thanks so much, Barry!  It was a pleasure to read I HUNT KILLERS and a pleasure to have you here.  I’m already looking forward to the sequel!

Thanks, Lucienne!


Posted: November 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I hope that everyone had a glorious Thanksgiving!  I did something I almost never do…went nearly off the grid.  While I did a lot of work (reading, writing…), I mostly spent the long weekend in realtime with family and friends, so social media fell a bit by the wayside.  In the immortal words of Madeleine Kahn from Blazing Saddles, “I feel refreshed.”

So, I’m back.  I can promise anyone who ever told me to get stuffed that I have taken their advice, and I’m over at Magical Words today with a post chock full of tension and suspense.