Category Archives: characters

KLAW TV Interview

Hey there! Just a quick post to let you know that my interview with Kitsap Literary Artists and Writers for local access TV station BKAT is live on YouTube. You can watch it here:

Looks like I’m about to strangle the interviewer, doesn’t it? Well, you should watch it to find out if I do 🙂  Interviewer Mark Miller went a tad off script, which made things interesting, and I had a blast (even though I was fighting an epic case of allergies that day…)

 


Writing a Prequel, or, What the Hell Was I Thinking?

It wouldn't be long now...

 

So A Killing Truth is out (yay!) and early feedback is encouraging, which is a huge relief. Why, you ask? Because the book is a prequel and had two enormous tasks:

1: it had to hew closely to everything I’d written about Leine’s early life in the other books (my thoughts of which tended to be along the lines of Oh, holy crap, what was I thinking???), and

2: it had to strike the right tone and not be just a rehash so that readers of the series would still be intrigued enough to read it. Aka: Reader Expectation.

Okay, so let me dig a little deeper into the first, seemingly insurmountable task. As many of you know, my writing process is a hybrid of sketching out a rough outline combined with a seat-of-your-pants, cross your fingers and hope for the best, kind of style.

But I wasn’t always that organized 🙂

For example, when I wrote Serial Date, most of that novel came out in a torrent of mad writing sessions with a freaky dream as the catalyst. It’s filled with all sorts of, “Hey! Let’s make Leine loath tattoos. Why? Hell, I don’t know, maybe something happened in her past.” Followed by, “Well, what happened? I know! It should have something to do with an old target named The Frenchman, who of course almost killed her.”

And do you think I left it at that? Nope. Then I had to think of a reason that Leine and her old boss were no longer on speaking terms-the reason she left the Agency and ended her career as an assassin. What could Eric (her boss) have done that was so heinous that she should have killed him off? And why didn’t she? So I created what I thought would be a good explanation and left it at that. But I hadn’t thought through the logistics because I didn’t have to.

You know, because the book was going to be a standalone.

Bonus writing tip: Always think of the book you’re currently writing in terms of an over-arching series, even when it’s not. Because dollars to donuts, if you don’t, it will become one, guaranteed.

Female showing on map vintage photo

Must. Plan. Next. Time.

 

Okay, so readers wanted more Leine and I was happy to oblige, but I wanted to tackle current issues. Although the subject of Serial Date is reality shows, which is a current phenomenon in our culture, the book has an irreverent, satirical tone and I couldn’t figure out a way to satirize human trafficking without coming off as an asshole.

You see my dilemma.

So, I changed the tone of the second book (Bad Traffick) to hard-hitting, traditional-ish thriller and we were off! (Bonus writing tip #2: Always think of the book you’re currently writing in terms of an over-arching series. This includes consistency in tone.) I added a few more details to Leine’s backstory throughout the next three books, this time with the idea that I would someday write a prequel.

And here’s where it gets gnarly. The horrible transgression Eric committed was having Leine do something she would never, ever do if she knew all the details.

Leine’s a smart woman. In A Killing Truth, she’s at the top of her game as an assassin and takes pride in eliminating the worst of the worst. Eric had to make sure she was off-balance and would more likely make a mistake, or at least not be aware of his duplicity, which could royally mess with his plans.

Luckily, after much tooth-gnashing and pulling of hair, I was able to craft a realistic scenario that would incorporate all the little clues my subconscious had deposited throughout the series. I even had a couple of aha! moments that I surely didn’t see coming. Which brings me to Task #2.

Reader Expectation.

The only way I knew to be sure the story matched or exceeded reader expectation was to write a fast-paced, explosive plot, with Leine as the central character. Yes, she’s younger and a bit less damaged (until the end), but the narrative tone is still vintage Leine, ensuring that longtime readers of the series won’t be disappointed.

I refuse to post spoilers here but if you’ve read Serial Date, you’ll have an idea of the heinous thing Eric has Leine do in A Killing Truth. And since I’m not a fan of back story in my novels you’ll also learn a whole lot more about her early life. And, as promised, I reveal why the hell Leine hates tattoos.

Go ahead and read A Killing Truth and tell me what you think. It’s on sale everywhere for the super-special launch price of $0.99. (see links above, on the right).

Do you enjoy reading prequels? If so, which ones really nailed it in terms of story and tone? If not, why not? Inquiring minds want to know.


The Smell of Cordite Hung in the Air

Woman with Smoking Gun by Clarence F. UnderwoodSo I’m reading away on the first in series of a new-to-me thriller author, enjoying the story line and the protagonist (tortured male assassin–one of my favorite kind of characters. Cliché, I know, but I still love ’em) and I come to the line “The smell of cordite hung heavy in the air” (or something like that).  As I’m sure you can tell by the title of this post, there just might be something wrong with that.

Well, yeah.

Back when I was a newbie to the crime genre, I read as many crime novels as I could find, and it didn’t matter what year they were published. Often, I’d come across the cordite reference and I wondered, “what the heck is cordite?” So I looked it up. Turns out, cordite was a propellant much like gunpowder, used mainly in the UK.

Notice the past tense.

That’s because cordite is no longer around and it hasn’t been used since WWII. Now, I’m not trying to be all snarky about accuracy in books, since I’ve made mistakes in my own fiction (like using the word clip for magazine. Got called on that one a couple of times.) But the author claims to have several experts read their work for accuracy and it makes me wonder how “expert” those folks really are. This author is independently published, but I’ve read a few books by traditionally published, well-known thriller authors who used the same reference in fairly recent books. Aren’t they supposed to have fact-checkers? Or at least a good editor?

Oh, well.

I’ve also read books where the character flipped the safety off on a Glock. A Glock doesn’t have an external safety . After reading the most recent book with that reference I gave the author the benefit of the doubt since guns weren’t their forte, and because it didn’t throw me too far out of the story. I do that with most of the books I read. Being an author myself, I realize how hard it is to make sure unfamiliar subjects are accurate, and the best you can do is research and try very hard to get it right. If the rest of the book is compelling, then a mistake here and there isn’t a deal breaker, at least for me.

The one thing that does make me throw the book across the room, though, and I’ve touched on this before, is when a male writer tries to write a female and either makes her a one-dimensional, convenient character, or puts lipstick on a dude and calls it good.

Ugh.

But, then again, being female is one subject where I have plenty of experience  🙂

How about you? Do you give authors the benefit of the doubt when you notice a mistake, or do you throw the book across the room? Better yet, do you tell them?


Like Mystery and Suspense? 4 Authors You’ll Want to Read

I’ve been reading several new-to-me authors, mainly in the thriller/suspense/mystery genres, and thought I’d showcase a few of them. I’ve been blown away by the four listed here for different reasons. Hopefully, you’ll find a new-to-you author you may want to check out. (You can click on the covers to go to Amazon. I am an affiliate.)

The Inside Ring coverThe Inside Ring by Mike Lawson

I met Mike at Left Coast Crime last March (we were on a panel together) and he was one of the most down-to-earth, likeable guys I’ve ever met. The panel was a blast, and part of the reason was his wry sense of humor (actually, all of the other authors on that panel were witty as hell, which totally made the session). The Inside Ring is the first of the Joe DeMarco thrillers, and, sorry to use the cliche, but I was hooked from the first page. The setting is Washington, DC and DeMarco is a “fixer” for the Speaker of the House. There’s humor and suspense and, since I love thrillers with a side of wit, I took to his character immediately. If you enjoy entertaining political thrillers, I highly recommend the series.

 

cover for Cliff DiverCliff Diver by Carmen Amato

I discovered Carmen Amato through a Facebook group I belong to called Mexico Writers. I enjoy reading thrillers that take place in Mexico, and Amato’s books feature a wonderfully strong female protagonist named Emelia Cruz, Acapulco’s first and only female detective. Cruz is sharp, strong, and doesn’t take shit from any of her counterparts in the detective division, but she’s also feminine and her toughness doesn’t end up feeling forced. It’s rare to find a strong woman protagonist who doesn’t remind me of a man in women’s clothing (yes, I know that’s the definition of a cross-dresser, but that isn’t quite what I mean 🙂 ) but Amato pulls it off with Cruz, and does it well. The mystery/thriller part of the novel kept me on the edge of my seat, in large part because I really liked Emelia and felt a vested interest in her success/safety. The book is a fast read and was another one that “had me at hello.” I’ll definitely be looking for the rest in the series.

 

Zero Scover for Zero Separationeparation by Philip Donlay

Another author I met on that panel at Left Coast Crime was thriller writer Philip Donlay. He also had a fabulous sense of humor and was quite interesting to talk to. Philip was a professional pilot for several years before becoming a novelist, and it shows in his books. The aviation scenes are riveting–just enough information to give the reader an idea of what’s going on, but not so much technical jargon to take you out of the story. I downloaded the audio version of his book, Zero Separation, and listened to it on my drive to and from the conference in Portland. He writes strong women really well, and his character, Donovan Nash, is fun to read–the man has secrets upon secrets. I’m deep into Donlay’s newest book, Aftershock, and can tell you it’s shaping up to be a fantastic read.

 

cover for All the Blue Eyed AngelsAll The Blue-Eyed Angels by Jen Blood

How could I do a post like this one and not mention one of my fav indies, Jen Blood? Yeah, I know she’s not knew-to-me, but her books are always worth a mention, and she might be new to you!

Jen and I met eons ago when she reviewed Bad Spirits. I liked what she had to say, so I picked up her book, All The Blue-Eyed Angels, and never looked back. This is one mystery series that you’ll want to start at the beginning and read straight through to the end. Her character, Erin Solomon, has a massive arc through the five books and diving into the middle just won’t do her justice. I hear Jen’s working on a book featuring a character from the series. Sounds like my TBR pile is going to grow 🙂

So there you have it. Four thriller/mystery authors to check out. What about you guys? What are you reading? Do you have any authors in the mystery/thriller/suspense genre that you’d like to recommend? I’ll be doing these posts off and on, so suggestions are welcome!

 

 


New Interview

Today I’m on the hot seat in the Interview Room over at Terry’s Place–the questions aren’t your usual fare and I had waay too much fun answering them. Stop by and say hello and find out what kind of lingerie my characters like to wear… 🙂

 


Gender Divisions Trickle Down

Flora Sandes in uniform

Flora Sandes, the only woman to fight in WWI

Here’s an interesting development on the gender equality front. Chuck Wendig raises some salient points in his latest post on gender divisions in popular culture. Apparently, DC comics is marketing their new super hero comic books as ‘Just for girls’. Below is an excerpt from the post quoting the DC press release:

“…an exciting new universe of Super Heroic storytelling that helps build character and confidence, and empowers girls to discover their true potential.”

“Developed for girls aged 6-12, DC Super Hero Girls centers on the female Super Heroes and Super-Villains of the DC Comics universe during their formative years…”

“I am so pleased that we are able to offer relatable and strong role models in a unique way, just for girls.” (end excerpt)

So? What do you think? What’s your take on DC’s decision to market to ‘girls only’?


Tough Female Characters

Frida Kahlo fake photo montage

Via WikiMedia Commons

So I just had an interesting conversation with a Facebook friend who is a voracious thriller reader about using a woman as the main protagonist in the genre. He’s been around the block a time or two and has read tons of both traditionally and indie published thrillers, so I generally listen to what he has to say. He’d just been introduced to Leine Basso, the protagonist in my second series, and mentioned in passing that Leine was what he deemed a “tough broad,” and, although the protagonist’s domain in traditional thrillers has typically been a men’s-only club, he thoroughly enjoyed reading about a woman who was as tough and accomplished as any male character.

And that got me thinking.

I write strong female characters because I can’t/couldn’t find that kind of protagonist in the books I like to read. Yes, I’ve read action-adventure novels with strong female protagonists written by both male and female writers, but of those I’ve read I come away with two main complaints: either the character is some guy’s wet dream (sorry, couldn’t think of a more appropriate description) where, for all intents and purposes, she’s a man in a woman’s body and has the emotional depth of a robot (no offense to any AI fans out there), or she’s tough as nails and self-sufficient until a good-looking man comes along. Then she turns into starry-eyed goo, or worse, lets the guy take over the fighting/sleuthing/whatever. To date, I haven’t read many novels that have a strong female action-adventure protag who kicks people’s asses without apology but also acts like a real human being, with all the inherent flaws. And don’t get me started on the air-brushed babes who can run in heels without falling and who are never without their lipstick. Ugh. Who can identify with that?

Obviously, not me 😀 .  (Seriously. You do not want to see me try to run in heels. Or maybe you do–it’s pretty hilarious…the things I do for research.)

Maybe I just haven’t read the right authors. And I’m not talking about brainy female characters who use their smarts to solve a mystery but don’t know how to fight or shoot or kill someone with a piano wire, although those definitely have merit.

My question to you is this: have you read an action thriller with a main female protagonist who doesn’t come off as a man in women’s clothing (which could be a fun genre–Transvestite action-thriller?), or who melts at the sight of a good-looking guy? I’d love to read it.


Guest Post and Another Giveaway

YUCATAN DEAD’s being featured on Fundinmental this week. Not only did Sherry give it a fabulous 5* review, but she let me do a guest post about creating the characters of Kate and Leine 🙂 Please do stop by: if you leave a comment, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win your choice of either YUCATAN DEAD or A ONE WAY TICKET TO DEAD (eBook).

Here’s the link: http://www.fundinmental.com/action-packed-jungle-thriller-yucatan-dead-by-d-v-berkom/

HAPPY AUTUMN!

Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Autumn, 1573.jpg

Autumn by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

 

 


Is Gender Bias Really Changing?

File:"Top Women" at U.S. Steel's Gary, Indiana, Works, 1940-1945.jpgThere’s a particularly rousing discussion going on in the comments over at Indies Unlimited regarding gender-bias in fiction, and it got me thinking (always a good thing from a blog post). In contrast to many of the comments, I see things as having changed a lot since I was a kid (admittedly, that was a loooong time ago).

My mother got married and raised a family in the 50s (and absolutely hated the times) and vowed to bring up her two daughters as people who could do anything they wanted to, regardless of gender (Dad agreed, obviously). Yes, I’ve come up against a shit load of gender bias throughout my lifetime, but when I look back, I can see the tide definitely turning, at least here in the States. (Re: here’s a blog post I wrote celebrating kick ass women in the movies) Most people I talk to accept strong women as normal and necessary. Yes, there are still stories where the male is the equivalent of Underdog and is all, “Here I come to save the day” but most women I know hate the stereotype and will usually avoid reading/watching/spending their money on those kinds of stories. Now, I can’t speak for other countries–I realize women’s rights are abysmal all over the world and we need to keep agitating and holding the perpetrators responsible–but, why not celebrate the achievements?

What do you think? Have we come a long way as a culture or am I just looking at the issue through rose-colored glasses?

 

 


Awesome Authors–Ellis Vidler

photo of the authorMy guest today on Awesome Authors is the fabulous mystery-suspense author, Ellis Vidler. I’ve known Ellis since I found the supportive writer’s group, Sisters-in-Crime, and their sub-group, the Guppies. Ellis is an author, editor, and speaker. She grew up in North Alabama, studied English and art at All Saints College for Women, and thoroughly enjoyed studying creative writing under the great Scott Regan. She also taught elements of fiction at a community college. Her home is now the South Carolina Piedmont with her husband and dogs.

(From the author’s bio): As a child in the South, Ellis spent long, hot days imagining herself an Indian or pioneer or musketeer. At night she (and her whole family) read. From Tarzan and D’Artagnan to Anne Shirley and Nancy Drew, she lived them all. No angst in her childhood. So what did she do as an adult? Write fiction, what else? She loves creating characters and making them do what she wants, but mostly they take off on their own and leave her hurrying to catch up.

Hi Ellis! Thanks for joining us 🙂 Tell us a little about yourself and your writing:

EV: I grew up on everything from Tarzan to Nancy Drew and Jane Eyre, and I’ve always loved reading and writing. My career began with illustrating and morphed into editing and technical writing. Now I write fiction and love it.

DV: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

EV: I can’t remember not wanting to be a writer.

DV: What compels you to write?

EV: The characters in my head—they want to have their stories told, even though the stories evolve and shoot off in new directions as I write them.cover for cold comfort

DV: What do you enjoy most about writing in the crime genre? Dislike? How much research goes into one of your books?

EV: Suspense is what I aim for, but there’s always an element of romance. Relationships are part of life, and for me, they make a story richer. I can’t stick with the required elements long enough for them to be called romances. For example, in Prime Target (coming out late this year) the main characters don’t meet until Chapter 10, a no-no in romance, but that’s the way it worked out. It’s a love story on my terms.

I research everything, trying to get the details right. It’s an obsession, but it’s also a good way to get sidetracked. One interesting fact can lead me down a lengthy detour.

“Relationships are part of life, and for me, they make a story richer…”

DV: Sounds familiar 🙂 In the McGuire Women series, your protagonists have psychic abilities. Why did you choose to go in that direction with your main characters? What were the challenges you faced?

cover for time of deathEV: My grandmother was psychic. I think hers was considered telepathy. She knew when any of her family was ill or injured, no matter where they were. I was there and saw it, so I know it was real. After Haunting Refrain came out, I found out her brother had the same ability. Psychic ability has always fascinated me, in spite of the charlatans. One of my cousins has some of it; however, none of the family “gift” passed to me.

DV: Do you ever include your own life experiences in your plots?

EV: Yes, they do work their way in, but I alter them to fit the story. My main characters tend to like what I like and experience many of the same things. In Cold Comfort, Claire is with Riley in a small plane. The events of the flight and the storm actually happened to me and my husband—proof that ignorance is bliss.

DV: What are you currently working on?

EV: I just approved my first audio book, Time of Death (Note: see link at end of interview) Haunting Refrain will be out next month. I have two terrific narrators and can’t wait for the books to be released. Also, I’m trying hard to wrap up Prime Target and get it to my beta readers. I love it, but the story is different, and I don’t know how it will go over.cover for prime target

DV: That sounds intriguing! I can’t wait… What’s your process when you write? Do you outline or just get an idea and run with it?

EV: Until now I’ve been a pantser, running with a vague idea, but I’m determined to have something of an outline for the next book. I’d like to know if something’s not going to work before I’ve written 100 pages.

DV: I know that feeling 😛 Tell us about your road to publication. What words of wisdom would you like to impart to writers who are just starting out?

EV: Study your craft and persevere. My first book, Haunting Refrain, was much more luck than judgment. I had no idea how little I knew. It’s amazing that a publisher actually wanted it. I’ve been both traditionally and self-published. There are pros and cons to each. Writers have to decide which one suits them. Personally, I like the control I have in doing it myself and intend to stick with “indie” publishing.

“…I’m determined to have something of an outline for the next book. I’d like to know if something’s not going to work before I’ve written 100 pages.”

DV: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Where do you see the publishing industry in 5 years?

EV: Ideally, I’d like to have several more books out. Ebooks are becoming more and more popular, but I don’t think print books are going to disappear. With the advent of earbuds and tiny players, audio is gaining too. It’s a very exciting time for writers—lots of change and opportunity but the main thing is still to produce a good story. That won’t change.

DV: What strategies work best for you when promoting a novel?

EV: Goodness, I’ve tried so many. Twitter, Facebook, freebies (I doubt if I’ll do any more of those), ads on certain reader sites… I have a blog with lots of articles, I but rarely post now.

Luck, timing, and word of mouth are the best, and you have no control over any of those things.

“It’s a very exciting time for writers—lots of change and opportunity but the main thing is still to produce a good story.”

DV: If you could travel back in time (or forward) where would you go and why?

EV: I wouldn’t give up electricity, hot water, the microwave, or the Internet. I like my creature comforts. 🙂  I’d probably go back to my twenties (a long time ago) and get serious about my writing sooner.

DV: Hmm. Good idea. Now, if I could just figure out where I put that pesky Time Machine… Thanks so much for stopping by today, Ellis! Good luck on your new releases 😀

If you’d like to find out more about Ellis and her work, please check out the links below:

Amazon author page:

Facebook

Twitter

Website

Blog

Buy links (Amazon):

Haunting Refrain

Time of Death

Time of Death Audio (NEW!)

Cold Comfort  (On sale for .99!)


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