Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Serial Thrillin': Conclusion and Bitchinest Surprise





Welcome  back.

Five knights. One theme, of interest to writers and readers alike: the rewards and challenges of a writing a mystery series...and succeeding at giving it legs. The five knights are listed in alphabetical order. 

Carolyn Arnold
International bestselling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series and has written nearly thirty books: from cozy to hard-boiled mysteries, and thrillers to action adventures.

Claude Bouchard
USA Today Bestselling author of the fourteen volume Vigilante Series as well as Nasty in NiceASYLUM and Something's Cooking. Other interests include reading, playing guitar, painting, cooking, traveling and trying to stay in reasonable shape.

Joe Clifford
He is the author of several books, including Junkie Love, Lamentation, December Boys and Give Up the Dead, as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen. He lives in Oakland, CA.

Bill Kirton
University lecturer, TV presenter, wood carver, playwright, actor, director, RLF Writing Fellow, novelist. Crap at marketing or promotional work and possibly the laziest knight at the table (so says he). 

Brad Strickland
Author of 80 published books, including the ones he writes under the pen name of Ken McKea. These follow Florida detective Jim Dallas, who despite being retired on disability somehow can’t help running across murders. Brad lives in Georgia with his wife Barbara and a small assortment of varmints.






7) Any truth to the claim that readers want to see at least 5-6 entries in a mystery series before they’ll invest in a new author?


ARNOLD
Personally, I’ve never heard that before. And not to create any debate here—well, maybe some is good—but I read in a recent reader survey (not from my readers) that it doesn’t matter to most readers whether a book is part of a series or a stand-alone. And, yes, I realize this contradicts my earlier statement about readers being able to attach themselves to series characters. But I think what really matters to readers are strong and relatable characters that they want to spend time with and get to know better.

BOUCHARD
That’s hard to say because when I first published in 2009, I already had three titles and was at the 5-6 mark by the time Amazon opened Kindle to non-American writers in late 2010. I can certainly say having a number of titles has had a favourable impact on my sales when promoting a particular book or releasing a new one. Invariably, sales increase across the board.

CLIFFORD
I don’t know what that even fucking means. My sales have been good. Not great. But good. Very good. The people who like me seem to really like me. And like my ex-wives, there are plenty who don’t.

KIRTON
I have no idea. What occurred to me when answering the previous question, however, was that such topics are as much about the author as his/her creations. Carston might be quite happy to carry on his successful career as a detective, but do I want to be the one who reports his thoughts and actions? Would I rather probe into the mind of a mud-spattered, 35-year-old woman who rides a unicycle, works in a crematorium and knits rainbows while waiting for her partner to finish building the launchpad at the bottom of the garden?

STRICKLAND
Maybe, maybe not. I hit problems with number 5 that have nothing to do with the books—a close relative went into hospice care and I was one of the primary caregivers for three years. Then I suddnely got a couple of irresistible contracts for other books, so, man, I’m WAY behind. Check back with me when six books are out!



8) How important is writing speed to a mystery series writer? And have you had to compromise to achieve that speed?


ARNOLD
Quality always trumps speed. I compromise nothing.

BOUCHARD
I understand the concept that a higher frequency of new releases can have a positive impact on sustaining sales (though quality obviously remains an important factor). However, I’ve always taken the time required to write each of my novels and I do not set deadlines. I don’t work with outlines so my writing speed varies depending on how quickly the storyline comes to together or not. As a result, I have ended up releasing three titles within a year at some point and only releasing one in a year at other times. I don’t compromise.

CLIFFORD
The biggest perk to writing a series is the speed. Soon as I start a Porter novel, I am back in that skin. For better or worse. Meaning, Jay Porter is not the most pleasant man to spend time with. He encapsulates the more frustrating aspects of my personality. That said, I know him like I know me. So the drafting process by book 5 is pretty quick.

KIRTON
Once I get into writing a new novel, it takes over. I want to know what happens. Most ‘normal’ activities (socializing, eating, sleeping) are an interruption of the fictional reality I’m living. I have no sense of time passing, of speed or lethargy. I’m in that moment of constant narration which can last many hours yet seem like an instant.

STRICKLAND

Well, I’d rather write it good than fast, but times winged chariot does hasten nigh, so basically it’s a question of get up, have a cup of coffee, write, wake up my wife, have breakfast, write, and then knock off to deal with real life—yardwork, repairs, paying bills, and so on. So it’s a compromise, really. If I buckle down, I can really knock out prose—in three years, for another project that I can’t say much about except it was written under contract, I did nearly three-quarters of a million words. However, that’s a lot of writing AND rewriting!


9) How much of you does your hero contain? Would you like to hang with him or her—and why? If you don’t, then why should we?

ARNOLD
Guess I better say I want to hang out with them then! LOL But, of course, I want to hang out with my characters. That’s why I write stories with them over and over again. They all have qualities that, in part, reflect my own to an extent. So who doesn’t like hanging around with themselves? But, in all seriousness, my characters have many redeeming qualities and traits. I’ll touch on the main characters from my series.

Madison Knight is strong-willed and has a desire to right wrongs. She’s not going to let anyone pressure her into cutting corners on a murder investigation or stop her from following every single lead. She’s committed to finding justice no matter the sacrifice required from her.

Brandon Fisher is objective, while at the same time, he has empathy for the families of murder victims. I love his ragged determination to better himself, both as a person and as an FBI agent.

Sean and Sara McKinley are such genuinely nice and down-to-earth people, and their self-sacrificing spirit is something that really draws me to them. That and how they work well together, complimenting the other’s strengths.

BOUCHARD
If by hero, you mean my main protagonist, Chris Barry, I’d say he contains 100% of me albeit in a better looking and fitter package. We share the same initials, although that’s likely coincidence, and we think very much alike. I tend to believe he picked up his smart-assery and wit from hanging around with me for a number of years. We get along marvellously and he clearly trusts me enough to let me plan most of his life.

CLIFFORD
I seem to be anticipating these questions. Jay Porter is me. But I am not Jay Porter.  

KIRTON
There’s lots of me in him – good and bad. Maybe putting our own fears and feelings into a fictional character is a form of therapy. I think if you put these questions to Carston, he’d say the same sort of things I’ve been saying. (But, equally, he might tell you to mind your own business.)

STRICKLAND
The qualities that I give to Jim are those I’d like to have myself. Yeah, I’d like to have a beer with him, shoot the breeze—but since I know him, I know he wouldn’t reveal too much of his inner thoughts and opinions to me or to anybody. He has a dark side, and he keeps it dark for his own reasons.

Me, what you see is pretty much it. Not saying I’d LIKE to have a dark side like Dallas—but I can see it would intrigue his friends (especially Sam, who is bright, cheerful, and brutal, though his brutality is packed away, and above all—curious). Might intrigue his women, too—though if one pries too much into what makes him moody, that will lead to a break-up.

What I’m saying, he’s flawed. Admirable in many ways, but—yeah, he’s flawed.



10) The death thing. Hell, let’s hit it too. Do you ever feel tempted to kill of your lead because s/he’s taking over?

ARNOLD
I’ve never felt like killing them. I have had to step away from my computer because they’ve done something that either angered or saddened me. But it’s those instances when they “derail” from where I think they’re headed that make for the best scenes!

BOUCHARD
As mentioned in the previous response, Chris pretty much lets me run his life so I can’t accuse the man of trying to run the show. I have another character, Leslie Robb, who showed up in Book 5 and ended up taking much more room than I expected. While I thought she would be present only in that installment, she decided otherwise and has played integral roles in each book ever since. I’d never even think of killing her off though because she’d likely find out and I would be the one to go.

CLIFFORD
Tempted? Sure. Everything is on the table. But if you know, like me, that you are signed through at least five books, you can rest assured I’m not (*SPOILER ALERT) killing Jay Porter in book four.

KIRTON
In connection with the need to write the final Carston, I said to my wife I wasn’t sure what sort of ‘ending’ it should be. Her suggestion was that his wife should die. I was appalled. Kath is a terrific foil for Carston. Killing her (or him) would be like condoning all the evil things some of my villains have got up to.

STRICKLAND
Nope. He stays where he is until I need him, so I don’t feel tempted.


11) Be a villain for a moment, please. Might any parts of your history or personality add up to a memorable foe for your series hero?

ARNOLD
Maybe… But on the grounds of incriminating myself, I’ll keep quiet. 😉


BOUCHARD
I’ll give you a short answer on this one by asking a simple question. Do you think I just make up everything I write?! Anyhow, if I gave you any more information, I’d have to kill you. *wink*

CLIFFORD
The trick with villains is simple: even the villain doesn’t think of himself as the villain. Or to flip it around: everyone is the hero in their own story. To make a villain believable, and ultimately menacing, you need to keep this in mind. Dr. Evil is funny because he’s the villain in an absurd comedy. But to have a villain resonate in the sort of thriller I write, I need to see the world through his/her eyes. And that isn’t so hard. When you break it down, we all really want the same things. We want recognition for our actions. We have beliefs, and most of us, when push comes to shove, will fight like hell to defend them.

KIRTON
Easy to answer. Just read The Darkness, the third in my series. It came about because a waiter in a restaurant here in Scotland had the accent of the part of England where I grew up. I remarked on it and said he was a long way from home. He then said he had to get away from there because of a drunk driving incident which had killed his wife and young daughters. I felt so sorry for him that I wanted to find the man responsible and make him suffer in some way. That is exactly why the book was written and I confess that the parts of the story told in the 1st person are the closest I’ve ever come to putting myself into a book.

STRICKLAND
My wife says I am an accomplished liar. I love to spin stories, and sometimes for fun I’ll embroider something I’ve read, building some fantastic story up until it collapses of its own ridiculous weight. I think if I were a villain for Jim, I could string him along (though he’s a suspicious bastard) and lead him into misjudging people and situations.

Of course, I’m not the Joker, so I’d have to be motivated by more than wanting to screw up an investigator’s life.


12) Bonus question. Give us a question that I haven’t asked...along with a ripsnorting answer.

ARNOLD
None come to mind.

BOUCHARD
I’m going the lazy route with a question I asked when I interviewed myself on someone’s blog several years ago:

Question: Do you prefer briefs or boxers?

Answer: I’ve never practiced law but I do know briefs are documents containing all the facts and points of law pertinent to specific cases which are filed by attorneys before arguing said cases in court. Boxers, on the other hand, are people who wear big gloves and baggy shorts and punch each other out until one is down, a rather violent sport in my opinion. Since neither interest me much, I’d say I have no preference.

CLIFFORD
Question: How do you do with the never-ending, constant stream of rejection?

Answer: No matter what level of success you achieve in this professional, it has been my experience, that the lows and the failures are going to far outweigh the high points. And for this, I’d like to turn to something I just read by mystery master Dennis Lehane. Lehane says he keeps in his pocket a little note that reads, “Nobody cares.” Now the first way to interpret that is the negative. Poor me. Nobody cares. All these rejections come in, and you want to quit. And still it is true: nobody cares. Nobody will care if you write another book, another story, another blog post. Oh, maybe a few diehard fans will wonder, “Where did so and so go?” But life will carry on, until you and your work are but a distant memory. But there’s the other side too. And that’s where I choose to focus my attention. Because let’s face it: writing is going to kick your ass. And the profession of writing, to quote Rocky Balboa, will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it. But here’s the good part: NOBODY CARES. You are free to do whatever the fuck you want, however you want to do it. No one is sitting on your shoulder. The fate of the free world does not hang in the balance. Nobody cares, so you can write your book, how you want to write it. And, yeah, Lehane is right. Nobody cares. Until they do. Until you make them. When I read this about Lehane, it filled me with way more hope than dread. One, it means even a guy like Lehane takes his knocks. But, moreover, I got the spirit of that little note to himself. I’ve evoked it frequently since I read that a few weeks again. It’s become sort of a mantra for me. Nobody cares. This is something I do because I decided to do it. And success resides with me and my effort. And that, my friends, is pretty fucking empowering.

KIRTON
Question: How can bookstores fix a date for a talk and book signing for you?

Answer: Simply send a ticket for a first class return flight from Aberdeen to wherever they are, book a suite at the best hotel in their town/city for an indefinite period, and guarantee sales of at least 3000 books on the day of my visit. I have simple tastes.

STRICKLAND
Question: You can wave a wand and bring your series character to life. Can he deal with the real world?

Answer: Yeah, within limits—if he were still an active-duty policeman, Jim would hate the bad press that cops get—and the bad cops that get that press for everyone else. He’d have a tough time fitting in, I think. For instance, on the question of football players kneeling during the National Anthem, I don’t think he’d be fond of the gesture—too theatrical for his taste—but on the other hand, he’d be firmly against making a rule that they have to stand. That’s his sense of irony—“You’re going to force them to celebrate freedom, huh?” That would leave a sour taste in his mouth, and he’d see the hypocrisy of it as worse than the theatrical gesture.

I can see him having problems with professional and personal relationships, but hell, everybody does. He’s not a regimented sort of guy, at heart; he’s suspicious of nearly everyone, and it would take a lot to get under his skin (if you’re a woman) or beside him in a bad situation (if you’re a partner). And the trouble is that policemen who set out to be loners set out to be failures.


But he’s smart, too—not as smart as his friend Sam, but he’s got a different kind of savvy—and I think as long as he saw benefits outweighing the psychic costs, yeah, he could force himself to fit in. He could get the job done, but it would take a lot out of him. I know it would do that.



                                                                  *****

 


And now for our surprise sixth knight. Robert W. Walker, author of 74 novels and a terrific writing guide, Dead On Writing, sums up his own experience.

Once you really get rolling on a series, it can go easier, faster, quicker, simpler and all those other ER words. The first in series work is the hardest, as it establishes your main character, the others in his/her web of influence, both positive and negative, from mother to nemesis, and it is a time to craft the setting, the workplace, the props – if he uses a cane, what kind of car she drives, what is the attitude that drives your main character.

Compare your series to an ongoing TV drama. Take for instance Star Trek or Columbo or your favorite TV program. Give thought to the bedrock character of each of the main characters, and possibly what each ‘represents’, flaws and all. Once such bedrock work is done, we go to work challenging that bedrock. For example, the setting may appear a safe place, a technological wonderment, so how do we go about making it unsafe and scary rather than wonderful. Take that notion to the characters. Captain James T. Kirk is a man of action, somewhat impulsive, and not given to studying a problem before he leaps in, whereas Spock is just the opposite in terms of bedrock characterization. The question then becomes, how can we again challenge these characters and this setting be it a space ship or East L.A.?

I have written some ten separate series, and there is no one formula that works for all, but if the writer crafts a set of characters who have strongly held beliefs and are bent on a goal, then throwing obstacles at them works and works well. The fully-realized character(s) work best. Why? Because we have spent a lot of time with them in developing them. The fully-imagined character will become far easier to challenge than the one we are unclear on, confused about, unsure of. Makes sense.

To fully-imagine a character so as to craft a fully-realized character, the author spends a great deal of time with the lead and his or her cadre of friends, acquaintances, and relatives. A web of relationships is established while you, the author, is showering, hoeing, trading bubble gum cards, sweeping your porch, feeding your dog, etc….


How does series work get done? Can it be as simple as the plan I outline here? Well yes. It has worked for me for my Dr. Jessica Coran series, my Abe Stroud series, my Lucas Stonecoat series, my Alastair Ransom series, and all the rest, from my Instinct Series to my Edge Series and my Bloodscreams Series as well as my novella series – Chicaghosts Series. Give it a try. Once you are ‘hard-wired’ to your main character(s) it becomes faster, easier, cleaner. Just as when Dickens got the name of Ebenezer Scrooge and Scrooge’s bedrock character, he was off and running with A Christmas Carol.

                                                               *****

To learn more about these authors and their books, click on the

following links:

Carolyn Arnold
New title releasing November 28: http://carol0ynarnold.net/power-struggle/

Claude Bouchard

Vigilante Series Box set - Books 1 to 6: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EPE926Y

Joe Clifford
Website: http://www.joeclifford.com

Bill Kirton
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2xz2wSN
Website: hhtp://www.billkirton.com
Book to introduce readers to my work: The Darkness (see answer 11 in Part 2)
http://amzn.to/2gtWVqX

Brad Strickland
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Ken-McKea/e/B00J22N6PS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1508850962&sr=1-2-ent

Robert W. Walker
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Robert-w.-Walker/e/B000APAUAU/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1511972985&sr=1-2-ent

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