Wednesday, January 30, 2013



“I have been in love with story all my life,” says Gayle Roper, the award winning author of more than forty-five books. “Give me a story with strong characters and a captivating plot, and I’m one happy reader. Or writer.”

Among Gayle’s awards are the prestigious Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award, the Carol Award from American Christian Fiction Writers, two Inspirational Readers Choice Awards, and three HOLT Medallions. She has been a Christy finalist three times and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Reviewers Choice Award from Romantic Times Book Report.
For her work in training Christian writers Gayle has won special recognition from Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, St. Davids CWC, Florida CWC, and Greater Philadelphia CWC.  She lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. She enjoys reading, spending time at the family’s Canadian cottage, gardening, and eating out every time she can manage it.


One of the fun things about writing mysteries and suspense is putting the red herrings in place, those false clues that lead your reader in a wrong direction. One of the fun things about reading these books is distinguishing the red herrings from the real clues and feeling proud of yourself when you’re proven right.

The term red herring comes from the fox hunting world when the trainers readied the hounds for the hunt. First they trained the dogs to the fox’s scent. When the animals were competent here, the trainers would drag herrings, those little fish cured by salting and slow smoking to a dark brown color, thus “red”, across the trail to try and confuse the dogs. A hound was ready for the hunt when the scent of the fish didn’t distract him from the scent of the fox.

Today we use red herring for anything in the story that misleads the reader and sends her on a false trail. There are four major ways to create these false clues. We’ll look at one today and the others as my name rolls around in our rotation.

Clusters of things:

Red herrings can be found in clusters of items where the attention is focused on everything but the item that’s important. In the movie Charade Audrey Hepburn goes through her husband’s effects over and over again looking for clues to his death. Each of several items might reasonably lead to more clues.

Of course her life is in danger as she works her way through these items, and there is great confusion as people die and Cary Grant is suave but slippery and Walter Mattheu is more serious than usual. It isn’t until the end (of course) that she and those chasing her realize that the letter, one of the items the police had returned to her, isn’t the important thing. It’s not even the envelope. Spoiler alert: It’s the stamp.

A drawer’s contents, a woman’s purse, a man’s pockets, a car’s glove compartment, an address book, a call log, an email list—the beauty of a cluster is that the reader can’t determine at first glance what’s important and what isn’t.

Gordon dumped the victim’s purse on the kitchen table. A lipstick, a compact, a train schedule, a letter stamped but unaddressed, three pens for Dr. Henry Blauden, Chiropractor, a paperback mystery with a library date due note in it, a cell phone, reading glasses, a motel receipt, and no wallet. He stared at the items, looking for something, anything, that would tell him who she was and make sense of her senseless killing.

You could do a lot with several of these items though I suggest you not use the stamp since too many people have seen Charade. All the items will let our hero learn more about the victim, but only one will lead to her killer. What item do you pick? I’ll tell you mine later.

Win a copy of Caught in the Act and see if you can separate the red herrings from the real clues. Leave a comment, along with your contact information, and Caught in the Act could be yours!


Monday, January 28, 2013

You Know You're a Suspense Author When...

Award-winning author DiAnn Mills is a fiction writer who combines an adventuresome spirit with unforgettable characters to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels. DiAnn’s first book was published in 1998. She currently has more than fifty books published.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists and have won placements through the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards and Inspirational Reader’s Choice awards. DiAnn won the Christy Award in 2010 and 2011.

DiAnn is a founding board member for American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of Inspirational Writers Alive, Romance Writers of America, and Advanced Writers and Speakers Association. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. DiAnn is also the Craftsman mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.

She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

Learn more about DiAnn by visiting her website.


You Know You’re a Suspense Writer When ...
I love this topic. When suspense writers get together, discussing stories and plot twists keeps our adrenaline racing. We can talk about suspense for hours because we live it. Our friends and families (unless they’re writers) have no clue how our minds work or where we find ideas for our next suspense novel. The un-writers among us think we’re strange ... Can you imagine that?

For example: husband and I are driving into our subdivision. We see a neighbor has a roll of old carpet at the curb. Husband comments that this person has had new carpet installed. Not me. I’m wondering if there’s a body rolled up inside that dusty mess ... Is it a man or a woman ... How were they killed? ... Why? ... Does the killer think it’s a perfect crime? Then I spin out of control with characters and plot.

See what I mean? So I’ve compiled a list of telltale signs so you’ll not be shaken when you’re in the midst of a ... suspense writer.

You know you’re a suspense writer—

1.  When you spend days planning the perfect crime.

2.  When a stranger texts you an image in the middle of the night and immediately you think of a story about someone kidnapping your children—the image is proof.
3.  When plotting a murder seems normal.

4.  When you read the newspaper for strange stories you can spin to put your character in danger.

5.  When the study of poisons is fascinating.

6.  When you can’t close your eyes on a camping trip because you know a lion, bear, or killer is waiting for you to fall asleep.

7.  When you consult a weapons’ expert for ways to disguise a bullet.

8.  When you wonder if the garbage bag discarded along the road contains body parts.

9.  When the guy selecting apples at the grocery store looks like a serial killer.

10.When you’re in church and you can’t concentrate on the sermon because you left your heroine tied to a railroad track.

Are you a suspense writer or a suspense reader? Leave a comment to win a personalized copy of The Chase.


Friday, January 25, 2013


Mark Mynheir is a former homicide detective whose law enforcement career has also included serving as an undercover narcotics agent and a S.W.A.T. team member. Mark has parlayed his police experiences into a successful speaking and writing career.  He has written articles for Focus on the Family’s Breakaway magazine and Lookout magazine and is the also the author of five novels: Rolling Thunder, From the Belly of the Dragon, The Void, and The Night Watchman, which was a Finalist for a Christy Award, and The Corruptible.  He and his family currently live in central Florida. 

S.S Why did a cop become a writer?
Because I can’t sing or dance. J Actually, it’s a bit of a long story.  I have learning disabilities—dyslexia and dysgraphia—which affect my reading and writing skills, so I really struggled in school.  I eventually dropped out of high school and joined the Marines.  After I got out of the service, I went into law enforcement.  I could barely scribble through my reports, but I found ways to manage and survive.   After I got saved (about five years into my career), I felt the Lord leading me to write.  It seemed ridiculous because of my history and how much I hated writing.  But the feeling persisted. I shared that I thought the Lord was leading me to write with my wife.   She encouraged me to follow God’s prompting and go back to school. 
I enrolled in the local college and had to take a year-and-a-half of preparatory classes just to bring my education level up to take credited classes.  I kept writing and going to school, building my skills.  Then I saw an advertisement for a Christian writer’s conference in the paper.  I didn’t even know there was such a thing.  I went and submitted the book I was working on.  I got good reviews on my novel and was hooked.  I never sold that first book, but I learned a lot writing it.   I kept plugging away and eventually met an agent who landed a three book deal with Multnomah Publishers.  I’ve published five novels with them.
SS. As a cop, what bothers you most when you read crime/suspense fiction or watch it on TV?
Almost everything.    My wife has banished me from watching crime dramas with her anymore because I’m always chattering on about how they’re doing this or that wrong, or how there’s no way they can do something, or it doesn’t work that way.   But that’s the difference between entertainment and reality.  While we try to be as authentic as possible—especially with our characters—our first goal as novelists is to create an entertaining and compelling story.   There should be enough realism to give it the flavor of the genre, but very often you have to bend the actual process a little to move the story forward or to make it more interesting.  Law enforcement, especially detective work, is often more boring and tedious than anything else.  It’s been describe as 95 percent boredom interrupted by 5 percent sheer terror. 
One area I think novelists, especially beginners, get it wrong is by using way too much jargon.  When I read page after page of “the perp” and “the vic” mixed in with ten codes and legal terms, my head starts to spin.   Like anything, sprinkling a few of these terms and expressions into each chapter is fine, but less is better.  Just enough to add flavor, but not too much to spoil it. 
Also, make sure to get the weapons right.  It’s amazing how often I’ll read a description of a particular gun, and it’s completely wrong.  Readers tend to catch that stuff. 
SS. As a guy, what drives you crazy about the heroes you read, especially when they’re written by women?
I’ve read stories where the male protagonist thinks and acts in the relationship exactly like the female protagonist.  There needs to be a distinction between the two. Men and women approach relationships (and just about everything else) differently, and it doesn’t come off as authentic if they’re not portrayed that way.  There are several good resource books available on the differences between men and women.  While we might instinctively understand the differences, it never hurts to do the research.
Also, I read a story where a police detective was about to kick in a door to go after a violent suspect, and he was thinking about his girlfriend in soft, romantic terms.   Not gonna happen, if he wants to stay alive, that is.  When men are preparing for or are in the middle of combat, let them get the man stuff done first, then they can go all mushy.  Just my opinion.
SS. If you could change anything about the way CBA suspense and mysteries are written, what would you change?
The CBA suspense novels are top notch.  The nice part of the CBA is that we address the spiritual element of crime and suspense, which rarely happens in the ABA.  We can give some context to Evil. 
SS. In your career as a law enforcement professional, what changes have you seen in criminal activity? What ones concern you most?
The level of violence against police officers has escalated dramatically.  Whereas before a suspect might injure or kill an officer to escape, now it seems there are more and more incidents of people specifically targeting police officers.  Police work is considerably more dangerous now than when I started.
SS. How does being an officer in a small town compare with serving on a city force?
A small town environment is definitely a slower pace with a lesser amount of violent calls, but you might be surprised at what officers in smaller jurisdictions have to deal with. Anywhere there’s people there’s problems.  They still have to respond to domestic calls, shootings, and fights; they’re just not overwhelmed with them.  Officers everywhere must be on guard at all times. You never know what the next traffic stop or “routine” call will bring.   Also, in the smaller jurisdictions, backup can be a long way away.  So, often times you’re on your own, which means the officer has to even be more alert.
SS. Why do most officers become cops? How does this feeling change through the years of serving?
Officers progress through roughly five emotional and psychological stages during their career: Idealism, Frustration, Disenchantment, Full-Blown Cynicism, and Acceptance.  All officers go through this process to one degree or another.  I truly believe that most people become police officers, at least initially, because they think they can make a difference. They want to make their communities and the world in general a better and safer place, and they’re ready to put themselves on the line to do it. They’re idealists.   They want to save the world.  It’s not a bad sentiment, but it tends to crash hard against reality.  After a year or two on the job, they often begin to question whether they can make any difference at all, and they start down the road of the psychological stages.  They can go back through the different stages as well, depending on what’s going on in their career.  But there’s one stage that an officer can never recapture—Idealism.   Once someone has been on the job a while, that stage and mindset are crushed and never come back.  But almost every officer I know still yearns to feel it, like they were able to make a difference.  An officer reaches Acceptance when he or she realizes and is satisfied with the fact they do make a difference in small, sometimes undetectable ways, but they’re not going to save the world. 
SS. You are a Christian and a cop, a husband and a father. How do all these identities mesh?
Being Christian in law enforcement presents a whole lot of challenges. It can be a violent and sometimes vile world.  I was a police officer for about five years before I became a Christian. When I got saved, I almost walked away from the job because I wasn’t sure I could serve God and work in that kind of environment. But God showed me that he wanted me right where I was.
We have a pretty strong contingent of Christians at our department, and we have a lot of opportunities to share the Gospel with our fellow cops, victims, and even sometimes the suspects. As Christian police officers, we can relate with other officers in a deep and personal way that outsiders (those not in law enforcement) could never do. There’s a great need for more Christians in police work.
As far as balancing being a husband, father, cop, writer and such, only God knows how that happens.  I take it day by day, relying on His grace.  Early on in my walk, God did impress upon me to make my commitment to Him and my family the priorities.  I take a lot of pride in the cases I’ve investigated and the books I’ve written, but at the end of this life, they will matter little.  How I am as a father and a husband will impact generations—for good or bad.  That truth motivates me to keep faith and family at the forefront.
SS. What is your latest project, and when and where can we get hold of it?
I’m working on a couple of projects now—some fiction, some non-fiction—just waiting to see which one jumps out in front.  No release dates on the immediate horizon.  Two of my favorites of my titles are The Nightwatchman and The Corruptible.
Leave a comment, along with your contact information, and you'll have a chance to win a copy of Mark's book, The Night Watchman!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Norman and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored fourteen books and is currently at work on a new series for Bethany House Publishing. The first book in her Road to Kingdom series, “Inescapable,” came out in July of 2012. The second book, “Unbreakable” released in February of 2013.
All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”
Readers can learn more about Nancy through her Web site: or her blog She is also active on Facebook.

What About Me????

The journey from aspiring writer to published author is, at the very least, interesting. I’m sure most of us offered up the “If you’ll give me the chance, Lord, I’ll use my career to glorify You” prayer. And we meant it. At one point, with all the honesty I possessed, I put my writing future on the altar, giving it all to Him. I’ve never removed it from His hands. But…

With a measure of success came some side effects I didn’t see coming. Attitude adjustments are constant. One of the first surprises is the appearance of the green-eyed monster. “Why is she on the best-seller list?” I murmur, first making sure no one else can hear me. “I can write rings around her.” Or “Why did they sign him and not me?” Most authors immediately recognize the whiny voice of the jealousy demon and banish it forthwith. First hurdle down. Big sigh of relief.

Then, like Creeping Charlie, the demon crawls back, unnoticed. It reveals itself a little differently this time. Through comparison. Does my agent have a better reputation than hers? Is my publisher larger? How much was her advance? What does her contract say? Whoops. The demon’s repulsive fingerprints are unmistakable.  At first glance, comparison doesn’t seem like jealousy…but it is. So once more we drive out the vile creature who wants to separate us from our previous vow – to glorify God with our writing.

For the most part, Christian authors are great about confronting these attacks from the enemy. We know these feelings and thoughts are wrong, and we deal with them. For some it might be harder than others. Most of the time insecure writers have the toughest time. But eventually we cast out our green-eyed nemesis, hopefully for good this time. Surely we’re walking the straight and narrow now, right?

Don’t get too cocky yet, Bubba. Last year I had to deal with an even more insidious attack. It happens slowly, and nothing about it seems wrong – until one day when you suddenly realize the Trickster has wriggled back into your life through another entrance. Through a backdoor that most of us don’t keep closed. Unfortunately, this assault can end up being the worst soul stealer or all. Cloaked in positive words and encouraged by agents, publishers and fellow authors, before you even realize it, you’re caught in its talons. You find yourself being consumed by this new monster. Its name?


Before all my author friends out there come after me with pitchforks and torches, let me explain. Of course I realize promotion is important. Something we have to do. I try hard to promote my books. My publisher does a great job as well, and I appreciate it. But what can happen if you’re not very, very grounded and aware of the potential for disaster, is that all this promotion turns your complete attention on…YOU. First you’re flooded with interviews. Tell us about YOU. How do YOU feel about… What were YOU thinking when YOU wrote… Where do YOU want to be in five years? You get the idea. Your picture is popping up all over the Internet. Your book is featured in magazines and catalogs. Readers (and author friends) send you pictures of your book in stores. It’s exciting and fun! Please hear me out. None of this is wrong. In fact, it’s exactly what should be happening. As good reviews pour in and people ask to be added to your Facebook page, you wake up every day eager to see what people are saying about YOU today! Google searches under your name reveal new reviews and articles about YOU! And then one day you roll out of bed with a headache, not sure what happened to your joy. I mean, everyone’s talking about YOU! Shouldn’t YOU be happy?

This scenario played out when the first book in my Kingdom series was released. After a few weeks of promotional activities, I felt wrung out, tired, and discouraged. I just couldn’t figure out why. Then one Sunday evening I walked into church and slumped down in a pew. Suddenly, as if Someone shone a big spotlight on my life, it all became extremely clear to me. All I’d been thinking about was ME! My efforts over the past several weeks had been about ME and MY book. Everything else had taken a back seat. Because I was so busy, I hadn’t been involved in any of my volunteer group activities. I’d missed a lot of church because I was too tired to go. Even my prayer life had suffered. I was tired because concentrating too much on ourselves doesn’t bring us any joy. Proverbs 11:24-25 makes this clear.

There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.

I had no joy because I wasn’t sowing seeds of joy. I was drying up because I wasn’t watering anyone else’s life.

So what does an author (or anyone else) do when they realize the demon of self-centeredness has its hairy hands around their throat?

For me, the answer was to get involved in the lives of others. Starting the Suspense Sisters helped me to concentrate on other authors - to help and encourage them. Starting a private group with other ladies wanting to lose weight has been a great source of joy. Going back to my volunteer group brought my perspective back. Just having something on my mind besides ME and MY books has been a Godsend.

For those who don’t write, hang on. This principle doesn’t just work for busy authors. It works for everyone.

I heard a story once about a woman who was drowning in depression. She contacted her pastor, asking for a counseling appointment. Her pastor, a very wise man, said this: “I’ll be glad to meet with you next week. But before our meeting, I want you to do something. I want you to bake cookies for someone. Someone who is hurting or needs encouragement.”

The puzzled woman agreed, although she couldn’t figure out why in the world her pastor would request something so odd.

The next week, before the time she was supposed to meet with the pastor, the woman called and cancelled her appointment. “I just don’t have the time,” she said hurriedly. “There are a lot of people I know who need encouragement. It never would have occurred to me that something as simple as baking cookies could be a…ministry. My depression has completely disappeared. Thank you, Pastor.”

This lady learned what I did. Too much concentration on self can bring depression. Whether you’re an author, a busy housewife and mother, or a nuclear physicist, if you’re battling the blues, do something for someone else! Give joy and it will be given back to you, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing.

By the way, if you decided to follow the path of the woman who baked cookies, coconut macaroons are my very favorite. J



Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Hello world, it’s Monday and I’m happy to be here blogging on The Suspense Sisters. This is Lynette, by the way.

I hope everyone’s had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and is back in the routine of life. LOL. I love the holidays, but I have to admit, I like my routine when I get back to it. Part of my routine is speaking to different writers groups. This past Saturday morning I spoke to a great group in Greenville, South Carolina called The Writers Plot.

I had such great feedback, I thought I’d share a a little bit about the topic:


But what is that?

Well, I’m so glad you asked.

Subtexting is the hidden meaning beneath words and gestures. 

Linda Seger says in her Writing Subtext book, “Subtext is the true meaning simmering underneath the words and actions. It’s the real, unadulterated truth. The text is the tip of the iceberg, but the subtext is everything underneath that bubbles up and informs the text. It’s the implicit meaning rather than the explicit meaning. Subtext points to other meanings. It’s important that authors learn to write subtext so audiences will understand that more is going on than meets the eye. Writers point the way. They choose suggestive words and describe revealing behavior so that audiences get a whole lot more information than they could ever get from just a line of dialogue.

In other words, go deeper. Let your characters mean more than they’re saying.

There are several ways to express subtext. One is by saying something but meaning the opposite. Example:

Setup: Erin’s boss just told her that the company was downsizing and unfortunately, they had to let her go.

Erin twisted the knob and stepped into the foyer. The smell of fried chicken wafted to her from the kitchen. Paul appeared in the doorway, wiping his hands on a rag. “Hey sweetie, how was your day?”

“Lovely. Couldn’t have been better.” Erin gripped her briefcase and tossed it on the bottom step. She took her suit coat off and dropped it on the floor. “Just wonderful,” she snarled.

She ignored Paul’s raised brow and went to the bedroom they’d shared for the last ten years. How was she going to break this to him?

So, what’s the subtext here? Erin comes home and when asked how was her day, what does she say? Exactly the opposite of how her day really was.

Linda says, “Even if we recognize subtext, its true meaning might be known to the character but unknown to everyone else. It’s the character’s secret, those little problems and flaws that only he or she understands but doesn’t want others to know about.”

This is just a short snapshot of what subtexting is. There are so many layers, it would take numerous blog posts to cover the material (if you want to know more, let me know and I'll keep going with the subject). But for today, I just wanted to give you a taste of the topic. Hope you found it interesting.

God bless in your writing.

Until next time…

Friday, January 18, 2013


Bonnie S. Calhoun is director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, publisher of Christian Fiction Online magazine, the Northeast Zone Director for the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and the President of the Christian Authors Network (CAN). She is a Google-certified Top Contributor on the Blogger Help Forum and frequently conducts workshops on blogging and website construction as a faculty member at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference and the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. 

She and her husband, Bob, along with a dog and cat that consider her wait-staff, live in a log home on fifteen acres in the upstate area of Binghamton, New York.


SS:  Congratulations on an excellent novel. I absolutely fell in love with your novel’s protagonist, Sloane Templeton. I could be wrong, but I thought I saw more than a little of your sense of humor written into her personality. Is there any truth to this, and are there any other similarities lurking within the story?

Bonnie:  ROFLOL…I’m guilty! Sloane is me. I’ve taken a slight amount of poetic license with her but on the whole, that is the way that I would act…react…oh…one difference…I’m not afraid of guns, and my aim is spot on!

SS:  Which are your favorite characters, and are there any characters you “hate” for any reason? 
Bonnie:  Hmmm…well Trey is the ego of a person that I used to know. He met the same fate coincidentally... so I could say hate…but that is such a strong word…I’d say it’s more along the lines of a major, malfunctioning, chronic dislike that knows no bounds.
And my favorite would be…well…there are two! Aunt Verline embodies a pair of cooking aunts that I used to run from…er, uh…spend time with as a child. And Fifi…well she’s patterned after one of my sweet friends who is also a Penwright crit group buddy. (You can find her image in the book video.)

SS:  What is your favorite part of the story, and why? 

Bonnie:  Hmmm…I have several but I’d have to say the climax scene in top story of Sloane’s building, because I got to write it as total suspense without quips or quotes or anything extraneous to the action. Suspense is me…but sometimes I get scary for the average reader.
SS:  Besides having an excellent time reading the story, are there any lessons you hope to impart to your readers? 

Bonnie:  Most certainly! For the women readers…you can overcome anything…yourself, your circumstances, and your past. It sounds really simple…but all you need is faith that the Lord is with you, and will help you overcome, if you will only reach out.
And the second lesson is for the men…who think that the woman’s place is in the kitchen…that’s where the knives…and gun are kept!

SS:  What kinds of trouble do you have planned for Sloane Templeton in the future?

Bonnie:  Ohhh…lots of thought provoking problems that are situated in daily life. (Actually…of I told you, I’d have to kill you so you couldn’t share the plots with the unsuspecting…er, uh…readers!)
SS:  When did you first discover the desire to be a writer?

Bonnie:  As a teen, but I never really desired to be an actual author until I read the left Behind series (We’ll leave that one alone J)

SS:  Tell us about your path to publication?

Bonnie:  That’s difficult because I see all of it as God ordained, so I really didn’t have a concerted plan. I got my agent Terry Burns while having dinner with him (and I had an appointment to see a totally different agent for that conference) And my first publishing contract grew from an offhand comment that I made to the acq. Editor at the time. God was in the drivers seat and I’m just a passenger. (Jesus take the wheel!)

SS:  I can’t think of anyone with more pots in the fire than Bonnie Calhoun. In addition to managing the magazine, CFBA blog tours, and running your own clothing design business, when do you find time to write?

Bonnie:  All the time…in between the times…around the times…when I’m supposed to be asleep (sleep is sorely over-rated), actually any time I can fit it in. If I’m not busy with something I feel I’m being non-productive.

 SS:  What can Bonnie S. Calhoun fans look forward to in the near future?

Bonnie:  June of 2013 I have a Quilts of Love series coming out from Abingdon called Pieces of the Heart. This is not in the frame of Sloane Templeton snark, but it is actually back story for her character. Sloane is a third generation battered woman, and this is her grandmother’s story during World War II.

Then prayerfully there will be other stories for Sloane. I have at least a half dozen lined up. And I’d also like to try and dabble in another genre…the dystopia. Maybe I can get some of this pent up suspense aggression written down on paper in an interesting and thought provoking manner!

Bonnie is giving away a copy of COOKING THE BOOKS! Just leave a comment, along with your contact info for a chance to win! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Making the Stakes Higher

Sharon Dunn writes both humorous mysteries and romantic suspense. Her book Night Prey (Love Inspired Suspense) won a Carol award for 2011. Her first book Romance Rustlers and Thunderbird Thieves was a Romantic Times top pick and finalist in the inspirational Novel of the Year. Sassy Cinderella and the Valiant Vigilante, the second book in that same series (The Ruby Taylor mysteries) was voted book of the year by ACFW. Zero Visibility is her fifth Love Inspired Suspense with another one scheduled for release in March 2013 titled Guard Duty. When she is not writing, Sharon spends time with her husband, three children, two cats and a nervous little border collie named Bart. You can read more about Sharon and her books by visiting her website.
In writing fiction, the advice is often given to “make the stakes higher.” It took me a long time to translate that in a way that helped me construct a tighter story. To me, upping the stakes for a character just means that you increase the potential for disaster or you make what the character stands to lose even bigger if they don’t make the right choices or succeed in their goals. 

With suspense, increasing the stakes for a character usually involves the potential loss of life or of a loved one’s life. When I set out to write a suspense story, I try to come up with a threat that is relentless and escalating. For example in my current Love Inspired Suspense Zero Visibility, the inspiration for the story was a what if question. What if two character, Nathan and Merci, were completely isolated from help and they had only each other to rely on for survival? So I picked an isolated setting—a mountain side during a freak spring blizzard. Those are pretty high stakes for survival right? But harsh weather conditions and isolation are not enough to sustain a whole story.  I had to raise the stakes even more. Back to the what if questions. What if these two people were being chased by thieves bent on killing them? Those two factors help create a suspenseful story, but I can raise the stakes even more by causing more mayhem in my characters’ lives. What if one of the characters gets injured? What if they have no weapons, no way to defend themselves? What if they get lost on the mountain? With that one, I can make the stakes even higher: What if they get lost on the mountain at night? All of these factors create the potential for a character to die, thus the potential for huge loss.

Finally, raising the stakes doesn’t just involve threats from external forces… even in suspense. Often the greatest potential for failure and best place to raise the stakes can be found within the characters. In Zero Visibility, I have points at which each character gives up hope that they will get off the mountain alive. Also, a character’s background is a good place to look for possibilities. The one thing these two characters have is each other.  What if Nathan does something that reminds Merci of her father with whom she does not have a good relationship causing Merci to walk away? When the two characters are separated, the potential for danger increases. 

Upping the stakes is not only important for good suspense writing but for all story telling. In a book I am currently working on, I couldn’t figure out why the romance between the two characters seemed so blah. The characters were forced to worked together to survive, but there was no spark between them.  Back to the what if questions. Initially, I had this hero and heroine meeting for the first time when her life is suddenly under threat. The what if question I came up with changed the dynamic of the relationship. What if hero and heroine had known each other when they were teenagers? Had in fact been in love and had a child they gave up for adoption. Their immaturity at 16 made it impossible for them to sustain the relationship. The stakes are raised not only for things to not work out romantically, but also for them not to be able to overcome the hurts of the past to work together and keep the heroine alive.

A lot of times in a book, the stakes are emotional. A character stands to lose a relationship or faces humiliation that devastates them. The bottom line is, you need to mess with your characters. Create a situation that seems insurmountable and them make it even worse.    




Friday, January 11, 2013

Writing The Cozy Mystery

Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas, with her husband Norman and her very active puggle, Watson. She’s authored fourteen books and is currently at work on a new series for Bethany House Publishing. The first book in her Road to Kingdom series, “Inescapable,” came out in July of 2012. The second book, “Unbreakable” releases in February of 2013.

All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul. “I welcome the opportunity to share my faith through my writing,” Nancy says. “God is number one in my life. I wouldn’t be writing at all if I didn’t believe that this is what He’s called me to do. I hope everyone who reads my books will walk away with the most important message I can give them: God is good, and He loves you more than you can imagine. He has a good plan for your life, and there is nothing you can’t overcome with His help.”

Readers can learn more about Nancy through her Web site: or her blog She is also active on Facebook.

Ask almost any reader to explain what defines a mystery novel and most will respond with definite characteristics they feel should be present in this popular genre. However, ask the same reader to explain the elements of a “cozy” mystery and you may see a look of confusion creep across their face. So just what makes a mystery “cozy?”

The most fundamental elements in cozy mystery are fairly easy to define. First of all, there will be a basically bloodless crime that may happen “offstage.” In other words, by the time our amateur detective arrives on the scene, the dirty deed has already been done. Now, our sleuth, who is usually female, must solve the mystery because of circumstances she cannot avoid. In other words, the crime involves her directly in some way. This is true with any mystery, but in a cozy, many times the reasons behind her involvement are much more personal. Other signs that you’ve cracked open a cozy involve a small, confined setting; the lack of profanity and sexual content; a protagonist with an interesting hobby or job; and memorable, quirky characters. Also, many cozies are drawn with a touch of humor. Some go further, actually adding some giggles to the usual nasty business of murder and mayhem. Now let’s look a little more closely at each of these elements.
One very important trait of a cozy mystery revolves around “location, location, location!” Cozies take place in confined settings, thereby drawing upon a small cast of characters and suspects. In other words, the killer can’t be someone passing though town who simply decides to “off” a few of the town’s gentle citizens!  The “investigation” needs to involve only the characters presented within this setting. You can use a small town, a ship, even an old hotel or isolated castle. This restricted location keeps the mystery contained – and the world out. Since cozies are not police procedurals, many times the setting will actually cut down on official involvement. For example – a woman goes to visit an old friend who has turned an old Victorian-styled church into a bed and breakfast. Someone staying at the inn is murdered while a storm rages outside. The bridge to town is washed out, leaving our protagonist, the surrounding characters, and the murderer caught like rats in a trap. Of course, since our characters can’t get out, the police can’t get in. Now the fun begins! One caveat: if you draw law enforcement into your story, you need to be as accurate as you can. Again, police in rural towns may not be as “by the book” as say, detectives in New York City, but don’t fudge the details past the limits of believability. For my “Ivy Towers Series,” I consulted an actual deputy sheriff who worked in rural areas of Kansas. This helped me to “keep it real” for my readers.
Addressing the overwhelming glut of mysteries on the market with language and sexual scenes that would have caused my grandmother to “swoon,” brings a mixed bag of opinions from mystery authors and readers alike. However, I believe cozies should be “gentle” mysteries. In keeping with this idea, no “harsh” profanity or lurid “boudoir” passages should be present. Usually, cozy mysteries are selected by readers who specifically want to avoid graphic words and images. Of course, in an inspirational cozy, this point is non-negotiable. No profanity allowed at all! In fact, various inspirational publishers have different standards. One publisher bans the use of “Holy cow!” while another has no problem with it. In my book, “There Goes Santa Claus,” upon finding a dead Santa Claus that has fallen off his roof, Amos Tucker greets the sight with “J-Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, Ivy. I think we just killed Santa Claus!” Many of today’s contemporary mystery novels might have offered language a little more colorful!

Now, on to s-e-x. Cozies should contain little or no sexual content. In inspirational cozy, there can be romance, but sex only occurs between married couples – and it definitely happens offstage! Remember the old black and white movies where the couple kissed, the camera swung away from them, and in the night sky behind them fireworks exploded? You got the idea without the embarrassing details!

A current trend in cozies gives our amateur detective an interesting hobby or job that adds an element of interest. Of course, this isn’t always true. Although Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was an interesting character, her creativity expressed itself most clearly in her mental acumen. However, today’s heroines can be hairdressers, interior designers, cooks, quilters or may be characterized by some other specific professional or personal involvement. And “county coroner” doesn’t work here. It’s difficult to make that funny. In my “Curl Up and Dye” mystery series, my protagonist, Hilde Higgins, is a hairdresser – for funeral homes. That’s about as dark as you can get. One side note: I came up with this idea because I was joking with my agent one day about all the “hooks” being used by mystery authors. We agreed that the hairdressing sleuth had been done. My mention of someone who worked in a funeral home brought the revelation of another author who was already writing a similar series. As a joke, I mentioned a hairdresser who works for funeral homes. The concept got burned into my imagination and the “Curl Up and Dye” mysteries were born.

Another “cozy” element involves likeable, “quirky” characters drawn with humor, who appear to have something “mysterious” in their backgrounds. These characters can all be possible suspects. Be careful though, not to paint a picture of someone who seems completely innocent and then surprise your reader at the last minute by making him the murderer. Mystery fans, including cozy mystery fans, ask you to play fair. Hints must be dropped and clues must be scattered! And whatever you do, pick up all your clues by the end of your story and explain. Mystery buffs don’t like to be left hanging. Never forget a cozy mystery is still a mystery and as an author, you must play by the rules.

In conclusion, cozy mysteries are stories presented as gentle gifts to be unwrapped while the reader snuggles under their favorite quilt and sips hot tea or cappuccino. Inspirational cozies should not only warm the heart but should also touch the spirit.  They will never shock the reader or cause them to upend their cappuccino. (A little laughter might cause a small spill – but in a cozy, this reaction is perfectly acceptable!)

Would you like to win a Kindle or Nook copy of one of Nancy's cozy mysteries? All you have to do is leave a comment along with your contact information. We'll pick a winner on January 14th!