Monday, April 29, 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. The final book in the series, “Unforeseeable,” will be available in September 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: She has a newsletter located at:, and is a part of another blog, The Suspense Sisters:, along with several other popular suspense authors. She is also very active on Facebook.
It’s hard to remember when my passion for books began. I recall being absolutely crazy about Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys when I was in grade school. My father, who willingly fed my growing addiction, carted volumes home to me as fast as I could read them.

Probably in an attempt to remain financially solvent, my parents introduced me to my school library. It quickly became my very favorite place. I even volunteered after school so I could be near all the wonderful stories that lined the shelves. There’s something special about a library or a bookstore. The possibilities are almost endless – adventures, mysteries and strange worlds wait to be plucked up and enjoyed. In fact, it’s the memories of my school library that helped to shape a very special place in my Ivy Towers mystery series. Miss Bitty’s Bygone Bookstore was fashioned from those early library experiences.

At my very first book signing, the mother of my best friend in grade school showed up. She told me that she wasn’t the least bit surprised I’d turned out to be an author. “I still remember when you’d stay the night,” she said laughing. “I’d come in to check on you two and find a big, glowing lump on the bed.” No, it wasn’t aliens, nor was I radioactive. It was me, under the covers with a flashlight, reading. I’d check out five or six books at a time and then stay up all night so I could finish them. Made for some rather sleepy days at school. For a while, I think my parents were afraid I was suffering from some kind of vitamin deficiency. 

By junior high, I’d read all of Charles Dickens and Shakespeare. In high school, I even read War and Peace – not because I thought it would be interesting. It was for the challenge. I was so glad when I finally closed the cover. I can’t remember much about it. Except there was a war. And some peace.

I’ve read so many books it’s hard to pick just a few that had an impact on me. Black Beauty stoked my love of horses. Charles Dickens taught me that fictional characters can be so real they stay with you forever. Edgar Allen Poe showed me that words can illicit sadness – and fear. And Louisa May Alcott made me cry.

In one of my Ivy Towers’ novels, There Goes Santa Claus, I use one of my favorite books to paint a picture of a young woman with a painful past. When a love-struck man presents her with a copy of a beloved book, misplaced from her childhood, it helps to break down her self-made barriers. Miss Jellytot’s Visit, by Mabel Leigh Hunt, is about a little girl who isn’t comfortable being herself. She soon discovers that trying to be someone you’re not only leads to unhappiness. A lesson my character had to learn.

Books can make us laugh. Make us cry. Teach us. Affect us. As an author, there is nothing that means more to me than getting an e-mail or a letter from a reader who tells me that something in my story leapt off the page and touched their life. Whether I’m reading or writing, that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it?

Have you read IN THE DEAD OF WINTER? Leave a comment, along with your contact information, and you could win an eBook copy!

Friday, April 26, 2013


Larry W. Timm is a husband, father, minister, and writer. He’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and is currently serving as the chapter president for the South-Central Chapter of ACFW that meets in Wichita, Kansas. Larry writes a blog about the writing journey at

 SS: Why do you write?
I believe in the power of story to reach and engage people as no other form of communication can. If you think about it, we learn many of our most important life lessons via a story. That started when we were children. The Old Testament prophet Nathan used a story to convict King David. And was there ever a better story teller than Jesus Christ? The power of story is that it impacts both sides of our brains. I write suspense because that’s what I like to read. I love using tension and conflict to illustrate the battle between good and evil. And I love taking people on an emotional journey that stretches their imagination and enlightens their mind. But probably the simplest reason is that I believe God has called me to write. And in addition to preaching and teaching the truths of God, writing is another powerful way to be an ambassador for Christ.

SS: When did your writer’s journey begin and what has it been like so far? What have been a few high points for you?

I’ve been writing since I was a child. But it was about 3 years ago that I decided to chase my dream of being a novelist. I joined ACFW, and started attending the South-Central Chapter, and those decisions have been so incredibly important to me. I couldn’t imagine going on this journey without the camaraderie of fellow writers, and I love the people that I get to meet with at our local chapter. I’ve completed two manuscripts which have been edited by Deborah Raney. I’ve experienced the incredible pleasure of getting to meet some of my very favorite writers in person, and even been blessed to become friends with some of them, like Nancy Mehl and so many others. And this past year I was blessed by getting to meet another of my favorite authors, René Gutteridge, and even had her critique some of my writing.

I’ve experienced the ups and downs, like any aspiring writer, but have enjoyed every part of the journey so far. I’ve worked hard to study the craft, learn from the comments of contest judges and those who have critiqued my work, and tried to stay open-minded and teachable.

As to the highlights, I’d have to list the two ACF W conferences as up there, because I had the privilege and honor of meeting some of my favorite suspense authors, as well as the blessing of making new friends, and learning from people who genuinely care and want to see me succeed. I also had the privilege of having an article included in the premiere edition of the ACF W Journal magazine. And I was excited to be a double semifinalist in the 2012 Genesis contest, and a finalist in the First Impressions contest this year. I was also thrilled to be the runner up in a contest sponsored by the Central Florida Christian writers and the Florida Christian Writers Convention this year. Another highlight was getting to do an interview with Terri Blackstock for my blog.

SS: What is your blog about and where can people find it?

I started my blog about a year ago with the intention of keeping it specifically focused on writing related things. So every post on there has to do with writers or writing or something related to those topics. I want to make people aware of the incredible stewardship of story that has been entrusted to those who write. I try to use a mixture of humorous posts and serious posts to inspire and encourage writers. I really want to make people, especially writers, laugh and think at the same time. If I can encourage a writer who is feeling down or promote the privilege of writing, then I feel as if the posts are useful. And I have to say, I love preparing the “Top 10” lists that frequently appear on the blog. Some time ago I even wrote a poem called “Ode to Writer’s Block” or “How I Almost Became a Romance Writer.” And I want to promote other writers, so I’ll be doing more interviews on the blog. My blog can be found at

SS: What attracts you to the suspense genre?

It’s a thrill ride in words. I like to put my characters in tough situations and see what they’re made of. On an emotional level, I love the challenge of taking a reader on an exhilarating journey that leaves them wowed and wanting to get back in line and go on the journey again. On a spiritual level, I think the suspense genre provides incredible opportunities to show how light can penetrate darkness and how good can survive or conquer evil. And in the nitty-gritty of real-life, I think the suspense genre can leave people exhilarated and filled with hope at the same time. Suspense can grab people on so many different levels.

SS: Who or what has helped you grow the most as a writer?

Other than God himself, of course, my incredible wife and children have helped me in more ways than I can begin to say. They continue to sacrifice for me and support me. I could not pursue this dream without them. In addition to my great family, the wonderful writers who make up the South-Central ACFW chapter are a constant source of inspiration. And I have to especially mention Deborah Raney because her coaching and mentoring during the editing process has taught me so much about writing. Additionally, belonging to ACFW has provided many wonderful opportunities for growth. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my wonderful congregation at Gracepoint because they allow me time off to go to conferences and things.

SS: How do you mesh being a minister and writer? And what other jobs have you had that help your task as a writer?

I look at writing as another way of communicating the truths of God. In both my books so far, I’ve had preachers as major characters and have tried to present them realistically. I’ve had many jobs in my life, and they’ll all play into various books eventually (grocery store worker, janitor, city employee—which included duties as a trash truck driver, parks manager, and cemetery sexton). For several years I was a full-time Funeral Director, and am planning a series of suspense books with a funeral director who finds himself in various messes.

SS: What are your goals as a writer?

Other than continuing to grow in the craft, I’m anxious to send out proposals on my latest finished book with the hopes that I can get an agent soon. Also, I’m beginning my next book, which will be book one in a series. And I want to grow my blog, continue to promote writing and encourage other writers. In addition, I want to help figure out strategies to reach more men through Christian fiction, and overcome the stereotype that it is only for women. I think this would benefit all suspense writers.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Writers Conferences and a book giveaway!

Hi everyone,

As I was thinking of a topic for today’s post, I thought I’d tell you a little about how I spent my weekend. I had a great time teaching at the Carolina Christian Writers Conference.  We had about 100 attendees and it was just really exciting to see the eager anticipation on each writer’s face.

I know a lot of you who read this blog are readers and we thank you for that! However, I know some of you are also writers. If you’re new to the craft, now is a wonderful time to start thinking about a writers conference. There’s no better way to really focus and concentrate on learning the craft than going to a conference.

But you need to be picky. You need to assess your skill level (or get someone to do that for you!), and then find that conference that best suits your level. I remember my first conference. I attended the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference held at Ridgecrest in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I had two completed manuscripts and I felt sure someone would want to buy them. Well, as it turns out, no one wanted to buy them, but because I attended classes and talked to agents and editors, I was able to learn so much in those fully packed four days. Yes, it was rather expensive, but I have to say, I thought it well worth the price.

So, have you ever been to a writers conference? If so, did you consider it worthwhile? And if you’ve never been and want to go, is there one you’re looking at?

And while I have your attention, I just want to say that my book When A Secret Kills releases May 1! Woohoo! It may even be in stores now. Here’s the back cover blurb:

Investigative reporter Jillian Carter knows it's time to put the past to rest. She's tired of looking over her shoulder, letting a killer go free. She's no longer the scared kid who changed her name and disappeared. Now, no matter what the cost, Jillian must do what she is trained to do--ferret out the truth and expose it. Senator Frank Hoffman committed murder ten years ago--and Jillian watched it happen.

Didn't she?

Not even the enigmatic and attractive Colton Brady, her ex-boyfriend and nephew of the killer, will be able to make her leave this alone. Get ready for the spine-tingling, nail-biting conclusion to an explosive series.

Leave a comment to win a copy of the book!


Monday, April 22, 2013

Fiction, faith and technology

As I write this, I'm sitting in my office surrounded by stacks of research books, piles of papers, and a lot of dreams.  What an exciting new world this is--with so many options for a writer that didn't exist five years ago!  I'm working on several romantic suspense book proposals, and also, working on some books that will soon be available for Kindles and Nooks. Though many publishers produce books in both print and e-book formats, this will be a first time foray for me into the world of self publishing.
 So what do you think about  this new world--where you can download a book in seconds, on just a whim?  I resisted the trend for a long time, stubbornly clinging to my devotion to the print books I can hold in my hand.  I love the wonderful smell of  bookstores and libraries.  As long as my husband isn't driving, I cannot pass a Barnes & Noble or an antiquarian bookshop without finding myself turning into the parking lot like a homing pigeon heading for its roost.  
 But still...I found myself with Kindle a few years back, and now a Kindle Fire.  Which I love. Totally love.  And though I still buy books from brick and mortar stores, the world of e-publishing has easily increased my book purchasing ten-fold because it is so fast!  Convenient! And, since we travel quite a lot, the portability factor is wonderful as well.  When I see an interesting book featured in a suspensesisters blog post, I can buy it right then.  Which reminds me that in the last post here, Mark Young's book looked fascinating!
Yet another bit of technology that I adore is having several versions of the Bible on my Kindle and iPhone.   My favorite is the YouVersion Bible App (from  which is wonderful--a free download, with almost 20,000 five star ratings.  There are so many options with this app.  You can easily search a word, phrase or reference, choose to read it or hear it read aloud, choose a variety of plans with which you can study the Bible every day.
 So, what do you think about the changes in the publishing world?  Do you use a Kindle or Nook, or do you much prefer reading regular book?

Roxanne Rustand

Friday, April 19, 2013


Mark Young is an Amazon bestselling author. Both his Travis Mays and Gerrit O’Rourke novels reached the top 100 list, and his debut novel, Revenge, hit #1 for bestselling mystery/suspense police procedurals.
Mark served as a police officer with the Santa Rosa Police Department in California for twenty-six years after working as an award-winning journalist. He is a Vietnam combat veteran, serving with Fox 2/5, 1st Marine Division. He was a member with several law enforcement task force operations, including the presidential Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force targeting major drug traffickers, and the federal Organized Crime Task Force charged with identifying and prosecuting prison gang leaders. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his family. You can find out more about Mark Young at

Interview with Mark Young
S.S.: I love the title of your web site: Arresting Fiction. How did a cop become a writer?

Mark: Little steps at first. It started with my mother igniting my interest in reading. As a kid, she allowed me to walk to the library on Saturdays when my chores were done. I read everything I could get my hands on. Fast forward to my college years after Vietnam: I devoured novels by authors like Ernest Hemingway (whose writing resonated with my own war experiences) and John Steinbeck (my hometown boy from Monterey County).

As a journalist for six years, I gravitated toward investigative pieces, but liked to write feature articles because of the latitude editors gave me to play with words. As a cop for twenty-six years, I tried to make crime reports and press releases creatively interesting.  I still have the itch to write. So, eight years ago, I decided to write full time and see where God might lead.

S.S.: As a cop, what bothers you most when you read crime/suspense fiction or watch it on TV?

Mark: Writers and screenwriters who fail to do their homework. For example, I remember reading one scene where the author has two cops hit a house with a search warrant. The radios they communicated only reached between those two officers. Dispatch did not know what they were doing. This just would not happen. Hitting a house with a search warrant or arrest warrant is considered a high-risk operation. Dispatch is going to be listening, as well as the supervisors and other officers in the area in case things go bad. When I read things like this it just takes me out of the story.

 SS.: As a guy, what drives you crazy about the heroes you read, especially when they’re written by women?

Mark: A male hero portrayed saying, doing, or thinking of things that a man would scoff at.  I have a long list—but I will spare your readers. Let’s just focus on one pet peeve—emotions.

My wife, Katie—reading a mystery/suspense novel the other night written by a very popular female author—said to me, “Women should never write from a male character’s perspective. They write things that men just would never say or do.” Katie knows this is an overstatement, but she was exasperated by how the male character was portrayed. She had to force herself to keep reading, putting aside that distraction, in order to get through the novel.

I tend to agree, although some female authors can really jump that gap and create great characters.  Just like male authors writing about female character’s  point of view. It takes work and consultation with the opposite gender. For example, Katie always reads my novels—particular female POVs—before anyone else sees my work. I am lousy writing from a woman’s POV.
I grit my teeth reading scenes where a man wants to talk about his feelings. Give me a break! Show me, don’t tell me. Here is a more realistic encounter:  Grimacing, he said, “Everything’s fine.” She watched him clenching his fingers into a tight ball, shattering a shot glass brimming with sarsaparilla . Okay, maybe a little over the top, but let me translate: “Yeah, I’m hurt. Leave me the heck alone. And ‘no’  I don’t want to talk about it.”  You get the message without the guy sucking out all the air in the room telling you how he feels.

S.S.: You’ve chosen to bypass traditional publishing and put your novels up as eBooks. What do you see as the benefits of this move?

Mark: First, I get to choose who I work with on these projects. Right now, I am blessed to be working with Julee Schwarzburg, a fantastic and gifted editor. Julee has years of experience in the publishing industry, twice recognized as Editor of the Year by the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, and she has worked with some of the bestselling authors in the business. She edited both Gerrit O’Rourke novels, and she is putting me through my paces on my latest novel, Broken Allegiance (A Tom Kagan Novel), due out later this summer. Others I get to work with: Cory Clubb of GO Bold Designs; Rob & Amy Siders of 52Novels for eBook formatting; and my wife, Katie, who uses her twenty years of knowledge in the publishing business to format my print books. These folks have become my ‘family’ as an indie author.

Secondly, not only do I choose what to write, I get to decide when and how to release my novels, how much marketing I want to invest in, and what the price point should be. I retain all rights to my novels, and keep up to 70 percent of the profits since I pay all publishing costs upfront.

Lastly—and most importantly—I get my novels in front of readers and let them decide whether I am worth the time and investment they make in buying books. If I fail, I have no one else to blame but myself. If I gain readership, then I am one happy author. At this point in my writing career, I consider myself a success. I am not making scads of money.  I may never wind up on the NYT bestselling list, but I have the immediate satisfaction of knowing readers have the opportunity to read my work and to judge for themselves whether I am worth their time. It is like I am out there walking a tight rope without a safety net. This indie publishing world requires dedication, hard work, and sacrifice—just like traditional publishing. Here is the one thing indie publishing gives me that traditional publishing cannot—I get to see immediate benefits. Immediate response from readers. Royalties paid every month. A sense that I am moving forward in  this business with some control over my own affairs.

S.S: How did you develop Gerrit O’Rourke, your latest hero?  He works not only in the US but in international situations. How did you do your research?

Mark: Gerrit is a well-traveled individual based upon his service with the military, his work in the scientific community, and his job as a detective tracking organized crime characters. Everything about his life goes up in smoke when someone plants a bomb in his Seattle houseboat. He is thrust onto the international scene by forces that he must identify and fight against in order to protect himself and others he loves. So far, Gerrit and other characters have traveled throughout Europe, the Mid East, Asia, as well as the United States.

Writing these scenes became challenging. For example, I have never been to Damascus, Syria, but Gerrit must travel there in FATAL eMPULSE to follow a lead. In the United States, I tried to pick places that I knew about, or places that research could give me a feeling about where Gerrit might land. International travel was a little more challenging. I have traveled throughout the UK, France and Spain, and used knowledge from my travels there to enhance my scenes. Otherwise, I read books, gather reference material, and do a lot of online searching. Sites like Google Earth or travel blogs turned out to be great sources of information.

S.S.: What is the main idea behind FATAL eMPULSE?

Mark: FATAL eMPULSE is part of a greater picture that will unfold as the reader travels from one Gerrit O’Rourke novel to the next. I intend to explore a stretch of time that extends from present to the tribulation. The Bible gives us a picture of what happens when Christ returns, the Church is raptured, and the tribulation unfolds. But how do we get from where we are now to that point in time? How do we end up with the anti-christ and a world governed by ten rulers? What role does Israel play in this scenario? What role does the U.S. play—if any?

FATAL eMPULSE is one little part of this bigger picture. Mid East countries like Iran and Syria work together to bring down Israel and the Great Satan—the United States—in what they hope will be a global conflict. Gerrit and others must work against this aim, fighting enemies both foreign and domestic while trying to stay off the grid.

S.S.: In your career as a law enforcement professional, what changes have you seen in criminal activity? What ones concern you most?

Mark: One of the concerns I have is the growing international sophistication of gangs. Whether criminal streets gangs like MS-13, organized criminal hackers, or international terrorists, I fear that the response by law enforcement might not be adequate. There must be more cooperation between local, state and federal agencies to combat these groups, but I feel that the strength of these ties between law enforcement agencies is very tenuous—at best. Federal agencies are notorious for butting heads over jurisdiction and investigative responsibilities. State and local agencies share similar difficulties. International gangs or terrorists however, are not bound by jurisdiction or resources. Neither should law enforcement have their hands tied behind them if they hope to be successful combating this new breed of criminal.

S.S.: Why do most officers become cops? How does this feeling change through the years of serving and protecting?

I believe the desire to serve the community draws most officers to law enforcement—some more, some less. Most new officers do not have a clue what the job will cost them, however, no matter how many TV shows they watch. The stress will break many officers, and those that are not broken will be worn down—physically, mentally, and spiritually. The number of officers that reach full retirement is still drastically less than those who started on this journey.

S.S.: You are a Christian and a cop, a husband and a father and a writer. How do all these identities mesh?

Mark: With God’s help, these areas of my life mesh perfectly. Problems arise when I try to do it in my own strength. What I’ve learned is that when I put Him first in my life, all these parts of my life seem to gel, to come together with a sense of harmony. Not to say that life is a bowl of cherries—sometimes I end up spewing out pits. But He is faithful and forgiving. I try to start out each day spending time with Him—in prayer, in reading my bible, in meditation—before the cares and responsibilities of life set in. And then, as the day progresses, I try to keep focused on Him in everything I do.

S.S.: What do you want your readers to take away from a Mark Young novel?

Mark: That there is hope in this fallen world. That evil exists, but that we do not have to fight it alone. And—I want to readers to have enjoyed my novel so much  that they want to buy another one.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hook Them From the Beginning

It is important to hook the reader from the beginning of a story. But how does the writer hook the reader right from the start. One way is to write about something that grabs or interests a reader. Some of these hooks are: a secret baby, emergency type of stories (firefighters, etc), family feuds, family secrets, missing family member, hero as a boss, police/detective, military hero/heroine, mistaken identity, cowboys, single parents, bride/wedding, bad boy comes home, and reunion stories. There are more but you get the idea. If you can write a story will a few of these elements in your story, you have a good chance of hooking the reader.

But remember once you hook them, you must write a good story to take the reader to the end of the book. As a writer, what are some of the hooks you have used? As a reader, what are your favorite hooks? They don't have to come from my list--because I only put about a third of them down. I thought of a couple of more specifically for suspense--on the run, protector hero, bodyguard, female in jeopardy. 

So come on. What hooks you as a reader? I have a copy of Scorned Justice, my third book in The Men of the Texas Rangers Series for one of the people who leaves a comment with their email address so I can get in touch with them. The hooks in this story are: female in jeopardy, a reunion story, protector hero and police/detective.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Villains We Love to Hate

What mystery or suspense tale would be complete without a villain (or two or three) that we can root against just as much as we root for the hero and heroine? Suspense writers spend a lot of mental—and emotional—energy crafting their villains. We want readers to find them as real and believable as the other main characters.

Cardboard nasty doesn’t work. Each villain must be rich and full—in short, a person. Remember the words your mama used to say when you whined about some “bad guy” in your elementary school life? “Now, sweetie, there’s something good about everyone.” Finding that “something good” to build into our villains is an essential for creating that realism in the character.

A few of our Suspense Sisters dish about their favorite villains and what made them feel real to their readers. Their thoughts are in italics. My comments are in plain script.

DiAnn Mills

In Pursuit of Justice, I had a villain who was the cook for the VP of the US - at his ranch in West Texas. Everything she cooked was with jalapeños. Everything. Her nickname was Pepper. Anyway, the Secret Service agents from DC were not accustomed to spicy foods and it made for interesting dialogue and indigestion. Of course she later poisoned a man by brewing sweet tea with oleander.  

Too funny, DiAnn! Here I see you added an element to your character that exemplifies a useful skill (cooking), as well as providing opportunities for humor. Who would suspect the character who provides the light moments in the book?

In Lightning and Lace, a sweet, kind Christian lady who was not loved by her husband took her motherly instincts to extreme by killing the young women who were being forced into white slavery by her husband.

Shades of Arsenic and Old Lace! I would imagine that reference is implied in the title of the book. Nice job, DiAnn. So interesting that your villain is a believer who has lost her way and begun to mistake evil behavior for an act of kindness.

Margaret Daley

In Shattered Silence I have a murderer who has been bullied, laughed at and made fun of. Throughout the book the reader gets into his mind and his thinking. I didn't want to show him as an evil man so much as a person who had suffered and responded to that suffering in a wrong way. The reader also sees him as a character in the book from other people's point of view, and I show him with good qualities. He does care about certain people. Ultimately, he just wanted to be loved for who he is.

Aww, Margaret! Who can’t relate to the need to be loved for themselves? The sense of rejection is one of the most basic motivations for bitterness that can turn murderous.

Gayle Roper

I love Worm, the villian in Spring Rain. He's not too smart and grew up the victim of bullying from his older brother Stanley and under threat of a beating from his father if he complained about Stanley. He's so damaged he doesn't even see what he does as wrong. I feel so sorry for the poor chump.

Here’s an excerpt:

He scrunched deeper in the sand and sighed, content.  He didn’t have to worry about anyone sneaking up behind him here in his hiding place.
His brother used to like to sneak up behind him when he was a little kid. 

“Hey, twerp!” he’d yell as he grabbed him around the neck.  And squeezed.

The first time Stanley grabbed him like that, he’d wet his pants.  He’d been so scared!

He told his father, but the old man just said, “That’s your problem.  You take care of it.”

“But, Dad,” he sniffed.

The old man climbed out of his chair and leaned over him, both fists clenched. “Don’t snivel!  Do you hear me?  Don’t ever snivel!  I can’t stand crybabies!”  He raised his hand.

Holding his sore throat, he’d escaped and never complained to his father again.

Stanley had snuck up on him for years.

Really nice characterization, Gayle! Poor Worm. I feel sorry for the guy too. That doesn’t mean I approve of his actions, of course, but I sure understand the forces that twisted his thinking.

Jill Elizabeth Nelson

My turn!

In my debut novel, Reluctant Burglar, one of my villains is a believer, but has gotten in over his head in a scheme that was supposed to provide for his family in a way that would gain their respect. Of course, his judgment is clouded by greed, and distorted by a poor self-image, but his desire to be seen as a worthy provider is basic to the male personality.

Now it’s your turn. 

For a chance to win a signed copy of Reluctant Burglar, please share about one of your “favorite” villains in any book you’ve read. Tell us what it was about this character made him human and sympathetic.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Our guest today is Dr. Richard Mabry, a retired physician, past Vice-President of the American Christian Fiction Writers, and the author of five published novels of medical suspense. His books have been finalists in competitions including ACFW’s Carol Award and Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year. His last novel, Lethal Remedy, won a 2012 Selah Award from the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. His most recent medical thriller, Stress Test (Thomas Nelson), was released this month, and will be followed by Heart Failure in October. You can learn more about Dr. Mabry by visiting his Website.

Suspense Sisters asked Dr. Mabry about his second life as a writer of medical thrillers:

SS: Why did a medical doctor become a novel writer?

Although I had written over a hundred published professional papers and either wrote or edited eight textbooks, non-medical writing was the furthest thing from my mind until the death of my first wife. I turned to journaling to help me through that experience, and several friends encouraged me to turn that material into a book. But I had no idea how to do that.

I ended up at a Christian writers conference, where I not only got started on the road that led to The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, but, thanks to encouragement from Alton Gansky and Jim Bell, I decided to try my hand at fiction.

SS: How do you use your medical background in your writing? How do you research your novels?

I write medical thrillers because of my thirty-six years’ experience in the field, the last ten spent as a professor at the UT Southwestern Medical Center. One might think that because of my background I wouldn’t need to do much research, but the field is constantly changing and I have to work to keep up. Of course, part of that is participation in continuing medical education, which I do regularly. For specific questions, I read papers online. Of course, sometimes, such as in a recent novel, I play “what if?” and then notice a year later that what I postulated has come about.

SS: How often might a real life doctor come across the scenarios we read about in medical thrillers?

Some of the situations in my book are taken either from my own experiences or that of colleagues. Sometimes I use scenarios I’ve read about in journal case reports. I’d say that more than half of the situations I employ are things I know could happen, although I haven’t seen them. Finally, the slightly “far out” situations, such as I pose in my last novel, Lethal Remedy—a superbug and a new drug that might cure it but with hidden, deadly side effects—are conjecture when I write them but headline news later.

SS: What has been the greatest help to you as you’ve become a writer? What’s been the hardest thing?

I had to put aside everything I’d learned in medical writing to compose fiction, so in effect I had to start over. I read lots of books—Bell’s Plot and Structure, Collins’ Getting Into Character, Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, and many others—and attended writer’s conferences. My first mentoring class was at Mount Hermon with a very talented writer and patient teacher named Gayle Roper. I’m still using the things I learned from her.

SS: As a doctor, what bothers you most when you read about medical stuff in fiction or watch it on TV, especially in crime/suspense fiction?

From the days of Ben Casey to the present, I don’t watch medical shows on TV. They have to wrap up in 45 minutes (plus commercials) what it generally takes hours or days, sometimes weeks, to accomplish in real life. Although they get some things right, they have to pander—I mean, cater to TV audiences, and the errors set my teeth on edge.

SS: As a guy, what drives you crazy about the heroes you read, especially when they’re written by women?

It’s hard to generalize here. Some women do a good job of portraying a male lead, just as some men do well with heroines. What gets me is when a fictional hero’s actions are totally out of character—men and women think differently, act differently—so, when both the hero and heroine seem cut from the same cloth, it bothers me.

I should confess here that, although I’ve been complimented on portraying female leads quite well in my novels, the credit goes to my wife, Kay. She’s my first reader, my biggest fan, and my most severe critic. I can’t tell you how many times she’ll point out a sentence, a paragraph, a scene, and say, “A woman wouldn’t say/do that. Here’s what she’d do…”

SS: You are a Christian and a doctor, a husband and a father as well as a writer. How do all these identities mesh?

During all the years as a husband and father, my family came before professional activities. I didn’t make as much money as some of my colleagues, but I never missed a baseball game, a swim meet, or a speech tournament. And Cynthia and I had a date night once a week unless there was some major event preventing it.

I tried to carry my Christianity over into my medical practice, as well as living it every day. I wasn’t always perfect—none of us are—but I tried. Jesus was the ultimate healer, and I tried to show His compassion to my patients. There are a number of doctors out there who live their Christianity every day, in the office and in the grocery store. I wish there were more.

In my writing, I have to stop periodically and ask myself why I’m writing. Not for publication, although that’s nice. Not for good reviews, although I confess I read them. But to portray how God is, or can be, an important part of the life of everyone.

In the acknowledgement of my latest book, I end with the words of Bach and Handel who signed their works thusly: Soli Deo gloria —to God alone be glory. That’s why I write.

SS: Tell us about your latest project. Why did you write it? When and where can we get hold of it?

Stress Test is my fifth published novel, the first from publisher Thomas Nelson, and it officially launched on April 9. In it, a doctor walks into the dark hospital parking garage in the wee hours of the morning, is kidnapped, and appears to be headed for his death. He manages to escape, sustaining a head injury in the process. When he awakes in the ICU, he finds he’s charged with murder. A female attorney who says she’s through with doctors is his only hope to escape the situation.

I got the idea when I was walking to the parking garage at the medical school where I was on staff and thought, “This would be a great spot for a kidnapping late at night.” After that, I just had to populate the story and see where the characters took me.

Stress Test is available from all booksellers, online or brick-and-mortar, as well as directly from the publisher. It’s gotten some great reviews and endorsements, and I hope readers enjoy it as well.
Dr. Mabry has graciously offered a free copy of Stress Test to some lucky responder. Don’t forget to leave your name and email address!


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chemistry is Everything

If you’ve ever been job-hunting (and you're more than a couple of decades old) you know the digital age has created a huge change in the process. You have to fill out an application online, or you have to submit your resume to hundreds of online job boards where employment software will sift through the candidates before a real person ever sees them. You are just one of thousands. You have to know how to design your resume correctly and put the right words to get attention, but not too many power words. There’s a science behind it.

A candidate could have the perfect resume and all the right credentials but when he or she goes for the interview the chemistry is missing, and so the search continues.

(I’ll clarify here that when I use the word “chemistry” I’m referring to how people connect in general, how personalities click. I’m not limiting the word to the chemistry of physical attraction one would hope is present in a romantic relationship.)

When my daughter was looking for her first job as a teenager, my husband used a few old-school techniques and drove her around town to apply in person. Most places told her she’d have to apply online, sure, but there was one place where she actually met the manager and that person liked her.

They connected.

The manager, like all the rest, requested that my daughter apply online to fulfill their company requirements, go through their process. The manger remembered  my daughter and searched for her online application. New to the job market, no experience to speak of, my daughter landed her job all because of chemistry.

Chemistry is everything in life. It is everything in story. You can have a great plot and all the correct twists. You can have complex characters, but if those characters don’t have chemistry between them, the story won’t work. I’ll even take things a step further and say you can be missing a strong plot but if you have the right chemistry between your characters, they can carry the story and make it great.

It affects everything about the story—the dialogue, the conflict and even the ending won’t have that satisfying feeling if the chemistry isn’t working. 

Again, I’m not talking only romantic tension. All the characters--not just those involved in romance--have to  have positive or negative tension or energy that doesn’t clang or grate, but fits together well enough to make the story sing.

That’s a tough one because as writers, how do we make sure all our characters have the right chemistry?

Often it’s like in real life. It is or it isn’t. It’s either there or it’s not.

I started thinking along these lines last night when I watched the movie What Happens in Vegas with Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher. This isn’t a movie I would normally choose to watch because the title put me off a little, but it was on and I ended up being pulled into the story because the actors had great chemistry. Then a behind the scenes special came on where they discussed this topic. The creators talked about choosing the characters—not just the romantic interests but their sidekicks who hated each other—based on the chemistry they had. They claimed the chemistry between the characters carried the movie.

They're right. I considered, too, how many books I haven’t liked or movies I’ve hated because that important element was off.

Stars Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones comes immediately to mind. Remember that one? Anakin is now ten years older and he meets Padme again and they fall in love. The chemistry between those two was horrid. In this case we are talking about romantic chemistry. (We won’t talk about the acting) I could hardly stand to watch because the characters lacked chemistry between them.

I’m having that trouble in a story I’m working on. I have everything in place but there is something off between my hero and heroine. Nothing I can put my finger on specifically, but the chemistry just isn’t there.

My answer to this is to keep working with them, molding and shaping them, changing them out if necessary until I find the right “actors” for my story. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How important do you think chemistry is? Can you think of movies or books where you felt the characters had the best chemistry? The worst?

Post a comment with your thoughts on the topic and I'll enter you in the drawing for my upcoming July release--Riptide! Don't forget that I need your email address in order to contact you. Once I've drawn a name and made contact, you have one week to reply back or I'll need to pick another winner. I'll send you a copy when I receive my author copies.


Two surprises await high-stakes repo man Jake Jacobson on his latest job. First, old flame Kelsey Chambers. Second, gunfire! Seizing the luxury yacht should have been easy, but he hadn't planned on Kelsey's appearance. or that smugglers would hijack the vessel to find an antique map hidden on board.

The map is Jake and Kelsey's only leverage...but it carries a price. Without it, they're as good as dead. With it, they're the target of a relentless hunt. Their failed relationship has Kelsey afraid to rely on Jake again. Can she count on him with their lives on the line?


Monday, April 8, 2013


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.
I grew up in a home that, because of my father’s alcoholism and all the baggage that comes with it, I became what I called a self-contained unit. I had very little expectation of support, encouragement or advice free of judgment; I learned to accomplish things and make decisions in isolation. It never occurred to me how much more I could accomplish if I had a cheering section in my life.
Along with my husband, ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) has been the “cheering section” for my writing. If it hadn’t been for ACFW, I may not have continued to try to get my first book, Romance Rustlers, published. At one point, my first book almost sold; all the lights were green and it looked like the publisher would pick it up. Then after much waiting, they decided not to. I was devastated and I wanted to quit.

I went through all the usual stuff we Christians go through when faced with failure. Wondering if I was in God’s plan. Had I heard his voice clearly? I questioned why he would give me a talent and then not open doors for me to use it?
I’m not one who shares failure and pain easily. I posted what had happened to the ACFW email loop thinking it was mostly an exercise in me taking a risk and learning to share my feelings and my failure. The response I got was overwhelming. I had people pray for me and offer encouragement.  The thing that helped the most was that other writers who were now published shared their stories of the first books that almost sold. What is that old saying, that Satan’s greatest weapon is to make us feel like we are alone in our pain?

It might not be a writer’s group for you. It might be a support group for addiction or a weight loss group or a quilting group that is about way more than quilting, but all of us need places where we can take our masks off and share our deepest pain. And all of us need a “cheering section” in the stands. I encourage you to seek that out in your life.