Monday, September 30, 2013


For months, I was haunted by an image that I knew was the start of a good story. I saw a man in a fire tower looking through binoculars at the mountain below. The man sees a car pull up to the lake. Two men and a woman get out. It quickly becomes clear that the men intend to harm the woman. The man in the fire tower makes the decision to head straight down the mountain to try to save the woman. That was all I knew. It was an action packed start for a suspense story, but I had to decide whom that man in the fire tower was and whom the woman in jeopardy was. And why those men had taken her out in the woods to kill her.  All those questions were answered and what started out as a dynamic scene playing in my head eventually became my November release from Love Inspired Suspense Montana Standoff.  

Inspiration for a story can come anywhere from an overheard conversation, to a news article, to meeting someone you know belongs in a book, to reading a story with an ending you would have written differently. Sometimes I hear snippets of dialogue or a scene will pop into my head. The secret is to tease out the idea or the picture through brainstorming and asking questions to see if there is a full book in that little kernel of inspiration.

Montana Standoff is Sharon Dunn’s 14th book. It is a Romantic Times Top Pick for the month of November. Learn more about Sharon and her books at     

Friday, September 27, 2013

Welcome Carole Brown!


Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. She loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons? 

Connect with her here:
I also am part of several other blogs:
Geezers Guys and Gals:
Barn Door Book Loft:

Carole has graciously agreed to answer a few questions for us and she's even sharing the first page of her story!

Carol, welcome to Suspense Sisters! We’re so glad you could stop by and visit with us a bit.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I live in Southeast Ohio with Dan, my husband, and an array of animals. We are the parents of two sons--one of whom is married, and have three adorable grandsons--two adopted and one birth. I’m always on the lookout for catchy titles and suspenseful plots. Along with my adult novels, I’ve written five children’s books--Racy, the Rabbit--dealing with character traits, I’ve also won two awards for a couple different poems.

We’ve traveled extensively throughout the United States ministering and counseling and have particularly enjoyed the western states where we’ve labored with the Native Americans. I love gathering information in different states to use as folder my writing. We continue to enjoy traveling, our grandsons, the country life and city lights, gardens, and good food, and did I mention our grandsons?

What was your journey to publication like? 

I’ve written all my life, but was so busy with other ministries it was several years before I got back into writing fiction seriously. When I did I quickly learned how much I needed to re-learn, but put in time studying, gathering critique partners, attending classes and conferences, gaining an agent, and finally a publisher! Time-consuming and hard work, but very much worth it all!

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?  Who or what inspired you? 

The first time I remember writing anything significantly was in the sixth grade when we were required to write a week-long journal of a cave family. Loved doing that, and wish I still had it. I’d probably not share it, but it would be nice to see how far I’ve come. :)
I can’t say any particular person inspired me. I’ve always known I was to write. It was just finding the right time.  My husband, sons, and close friends have encouraged me so much to keep on. And without God’s help I wouldn’t be here today. 

How long did you write before you were published? 

Once I got back into writing fiction seriously, it was a few years. Five? Six? Enough time to complete several novels. 

Where did you get the inspiration for your newest release?

It was my husband’s idea. We like to keep up on current events, and the cult group in Texas awhile back caught our attention, we began a “what if” session, and the plot exploded from there. 

Looking back, which scene was your favorite? 

In this current book? Hmmm. I enjoyed writing the first three chapers, but probably my favorite is the last chapter. I loved writing the courtroom scene (with some help from one of my critique partners who also is an attorney) and the very last part when a spark of faith blooms within Caralynne’s heart.

Which scene was the hardest to write? 

Not sure if there was a “hardest” one. The only times it’s hard to write is when I get writing block. I know then it’s time to brainstorm with friends or my husband. Once I’m past there, I’m good to go again. :)

If  The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman  was turned into a movie, which actors do you think would best portray what you imagined for your main characters? Can you describe a few main physical features that they have?  

This is always a toughie for me, because unlike most writers, I seldom can picture my characters as any actor. Sometimes some traits are similar; but the faces and their lives get in the way.

Do you have any other books in the making? Can you give us a sneak peak of what it’s going to be about? 

I’ve already been encouraged to do two more books, but I’m not sure about that! J
The second book (unnamed yet) after The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman begins with a kidnapping. Elder Simmons, the antagonist, will not let go. He is determined to wreck vengence upon the MacFarlands, even if he has to do it from prison.

Cara and Dayne, now happily married, go through trials that will shatter their self-complacency and test their love. Dayne will be lied about and like Joseph in the Bible must hold steady for God’s timing. Cara has suffered hurts and abuse from her former marriage. With Dayne she thought everything would be smooth sailing. But when the lies surface, can she trust him, does she love him enough to stay strong for his sake? Will her mustard seed faith grow or be uprooted?

I’m always working on several novels at a time. I have several new ones, one of which my agent is beginning to shop, set in Montana about an inexperienced detective who’s out to solve the mystery of her older brother’s murder. In the meantime she has to find the psychopath who’s out to destroy Jamieson’s Outfitters. 

I’m working on the second book of a suspense series set in the WWII era, a historical, and several other “second” books in series I’ve begun. 

A writer never runs out of ideas!

Do you like to read as much as you like to write?  Who is your favorite author? 

I don’t have any specific favorite writer. I love so many secular and inspirational writers. This past year I parted with many books, but I’ve learned that some books are keepers--those which are particularly enjoyable and have made an impact on me, and those of friends whose books I’ve received or purchased. I love seeing rows of books from classics to childhood to friends, fiction and non-fiction, lining my shelves. J

What are two things that people wouldn't normally know about you as a writer and or person? 

* I work best when home alone (not at a eating/coffee place). Too many people to watch to concentrate on writing.
* I love a man’s ability to play a sax or piano more than a woman. I don’t know why; just appreciate their touch, I think, more than a woman’s.

Anything else about writing, yourself, or your books you’d like to add? Where can readers find out more about your books? 

The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman is about a cult, abuse, revenge and redemption. It’s about Hope Shining Through the Darkness. Release date is September 30, but it’s ON SALE RIGHT NOW (print) here:

I also have a mystery coming out in October called, Hog Insane, and no, it’s not about pigs. Denton and Alex Davies, retirees, and their dog, Taffy, are traveling several months a year. When they venture to Tennessee they are on the lookout for their minister and his wife’s nephew, to pass on a message. Instead they find his body.

What question would you like to ask your readers?
Would you rather laugh throughout a book or be stirred to action? (nothing wrong with either!)

About the book:
How far would YOU go to avenge a daughter’s cruel death? Cara is considered rebellious and inappropriate to befriend. Dayne is the apple of Elder Simmons’ eye—until he takes a stand against their teachings. Can his prayers and love reach Cara and show her the way to redemption? Will Cara realize God’s love and forgiveness before she goes too far?

The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman is a novel of hope shining through the darkness with strong elements of suspense and romance. This novel was a semifinalist in the Genesis contest. Release date is September 30, 2013 from the Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, an ACFW approved publisher. The preorder link for the book which is on SALE NOW is:


The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman

Carole Brown

Chapter One

Twenty years earlier
The shadow creatures on the wall shook their wings and legs. Heads with horns nodded. Scary, dark faces watched.
The little girl clasped her floppy-eared rabbit against her chest and stared into the dark.
“Mmm …” Mommy’s murmur reached to her through the walls, and the giggles from her mother tiptoed in, shooing the fear away.
Whoosh. She blew out a breath and squeezed her rabbit tighter. “Mommy has a friend with her, Ramsey. She loves me just like I love you and will give me hugs in the morning after the man leaves.”
Ramsey said nothing. She ran her fingers over his face and could feel his black button eyes staring at her, trusting her to protect him.
“And she’ll read to us and I’ll sit on her lap and we’ll snuggle—all of us together.” She nodded and tugged on Ramsey’s left ear then rolled over.
Real live whispers and laughter floated into the room.
Opening her mouth in a wide yawn, she patted Ramsey’s tummy and whispered again, “Don’t be afraid. I’m right here.”
“Please. That hurts.”
“Mommy?” The little girl frowned but her eyes wouldn’t open. Just like they did when she and mommy put cucumbers slices on their eyes. 
“Stop it—”
             Rubbing at her eyes the little girl sat up. Mommy had never sounded like this before, and neither had any of the men—the men who brought flowers and candy and money.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Story is in the Details

The Story is in the Details
By Margaret Daley

We all know that character and plot are important elements to writing, but I'm here to remind you of the importance of the details in your story. I had a friend tell me she sent out her book for endorsements. When one endorser emailed her with her endorsement (a good one), she casually asked my friend what happened to one character. My friend had the character in book one. He was the adoptive son of the hero and heroine of that book. In book two she forgot to mention the child. This series was about a family. She couldn't believe it had gone through edits and many reads by various people and no one asked about the little boy.

I had a series where I changed the name of the deceased husband of the heroine from book one when she was a secondary character to book three when she was the heroine. But a reader asked me about it. I had to fess up that I had made a mistake.

It can be hard to keep all the details of one book straight, let alone details of a series where the characters are in more than one book, and you share a town or location across the books in the series. So how do you keep track of all those details?

You need to keep track of them before you write the book/series, during it and afterwards. There are a lot of ways you can do it. I use charts I've created on Excel as well as a pad of paper I have for the story. Some people use different kinds of software programs that are out there (example: Scrivener). Others use spreadsheets or hard copies of what they need (example: putting the details up on a pegboard or in a notebook).

What do you keep track of? Some of the elements you track are your characters (everything about them from their appearance to goals, conflict and motivation), plot (main and sub plots--all details), setting, point of view, timeline of story, weather, logistics in a scene, questions that need answered in the story, research and anything else pertaining to your story.

In every book there are a lot of details you need to keep straight. That is why it is important to have some kind of system other than just your memory to help you keep up with all the details. Take time to think of what works best for you. Investigate different methods of tracking all the details in a story and then use one. This becomes evident especially when you write a complex story with many characters and subplots like my October book from Abingdon Press, Severed Trust. If you don't keep the details straight as you write it will cause you a lot of problems and more work later in the book (not to mention mistakes in the story).

It will save you time in the long run if you have a system. You won't have to dig through your manuscript trying to verify a detail because you will have it down in your system you used. Also, you won't receive reader letters about the detail you messed up. But mostly, it won't stop someone reading your story because he or she is trying to figure out what is going on and is getting confused. Whether this is an agent, editor or reader, you don't want someone confused. You want them to keep reading.

Remember the story is in the details, so keep track of those details.

Blurb for Severed Trust, The Men of the Texas Rangers Series:
The day Sadie Thompson finds her high school student, Lexie, asleep in class and can't wake her is the day she realizes how entrenched a prescription drug ring is in her school. As Sadie is pulled into doing something about the growing problem, she becomes involved with Ethan Stone—a Texas Ranger who suspects the drug ring reaches far beyond the high school. Helping Lexie recover from the overdose, Sadie feels she is making a difference—until the 16-year-old's best friend dies from the apparent mixing of various prescription drugs. Lexie doesn't think her friend took her own life, but her relationship with her Uncle Ethan is precarious and she doesn’t know if either he or Sadie will help her discover the truth.

Bio for Margaret Daley:
Margaret Daley is an award winning, multi-published author in the romance genre. She has written inspirational romance and romantic suspense books for the Steeple Hill Love Inspired lines, romantic suspense for Abingdon Press and historical romance for Summerside Press. She has sold ninety-two books to date. 

Monday, September 23, 2013


Ellen Edwards Kennedy (aka EEK) grew up in Miss Prentice’s region of far northern New York State and lived with her husband and children across the South and West.

Along with the Miss Prentice Mysteries, she is the author of a Christian romance novella, "The Applesauce War," in the anthology, THE FARMER'S BRIDE, from Barbour Books; and ANOTHER THINK COMING, a mystery set in Texas scheduled for future publication by Sheaf House. Book Two in the Miss Prentice series, DEATH DANGLES A PARTICIPLE, follows the further adventures of Amelia, Gil, Vern and Lily in the wintry North Country and book three that introduces us to Amelia and friends as teenagers, MURDER IN THE PAST TENSE, is currently in production. Ellen writes weekly articles at The Wordsmith Journal Magazine. Her column about writing and the Christian life is called "Behind the Mystery."

Ellen is a member of The Suspense Sisters, American Christian Fiction Writers, Christian Author's Network, Light of Carolina Writers, Sisters in Crime and MurderMustAdvertise.

She and her husband live in North Carolina, are born-again Christians, and the happy, blessed grandparents of five little answers to prayer.
One of the best things about the Suspense Sisters is that we’re all believers, even if some of the fictional characters we create, um, aren’t. I can’t speak for everybody, but I couldn’t get a story on paper without stirring a prayer into my pen’s ink. (Okay, I use a keyboard, but it was really hard to find a nice metaphor for that.)

Anyway, when I pray for something, these request prayers tend to fall under some specific categories, in no particular order:

1)      A Place to Write. Some people have an office. I know of one writer who would check into a hotel with a pad, pen and a Bible and not come out until she’d written something. I can’t afford that, so I have a nice spot just around the corner from the laundry room, downwind from the kitchen, within earshot of telephone and doorbell. When I began my career as a writer, it was writing :30 and :60 second commercials for radio and TV, smack dab in the middle of the hubbub of WSFA (Montgomery, Alabama) with a TV blaring in each and every room of the building. As for these days, the Lord knew that I didn’t want to be out of contact with the world and therefore provided me with this answer to prayer at my home. Who knows? A great writing idea may ring the doorbell at any moment.

2)      Something To Write About.  Which takes us to the subject of inspiration. Many and many’s the time I’ve been stuck for a writing idea—especially blog ones—only to have it float into my head as I’m shampooing my hair. Something about soap and water combined with prayer seems to promote thought. My prayers have increased in the past few weeks as I struggle with the third book in the Miss Prentice series. I have what I believe is a fun story, but it needs more excitement, more menace, which is what I’m trying to add. The temptation is always to go for the shock of explicit violence, sex and language, but to paraphrase Olympic runner Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire: “When I don’t write like that, I kin feel His pleasurrrrre.”

3)      The Confidence to Try. Every writer has experienced it, I think. One day you read your work and say to yourself, “What absolute baloney! I’ve half a mind to delete (or tear up or burn) the whole thing.” Don’t, because a few days later, you’ll read it again and say to yourself, “Did I write this? Brilliant!” It’s truly painful, but I can confess it now after many years: I actually flunked out of grad school because I was afraid to try. I’d encountered some challenges along the way and became literally fearful of trying and messing up again. Looking back, I realize that God had a good plan for my future that probably involved this screw-up. During this time, somebody shared the Plan of Salvation with me, and while I still flunked out, something deep inside me knew that I had been given the Way Out of my own mess. So I consult Him whenever that old familiar theme of “You’ll never get this done right, etc.” attacks. Many writers are sensitive creatures. That’s what makes them good writers. They need a loving Hand to give them the confidence to keep on.

4)      Let It Bless People. When a writer is a Christian, she (or he) wants to be a blessing to the reader. Some offer a wonderful fictional love story (Francine Rivers), others a non-fiction book that challenges the heart (Beth Moore), still others write fiction with a mysterious puzzle in the middle (any of the Suspense Sisters). All of us, whether we write fiction or nonfiction, want to provide a good, satisfying, uplifting experience for our audience. If we write to entertain, we want to do it wholesomely. If we write to inspire, we want to do it winsomely. All of this requires prayer, vigorously stirred into the ink.

5)      Let Me Have The Right Priorities. While writing is the vocation I’ve taken up since my children are all grown, it is by no means my chief priority. My family is. Obviously, there are conflicts at times. Family members understand—sort of, sometimes—that writing is a real job. I don’t think I’m the only one with this dilemma.

6)      Let It Bless You.  When we are blessed with a job to do, whether fixing a leaky pipe, changing a stinky diaper, pleading a case in court or writing the next blockbuster novel, we as Christians are to do it “as unto the Lord,” that is, as if He were really right there in the room. And He is. We are His representatives here, His face. In the words of a popular slogan, “You are the only Jesus some people will ever know.” It’s important to be the kindest, most forgiving, most honest, most understanding, most patient, happiest Jesus people around. When we let Him help us to do what we have to do, once in a precious while, we will “feel His pleasurrrre.”

What do you pray for in your work? Leave a comment sharing your favorite prayer requests and I’ll enter you in a drawing for a wonderful Death Dangles a Participle T-shirt, chic, smart and suitable for all occasions! (Except maybe the Opera and church.)


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hook 'Em on the Way In; Punch 'Em on the Way Out

Hi, Suspense and Mystery Fans.

Jill Elizabeth Nelson here with a sneak-peak behind the scenes at one way all writers, but suspense/mystery writers in particular, work to capture your interest in our stories. At the end of the post, leave a response to the final question, and you will be entered to win a copy of my upcoming release, Frame Up. The book releases in January 2014, but the winner of this drawing will get their copy as soon as I have my advance copies, which could be as soon as next month!

Imagine a fish eyeing a tasty morsel dangling on the end of your fishing line. If you jig that treat just right . . . it strikes! Now the fish is on the hook, and you can reel it in, taking the creature exactly where you want it to go. A hook in a story works much the same way. With every individual scene and chapter, a writer must present a tasty morsel in such a way that the reader is compelled to follow your story wherever you want to take them. A dull hook will lose a potential reader within a paragraph or two, or even a line or two.

Readers who seek primarily to feed their intellect or to gain information will pick up a work of non-fiction. Readers who buy novels are hungry primarily for an emotionally resonant experience that satisfies them at gut level. This emotionally resonant experience hinges on maintaining and escalating tension moment-by-moment throughout the story, but especially in the opening lines of each and every chapter and scene.

Here is an opening hook that does NOT work. (Don’t worry. It’s not from anyone’s published book.) Why does this hook not work? Ask yourself if this opening contains any element that communicates tension or emotion.

Hayley Jones walked off the plane and onto the tarmac of the small airport.

Certainly, the sentence conveys vital information—the name of the character, what the character is doing and where; however, information minus emotion equals stagnation. There is no hint of a story here to intrigue us to read on!

Here is an opening that works in one simple line. (Again, not from a published book.) Why does it work? (Hint: Is there any word choice that evokes emotion or tension?)

Aimee huddled in the corner of the room.

This line contains all of the informational elements from the line that didn’t work—the character’s name, what the character is doing where—but it also captures that all-important element of tension, as well as suggesting the emotion of fear. Someone huddled in the corner of a room cannot be in a good situation, and the reader will crave to know more. There are a gazillion different directions a writer can take the story from here, but the reader is hooked and will avidly follow where the story leads.

While the opening hook is vital to a story, the punch at the end of each scene and chapter plays a role of equal importance. During the editing process, our hooks and punches are among the first aspects of the story that we should inspect.

Hooks and punches can be subtle, with the action primarily mental or emotional, or they can be high action and overt. But subtle or overt, these elements must be relevant to the story and contribute to the novelist’s supreme goal—to provide the reader with an Emotionally Resonant Reading Experience.

I think of the punch as a “gasp moment.” If a writer leaves the reader sucking in his breath, naturally he must turn the page to find out what happens next—and that next thing should be a sharp, fresh hook.

How can a writer deliver that all-important closing punch?

One approach is a twist or a surprise. The reader is now knocked off balance by an unexpected, yet plausible, development and must keep on reading to find out how this turn of events affects the characters.

Another approach is “the resolution.” A scene concludes with a character forming a resolve that defies the odds and the reader has reason to anticipate will be tested to the max. The resolution must be of the sort that keeping or not keeping it will dramatically impact the character’s well-being, as well as the lives of other characters.

Another type of punch is the cliff-hanger. The chapter or scene closes with a central character in a dire predicament, so naturally, the reader must turn the page to see how the character escapes—or not.

A more subtle and yet highly emotional punch could be called “the moment of truth.” This type of chapter or scene closing might depict the central character discovering a new realization that stuns her and sheds a different light on everything that has gone before and inevitably will impact all that is yet to come.

Here is a closing punch that does NOT work. Why not?

Tristan picked up his menu. “Let’s get some dinner. We could be here a while.”

Where is the tension and emotion? Let’s see if we can infuse these necessary elements into the mundane act of ordering dinner.

Tristan gripped his menu. Fine! If that’s the way she wanted to play it, he could be Mr. Cool-as-a-Cucumber. He unlocked his clenched jaw and sat back. “Let’s get some dinner,” he told his brother. “We could be here a while.” Tristan’s gaze cut to the elegant female seated at the corner table. He could wait her out. No sweat, right?

Now the reader has a conflict to sink their chops into. If the writer has set up the scenario properly, there will be valuable stakes involved in who waits out whom, and the reader will ache to find out who wins the contest of wills, and they will also feel Tristan’s internal conflict of determination edged with a hint of self-doubt.

Dear Readers, please share with us an "opening hook" or "closing punch" from a book you particularly enjoyed. That quick little share will qualify you to be in the drawing for Frame Up.

Friday, September 13, 2013


I started to write, or claim I wanted to, years ago. I remember a friend of my mother’s back in my hometown saying that she was worried that “Ellen is going to write about us,” as though I was going to lay bare some kind of local secret. Poignantly, this lady and the friend to whom she confided both went to their rewards long before I ever got published. She misjudged me, anyway. I don’t write exposes, even if I did know of anything to expose. (What and who--I mean whom--was she talking about, anyway?)

If you’re reading this, you probably love to read, so we’re both members of the same club. I’ve always loved books and as a little girl, used to accompany my parents to a quaintly-named shop called The Corner Bookstore which was appropriately located at a corner. (It’s still there under another name, and it carries old & used books and smells like cats. It didn’t smell like cats when I was a child.) It became my dream to own such a store, with bookshelves ascending to the ceiling. I would have read all of them—at least it was so in my dream.

I did well in English, if you didn’t ask my 8th grade English teacher, Miss O. She was a stringent kind of person. One Monday morning, I had forgotten to look up a huge batch of vocabulary words and of course, she called on me. The only thing I could think to do was to hold up the little paperback dictionary we used and say, “Well, they’re all in here.” She was not amused.

In high school, I went out for dramatics and as luck would have it, a rather squirrelly (my adolescent description of her) English teacher was the director of the Senior Play. It was called June Mad and is still listed among the Samuel French plays. I was cast as the mother and was supposed to give a kiss to the boy playing the father. I balked; so did he. When the director insisted that the kiss stay in the play, I stalked up the auditorium aisle and out the door. As I left, I could hear the teacher, never one to waste an opportunity, refer to one of the week’s vocabulary words. “And that, students, is an example of high dudgeon!”

In college, I opted to become a history major. It was fascinating. I love history. I had a number of classes with the head of the department, Dr. C, who had a kind of chip on his shoulder about the fact that there were more girls than boys on this particular campus. Every Friday, as we exited his Current Events class, the last of the day, he would call out in a molasses-soaked Southern accent. “That’s right, gals, have a good weekend, and make sure you come back with a rang [ring]!” He was crazy, but his wife was a sane and kindly English teacher who encouraged me to submit my essay (about the time my Southern mother did a radio commercial for Hush Puppy shoes on a local radio station in Northern New York) to the campus literary magazine, circulation approximately 100. They accepted it! I was a published writer! Take that, Miss O!

After college, I found that jobs starring on Broadway were scarce (I had something to prove to that senior class director!), but I was able to find a job with a local television station and later an advertising agency, writing and producing local commercials. (Yeah, I’m that person. Sorry!) That lasted until I married and we started our family.


Our daughters were now in school, and while I’d written a few interview articles for a local art magazine (“Tell me, Beau, how do you get your ducks to look so real?”), the idea of writing an honest-to goodness book sort of called to me. I’ve told the story before of how I threw a paperback novel across the kitchen and declared in clarion tones, “Even I could write a better book than that!” Well, it took another ten years, several online classes and a raft of false starts, but finally I typed “The End” on the page and learned that I wasn’t finished by a long shot.

The experiences I had in trying to get the book published gave me a jaded attitude about the industry. I pictured agents and editors as frail creatures, as easily spooked as fawns if you didn’t address them properly, with squinting eyes behind coke bottle glasses, only able to read double-spaced 12 point Times New Roman type on twenty-pound paper, which must never be stapled or fastened together, because their delicate arms could only lift one page at a time. Virtually helpless, they were unable to contact you unless your manuscript was accompanied by a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Their fingers were presumably painfully arthritic, because most of them seemed unable to type, only able to respond to your submission with a terse boilerplate note, using your very own envelope, saying something about how the work you poured your life’s blood into “doesn’t meet our needs at this time.”

Does that sound bitter? I felt bitter.

But not any more. Two things changed my mind:

I found an angel incarnate publisher who adored my book and wanted to publish it! (Cue white-robed children’s choir singing “Ah!” in quivering tremolo.)

For two years, I was a judge for Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published Book contest.

Two words describe my experience: Oi vay! I now knew what editors went through trying to swim through the sea of submissions. I very nearly drowned. I’m one of those people who can’t stand to see a misplaced apostrophe and here I was, struggling through book after unedited book. And I was required to write a critique of each one. It must be admitted, that I came across several excellent books and I made my opinion clear. However, being tactful about the drawbacks of thirty-five other books that you’ve read cringingly in the space of two months is a monumental task, even when you don’t identify with the hopeful authors.

And I did identify.

I am now retired from the judgeship, but you may still call me “Your Honor.”

So bless you, editors everywhere. And bless you, my dear, dear publisher who “gets” me and is willing to take a risk on my view of the world. You deserve every penny of those big bucks that you are paid.


Please leave a comment, (being sure to include your email address in there somewhere) and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a solid paperback copy of my most recent book, DEATH DANGLES A PARTICIPLE!




Wednesday, September 11, 2013


What a beautiful day!  Brilliant September sunshine, bright blue skies, and 80 degrees—after days of blistering heat, this is wonderful! Eastern Iowa is one of the best-kept secrets in the US, with its quiet back roads, deeply rolling hills, timber and sparkling creeks.  People mix up Iowa, Ohio, and Idaho all the time when I say where I'm from, and even when they know its Iowa, they think of flat farm fields and livestock.  But that's okay…being a secret keeps life more peaceful here! :)

We live out in the country, and my office windows look out on our wood-fenced corrals and the pastures beyond, where the three horses are grazing, their summer-slick coats gleaming in the sunshine.  Across the fence, a dozen beautiful, wildly marked paint weanlings are romping in the neighbor's pastures--providing no end of amusement to our border collie, who is always safely contained in our yard or on our deck. 

The moment he sees them, Elmo is a study in total concentration.  Head low, ears pricked, body crouched, he stares at them for hours on end, his intensity deepening when they scatter. Our son Brian says we need to buy two sheep, so Elmo can spend his days keeping them together.  He is a dog with a mission--but one without a job.  Which got me thinking, this morning.  Elmo knows what he is and what he needs to do.  He never loses sight of that, even though he can't get close to anything he can herd.

What about the rest of us...are we blessed with direction and determination from the beginning?  Have we followed through?  Or have some of us found our true desires later in life?  My daughter is already determined to be a writer.  She is now midway through writing her second full manuscript while in the midst of graduate school studies, so I have no doubt that she has the drive, and that she can reach her goal if she stays on course.  I didn't start writing until we had grade-school aged children...and wish I'd started much, much sooner.   

The heroines in our books, here at suspensesisters, are all (or become, in the course of their story) strong women determined to pursue their goals.  How about you?  What would you love to do?  Have you followed your heart?  Become what you want to be?  Is there something you could do toward that goal now, even if it can't be achieved any time soon? I think real-life stories about strong, determined women are so empowering.  And now, I'd love to hear about you! 


Monday, September 9, 2013


By Gayle Roper
Did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ended up hating Sherlock Holmes? Agatha Christie also developed a severe dislike for Hercule Poirot.

Why would a writer dislike his or her own creation? Because the characters were too unique.

The following quotes are from Murder in a Minor Key by D. A. Crossman, and they all reveal much about the lead character in what was to be a series. I love Albert; he’s very unique. I submit he may be too unique to carry a series.

(Albert) was struggling to keep from forgetting the next two measures. If only he hadn't spilled beer on the tape recorder. They said that's why it didn't work anymore, though he couldn't see what one had to do with the other.

"Middle Ages," Albert echoed again. He'd discovered that echoing things made people think he was listening, leaving his mind free to dwell on music. Most of the time it worked.

That evening Albert found a tin of sardines and some peanut butter for supper. There wasn't any bread, but the sardines and peanut butter worked well anyway. He found some milk and some Ding Dongs too. Several days' debris had fetched up on the Naugahyde recliner; he pushed it aside, made room for his feet on an upright trumpet case, and began his dinner.

(Albert goes to the police station to visit a friend in jail ...)
He hadn't been prepared for the search. He didn't watch enough TV. It was embarrassing and they seemed suspicious when they couldn't find anything in his pockets but a sax reed and a tidal chart. It took him a long time to remember where the chart came from, then he realized he must have gotten it when he went to see his mother in Maine last year. He used the sax reed as a guitar pick. They asked him why he didn't have a wallet or any money. He said he didn't own a wallet. He didn't need folding money or credit cards. They didn't fit into cigarette machines.

He dialed "O".
"Thank you for using AT&T, may I help you?"
The last time Albert had called the operator it was a woman and she just said "operator".  Now it was a man, and he gave a speech. Albert fought the urge to hang up.
(Albert goes to the college library to look for help in his detecting)
A cursory search of the school library came up blank on the Hardy Boys, despite boasting seven million volumes. Nevertheless they had a copy of The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Ten hours later they wanted to close the library. They insisted. It never occurred to Albert to take the book home. He tucked it back on the shelf.

He had meant to buy a light bulb, but they didn't sell them at Dunkin' Donuts. In the past he had simply transferred bulbs from room to room. Now there was only one left, by the bed. He'd have to move soon.

Albert went quietly with the young sergeant who smelled of Aqua Velva. Albert had always liked that smell. He wondered why some people had it and others didn't.

He had always lived alone, even growing up with his mother and sister.

(Albert returns after a stay in the hospital).
He arrived late for his first class to find someone else teaching it. It was the right room, the one with the cracked window, they were the right students, as far as he could tell, but there was someone else teaching them. He was just about to leave, to go find another job, when one of the students rose and began clapping, then another, and another, until they were all on their feet.  Albert looked behind him; there was no one there. Even the teacher was clapping.

"Welcome back, Professor," she said as she stepped aside and gestured widely toward the lectern.
Albert hesitated. "Where was I?" he said.

Gayle here again:
Albert is great fun, but the author has created a problem for himself in terms of a series character. If Albert becomes aware enough to continue to solve murders, he will have to lose all the characteristics that make him the naïve charming absentminded professor. He will have to become aware, alert to life around him. Then he will no longer be Albert. A search on Amazon shows there is one more Albert book, Dead in D Minor.

The lesson for us all is when we create our characters, we must be certain that their character arcs don’t destroy the very qualities we gave them. We must also certain we can live with them for several years. We will be keeping close company for that long even if it’s only a three book series.





Friday, September 6, 2013

Interview with Elizabeth Ludwig

Elizabeth Ludwig is the award-winning author of No Safe Harbor, Book One in the Edge of Freedom series. Her popular literary blog, The Borrowed Book, enjoys a wide readership. Elizabeth is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit

SS:  What do you consider to be the highlight of your writing journey? (you can have more than one)

Anyone who has ever tried their hand at writing knows—there are many highs and lows. I can still remember the extreme elation I felt the day I learned I’d sold my first book…and the despair I felt when I learned that the two subsequent books in the series would not be published. I remember the excitement I felt the day I signed with my dream agent, and the doubt I experienced when I realized that though I now had contracts and an agent, I would still receive rejections.
Through all of that, the one thing that has remained constant, the one thing that has brought me hope in the midst of both joy and despair, has been the promise of God. The day I knew I was called to write, He shared a passage of scripture with me from Habakkuk 2:2-3 which states, Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.
To this day, I would have to say the highlight of my writing journey has been receiving confirmation from the Lord that I was in His will.

SS:  As a professional writer, how do you juggle writing with other responsibilities and family?  

Oh my goodness…let me just say that dishes and laundry no longer carry the same importance! LOL!

On top of writing fulltime, I’m also a fulltime secretary. Thankfully, I have a very supportive family, because when I’m on a deadline, I really need to call on them to step up and help with some of the things I normally do.

Finally, I would say learning to be disciplined has made all the difference. When I have a deadline to meet, I go into postal mode—come rain, sleet, or shine, I’m making my word count. J

SS:  Tell us about the moment you finally felt like a “real author”?

I think that would have to be the day I first saw one of my books in a book store. Talk about a thrill! It was really hard for me not to break into song and hold my book up like Rafiki in The Lion King.

SS: Growing up, what books and authors did you love most?

When I was younger, I loved to read fantasy—things that included magic, or fairies, or damsels in distress. One of my favorites was a small children’s book called No Flying in the House by Betty Brock. The book is about a child named Annabel Tippens. Annabel is a little girl “with short blond hair and very good manners” (taken from the book description on Flying in the House by Betty Brock). She seems quite ordinary, except that she’s also half fairy—and instead of parents, she has a two-inch high dog named Gloria.

Well, you can imagine that for a kid who loved to read, this book was extraordinary.  I read it over and over again, and dreamed of the day I would learn to fly.

When I got into my teen years, it was more about the romance (imagine that) and history. I read A LOT. I guess that carried over because now, my favorite books are usually books with history, romance, and of course, a bit of suspense.

SS:   Tell us about your specific brand of suspense?  

My brand of suspense is a little different than most, in that I took a chance by combining it with historical fiction. Normally, readers looking for suspense tend toward contemporary fiction, but I noticed while I was preparing my series idea that year after year, Historical Romance placed very high on editor’s acquisitions lists. Fans of this genre tend to be very loyal. They clamor for books that whisper of a bygone era, when life was hard but uncluttered and people cared for themselves and one another. With that in mind, I worked on crafting a series that could only be called Historical Romantic Suspense.
Combining these enduring genres is not a concept I created. It began with authors like Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney. I believe there is a strong audience for readers seeking books that mingle the search for love and hope, with danger and intrigue.
SS:  In addition to becoming a writer, what other dreams do you hope to accomplish in your life?

I’ve always wanted to learn to ballroom dance. Like…really dance. My dream is to one day receive a phone call from Tom Bergeron during which I will happily respond, “Why yes, Tom, I would love to be on Dancing with the Stars.” J

SS:   Tell us about your current release.

I just released Book #2 in my Edge of Freedom Series called Dark Road Home. The book follows the story of Ana Kavanagh. As a girl, Ana was the only survivor of a terri

At a nearby parish she meets and finds a kindred spirit in Eoghan Hamilton, who is struggling with his own anger--his sister, Cara, betrayed him by falling in love with one of his enemies. Cast aside by everyone, Eoghan longs to rejoin the Fenians, a shadowy organization pushing for change back in Ireland. But gaining their trust requires doing some favors--all of which seem to lead back to Ana. Who is she and who is searching for her? As dark secrets from Ana's past begin to come to light, Eoghan must choose which road to follow--and where to finally place his trust.
ble blaze, and years later she still struggles with her anger at God for letting it happen.

SS:  What’s the story’s takeaway?

There’s a unifying message in all three of the books in the Edge of Freedom Series. It’s one that I hope will speak to everyone who reads them, but rather than tell you what it is, I’d like to show you from a line taken from Dark Road Home:

“My dear, braw lad,” Cara whispered, “your faith was never in God. It was the church you followed, and the Fenians, not the Savior.”

SS:    What are you working on now?

Along with three other authors, I’m currently working on a Christmas anthology collection for Barbour Publishing called Christmas Comes to Bethlehem, Maine, which is due to release in September, 2014. I’m also working on another Historical Romantic Suspense series proposal for Bethany House which has to do with the Spiritualist Movement that swept across America in the 1800’s. No news on that one yet, but I’ll let you know! ;-)

SS:   Now let’s get a little personal. When you have the chance to relax and enjoy life, what do you do?

Well, let’s see…aside from reading and writing, I love to ski, and I have a ridiculous number of dogs. Someday, I’ll write a book about my life and call it Downhill Dachshunds: Keeping up with the Pack.

SS:  If you were a billionaire, what kind of charity or foundation would you start?

I really had to think about this one…

At one time, my husband and I worked in Youth Ministry together, and I still remember how much I wanted to help those students come to a real and lasting faith in Jesus Christ. If I were a billionaire, I think I would want to start some kind of youth organization/outreach that ministered to the lost and un-churched students in my area.

SS: Where can readers find you on the internet?

I have a website at and a blog at, but my favorite place to connect is still on facebook. I hope you’ll stop by!

SS: What advice would you give aspiring writers?  

I have tried to learn something from every manuscript I’ve ever written, whether they were published or not. From my historicals, I’ve learned how important it is to research every detail of my story, from the fabrics women wore to the building materials that were in use. With my mysteries, I learned the techniques for creating tension and planting clues. I guess my advice to aspiring writers is this…never stop learning. No matter what genre you’re in, be teachable, because more than anything else, writing is a job. Only those who are willing to work the hardest will be successful.

Great advice! And wonderful interview. You have a delightful voice!

Elizabeth is giving away a copy of her book! Please leave a comment with your contact information to be placed in the drawing.