Welcome to the Killer Nashville Blog!

As of January 2015 this blog will be relocated to our main website. Please join us there: http://www.killernashville.com/blog/

Welcome to the Killer Nashville Blog, a meeting place for those who love mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and other crime literature. If you have ever attended, presented at, or volunteered for the Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference, or if you are just a reader or writer of any of the mystery/thriller/suspense writing genres, come join us for a Killer Conversation.

For more information on Killer Nashville: A Conference for Thriller, Suspense, Mystery Writers & Literature Lovers visit our website at http://www.killernashville.com.

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The Problem With Reality / Author Warren Bull

The writing process is fraught with pitfalls. Remove the usual suspects like procrastination and lack of time and you still have real limitations. In this week’s blog, author Warren Bull muses about the writing process and how, sometimes, reality is hard to accept.

Happy Reading!

Clay Stafford
Founder of Killer Nashville


KNPHOTO BULL

Warren Bull

The Problem With Reality
By Warren Bull

During my thirty years as a clinical psychologist, I saw many people who had problems discerning what was and was not real.  I assure you those who cannot identify and react to what the great majority of people experience as reality have very difficult and unpleasant life experiences.  When your own perceptions betray you, the world is uncertain. Anxiety and depression are frequent reactions to the uncertainty.  The use of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs in an attempt to moderate internal states makes sense at some level.

I am fond of reality. I recommend it over all other contenders.  As a writer, however, reality presents a number of real limitations. I see other people who have problems with reality. Here are mine:

  • Realism in writing is hard to achieve.  Realistic-sounding dialogue is quite unlike actual dialogue.  Court transcripts don’t make fascinating reading.  Casual conversation is even less enthralling — full of “ums,” unfinished sentences, clichés, and people talking over each other. It’s important to listen to real conversations, maybe even reading your own writing aloud, to make sure that it flows.
  • Coincidence is an issue in plotting.  As the old saw has it, Heartland, Warren Bulltruth is stranger than fiction.  Happenstance is hard to convey believably.  As my statistics professor once explained, unlikely events happen much more frequently than people expect. In horse racing, for example, bettors consistently over-estimate the odds the favorite will win. Sadly, even with this knowledge, my professor was no better at picking winners than anyone else. How to eliminate coincidence? Foreshadow. Set the reader up so that when something happens, when they look back, they can see that it was always coming.
  • Believability is always at issue. Over the years in the course of my work I have known, among others, people who sold drugs at the wholesale level, people who sold their bodies to survive, people convicted of murder, and people who killed other people for money. On most of the occasions when I wrote about these people, the feedback I received was that my writing lacked credibility. Just because something happened, does not mean describing reality accurately will appear factual to readers. The solution to this is to create characters who are real and then pepper them with the unbelievable and memorable.

These are my problems with reality (and a few solutions). What are yours?


If you would like to read more about Warren Bull’s books please visit our website.

Warren Bull has won a number of awards including Best Short Story of 2006 from the Missouri Writers’ Guild, and The Mysterious Photo Contest in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January/February 2012. Forty of his published short stories and novels, Abraham Lincoln for the Defense, Heartland, and Murder in the Moonlight are available at http://www.warrenbull.com/kindle_editions.html. Two short story collections, Murder Manhattan Style and Killer Eulogy and Other Stories are available at http://store.untreedreads.com/. He blogs at http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/. Warren is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime and an active member of Mystery Writers of America.  His website is http://www.warrenbull.com/.


Have an idea for our blog? Then share it with our Killer Nashville family. With over 24,000 visits monthly to the Killer Nashville website, over 300,000 reached through social media, and a potential outreach of over 22 million per press release, Killer Nashville provides another way for you to reach more people with your message. Send a query to contact@killernashville.com or call us at 615-599-4032. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks to Maria Giordano and author Tom Wood for his volunteer assistance in coordinating our weekly blogs. For more writer resources, visit us at http://www.KillerNashville.com

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Variety is the Spice of Writing – But So Is Plausibility / Author Stephen L. Brayton

The beauty of the written word is that real life can be just a jumping off point. Plus, there’s no reason to get bogged down in the same details over and over. In this week’s blog, author Stephen L. Brayton shares how he incorporates variety into his stories and why it’s so important. After all, Brayton’s heroine Mallory Petersen, a taekwondo instructor and private investigator, packs a sidekick worth getting right.

Happy Reading!

Clay Stafford
Founder of Killer Nashville


KNPHOTO BRAYTON

Stephen L. Brayton

Variety is the Spice of Writing – But So Is Plausibility
By Stephen L. Brayton

Since I’m involved in martial arts, I write a series about a character that is a taekwondo school owner as well as a private investigator. Yes, she carries a gun, but she relies on her martial arts skills more often.

I have two challenges in writing this series. First, is to create scenes where my main character, Mallory Petersen, can use her skills, and secondly, is for her to use a variety of those skills.

After all, what fun would it be for the reader if all she ever threw were a couple of punches and a front kick?

So, I’ve adapted my own training into scenes. Yes, punches and front kicks are used, but also round kicks, sweeps, sidekicks, and a variety of weapons such as the long staff and bahng mahng ee, or single stick.

I’ve been able to take some of my favorite exercises and techniques, allowing Mallory to use them in practical situations.

BETAIn an upcoming story, she has to execute with skill certain techniques to avoid being killed by an assailant wielding a knife. The situation is dire. She doesn’t have a weapon. She is also in danger of freezing, suffering from withdrawal symptoms, and can’t waste time or else somebody else dies. It’s one of those scenes designed to keep the reader on edge.

But when I create one of these scenes, I have to choreograph the movements. Many times, I’ve mentally written the order of technique-reaction-counter techniques while doing laps around the local high school track. Running, for me, is a great way to free up my mind to think about writing. When I concentrate on a problem within a story, I focus less on how my muscles hurt or that I want to quit after only a few laps.

Back home, I’ll write down the steps in order, then physically work through them, either alone or with a partner. Of course, I’m not actually going to incapacitate my partner, but I am able to get a feel for how the techniques will work. I also get a sense of time, whether the scene runs too quickly or drags and I need to add more material to spice it up a bit.

51Rs4rcwlML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One area I need to keep in mind is that Mallory is human and feels pain. My writers group has commented on this several times after I’ve read portions of Mallory’s action scenes. This is not like the movies where no one gets hurt, and the heroine fights through any injury with no consequence. Mallory experiences both pain and injury. Sure, she can grit her teeth and still fight on, but she is not Superwoman.

I know I’ve done my job well when I hear comments from readers who say they can follow the movements and know that what I’ve written, and what Mallory has accomplished, actually works.

Creating new scenarios and using the variety of martial arts techniques I know is part of the fun of writing. With that foundation, my imagination can run free to do whatever is necessary to make the scene worth reading.


If you would like to read more about Stephen L. Brayton’s books please visit our website.

Stephen L. Brayton owns and operates Brayton’s Black Belt Academy in Oskaloosa, Iowa. He is a Fifth Degree Black Belt and certified instructor in The American Taekwondo Association. He began writing as a child; his first short story concerned a true incident about his reactions to discipline. In college, he began a personal journal for a writing class; said journal is ongoing. He was also a reporter for the college newspaper. During his early twenties, while working for a Kewanee, Illinois, radio station, he wrote a fantasy-based story and a trilogy for a comic book. He has written numerous short stories both horror and mystery. His first novel, Night Shadows (Feb. 2011), concerns a Des Moines homicide investigator teaming up with a federal agent to battle creatures from another dimension. His second book, Beta (Oct. 2011) was the debut of Mallory Petersen and her search for a kidnapped girl. In August 2012, the second Mallory Petersen book, Alpha, was published. This time she investigates the murder of her boyfriend. Visit Brayton’s website at http://stephenbrayton.wordpress.com


Have an idea for our blog? Then share it with our Killer Nashville family. With over 24,000 visits monthly to the Killer Nashville website, over 300,000 reached through social media, and a potential outreach of over 22 million per press release, Killer Nashville provides another way for you to reach more people with your message. Send a query to contact@killernashville.com or call us at 615-599-4032. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks to Maria Giordano, Will Chessor, and author Tom Wood for his volunteer assistance in coordinating our weekly blogs. For more writer resources, visit us at http://www.KillerNashville.com

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Writing History Right / Author Michael Tucker

I wish I had a dime every time my mother would say, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” She was right. Look to history, or read today’s newspapers, and you’ll find an abundance of stories where human action seems unfathomable to imagine, whether violent or charitable. In this week’s blog, author Michael Tucker drives home the point that when telling a story set in history, it’s important to get facts right, down to the most specific details. After all, credibility is on the line, and readers are savvy.

Happy Reading!

Clay Stafford
Founder of Killer Nashville


Mike Tucker

Michael J. Tucker

Writing History Right
By Michael J. Tucker

Weaving actual historical events into the timeline of your story adds realism and color to the narrative and your characters. And it can be a lot of fun if, during your research, you stumble across some little known piece of trivia that causes you to say to yourself, “Gee, I didn’t know that.”

The process starts with selecting a time period. Will your characters be caught up in the Spanish Inquisition, or the Roaring 20’s? Or maybe they’ll be jitterbugging to the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B?”

Whatever period you select, you want to get the peripheries right. By peripheries, I mean those little things that surround your characters, but are not necessarily integral to the storyline. What hairstyle should the women in your story have—a bouffant, beehive, or bun? Should your African-American hero have a Jheri Curl, Hi-top fade, Afro, or Dreadlocks? When did men begin wearing earrings, gold necklaces, and open-neck shirts that showed off chest hair thick as Bermuda grass?

If you work music into your novel, be sure the song is period correct. While I was writing Aquarius Falling, a 1964 period story that takes place at a beach resort, I added Otis Redding’s, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” Perfect for the scene. Unfortunately, he didn’t record it until 1967. Luckily I discovered the mistake before publication, and learned a valuable lesson: memory can fail, so do the research.

Aquarius Falling, Michael TuckerIn Aquarius Falling, my characters were tiptoeing through history; the events surrounded them, but they weren’t part of it. For the second novel of the series, Capricorn’s Collapse, I wanted my characters deeply immersed in the events of the time. I had to look into the future, allow the characters to mature, and find an event with which my protagonist, Tom Delaney, could credibly become involved. It turned out that 1972 was a honeypot of events that yielded delicious ideas.

The year started with a literal bang when the British Army killed twenty-six unarmed civil rights protesters on January 30, in Derry, Northern Ireland, in what is referred to as, Bloody Sunday. On June 17, the break-in at the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate complex is discovered. The perpetrators are suspected of being connected to the Committee to Re-elect the President, a group with the unfortunate acronym of CREEP. PLO terrorists interrupt the Munich Olympic Games, which results in the murder of eleven Israeli athletes in what is now known as Black September.  A plane crash at Chicago’s Midway Airport on December 8, kills Dorothy Hunt, wife of Watergate conspirator, E. Howard Hunt. She is found carrying $10,000 cash.

Capricorn's Collapse, Michael TuckerThe challenge here is to put together a plausible story that connects the protagonist to these historic events.

Historical Fiction differs from the genre of Alternative History. In the former, the fictional characters are pulled into the events of the time. Ken Follett’s, The Pillars of the Earth, works through twelfth-century England during the building of a great Gothic cathedral. In Atonement, Ian McEwan leads his readers through a lie told in 1934 that alters forever the lives of two lovers during World War II. Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray exposes the oppressive regime of post World War II Soviet Russia in Lithuania.

Alternative History is what it sounds like—history altered. This genre is for those writers who really want to play God. The fictional characters engage in actions that change the outcome of history. One of the most recent applications of this is Stephen King’s 11/22/63, a time-travel effort to thwart the Kennedy assassination. Fatherland, by Robert Harris, offers a take on how the world would look if Hitler had won World War II.

Working historical events into your writing offers the pleasure of learning details that you may have forgotten about or never knew. And it gives you, the writer, the fun of saying, “What if…?”


If you would like to read more about Michael Tucker’s books please visit our website.

Michael J. Tucker is the author of two critically acclaimed novels, Aquarius Falling and Capricorn’s Collapse. He has also published a collection of short stories entitled, The New Neighbor, and a poetry collection, Your Voice Spoke To My Ear. His poem, The Coyote’s Den was included in the Civil War anthology, Filtered Through Time. Visit his website at www.michaeltuckerauthor.com


Have an idea for our blog? Then share it with our Killer Nashville family. With over 24,000 visits monthly to the Killer Nashville website, over 300,000 reached through social media, and a potential outreach of over 22 million per press release, Killer Nashville provides another way for you to reach more people with your message. Send a query to contact@killernashville.com or call us at 615-599-4032. We’d love to hear from you. And, as always, thanks to Maria Giordano and author Tom Wood for his volunteer assistance in coordinating our weekly blogs.

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Rolling. Speed. Action. Cut! … Darn, Take Two! Rewriting and the Zen of Film / Author Daco Auffenorde

If the thing to remember when purchasing property is location, location, location, then the thing to remember when writing is…well…not writing at all.  It’s rewriting.

Citing examples from Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, Lisa Scottoline, Charlie Chaplin and others, author Daco Auffenorde examines the process of rewriting, the strong case for getting the idea down and then molding it, and how absolutely critical rewriting is to achieving artistic (if not financial) success.

(And just so you know, I rewrote this intro 7 times.)

Happy Reading! And may you never run out of extra paper.

Clay Stafford
Founder of Killer Nashville


According to a 2010 CNN report, famed actor-director Charlie Chaplin demanded 342 takes just to get actress Virginia Cherrill to mouth the words “flower sir” in the silent film City Lights. Iconic director Stanley Kubrick reputedly reshot one or more scenes in The Shining over a hundred times.

Daco S. Auffenorde

Daco S. Auffenorde

Great film directors like Kubrick and Chaplin are often revered for their willingness to reshoot scenes. So why do writers believe their first draft is a perfect, one-take scene, or if they do recognize the need to rewrite, become paralyzed by the thought? I think it’s because rewriting is not only a blow to the ego, it’s also hard and time-consuming. Unlike a movie director, an author can’t call “Cut” and reshoot the scene immediately. Yet, rewriting is as critical to a good book as the retake is to a successful movie.

Stephen King told The Paris Review (Fall 2006), “Every book is different each time you revise it. Because when you finish the book, you say to yourself, ‘This isn’t what I meant to write at all.’” In 1958, also speaking to The Paris Review, Ernest Hemingway revealed that he rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms thirty-seven times and the last page thirty-nine times. According to a mid-2012 article in the New York Times, Seán Hemingway discovered after studying the collected works of his grandfather that there were actually forty-seven endings to the novel. The Telegraph added that not only was the story rewritten multiple times, but that Hemingway also compiled a list of alternative titles before he decided on the final.

What this means is that the key time in the writing process—the time when the book takes shape—is in the rewriting. So, how does the reluctant rewriter make sure her book gets the rewrite it deserves?

Take 3 … and action.

Done. The end. I’d finished writing The Scorpio Affair, the sequel to my debut suspense novel, The Libra Affair. I’d proofed it over and over, corrected typos, tinkered with sentences, cut verbiage. It had to be ready to send out to the publisher. But books are meant to be read, so before submitting my manuscript, I shared it with a trusted beta reader, and he suggested that I yell, “Cut!” and reshoot some scenes. I didn’t take his word for it right away. Instead, I put the manuscript away for a while, and then later read it on my own. He was right.

The Libra Affair, DacoI knew how I wanted The Scorpio Affair to begin and end, and those parts of the book were fine. In between, I’d taken my heroine Jordan Jakes, a CIA covert operative, on a wild ride with lots of action and intrigue. But much of Scorpio was too episodic. Many chapters told exciting, self-contained stories, but didn’t move the plot forward quickly enough. There was only one thing to do—retake. And though at first I found myself frustrated at the daunting task of an entire rewrite, I remembered that most successful authors embrace the rewrite as a fundamental step in crafting a good story. For encouragement, I recalled the King and Hemingway examples, and also this wonderful quote from best-selling author Lisa Scottoline: “They say that great books aren’t written, they’re rewritten, and whoever said that was probably drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, because they’re right.” I bought a dozen doughnuts, brewed some coffee, and started to revise The Scorpio Affair.

But here are the first two lessons about rewriting. If the process doesn’t come naturally to you, first put the manuscript away for awhile. As Neil Gaiman said, “Finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before.” It’s advice that you hear all the time, but it’s difficult to put your baby to bed even for a few weeks. And second, try to find that trusted beta reader, someone who’ll tell you candidly if there’s rewriting to be done.

There are other ways to foster the rewriting process. Writing groups can help immensely, both because you get feedback from an audience—that’s who we write for—and often because you can read your work aloud. I can’t tell you how many times words looked good on the page but have sounded slow and extraneous when read aloud. If you’re not in a writing group, you should still read aloud even if only to yourself. Your ears will tell you if your story has the right rhythm.

A final alternative—there are many good private editors/writing coaches out there. They can be expensive, so not everyone can afford them. But if you’re lucky enough to have some spare change lying around, they can be very helpful, especially in today’s publishing world, where the editorial staff expects ready-to-go manuscripts.

Take 4 … and quiet on the set.

To conclude, I’m going to advise something that might seem inconsistent with the above. In considering how much to rewrite, trust your gut. Don’t rewrite just because someone tells you it should be done. As the artist, only you can decide when your story is ready. The gaffer, grip, production designer, and cinematographer might all have good input, but you’re the director, and the final cut belongs to you.

And that’s a wrap!


If you would like to read more about Daco Auffenorde’s books please visit our website.

Born at the Naval hospital in Bethesda, Maryland and raised in Wernher von Braun’s Rocket City of Huntsville, Alabama, Daco holds a B.A. and M.A.S. from The University of Alabama in Huntsville and a J.D. from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law. When not practicing law, she’s encouraging her children to become rocket scientists and writing novels. Daco’s debut novel, The Libra Affair, an international spy thriller with romantic elements, released in April 2013, and was an Amazon #1 Bestseller of Suspense, Romantic Suspense, and Romance in September, 2013. Daco is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, Author’s Guild, and the Alabama State Bar. Visit her website at www.authordaco.com


Have an idea for our blog? Then share it with our Killer Nashville family. With over 24,000 visits monthly to the Killer Nashville website, over 300,000 reached through social media, and a potential outreach of over 22 million per press release, Killer Nashville provides another way for you to reach more people with your message. Send a query to contact@killernashville.com or call us at 615-599-4032. We’d love to hear from you. And, as always, thanks to author Tom Wood for his volunteer assistance in coordinating our weekly blogs.

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Adding Depth to Your Story / Guest Blogger Philip Cioffari

The bottom line for writing fiction (and I would also say nonfiction) is telling a good story. While Samuel Goldwyn’s advice of “if you’ve got a message, send a telegram” might be true, it defies a long tradition of creating context in crime and thriller fiction. In this week’s blog, author Philip Cioffari outlines his own path for creating relevance of premise in his latest novel Dark Road, Dead End. Using his technique, any story can be taken to a new level of pertinence and—as a result—can resonate to a larger audience, as well as educate and entertain.

Here’s long-time Killer Nashville attendee and instructor, Philip Cioffari.

Happy Reading!

Clay Stafford
Founder of Killer Nashville


As writers of fiction, our first (and arguably, our only) obligation is to tell a good story, this notion is an extension of the art-for-art’s-sake view of creative expression. In other words, art needs no justification beyond itself. It isn’t required to serve any purpose other than the pleasure it brings. That being said, I’d like to examine for a moment the ways in which good crime fiction can tell a captivating story at the same time it engages the social issues of the time in which it is written.

Philip Cioffari

Philip Cioffari

One might argue that all fiction, including crime fiction engages—in one way or another—the social order of its time. Most visibly, perhaps, it does this by reflecting moral and philosophical values via a character’s thoughts and actions, the choices a character makes to survive in a world which is almost always—in the case of crime fiction—depicted as harsh, fearsome and unforgiving. So man’s conscience is almost inevitably put to the test in any given story. But there is a strain in crime fiction that engages social issues to an even greater degree. I think, for example, of Jaden Terrell’s new novel, River of Glass, with its concern with the horrors of human trafficking, and Stacy Allen’s new novel, Expedition Indigo, which addresses the need for preserving historic artifacts in the public domain rather than for private gain.

In my own case, I’ve long been a supporter of mankind’s conscientious stewardship of our planet and its resources. I wanted to address that issue in my writing and, because I’m a novelist and not an essayist, I wanted to meld my commitment to being a good storyteller with my concern for the environment. My frequent trips over the years to the Florida Everglades provided me with the setting to accomplish that end.

I was appalled to learn that the trade in exotic and endangered species of wildlife is a multi-billion dollar industry. It stands as the world’s third largest organized crime—after narcotics, and arms running. In the state of Florida, it is second only to the illicit trade in narcotics. Despite an international ban on such trafficking, there are many “rogue” nations that do not enforce the ban and that turn a blind eye towards those who violate it. And to be sure, worldwide, there is no shortage of those willing to engage in wildlife poaching and smuggling. One reason for this is the lucrative rewards for such activities—as one U.S. Customs agent put it, “Pound for pound, there is more profit for smugglers in exotic birds [and other wildlife] than there is in cocaine.” Another appeal to the criminal mind is the low risk of being apprehended. This is a consequence of the fact that most customs agencies are understaffed and over-worked and must turn their attention to higher-profile crimes, like the trade in narcotics and guns.

The way the black market system works is this: animals are poached from all over the world, smuggled illegally out of their respective countries, then shipped thousands of miles via land and sea, and ultimately smuggled into the country of destination. The U.S. and China are the two largest consumers of such contraband. But Southeast Asia and Europe are not far behind.

I wanted to shed light on this situation, to call attention to it and—because I’m a writer of fiction—do so in as entertaining a way as possible, hence the noir suspense/thriller format of my new novel, Dark Road, Dead End. My main character is a U.S. Customs Agent in South Florida, investigating a wildlife smuggling operation based in the Everglades, a nefarious network so large it supplies endangered species to pet stores, individual collectors, and roadside zoos across the country, as well as to “reputable” municipal zoos willing to close their eyes to the illegal source of the animals they wish to exhibit. The danger he faces comes, ironically, from both sides of the law.

The more we know about such illegal operations, the more of a part, however small, we each can play in resisting them: for example, by verifying the legitimacy of the origins of the pets we buy. And the more current issues we include in our fiction, the more relevant it becomes to the readers.


If you would like to read more about Philip Cioffari’s books, please visit our website.

Philip Cioffari is the author of the noir thriller, Dark Road, Dead End. His previous three books of fiction are: the novel, Jesusville the novel, Catholic Boys; and the short story collection, A History of Things Lost or Broken, which won the Tartt Fiction Prize, and the D. H. Lawrence award for fiction. His short stories have been published widely in commercial and literary magazines and anthologies, including North American Review, Playboy, Michigan Quarterly Review, Northwest Review, Florida Fiction, and Southern Humanities Review. He has written and directed for Off and Off-Off Broadway. His indie feature film, which he wrote and directed, Love in the Age of Dion, has won numerous awards, including Best Feature Film at the Long Island Int’l Film Expo, and Best Director at the NY Independent Film & Video Festival. He is a Professor of English, and director of the Performing and Literary Arts Honors Program, at William Paterson University. Visit his website at www.philipcioffari.com


Have an idea for our blog? Then share it with our Killer Nashville family. With over 24,000 visits monthly to the Killer Nashville website, over 300,000 reached through social media, and a potential outreach of over 22 million per press release, Killer Nashville provides another way for you to reach more people with your message. Send a query to contact@killernashville.com or call us at 615-599-4032. We’d love to hear from you. And, as always, thanks to author Tom Wood for his volunteer assistance in coordinating our weekly blogs.

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Collaborations Can Be As Easy as 1-2-3 / Author Steven Womack

Writing with someone else is tricky. Most writers have their own toys, their own ideas, and they like to write in their own way. How do you keep the other person from being an intrusion rather than a partner? How do you find another person to write with at all? As a kick-off to a panel Edgar-winning author Steven Womack and Wayne McDaniel will be leading on “Collaboration” at Killer Nashville this year, Steve tells his story of working with a collaborator, how the process came to be, and what he learned from the experience. It’s excellent advice and couldn’t be timelier. Several of you have told me you are thinking of working with someone else and I’m about to start a detective series with another author myself. I love Steve Womack. I’ve known him for almost 20 years. He’s one of the best writers on the planet. He’s bright with a strong dry wit and, when I’m old with Alzheimer’s, I’ll still be remembering Steve’s wonderful fictional Private Investigator Harry James Denton until the day I die. I’ve just started his new book Resurrection Bay; the first page hooked me. You’ll definitely see a review in our Killer Nashville Book of the Day series.

So, let’s get started. Here’s Steve. Happy Reading! And best of luck to you in your collaborations.

 

 

 

Clay Stafford
Founder of Killer Nashville


The writing life is a lonely life. Writers sit in a room alone, stare at a blank screen, and

Steven Womack

Steven Womack

live inside their heads while they try to create a world and characters that don’t exist and yet will feel completely real.

No wonder we’re all bats#!+ crazy…

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Almost by chance, I’ve found a way to combat the solitary aspects of this process. Before I go into detail, though, I need to deliver a little of what is known in the screenwriting trade as backstory.

About three years ago, I found myself at a bit of a crossroads. I was between books, teaching full-time and Chairing a department, saddled with whopping child support payments and health insurance premiums and was, frankly, tired and discouraged. Nothing was really ringing my bell, and while I knew I’d never completely give up writing, I was definitely in a trough.

Then an email arrived in my inbox from my former agent Nancy Yost. She had a friend who knew a guy who was trying to write a novel, was having some struggles with it, and was looking for a collaborator. She had no financial interest in the deal, she added. She was just trying to do someone a favor.

Was I interested?

For a moment, I almost said, “no.” I’d collaborated on a novel about ten years ago and while it was a good experience, it was a hell of a lot of work and the book never sold. Then, almost on a lark, I said “Sure, put us together.”

Resurrection Bay

Resurrection Bay

So Nancy introduced me to Wayne McDaniel, a screenwriter in New York City. Wayne explained that he’d written a spec screenplay called Resurrection Bay, which was loosely based on and inspired by Robert Hansen, Alaska’s most famous serial killer. The script had been optioned by Lawrence Bender, an A-list producer with a long list of credits, including a few movies directed by that handsome young feller Quentin Tarantino.

As Wayne related the story, the project was moving forward. He’d gotten notes and was in rewrites when, out of the blue, a package arrived in Bender’s office. It was the script to Inglourious Basterds.

“There went my movie,” Wayne said. The script to Resurrection Bay, like so many others in this business, disappeared into the black hole of development hell.

Wayne’s agent recommended he write a novelization of the screenplay and sell that, thereby putting the script back in play. Not a bad strategy, except, as Wayne explained to me, he’d never written a novel and was finding it a challenge.

We talked, made nice, and he sent me the script and what he had of the novel. The script was dynamite; the partial novel manuscript was good, but I could see where it could use some help. Plus, it needed to be finished…

To cut to the chase, we made a deal (Wayne very generously brought me into the project as a full partner), went to work, and a year-and-a-half later, took the manuscript to market. Resurrection Bay was sold to Midnight Ink and will be published in June 2014. The experience of working with Wayne on this book was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had professionally. In fact, we’ve become friends and are already considering another collaboration.

So what did I learn from this? How do you make a literary collaboration work? Three things:

No. 1: Check your ego at the door. A literary collaboration is an equal partnership. Sometimes your idea is the best; other times it’s not. Either way, you can’t let it get to you. As Queen Elsa sang in Frozen: Let it go!

No. 2: A literary collaboration is like any other partnership—including marriage—in that the ability to listen is vital. When your partner is pitching you a scene, an idea, a plot twist, an off-the-wall suggestion that on the surface doesn’t make a lick of sense, then listen. And hope your partner does the same for you.

No. 3: Keep your perspective. It’s not about you and it’s not about your collaborator. It’s about the project, so remember that every bit of thought, effort, creativity and energy must, above all else, serve the story. If you do that, then you’ll serve the reader as well.

Wayne and I are waiting to see what happens with Resurrection Bay. Like all parents, we’re sending our baby out into the world with the highest of hopes.

But here’s the odd part: unlike most parents, Wayne and I have never actually met each other, never even been in the same room together. When he gets down here in August for Killer Nashville, we’ll all get to meet him for the first time.


Steven Womack began his first novel when he was eighteen-years-old. A short eighteen years later, he finally sold one. His first published novel, Murphy’s Fault, was the only debut mystery on the 1990 New York Times Notable Book List. Since then, he has published ten more novels, winning an Edgar Award for Dead Folks’ Blues and a Shamus Award for Murder Manual. His latest novel, written in collaboration with New York City-based screenwriter Wayne McDaniel, is Resurrection Bay, published in June 2014 by Midnight Ink Books.

A scriptwriter as well, Womack also co-wrote the screenplays for Proudheart, which was nominated for the CableAce Award, and Volcano: Fire On the Mountain, an ABC television movie that was one of the most-watched television movies of the year.

Womack lives in Nashville with his writer-wife, Shalynn Ford Womack, and teaches screenwriting at The Film School of Watkins College of Art, Design & Film. Visit his website at www.stevenwomack.com


(To be a part of the Killer Nashville Guest Blog, send a query to contact@killernashville.com. We’d love to hear from you. Thanks to author Tom Wood for putting this blog together.)

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Pitching Grisham and Doing-In Your Ugly Babies: An Interview with author Tony Vanderwarker

What happens when Tony Vanderwarker, the founder of one of Chicago’s largest ad agencies, decides he wants to write fiction? He connects with author John Grisham and learns to do-in his ugly babies. Here is a wonderful story of mentorship and the trials and errors of being a writer. Thanks to Beth Terrell for conducting this interview.

Enjoy…and be inspired!

 

 

 

Clay Stafford
Founder of Killer Nashville 


Tony Vanderwarker

Tony Vanderwarker

KN: Please welcome Tony Vanderwarker to the Killer Nashville blog.  Tony, could you tell us about your path to becoming a professional writer? When did you know you wanted to be one? How did you get started?

I’ve always wanted to write novels, I think as far back as a teenager. When I was in the Peace Corps in Africa in my late teens, I wrote oodles of ersatz Rimbaud poetry and three or four meandering novels – all of which I burned when I came upon the disasters some years later. But I did get interested in film through working with the government’s film unit and went to film school at NYU. I ended up making a major motion picture, which got minor attention, so I decided to write shorter films. I then went into advertising and cashed out of the business in my late forties. I’ve been writing novels ever since.

KN: Did you always write thrillers? What drew you to the genre?

I began writing comic novels, but they didn’t sell, so I tried thrillers figuring I’d imitate my friend (author) John Grisham. Wrote a couple and got lucky. John offered to take me under his wing and teach me the secrets of thriller writing. So the novel I have coming out, Sleeping Dogs is the one I wrote with him over a period of about five years.

Sleeping Dogs by Tony Vanderwalker

Sleeping Dogs by Tony Vanderwarker

KN: John Grisham was instrumental in helping you come up with the idea for that novel, wasn’t he? Could you tell us about that?

At our lunch when Grisham offered to mentor me, he said, “Okay, we need a plot. You said you had a couple ideas, let’s hear them.” I pitched the first, swing and a miss. The second he shot down also. So I pitched the third as I began to sweat.

“So there are actually seven unrecovered nukes scattered around the U.S. as a result of mid-air accidents and collisions during the Cold War,” I told him.

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“No, all over the place, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon – the Pentagon claims they are harmless.”

“Whoever heard of a harmless nuke? What if the bad guys got a hold of one?”

So with Grisham engaged, we began a long and arduous process of crafting a novel together.

And the interesting part is, when Sleeping Dogs ran into a glut of similar thrillers on the market, I pulled it and wrote a book about writing with John called Writing With The Master. It got picked up and the publisher also decided to publish Sleeping Dogs. So both came out on Feb 4.

KN: Two books on the same day? That’s pretty impressive. What does your writing schedule look like?

I write from 9-12 in the morning, that’s usually when I run out of gas and my dogs get tired of lying around in the studio. They are lousy on plots and terrible spellers, but they contributed the title of my novel.

I take off weekends and holidays. Otherwise, it’s rigorous. I’m lazy and have a dread of the blank page so if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t get any work done. I do two to three pages a day, many of my ideas come to me when I’m half-asleep in the middle of the night. In the morning, my bedside table ends up looking like a bunch of stickies were shot at it.

Writing With the Master by Tony Vanderwarker

Writing With the Master by Tony Vanderwarker

KN: But you’ve worked hard to make the technical details authentic. How much and what kind of research do you do?

Lots, Siri is with me constantly. I’m always asking her crazy questions like, “What did Mussolini have to do with the Mafia?” or, “What’s the difference between an mk mod 47 nuke and some other one?” She’s a tireless co-worker. But it really depends on what kind of book you’re working on and how familiar you are with the territory. Bubonic plague is something I know nothing about (fortunately) so Siri and I are spending a lot of time on that. Reading up on nukes took months. But the ad agency stuff comes flying out of my head faster than I can get it down.

KN: And how about your personal experiences? How do they inform your work?

My life seeps into everything I do. I was having lunch with my publicist a couple weeks ago and she asked about my kids. I described my daughter, who is a theatre director, as a tough and resolute person who is not afraid to tell anyone to go jump. And Sharon said, “Could she have been the model for the lead female characters in Ads For God and Sleeping Dogs?” I hadn’t realized it, but she was right on. Probably included a bit of my wife also since she comes in the same size.

KN: What do you hope readers will take away from Sleeping Dogs?

That nuclear weapons are scary as hell and we ought to pay more attention to how they are stored and handled before we create a catastrophe. Sleeping Dogs brings to life the possibility of terrorists recovering one close to a major population center and coming close to detonating it, immolating millions and making the Eastern Seaboard uninhabitable for centuries.

KN: That does sound scary—and is a message a lot of people probably ought to hear. So how do you get the message out? What sort of marketing and promotion do you do?

The whole nine yards: social media, website (tonyvanderwarker.com), writing websites, email lists I’m on, Kickstarter, plus I have two publicists, one at my publishing house, the other a freelancer I’ve hired. I began marketing this book back in June 2013 and I’ll continue until I’ve bored everyone to tears and is begging me to stop.

KN: What’s next for you? 

Two directions: First, I’ve resurrected two comic novels I wrote years ago and am bringing them out later in the year, probably from a publishing house I’ve started with a friend. So Ads For God and Say Something Funny will be coming back to life. I’m also writing new comic novels as well as another thriller. The comic novel is titled Client From Hell and is about the Mafia taking over an ad agency. The thriller is a sequel to Sleeping Dogs.

KN: You have some pretty eclectic interests as a writer. What authors have inspired you?

The list is endless, but particularly Ford, Franzen, Updike, Kesey, Grisham (for his stories), Hiassen (for his humor) and above all, Cormac McCarthy.

KN: Any advice for aspiring authors?

Be patient. Words are tricky characters and don’t always do what you want. And slow down, speed kills good writing. And about your work, ask yourself the question one of Fellini’s characters posed in 8 ½, something like: “Is this really remarkable or just the foot of another cripple in the sand.” Ruthlessness is as much a part of writing as imagination. You have to be able to do-in your ugly babies.


Tony Vanderwarker is the founder of one of Chicago’s largest ad agencies, and is the author of the memoir Writing With the Master: How a Bestselling Author Fixed My Book And Changed My Life about his experience being mentored by John Grisham while writing the thriller Sleeping Dogs (both released by Skyhorse in 2014). He has also penned the forthcoming novels Ads for God and Say Something Funny. Website: http://tonyvanderwarker.com/.

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