Writing the Military Hero

Have you ever thought about writing a military hero into your story?

If so, be sure to get your facts and lingo straight. At a recent Florida Romance Writers meeting, we had the good fortune to have as guest speaker a Navy Captain and the brother of one of our members. Let’s call him Captain X for the sake of anonymity to respect his privacy. His experience includes flying helicopters, missions over Iraq, and special ops support.     soldier

He explained (Disclaimer: All comments are subject to my interpretation) that Special Forces means U.S. Army and Special Operations Forces (SOF) refers to any service. In general, these guys are professionals, fairly introverted with quiet personalities, and very patriotic. Rogue agents like you see in the movies probably would be “PNG-ed” or deemed “persona non grata” in reality. A QRF refers to Quick Reaction Force. These are the guys who stand by in case “things go sideways.”

Captain X mentioned how you don’t really know how you’ll react until you are actually under fire. A brave man faces his fears and chooses to overcome them.

The Captain talked about Iraq and how he’d rather be there in the summer because it’s too hot for the bugs to come out. It rains in the winter and the powdery sand becomes like mucilage. Some of the wildlife includes camel spiders (“as big as a dessert plate”), no-see-ums, mice, and scorpions.

His helicopter had two pilots, two gunners, and a medic. He wore armor and a helmet with a boom mike. He says they never use the word “gun” but call it a “weapon” instead. They refer to members of the military as “teeth or tail”, i.e. going to war or staying behind. He says they are careful not to cause collateral damage in terms of injuring civilians. They’re allowed to say No to a mission if they deem it to be too dangerous in this regard.

This was reassuring to me. It’s nice to know our military officers’ opinions are respected and they’re not expected to blindly follow orders, the excuse for too many atrocities in the past. At least, this is one officer who makes conscientious decisions based on the information available. I hope there are many others like him out there.

Captain X also mentioned his deep respect for Vietnam Veterans, and from his personal experience, they are as brave and honorable as anyone who ever wore the uniform.

And if anyone wishes to support the service, please consider the Wounded Warrior foundations.

The writing lesson learned is to be true to the lingo if you write a military hero. Captain X’s talk was peppered with colorful language that probably wasn’t as bad as it is in reality. Honor is still important, and so is bravery. And when your hero raises his rifle, it’s a weapon, not a gun. Or better still, it’s a specific model weapon. So just as cops and other folks in our books have their own jargon, so do the military. Get it right.

My hairdresser sleuth has a particular way she looks at things. How about your characters? What occupations have you researched for accuracy?

CSI Investigations

At a recent meeting of MWA Florida, we heard a CSI investigator from North Miami PD speak about her experiences. “Our day begins when yours ends,” she quipped. A beautiful woman who is married with five children, she could be a TV star of her own show. She proceeded to differentiate what’s real and what isn’t from what we see on television. The “CSI Effect” is what people expect from watching these shows, like immediate test results. That isn’t what happens in reality when it might take years. However, these dramas are good for bringing attention to an underfunded field. Private labs might produce quicker results, but she’s not allowed to use them for legal reasons.  magnifier

Why doesn’t she drive a Hummer? This is one of the questions she’s been asked. She drives a van because it’s large enough to hold her equipment and has storage space. She never parks in front of a business unless she’s on a case because that would drive customers away.

DNA testing can take months. Florida is number one for the best hits on CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). You must have been arrested to be on this database. In Miami, they have one year from date of entry to make a hit with a suspect. Otherwise, the statute of limitations runs out. Two types of DNA concern them: Mitochondrial and Nuclear. The latter contains a cell’s nucleus and goes back to a single source while the genetic pool is larger for the former type of DNA.

IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System) is fingerprint storage and retrieval. Usually it’s the latent examiner who makes the hit, although this can be subjective. Prints come from people who’ve been arrested. Other sources for prints can be places like jobs that require them, immigration, etc.

Five manners of death exist:

Homicide
Suicide
Accident
Natural (over 80%)
Undetermined

She says investigators specialize in certain areas, and the science and technology are constantly changing. They look for signs of foul play. For example, if you are sick or injured, you may curl on your bed into fetal position. You don’t lie prone in a closet, where a body was found. It was later determined he died from a broken neck. A migrant worker renovating the house was guilty of murder.

With Live Scan, ink isn’t used for fingerprinting. The old method often resulted in operator error—too much or too little ink, not rolling the prints properly. There are 150 points of identification on each finger. Patterns can be a loop, arch, or whorl or a combination therein. Footprints have similar characteristics. Fingerprints develop at 7 months in the womb. Changes may occur with scarring, like musicians who grow calluses. How long do prints remain on the scene? Forever, unless they are removed.

They give every case a name, like the Lemon Case where a guy supposedly fell on his knife when paring fruit. She’ll look in the kitchen, in the garbage for clues. It turned out the man’s girlfriend stabbed him, and friends helped her cover it up. But they neglected to erase the footwear impression where someone had stepped on the knife.

As a mystery writer, it’s important to get the facts straight. We can’t rely on what we watch on TV.

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Disclaimer: These are my notes and they are subject to my interpretation. Any errors are not intentional.

32 Self-Editing Tips for Writers

32 Self-Editing Tips for Writers by Nancy J. Cohen

Periodically, I’ll post these self-editing tips after updating them. I am involved in my own revisions at the moment for Warrior Lord, book #3 in my Drift Lords series. This means two read-throughs. The first round is for line editing and catching repetitions. The second round is to read for smoothness, final word tweaks, and consistency. Then I’ll send it in.
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When I get the marked up version from my editor back, I am always appalled at the number of things I still want to change. This proves revisions are never done. You have to call a halt when you feel you’ve done your best. So what should you do during your self-edits? Use these rules as a guideline.

Have an identifiable main character. With multiple viewpoints, you run the risk of detaching your reader unless you go into deep viewpoint with each switch. Have one main character with whom we can identify and cheer on, otherwise why should we care what happens?

Make your protagonist likeable. Have you watched TV shows where none of the people appeal to you? Would you continue watching it? Even if you employ an anti-hero in your story, give him a reason for his anti-social behavior. He has to be redeemable or sympathetic in some way.

Motivate your characters with clear goals. If they don’t care what’s happening, why should your reader? Make sure your character’s goals are obvious up front. Why is this important to him? What is he doing to make it happen? What’s stopping him? What stakes are involved?

Invest your characters with attitude to give them a distinctive personality.
NO: I’m fine, thanks. YES: You really wanna know? OR: It’s none of your business, dude.

Keep description within the viewpoint of your character
. Similes and metaphors should be within her frame of reference. Hairdresser: as limp as a strand of shampooed hair. Or: as tight as a newly permed curl.

When you’re in deep viewpoint, use pronouns rather than the character’s name. Keep viewpoints distinctive. Use a new paragraph with a space break when you switch heads.

Avoid flashbacks and backstory. This is probably the most common mistake of newbie writers. Leave the past in the past unless it’s important for your current story. Keep the action moving forward. Drop in backstory into dialogue or relate it in brief thoughts during action scenes. Less is better. There’s nothing faster that will disengage your reader and kill the pacing than long passages of backstory or flashbacks suddenly inserted into the middle of a scene.

Show, don’t tell.
Show me your character’s emotions. Don’t tell me about them, or I won’t be engaged as a reader. NO: She felt afraid. YES: Ice gripped her heart. NO: He was angry. YES: He slammed his fist into the door. Physical reactions and nonverbal clues indicate emotions. Without these, you’ve written a cardboard character who I can’t relate to as a reader. Also, don’t have the hero only perform action stunts and hold terse dialogues. Show me how he reacts internally. Introspection is important to helping us relate to him, although paragraph after paragraph of angst can get tiring. Just don’t leave it out or I won’t get a feel for him as a person.

Dialogue should have a purpose. Conversations should advance the plot or reveal character. Know going into a scene what you mean to reveal. If your characters are aimlessly yakking about their love lives or what they’re cooking for dinner, cut the conversation. Don’t ramble. Have a snappy conversation filled with innuendos and hidden meanings. And remember to include your protagonist’s emotional reactions. Also, don’t overuse dialects. Sprinkle in some foreign or slang terms to give the flavor without making sentences hard to pronounce.

Beware of talking heads.
Lines of dialogue need to be broken up by character tags, such as sensory descriptions or action. Remember to include emotional reactions and introspection so we can see what’s preying on your character’s mind.

Eliminate most substitutes for said along with adverbs that describes speech. NO: I love it, he chortled merrily. YES: I love it, he said with a chuckle.

Replace he/she said with character tags. Use action as an identifier and bring in the five senses whenever possible. NO: “I suppose you’re right,” she said. YES: “I agree.” Her nape prickled as though Grace’s words had prophetic power.

Avoid long paragraphs of exposition. Show us the scene unfolding from the character’s viewpoint. Otherwise, do these passages really need to be there? Make the reader feel what your hero feels. Don’t just tell us what’s going on.

Tighten your sentence structure by replacing phrases with precise words. NO: the light of the boat YES: the boat’s light NO: He ran down by the terrace and out toward the lake. YES: He sped past the terrace toward the lake.

Replace passive verbs with active tense. NO: The slaves were slain by lions. YES: Lions mauled the slaves. NO: His forehead was heated by the sun baking overhead. YES: The baking sun heated his brow.

Replace walked and went with a more visual word. She shuffled toward the door. He raced down the street. He sprinted across the yard.

Dangling Participles. Learn by example: NO: Glancing into the rearview mirror, her breath released upon noticing the coast was clear. YES: Glancing into the rearview mirror, she released a breath upon noticing the coast was clear.

Gerunds. Beware of ing phrases that are illogical. NO: Flinging the door wide, she stepped inside the darkened interior. YES: She flung the door wide and stepped inside the darkened interior.

Avoid weak phrases like seemed to, tried to, began to. NO: He seemed to want her input. YES: His smile encouraged her to speak. NO: She tried to tie the knot, but it slipped through her fingers. YES: As she fumbled with the knot, the rope slipped from her fingers. Also avoid unnecessary phrases such as she realized, she figured, he decided, he watched, he thought.

Be realistic about meal and work hours.

Avoid weak verbs: is, was, are, were, there was. NO: There was water on the window. YES: Water droplets beaded the window. NO: His pulse was racing. YES: His pulse raced.

Avoid negatives. NO: He would not wait any longer if she didn’t appear. YES: He’d leave if she failed to show up.

Delete redundancies. NO: sat down YES: sat NO: He thought to himself YES: He thought. BETTER: eliminate he thought if you’re in his viewpoint.

Check for repetitions: Most of us subconsciously overuse a favorite word. Be alert for these when you read through your manuscript. (I just counted how many times I use the word “just” here, and it’s 9 times. I’m guilty!) Avoid the same phrases or words in consecutive pages. Watch out for repeats of the same information in conversations or in a person’s thoughts.

Eliminate the word “that” where not needed.

Remove qualifiers that weaken your prose, such as: very, rather, quite, really, just, awfully. NO: I remembered that she was really nice. YES: I remembered how her smile lit the room. NO: It was very hot. YES: The heat made my skin itch.

Beware of flying body parts.NO: Her eyes flew across the room. YES: Her gaze flew across the room. NO: She threw her hands in the air. YES: She raised her arms.

Be specific: NO: She passed a clump of flowers. YES: She passed a clump of red tulips sprouting from the ground like supplicating hands. NO: It had been a hard day. YES: Her body sagged as though she’d run a marathon (cliché alert?).

Learn correct spelling and usage: their or they’re; it’s or its; lay or lie; you’re or your. This is fundamental, and there is no excuse for getting these wrong.

Use descriptive detail only when it enhances your story. Too much description can slow pacing and lose the reader’s interest. However, whenever you describe a scene, remember to use the five senses. If you want to engage the reader, include specific sensory details.

Avoid clichés like the plague. If you spot one during revisions, go back and replace it with something more original. NO: He wore a scowl like a cloak. YES: He wore a scowl like a seasoned samurai (and he’s Japanese, so this fits the frame of reference).

Go for strong endings at ends of sentences. Don’t end sentences on a preposition. NO: I didn’t know what he was waiting for. YES: I didn’t understand why he waited. NO: He stared in horrified dismay at her. YES: He stared at her in horrified dismay.

And speaking of strong endings, this concludes my self-editing tips. It helps if you put aside your work for several weeks after completing the initial draft. Coming back to it with a fresh perspective will allow you to catch things that might otherwise slip by. Working off a hard copy and reading dialogue aloud are other techniques to use. You want to polish your manuscript until it figuratively sparkles and then move on to the next story.

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When Are Revisions Done?

Newbie writers often ask, how do you know when to stop revising and send in the work? There’s no easy answer as each of us goes through our own self-editing process. Revisions are never done. Every time you read through your work, more things pop up to fix. So when should you quit? When the story is as good as you can make it for now, and you’ll plotz if you have to go through it one more time. But all is not lost. You’ll get another chance to make corrections and tweak your phrasing during the editing phase.

Finishing your manuscript and doing second or third drafts is only part of the equation. Once your story is finished for good, you need to go back to your synopsis. Why? The story probably branched out in new directions since you began, and you need to update this important marketing tool.

You should also check through the submission guidelines and format your work accordingly. Different publishers prefer different fonts and line spacing. So get it right before you submit anything.

Check your front and back end materials to make sure everything is there. Besides the title page, in the front may go any endorsements you’ve gathered, dedications and acknowledgements, world building details like maps or casts of characters. At the end go your biography, author’s note if any, and any bonus materials like recipes in a culinary cozy. Again, see if your publisher requires anything else.

Once you have accomplished all these tasks, then you are ready to submit. Does the publisher want you to attach any ancillary materials, like cover art sheets or permissions or cover copy blurbs? This may come before or after a sale. Be certain you have these forms filled out.

Then write your cover letter and send the submission.

Here’s a quick checklist:

· Proofread your final draft for timeline consistency, character continuity, repetitions, word choices, spelling.
· Verify any research as necessary.
· Check all loose ends to make sure you’ve solved them by the story’s finale. You may want to review your plotting notes to see if you have left anything out.
· If a series, include a hook for the next story.
· Write a reader discussion guide during your final draft.
· Jot down blog topics for your blog tour.
· Rewrite your synopsis to match the finished story.
· Format your manuscript according to publisher guidelines.
· Prepare requested ancillary materials to attach with your submission.
· Submit your work and cross your fingers.

I am in this phase now which is why I’m not blogging too often, posting on FB, etc. Getting the book done amidst the holiday frenzy is taking my total concentration. I’ve gone through the manuscript, so now I have to format it to the publisher’s guidelines and fill out the required forms. Then I’ll send my baby out into the world.

Is there anything you would add to this checklist?

The Evil Mind

Rick David, a licensed Florida mental health therapist for over thirty years, spoke at the Florida Romance Writers monthly meeting in Fort Lauderdale on “Inside the Mind of Evil”. First he differentiated between a sociopath and a psychopath. The sociopath lacks empathy and remorse and is fueled by narcissism. He has feelings of omnipotence and is ego-centric. These people may be criminals but “not all sociopaths are psychopaths.”

Psychopathy means mental illness. The psychopath may be a sociopath with a mental illness, usually psychosis in that he’s out of touch with reality or living in a fantasy world of his own creation. All psychopaths are not criminals.    3836602_med

Killers objectify people and see them as things to bring gain. These psychopathic killers are incapable of meaningful relationships. They lack remorse in their actions. They can be deceitful, impulsive, and glib. Power, control, and fear are their motivators. They are cold and calculating. Many have early behavioral problems as noted below. They can look at you with a steely, predatory stare (or they can be as friendly as the guy next door). Usually they’ll project blame onto others. Killing fills their emotional void, and it may be the only way they can feel anything. Drugs and alcohol are often involved. If anti-social behaviors are mixed in, they may be the loner type, avoiding social contact with others.

Behaviors in children that may be warning signs when taken to the extreme can be testing limits, kids described as difficult or “different”, young people to whom consequences mean nothing. Aggression, bullying, and lying may be evident. A pattern of hurting animals or setting fires may be signals that this person needs intervention. Also, not every serial killer has had an abusive childhood. Even kids from happy families can take a turn to the dark side.

When writing crime fiction or romantic suspense, the writer needs to get inside the mind of evil. These behavioral factors should help you create your villain. Remember that he thinks differently from normal people and rationalizes his internal fantasy. Better we should meet him on the page than on the street.

Common Writing Mistakes

Recently, I’ve been judging writing contest entries. Below are some of the common problems I have discovered among these manuscripts. Out of several entries, only one passed muster. It was well written, kept my interest, had an interesting “voice” and an intriguing premise. I’d read this book if more was available.

The other submissions, however, were painful to get through. Here are some of the problems I encountered so you can avoid them in your work. I use the pronouns “he” or “she” interchangeably as this advice applies to readers and writers of both genders.

Establish the Setting Up Front

As soon as possible into the story, establish the place, season, and time of day. Remember your Who, What, Why, Where, and When. Try to work these into the opening pages unobtrusively. Example: Crickets chirped their nightly chorus, the music of summer. Or: Late afternoon sunlight glinted off an icicle hanging from the roof. Also, don’t mention a street name or landmark and assume the reader knows where this place is. Be specific and give a location.

Make Your Characters Likeable

Remember to address your character’s goals, motivation, and conflict. If you show her acting in an unfavorable manner, what made her that way? Motivate her behavior so the reader understands where she’s coming from and sees the light at the end of the tunnel with character growth by the book’s end. Give her redeemable qualities so we can like certain aspects of her. If not, the reader won’t care and that’s the death knoll to your story.

This also applies to the anti-hero. What makes him redeemable? Why should I, the reader, care about him? Also, what does your character want? If he wanders aimlessly through life with no particular goals, that makes me as a reader less interested in him. Unless, of course, you give me a reason why he behaves that way. Maybe he lacks confidence in himself because of a past event. Maybe he’s afraid of failure. Knowing this will make me more sympathetic toward him.

Watch Your Use of Bad Language

The occasional curse word may be acceptable for a romance hero who’s a hard ass or for a heroine in the urban fantasy genre or for guy fiction in general, but elsewhere it may raise a reader’s hackles. It can also turn off some readers completely, so this language should be sprinkled in judiciously, if at all. Add it only if it helps to define a character, not because it’s the way you speak or because you believe it makes your protagonist seem tough. Always ask yourself: is this necessary? If not, leave it out. Or deploy a substitute, like “frak” on Battlestar Galactica. If writing sex scenes, consider the subgenre. Certain words that may be acceptable for erotica might be too graphic or crude for readers with more delicate sensibilities, especially those who read romances more for the stories than the love scenes. Remember the old adage: Less is better, especially if you want to expand your readership.

Show, Don’t Tell

To keep the pace flowing, use mostly dialogue and action and minimal exposition. If you have long passages where nothing happens except the protagonist thinks to herself or explains to the reader what happened, the story comes to a dead halt. You want to imbue a sense of immediacy in your story, and that won’t happen unless you involve the reader. Telling me what is going on isn’t nearly as gripping as showing me. Each chapter should start and end with a hook. Again, long meandering passages of narration will not encourage the reader to turn the page and may put her to sleep instead. Also keep in mind that reader attention spans are shorter today. What worked in past prose doesn’t work in this age of technological marvels.

Save Flashbacks for Later

The first chapter is your only chance to grab the reader so she’ll continue your story. If you segue into a flashback, the forward momentum is lost. Who cares what happened in the past? Throw in a line or two in dialogue or introspection to show us and then move on. Or make it part of the story action, like in a confrontation with a friend or a hesitation on the part of the main character to perform some act. Work backstory in with minimal intrusion in your first few chapters. Flashbacks will kill pacing, so again, remove those long passages of remembrances. Only retain what is necessary to explain the current action. Later, after you’ve hooked the reader, you can work this info into the story, hopefully through dialogue.

Every Conversation Should Have a Purpose

When I say that you should use dialogue generously, I don’t mean that two friends should get together and chat meaninglessly on matters that don’t move the story forward. Dialogue should serve a purpose: reveal information, define character, move the plot ahead, offer reaction and reflection on what’s just occurred. So ask yourself as you approach a conversation, what do you want to get across in this segment? If you don’t have a point to make, delete the scene.

Proofread Your Work

Would you send an editor a manuscript that you haven’t read through to check for typos? No? Then why send one to a contest where mechanics are judged? Proofread your work for typos, dropped punctuation marks, repetitions and misspellings.

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Most of the entries I’ve read have been competently written. In some cases, the author’s voice comes through as distinctive and engaging. However, the writing itself isn’t the problem. It’s the content— in particular the pacing, structure, and/or character motivations. Does a crisis or a change happen to the character at the start so that she (or he) experiences a call to action? Does the story move forward from there? Or does it stumble while you detour into a long introspection or memory sequence? Do you involve the reader in the action or tell us what happened? Is your character passive or proactive? Have you done all you can to attract new readers and not repel them with questionable language? Reread your first three chapters. If you were an editor, would you want to read more?

Nancy J. Cohen News Update

Warrior Prince: Book One in the Drift Lords Series is nearing its release date of Sept. 21, 2012. That means all sorts of exciting things are happening this month. I talk about my new book in The Big Thrill and have giveaways at Coffee Time Romance and Night Owl Reviews.

Author Interview in The Big Thrill: http://bit.ly/NFmsvJ

Coffee Time Romance: Enter to win a Warrior Prince T-shirt and magnet, a deck of tropical drink playing cards, and a pdf copy of Warrior Prince: http://bit.ly/bGEqXD

Night Owl Reviews Halloween Hunt: My prize is a $15 gift card to The Wild Rose Press. Go to http://bit.ly/PXn9MQ

On Sept. 5th, mystery author Joanna Campbell Slan guest blogs here. She discusses correct word choices. Do you as a reader get annoyed when the same phrase keeps popping up in someone’s book? Or do you as a writer often not realize you’re using a word repetitively? If so, this article is for you. I hope you’ll visit and leave a comment.

Between Sept. 6-19, I will be posting short excerpts from Warrior Prince. Leave a comment and be entered into a drawing for your ebook choice from my romance backlist titles. Two winners!

When these excerpts are finished, it’s time for my Release Party and Blog Tour.

I hope you’ll bear with me through all this news. I’ll resume my regular blog posts sometime next month. Meanwhile, I am working on edits for Warrior Rogue: Book Two in the Drift Lords Series, which is already in production.

On a personal note, I took a break before all this frenzy and went to Disney World. We visited Magic Kingdom where we glimpsed the new attractions coming to Fantasyland. We bought fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market in Winter Garden and ate dinner at Le Coq Au Vin, a recommended French restaurant in downtown Orlando. I had the onion tart (heavenly!), beef tournedo (tender!) with mashed potatoes and apple tart (just right; not too sweet).

Farmers Market

Onion Tart  Beef Tournedo
September is Magical Dining Month in the Orlando area and many expensive restaurants participate. You can get a fixed three course meal for $30. Another favorite dining spot was Thai Blossom in the historic Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden. Tasty choices and reasonable prices year round.

See you tomorrow for Joanna Slan’s post!

Scary Event

I just had the experience of receiving a Warning on my Dashboard about content. Afraid it might be due to my latest post, a contest giveaway, I tried to delete it. Nothing happened. Panicking, I contacted Support and asked what I’d done wrong. I could only guess that it might have been that contest notice. Here’s the link if you want a chance to win a signed copy of Killer Knots, among other prizes: http://bit.ly/JadNck  I am not posting the whole notice again.

WordPress doesn’t have a customer service number to contact. You have to fill out a form and hope someone responds, which they must have done since you’re seeing this. The warning just as suddenly disappeared. I may yet get a response as to why it happened. I had no intention to violate any rules and have been a valued blogger here for quite a while. But what’s scary is how easily your online life can be disrupted.

Fortunately, I keep a copy of all my blogs in my files. But I’d urge you to also sign up for my newsletter via my website so that you’re on my mailing list. I back that up from Vertical Response and my lists get backed up to Mozy and Dropbox, so we’d have less chance of losing contact should, say, my blog get suspended or my website vanish. Let’s not lose contact, because keeping in touch with you is why I write this blog. And let’s hope this default never happens again. Whew, I’m glad to be back to posting!

Fact or Fiction?

Do you write about real life events in your fictional story? As a reader, how can you tell fact from fiction? Are some ideas so far out that they should be relegated to science fiction, or is there a kernel of truth in them? Where do the lines blur?

At Saturday’s meeting of the Florida chapter of MWA, we heard speaker Jim Linder, former Navy aviator and intelligence agent. This man—tall, dark, and handsome—lived a life you’d only find in books. A self-professed fan of Ian Fleming and Robert Ludlum novels, as a youth he aspired to adventure. He found it in the work he did. A romance hero come alive, Linder said “the fictional and the real world blend together. Whatever story you want to tell, it’s probably already out there.”

He told stories of notorious Russian smuggler Victor Bout, of how pirates smuggle diesel fuel to diamond mines in South Africa, and of how there’s a market among drug runners for mini-submarines made in the States. “There are bad guys out there who are richer and more powerful than anyone in fiction,” he says. The upsurge in social media has made a difference in his current consulting position. “We use social media a lot. Finding information isn’t the problem. Connecting with the person who has the info is harder.”

As for myself, I use personal experiences and composites of people I meet in my stories.

For example, the Countess in Killer Knots was based on a white-haired lady I noticed on a cruise. She always wore the most fabulous outfits. When I got up the nerve to ask where she shopped, “Paris” was her answer. Why was I not surprised?

In Perish by Pedicure, I visited the North Miami shvitz where Marla goes to interview a suspect. Now, that was an experience!

And the setting in Shear Murder was inspired by Harry P. Leu Gardens in Winter Park, where I’ve been many times. Marla journeys to Coral Gables and the Venetian Pool, another local gem I’d discovered. Visits to the dermatologist and dentist show up in some of my books—in Marla’s viewpoint, of course. Plus a reading from a psychic that I’d experienced shows up in Died Blonde.

Even in Warrior Prince, my upcoming paranormal release, the action starts out in Orlando, Florida on International Drive. The sinister theme park in this story is partially based on an attraction that used to be in the Fort Lauderdale area and designed with other theme parks in mind. I’ll have to admit, though, the action that follows is purely imaginary. Well, almost.

One of the bad guys uses what I call an EM (electromagnetic) grenade in Warrior Rogue: Book Two in the Drift Lords Series. “Are EM weapons real or the stuff of sci-fi?” I asked our speaker. He gave a broad grin. “Many of the things you’d relegate to science fiction are already here.”

Writing for Worldwide Distribution

“Brainstorming on the Beach” Conference with Novelists, Inc.

 Here are my notes, keeping in mind this is what I heard and my interpretation.  This panel was geared toward Harlequin Enterprises.

Writing for Worldwide Distribution with Marsha Zinberg, Executive Editor, Harlequin Enterprises and Author Vicki Lewis Thompson

 Marsha:  A breakdown on what’s popular with readers shows that cowboys, weddings, babies, and Texas remain favorite themes. The Presents line features the power dynamics between a hero and heroine.  A new line is coming, HQ Heartwarming with wholesome stories.

 Mini-series and connected series are always hits.

Direct to Consumer: No paranormals. Heroines should be focused on home not career.

Overseas: Fantasy and romance are welcome but not paranormal. Ugly Duckling, Cinderella, forbidden love, millionaires, and secret babies are themes that work.  The romance should be the focus of the story.

When you, the author, are doing your fact sheet, keep in mind that overseas editors read them so make your universal theme evident right away.  The synopsis shouldn’t be overly long or complicated since English may not be their first language.

Topics to avoid: Casinos and gambling, ballroom dancing, post-war traumatic stress disorder.

Medical sells well overseas but not in North America.

Be prolific to create your author franchise.

Time sensitive issues and brand names may date a book so be wary of using these.  Ditto for technology and politically correct terms.

Vicki:  Know what is selling but don’t always follow trends.  Focus what you do well and write often.  Be a pro regarding deadlines.  Challenge yourself as a writer and take a chance on special projects.

Refilling the creative well implies that you drain your energy when you write. Instead, think of writing as recharging your batteries.  The more you write, the more you want to write. 

Coming Next: Sharing Concerns with Carolyn Pittis, Senior VP, Global Author Services, HarperCollins