By Mark Young
An interview with novelist James Scott Bell regarding his latest how-to book on writing might—at first blush—seem a little off topic for this blog about cops, crime and novels. You are right, but let me plead my case. I feel strongly enough about this just-released book that I've chosen to break the rules this one time. There comes a time in any writer’s career where they find themselves fighting off feelings of discouragement and disillusionment. I believe that How to Make a Living as a Writer (HLW) can be one of those tools that helps writers regain solid ground in their publishing career.
|James Scott Bell|
This book goes well beyond what the title suggests—selling books and making money—by giving a writer a holistic approach to writing. Writing quotas, time management, and creating a workable business plan are just a few of the topics discussed in HLW. Jim writes from experience as both a traditionally published author and as an indie author. His twenty-year career includes many novels, anthologies, books on writing, and a weekly contribution to the popular blog The Kill Zone.
It is a privilege to have James Scott Bell with us today to discuss his latest book on writing.
MARK: Jim, thanks for joining us here on Hook’em &
Book’em once again. What prompted you to write this book? Who do you consider to be your target audience?
JIM: I have always been about helping writers not only write better, but write with an eye toward making actual money. I believe in professionalism. I believe it’s quite all right to make a living doing what one loves to do.
In my case, it was writing. When I started out to pursue this dream, I didn’t think the odds were so great. But it’s what I wanted to do and I never stopped, and I managed to make it my career.
With this book I wanted to pass along the principles I used that I think will help all writers who want to be pros.
MARK: What is the most important message you want writers to glean from this book?
JIM: That you have to think of this as a business. You have to put some rational thought into this if you want it to give you a return. When I began to pursue writing as a career it was after several years of being a lawyer and also running a successful small business. I had learned both study and entrepreneurial skills. These were invaluable to me.
The good news is that these principles are not difficult to understand or put into practice. The trick is in the doing of them. That’s discipline. I explain how to be disciplined in the book.
MARK: In HLW, you debunk the idea that only a few chosen writers ever succeed in this business. Why are you so positive that new writers can actually make a living at this game?
JIM: Because the playing field has changed drastically in the last 7 years. The Kindle was introduced in 2007. The next couple of years saw writers starting to self-publish on Amazon with great monetary success. At the same time, there is still a traditional publishing industry, which I continue to be part of. The key is there are options now, and the writer who approaches things systematically, with a commitment to quality, improves his or her odds of making significant bank.
MARK: In a chapter titled The 7 Things You Absolutely Must Have to Succeed—you cast doubt on the concept that writers must have talent to make it in the writing game. Please share your take on this issue with our readers.
JIM: What I actually say is that talent has to be there, but it’s the least important quality. There are many, many naturally talented writers out there who never make it. There are a number of reasons for that. One is that they rely on the talent but never master the craft. Or they’re the sort that “just wants to write” and never think about being businesslike.
On the other hand, there are always those who may not be as gifted who work hard and work smart, and they surpass the “unrecognized geniuses.” That’s true in anything—sports, schooling, the arts.
MARK: In another chapter—titled Running A Successful Business—you discuss creating a business plan. How can this help to focus a writer to look at the bigger picture?
JIM: Every successful business has a plan. That plan may change, it may morph, it may be thrown out for another. But you have to have a direction and steps to take that are reasonably related to your goals. I give a sample plan in the book that anyone can adapt.
MARK: Later in HLW, you discuss the importance of time management and how to squeeze more time in a writer’s busy schedule. There are those writers just starting out who may be ‘contemplating’ writing their first novel. They may have a fulltime job, a family to take care of, or other commitments that make their hope to write seem like an impossible dream. They may take a look at HLW and say, “Wow! I can never accomplish all this.” What would you say to them?
JIM: I deal with that. The key is finding out how much you can reasonably write in a week, taking into account all the other responsibilities you have. That becomes your weekly quota of words. I suggest upping that number by 10%, to stretch yourself. But keep it. Be zealous about it. I know there are some writers out there who think a quota is a crimp on their style. I beg to differ. I’ve had a quota ever since I started and it’s the biggest key to any success I’ve happened to achieve. As Robert B. Parker put it, the most important thing a writer does is produce the words.
MARK: Based upon all the topics you’ve discussed in HLW, is there one area in your own writing career that you found hardest to master? Why?
JIM: It’s hard for me to single out one thing. A writing journey is a series of challenges, and you do what you can to overcome them. I’ve always felt I could learn anything I needed to know in order to succeed, and the rest would be up to hard work. I don’t believe in pure luck.
I will say I’ve always been interested in the mental game of writing, too. Learning how to handle rejection and keep going, things like that. Most of it boils down to slaying expectations and concentrating on being productive every day. Every moment you’re writing in flow is a moment you’re not worried about things you can’t control.
MARK: Where can writers purchase How to make a Living as a Writer?
JIM: The book is available as an ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. The print version is available here.
MARK: You have taught at a number of writing seminars nationally and internationally, and hosted your own writing seminars. What are a few of the most common questions you encountered from writers attending these sessions?
JIM: Many people want to know about structure, if it really matters that much. I tell them to try making an omelet without eggs and a frying pan. It’s not that structure is a rigid slave master; it’s that it works for connecting readers to stories. So once you understand it you can feel free to mess with it all you want, just know that the more you mess the less you’ll sell.
I also emphasize that you don’t have to try to copiously outline an entire novel before you write it. You need freedom to be creative. But creativity alone is not enough. Throwing eggs on the road is not art. Breaking them one-handed into a bowl, scrambling them up, putting them in the pan and throwing in selected cheeses and spices, that is art!
MARK: Speaking of writing sessions, you teamed up with two other men— agent/author Donald Maas; and Chris Vogler, movie/novel consultant and author of The Writer’s Journey—to help others improve their writing skills. What do the three of you try to teach at these retreats? Where can a writer go to find out more information on this?
JIM: If it was only Vogler and Maass, I’d call this the best storytelling conference going. I am pleased to be part of it. Vogler leads off with his mythic take on storytelling, providing the wide universe of what connects us deeply to a work of fiction. I follow with my specifics on the critical areas of fiction—plot, structure, character, scenes, dialogue, voice, theme. Maass comes along after and gets the writers into the nitty gritty of their works-in-progress, prompting them to deeper and better stories.
On the fourth day, the three of us lead a chapter by chapter analysis of a great novel that everyone reads beforehand. At this upcoming session it will be To Kill a Mockingbird.
People can find out more at the Story Masters site.
MARK: Any last words of wisdom to share with writers struggling to gain traction in this writing game?
JIM: Recognize that it IS a game. A good game, a fun one, and one that can pay off if you know how to get the odds in your favor. That’s what my teaching is all about, getting people to a place where their chances for success improve. It takes time and it takes practice, but so does anything worthwhile. So I counsel writers to write until they die. That about covers it.
MARK: Jim, thanks again for taking the time here to share your thoughts about the writing business. I am sure your latest book on writing will be a success.
Writing friends, be sure to check out How to Make a Living as a Writer.
James Scott Bell is the #1 bestselling author of Plot & Structure, and thrillers like Don’t Leave Me, Blind Justice,Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, and One More Lie. Jim is currently at work on two series: pulp style boxing stories featuring Irish Jimmy Gallagher and the vigilante nun series Force of Habit. Under the pen name K. Bennett he is also the author of the Mallory Caine zombie legal thriller series, which begins with Pay Me in Flesh.
Jim served as fiction columnist for Writer's Digest magazine, to which he frequently contributes, and has written four craft books for Writer’s Digest Books: Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense. His Write Your Novel From The Middle was an instant #1 Amazon bestselling writing book. A former trial lawyer, Jim now writes and speaks full time. He lives in Los Angles and blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone.
“A rolling stone gathers no moss” is an old proverb attributed to a Latin writer of maxims in the 1st Century. These words would aptly describe our guest today—bestselling novelist Nike Chillemi. She is a writer with boundless energy.
Since Nike last visited us over a year ago, she has released a new novel, Harmful Intent (A Veronica “Ronnie” Ingles/Dawson Hughs Novel) as an indie author, jumping from classic historical murder/romance novels to a story of contemporary mayhem and romance. She started her own publishing entity, Crime Fictionista Press, which just released Harmful Intent in May. Never slowing down, this writer is also a member of the Christian Indie Novelist (CHIN) network; involved with the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) organization; and founded and co-chaired the Grace Awards book contest each year.
MARK: Wow! Nike, the first question that comes to mind is when do you find time to write? You seem to be involved with more organizations that there are letters in the alphabet. What is the key to getting your writing done?
NIKE: Most of the time I write every day, or do research. I spend a lot of time researching. I like to get details right. If real life interferes and I can't write for a day or two, or more, I make sure I get in a writing marathon. I'm not a writer who can crank out two-to-three books a year. As an indie author, I'm trying to release a novel every ten months or so. That way I can keep all the other balls in the air.
MARK: Above everything else, one of the most driving forces for an author are the latest novel they just released or the one they are working on. Your latest novel, Harmful Intent came out last May. I know there exciting things to share surround this novel. First, tell us about the story. What is Harmful Intent about?
NIKE: Harmful Intent is the first in the Veronica "Ronnie" Ingels and Dawson Hughes novels. Ronnie is a Brooklyn private investigator who thinks her marriage of one year is nearly perfect, except her motivational speaker hubby travels too much. She finds him in Abilene, TX, in the arms of her college BFF, then he's found dead. Deputy Sergeant Dawson Hughes has the feisty, armed to the teeth PI as one of his prime suspects, until be begins to think she is in danger and he finds he wants to protect her. As in all my novels there are quirky secondary characters, but this novel is far more zany than historicals I've written. But don't let that fool you. The story goes from a hilarious scene to a chilling one.
MARK: Most of the story takes place in Texas. How did you—a New York writer—prepare to write ‘Texan’? How did you capture those nuances in dialogue that gave readers that sense that they are in the company of characters from Texas?
NIKE: I think I have a facility for dialect. I can hear the Texas drawl in my head. But I didn't leave it to my innate ability. Research, research, research. I listened to hours of Kenneth Copeland's teaching tapes which can be found online. He uses certain expressions and drops tidbits about Texas…and a few of those found their way into the novel.
MARK: I loved your sassy character, Veronica “Ronnie” Ingels as she tried to come to terms with events shaking her life. Is this a character you created from a compilation of several real people, or is Ronnie a total figment of your active imagination?
NIKE: There are a few ugly things lurking in Ronnie's childhood. She's fully aware that her dad blatantly and repeatedly cheated on her mom, then abandoned the family. There are other memories she can't quite bring to the foreground that haunt her. She even dreams about them, but can't quite put her finger on them. That will be further developed in later books in the series. Ronnie is a character created from my imagination. I know a few young women who had ugly childhoods and who were nearly crippled by the abuse. They struggle to survive. Ronnie has a career and can take care of herself, but these girls prompted me to write a character like Ronnie.
MARK: Up until the release of Harmful Intent, historical murder and romance novels had been your cup of tea. Four previous novels under the Sanctuary Point series—Burning Hearts, Goodbye Noel, Perilous Shadows, and Darkest Hour—have all been set in the post WWII era. Tells us what led you to write this latest contemporary murder series.
NIKE: I love the 1940s. It was an elegant time in American history. Ordinary Americans had style and a can-do attitude. It was an exciting time and I loved writing about it. But after four novels, I thought it was time for a change. I wanted to write gripping mystery stories, but also deal with relevant issues that face people today. Although, to be honest, I think people in the 1940s grappled with the same issues we do today. However, there was a national feeling of dignity as they walked the walk. I pray America can get that sense of worth back.
MARK: Let’s switch gears. Your previous novels have been published by Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc., but your latest novel is an indie-release through your own publishing entity, Crime Fictionista Press. Can you tell us a little about your reasons behind this major change in your publishing journey?
NIKE: I wanted to write this novel in double first person. Ronnie's point of view, then Dawson's, both in first person. I couldn't find a publisher who wanted to do that. Also, I wanted to write it my way. I sound like Frank Sinatra here. But seriously, Ronnie and Dawson are not together at the end, nor do they get saved. I didn't want to have to follow any formula. I just wanted to write the story.
MARK: What are you learning as an indie author and publisher that you did not expect going into this latest venture?
NIKE: I didn't know how exhilarating it would be when Harmful Intent was released as an indie effort. I also didn't know how easy it would be to work with Amazon.
MARK: Would you share with us about the kind of novels we can expect from you in the near future? Will you be using Crime Fictionista Press?
NIKE: Deadly Designs is next in the Ronnie/Dawson series. This second novel kicks off with the disappearance of a young mother and daughter. This novel ventures into the world of high fashion with the possibility that terrorists are pulling all the strings. The novel will be published by Crime Fictionista Press.
MARK: Not that you don’t have enough to do, but are you still involved with the American Christian Fiction Writers organization? Tell our readers a little about this organization and how you are involved.
NIKE: Yes, I'm still involved. I have led an ACFW critique group for serious writers (many already published) for a number of years. In 2013, I wrote a mini-class on building suspense in a story for their at-home-conference (for those who couldn't make it to the annual conference). I try to participate in their email LOOP when I can.
MARK: Another project I recently learned about through you is the unique Grace Awards literary contest of which you are founder and co-chair. What is the purpose of this awards? How does it work?
NIKE: The Grace Awards is a reader generated literary awards. It's staffed entirely by volunteers. We're sort of the little engine that could of literary awards. There is no fee the author has to pay to get his/her book entered. Readers nominate all the entries. In fact many finalists don't even know they've been nominated until we contact them. I'll bet you were surprised when your Broken Allegiance was a finalist in the Mystery/Thriller/Romantic Suspense category. We allow readers to choose the finalists. In that way no group or clique can control the outcome. Readers have to submit a 35-word reason why they chose the novel. This is how we determine they've read the book. Some of our readers give a NY Times book review. We do have talented judges pick the winners. That gives a good balance in the selection process. Our judges always write a review of the novel for the winner and finalists in each category. They bring out the many good things in the story, and also point out where it could be strengthened. Part of the mission of the Grace Awards is to help improve the quality and scope of Christian fiction.
MARK: Yes, I was blown away that someone anonymously recommended my novel. And you are right, I recieved a review that gave me good suggestions to make the next novel better. In looking through your biography, I noticed that you belong to the Christian Indie Novelist (CHIN) network. Frankly, this is the first time I heard of it. Can you tell us a little about this group, when it was formed, and what its objective might be?
NIKE: I'm not a founder or administrator of this group, only a lowly member. CHIN is a Yahoo Loop. We help each other with marketing, give support to each other, share technological knowledge, industry news, and much more. Any Christian indie author, Christian world-view author, inspirational author can become a member. You simply have to ask. One way is to join the CHIN group on Facebook and then ask to be a member of the Yahoo Loop.
MARK: There is a lot of controversy waging in the publishing industry. The current negotiations between Amazon and Hachette is just one of many issues that writers must face as they try to get their books sold. What do you see as the short-term future in publishing? How will this affect writers, publishers, and the cottage-industry of editors, designers, and formatters?
NIKE: I'm often surprised that I'm doing as well as I'm doing in this industry. Though, I have honed my craft and paid my dues. Amazon has been very good to me. They are author friendly and I pray they remain so. I hate to admit, there's an impish (maybe even childish) part of me that enjoys seeing Hachette get its clock cleaned by Amazon. The big publishers had a death grip on the industry. They determined who would get published and who would not. Sometimes a little guy with a great book got through. Most of the time the fiction authors who were best sellers were all in the in-crowd. They were married to an exec in the publishing company, or went to college with them. Or were married to someone in media. I once looked at biographies of the most popular authors and did a study on who they were married to and what their spouse did for a living. It's an eye opener. New York City is the epicenter of the publishing world and there's been a lot of elitist back scratching. However, Amazon is a game changer. Because of Amazon, Mark, you and I were given a chance.
MARK: Yes we were very fortunate to be given this opportunity to publish on our own terms. I am very appreciative. From a writer’s perspective, what do you see as the role of an agent in this evolving industry? Are they needed?
NIKE: I have no need for an agent at this point in my career. I do everything through Amazon. If one of my novels were to be optioned for a movie (please God), then I would definitely need an agent.
MARK: Enough with the heavy questions. Here is a light one. How do you let off steam when you’re not writing?
NIKE: I let off steam by reading a good murder mystery or thriller. I like to walk my dog. Walking is very good for the body and mind. In the summer I putter in my garden. I grow tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, basil, and mint. I also have roses. When my rose bushes first bloom, I like to sit out on my deck with a cup of tea and look at them. This is very relaxing.
MARK: Thanks for joining us, Nike. We have seen a glimpse of your busy schedule. Any last pearls of wisdom for writers just starting out on this road of writing and publishing?
NIKE: Be true to yourself. If you're a newbie and come across a free or inexpensive writing course, take it. But don't get married to it. Use it as a tool, one of many you will find helpful on your writing journey. Read the top writers in your genre, not to copy them, but to study them. Find your own unique voice and style and don't let anyone talk you out of it. If you're a Christian writer, check in with the Holy Spirit and see what He's got to say about what you're writing.
Bio: Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She is a member of Christian Indie Novelists (CHIN), and the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards, a reader's choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction.
She's an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011, 2012, 2013 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She writes monthly book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine.
Her recent contemporary detective story Harmful Intent has garnered acclaim and has been called: sassy, witty, gritty, charming, and yummy. Her historical suspense Sanctuary Point series brought on a crime wave that swept the south shore of Long Island during the 1940s (Burning Hearts, Goodbye Noel, Perilous Shadows, and Darkest Hour) won acclaim and awards. You can find out more about Nike at her website: Nike Chillemi~Crime Fictionista.
By Mark Young
Readers: Keep your eyes focused on this rising indie author. Thriller novelist Brett Battles paid his dues struggling to survive in the legacy publishing arena for a number of years before deciding to throw his hat into the indie publishing arena a few years ago. Brett offers readers a variety of thriller novels filled with unique characters—a man who disposes of bodies as part of his espionage work; a feisty female bounty hunter who never gives up; and a former soldier reluctantly drawn into life-threatening situations to save others—to describe just a few. Always expect the unexpected.
A world traveler, Brett brings these experiences drawn from his global wanderings onto the pages of his novels. Engaging characters, exotic locations, and page-turning suspense all blend together to make these thrillers a must-read. I have found his novels to be very entertaining. Intrigued, I contacted Brett by email to see if he might share a little about himself and his writing here on Hook’em & Book’em.
Mark: Brett, I am amazed at what a prolific writer you
are. At this rate, you might surpass James Patterson. At last count, twenty-two published novels since your first thriller appeared in 2007. In the last four months, you’ve released Take Down (December 2013), Dream Sky (January 2014), and last month, The Discarded, a Jonathan Quinn thriller. How do you keep up this pace?
Brett: The threat of self-waterboarding. Works every time. That and, well, writing is my job. Like everyone else who works, I need to do it every day. So when I finish one book, I don’t wait months or years to start the next. I’m usually onto it within a few business days at most. Being self employed means I have a real taskmaster for a boss!
Mark: Tell us a little about your latest thriller, The Discarded.
Brett: I wanted to write a story about an operative who has retired but is still haunted by a job he did, and continues to look for answers. I decided to use Orlando’s (Jonathan Quinn’s partner and girlfriend) mentor as the old op, so, of course, Quinn and Orlando and gang get pulled into the mystery. It’s about regret and greed and doing the right thing.
Mark: Your main character—Jonathan Quinn— has a rather unique occupation. What insight can you share with us about him?
Brett: Quinn’s what they refer to in the espionage business as a cleaner. Not the assassin type cleaner, though he is very skilled in that area if necessary, but the kind of cleaner you call when you have a body that needs to disappear permanently.
Mark: Given Quinn’s occupation, one might question whether he has a moral compass in life? If so, what would it be?
Brett: In broad strokes, Quinn tries to work for clients he believes are good as opposed to evil, though he can’t always be 100% sure of that. Plus he is driven by a very strong need to do the right thing, which is why he often gets pulled into situations that go beyond his basic job description.
Mark: Beside the Quinn series, you have written the Project Eden Thrillers, the Logan Harper Thrillers and the Alexandra Poe novels—the last co-written by author Robert Gregory Browne—among other works. Tell us a little about each.
Brett: Sure. I’ve been fascinated with virus/end of humanity stories since I was a kid, and always wanted to write my own. Project Eden is the result…humanity is on the brink of extinction, and man is pulling the trigger.
Logan Harper is a series about a man who is trying to simplify his life by moving back to his hometown after a bad divorce and years working for a defense contractor, to work as a mechanic in his 80 year old dad’s auto shop. The thing is Logan is very good at helping people in trouble, whether he likes to admit it or not. His father Harp, though, is more than willing to get his son involved in things Logan would rather not even know about.
And Alexandra Poe…love her. She’s a tough as nails
bounty hunter that has reluctantly taken on work at a defense organization specializing in retrieving wanted individuals no matter where in the world they might be. Her hope is, by doing so, she will learn information that might lead her to her father—a fugitive himself, who disappeared a decade earlier.
Mark: Which authors have most influenced your writing?
Brett: So many. Initially I would say the greats of sci-fi—Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, to name three. They were my gateway into becoming a lifelong reader, and taught me the power of wonder and adventure. Other influences over the years include, Graham Greene, Robert Ludlum (earlier stuff through around Bourne Identity or thereabouts), Stephen King (huge influence), and Dean Koontz.
Though probably the author who had the most influence was William Relling, Jr. Not for anything he wrote, though he did write some great stuff, but because he was first my teacher at a class I took through UCLA extension, and then leader of the writers’ group I was in when I wrote THE CLEANER, my first published novel. He, more than anyone, help me to understand how to write a good story.
Mark: Your web site bio indicates that you have traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe, locations that factor into your writing of the Jonathan Quinn series and other novels. Are you a rolling stone just wanting to expand your universe or did you purposely travel to these places to add depth and color to your writing?
Brett: It’s a little bit of both. I LOVE to travel, so writing interesting locations into my stories was automatic. Not sure I even thought about it as a “thing.” I will now sometimes purposefully go somewhere I want to include in a book, while sometimes I go somewhere and decide, hey, this would make a great setting. That I can marry my love for writing and travel together makes me very happy.
Mark: If you could only pick a couple of locations to re-visit, where would you go?
Brett: There are few places I’ve visited that I wouldn’t want to go again! But to narrow it down…hmmm…Vietnam, definitely. I was there about fifteen years ago, and know a lot has changed, so I’d love to see the difference. And how about Finland? I was there in the winter and would like to go when there isn’t ten feet of snow piled everywhere.
Mark: Tell us a little about your writing journey. As I understand it, you first began with legacy publishers and at some point began to pursue the indie publishing route. What prompted you to switch from traditional publishing to indie publishing?
Brett: As most know, the publishing industry has gone through a lot of changes in the last several years, and will probably continue doing so for the foreseeable future. I did five books for Bantam Dell/Random House. When I was working on books four and five, the two people who were my biggest supporters at the imprint (my editor and the head of Bantam Dell) each left within four months of each other leaving me with a new team that was not invested in my work. When it came time for a new contract, they decided to pass, which is just part of business. It was also fine as I would have probably passed on any offer they may have made. It was time to move on. The question was where. I had at first thought about shopping around for another publisher, but was also intrigued by the growing indie publishing movement. Several friends—J.A. Konrath and Blake Crouch to name a couple—had been having success in this new area, so I decided to give it a try. It was a bit touch and go in the first few months, but since then I haven’t looked back. Love the indie life.
Mark: As mentioned above, your writing life must take up a lot of your waking hours. When not writing, how do you like to spend your leisure hours if you have any?
Brett: I do have a little. If I didn’t, I think I’d go completely crazy. I spend it many ways…spending time with my kids, catching up on TV shows I like, hiking, playing with my dog, movies, hanging out with friends, travel, the occasional video game…things like that.
Mark: Your education and work experience prior to full time writing seems to revolve around the television and the movie industry. How do your educational background and past jobs influence your writing?
Brett: I think the way working any job would, life experience, meeting different types of people, being exposed to situations that could be extrapolated into situations that can be used in stories…things like that.
Mark: Where do you see the publishing industry headed? What roles will writers, publishers, editors, agents, and others have in this new world?
Brett: I believe the rise of the independent author is a change that’s here to stay. Will traditional publishers still be around? I think they probably will. But I also think authors will continue to gain more power, and have more choices. Publishing will continue to evolve, and it will be interesting to see where it is in five years. The thing I do know is that the two most important things in the publishing world are readers and writers. And since readers need stories to read, authors will always have work to do.
Mark: What advice would you give new writers trying to get their first novel published?
Brett: Make sure it’s the best it can be. Decide which avenue to being published you want to pursue, and go for it. And, most importantly, start writing the next book.
Mark: What can fans of your work look forward to seeing published in the near future? What projects are you working on?
Brett: Several things are stirring around. A new Project Eden novel before the end of the year. Perhaps a new Quinn, also. And, if all goes according to plan, a standalone in the near future.
Mark: Brett, thanks for joining us. We look forward to re-acquainting ourselves with Jonathan Quinn and all your other characters in the coming year.
Brett Battles is a Barry Award-winning author of over twenty-two novels, including the Jonathan Quinn series, the Logan Harper series, and the Project Eden series. He’s also the coauthor, with Robert Gregory Browne, of the Alexandra Poe series. You can learn more at his website: brettbattles.com
By Mark Young
Author Chris Swinney—writing as C.L. Sweeney—pens stories drawn from his own experiences. His day job is catching bad guys and whenever he can grab a few extra moments—he writes about them. Chris’ non-writing job is as a detective with a sheriff’s office in California. He has been loaned out to work on a Department of Justice task force focusing on drug trafficking and violent crimes. As an author, he writes crime thrillers, his debut novel Gray Ghost released a few weeks ago and his second novel Collectors coming out later this year. It is always refreshing to read fiction written by someone who has lived the life—you know the cop-stuff is dead on. Chris is one of those writers.
Mark: Chris, thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us here on Hook’em & Book’em. Tell us a little bit about your day job as a detective with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office in California.
Chris: First, thanks for having me on Hook’em & Book’em. Now, a little bit about my job. I’m assigned to a DOJ Task Force as a representative of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. We basically do everything, from street level dealers and crimes against people to large scale narcotics and homicide investigations. This basically means we try to plan our days, but normally something else pops up that needs to be handled.
Mark: As a crime fiction writer, I am highly interested in your expertise in cell phone forensics. On television and in the movies, viewers have grown accustomed to having law enforcement use cell phone technology to track down and catch bad guys. Everything from retrieving cell phone conversations to backtracking a person’s movement based upon tower pings and other contrivances. Tell us where reality leaves off and fantasy begins with cell phone forensics. What does law enforcement hope to gain from cell phone forensic?
Chris: Without giving up too much information, I’d say cell phone forensics has gotten better and has led to solving crimes. Some of the stuff you see on TV is a little exaggerated, but I can tell someone with a cell phone forensic background has schooled them on what to do and say. Law enforcement is always behind in this technology, however, and we struggle with knowing others (NSA and secret squirrels) have the ability to assist local law enforcement, but they choose not to share the technology.
Mark: You are a narcotics detective assigned to work a task force operation with the Department of Justice. Tell us about these duties. Who do you team up with? Who are your general targets—street level traffickers, organized crime groups, Mexican cartels?
Chris: We team up with anyone who asks us for help or we work together as one large team. Some days we can’t get to our own work because major issues spring up, but, it’s satisfying when we’re successful. Among the other interesting things we do, I get to process clandestine labs, which helps keep the community safer. We also work organized crime groups, cartels, and essentially anyone doing bad things from San Francisco down to Monterey.
Mark: What do you see as major drug trafficking trends? Years ago, cocaine exploded on the scene and flooded the market. A short time later, meth became a serious problem within our communities, later morphing into crystal meth. And heroin, which has plagued us forever, is always lurking out there looking for more victims—i.e., tragic death of Hunger Games star Phillip Seymour Hoffman last month. What are you seeing now as an emerging threat to our communities?
Chris: I hate to say this, but ALL the drugs are on the streets in an alarming amount. In the San Francisco Bay Area, crystal methamphetamine is probably the most used and seen, but recently I found two kilos of cocaine on a guy, so you can’t dismiss cocaine. We have young people using heroin because it’s cheaper than OxyContin. And, we know heroin is being used, but we tend to focus on the crystal methamphetamine. As far as a trend, I’d say we’re not getting the support we need from the community or the people with the money these days. Having said that, we don’t give up and we continue to try to make the surrounding communities safer. Not really an “emerging” threat, but one that needs to be discussed, is the rampant abuse of pharmaceutical pills.
Mark: As part of drug trafficking investigations, you are sometimes required to use wire taps to gather evidence. Explain to our readers the reality of this investigative technique, its limitations, and how it differs from what we see on television or in the movies.
Chris: The wire taps I’ve worked have been wild, from complex narco trafficking to murder for hire. However, they are very difficult to obtain and we tend to keep the entire process a secret. As far as the TV shows or movies I’ve seen featuring wire taps, they’ve been a little off. We don’t “flip a switch” or snap a finger and start hearing phone calls. It takes months to develop these types of cases.
Mark: Let’s switch subjects and talk about your writing life. Last
year, you came out with your debut novel, Gray Ghost, a crime thriller that takes place in the Bahamas where your main characters discover their fishing guides died in a mysterious explosion. Give our readers a little taste of what to expect?
Chris: I’ve always had a passion for the outdoors and law enforcement, so I took personal experiences and what I see every day and wrote a novel. I wrote inverted, that is, the reader knows fairly early on who the bad guy is, but I leave enough doubt and concern to provide a climatic ending.
Mark: How did you come up with the idea for this plot?
Chris: While flying into Andros, Bahamas, I noticed several downed planes on the tiny runway. I asked the locals about the planes and quickly learned about the narcotic trafficking occurring on the island headed to Miami. I interviewed and spoke to law enforcement, coast guard, and locals. Then, I just mulled the idea for years while life sort of took over. Fast forward eight years and I get into law enforcement-eventually working narcotics. It took four years for the novel to get published.
Mark: I would imagine your day job takes a big bite out of your time. What kind of writing schedule do you follow?
Chris: My writing schedule is as chaotic as my job. I write any time I can. Sometimes I speak out loud in my car into my cell phone recorder when I’m sitting on surveillance. When I get home, I help with the kids and try to write after that. When I have something that needs to be completed or an upcoming deadline, I buckle down and get it done.
Mark: What is your next writing project? Where are you in this process?
Chris: The next novel in the Bill Dix series is called Collectors. It’s written and I’m editing it now. I was able to feature a mentor of mine in the novel, Koti Fakava, who passed away unexpectedly leaving his wife and five kids. I’m donating the proceeds from Collectors to Koti’s family. I can’t describe how excited I am about this project. I’ve been able to get some great support, and the book is contracted. It should be out sometime in August.
Mark: Since you have one novel under your belt, what have you learned about the publishing and marketing business? Are there some things you might change or do differently this next time out?
Chris: I’ve learned quite a bit about the industry in the last five years. Publishing and marketing is a very difficult business. There are publishers out there that will prey on people who desperately want to see their work in print. I think if you continue to write and write well, you will get published. I think if you stick to your work and find an audience for it, you will become successful. I think it’s amazing to get published, but the real work comes with promoting. There are over ten million books on Amazon; somehow you must find a way to compete with all of them. As far as what I might try differently, I did that when I found a new publisher. I’m hopeful that I can be successful and keep my sanity while continuing to entertain readers.
Mark: Where can readers find you in the social media world? How can they reach you if they have any further questions?
Chris: I’m a big social media guy. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Instagram (clswinney), Google+, and Goodreads. If you can’t reach me on these sites, you can reach my via email at email@example.com Thanks again for this wonderful opportunity!
About the Author: Chris Swinney (C. L. Swinney), is currently assigned to a Department of Justice Task Force that investigates a myriad of cases ranging from street level drug dealers and bank robbers to homicides and complex Mexican Cartel cases. When criminals run, Chris is called to find them. He puts his unbelievable experiences and everyday life as a Detective into his writing.
Chris officially began his writing career when his feature article was published in Fly Fisherman Magazine. After this, his work continued to appear in PointsBeyond.com, Alaskan Peninsula Newspaper, California Game & Fish, and again in Fly Fisherman Magazine. He's now a contributor to PoliceOne.com, the nation's premier law enforcement online magazine.
By Mark Young
Stop the presses! I completely forget to share my latest bit of news. I have a new novel out!
Can you believe I forget to tell you about this? I have been so busy working on my next novel, posting other authors’ new releases and other blog-related interviews—I completely forget to let you know about my own novel.
Release of Broken Allegiance (A Tom Kagan Novel) may be known to those of you who pal around with me on other social media sites. However, I just realized that some of my reading friends might only cross paths here on Hook'em & Book'em. They may not know that another of my mystery, suspense, police procedural novels has been let loose on the world.
Here is the down-and-dirty:
Police gang detective Tom Kagan sought justice for more than ten years, leaving him a broken man. His only reason for living—the woman he loves and the badge he swore to uphold. When a man is brutally killed in a vineyard on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, California, it sparks a series of events that test what’s left of Kagan’s resolve to protect and serve.
Secrets from the past thwart Kagan’s efforts to unravel a series of killings sanctioned from within the walls of California’s highest security prison. From the lush vineyards of Sonoma County to the shores of beautiful Lake Tahoe, the detective must outsmart a killer who is moving in for one epic killing spree.
Leaders of the notorious Nuestra Family prison gang are fighting for power, a struggle that spills out onto the streets of California. Kagan joins forces with Special Agent Hector Garcia, a feisty supervisor of the Special Services Unit for the California Department of Corrections; Diane Phillips, a beautiful and hard-charging prosecutor; and Mikio Sanchez, a former gang member marked for death. Through the eyes of cops and gangsters, readers are able to glimpse the seldom seen workings of the gangster underworld.
Broken Allegiance is about treacherous lies, broken promises, and shattered lives—about life, death and a man’s honor.
Does this pique your interest? If so, you can find a copy of Broken Allegiance through Amazon’s Kindle Store here or in print through Createspace here.
Grab a copy. A sequel will be coming out right on its heels. Next time, I will be a little quicker letting you know when another novel is released.
Promise! Cross my heart and hope to… Huh, I think I’ll stop right there. After all, I do write crime novels.
By Mark Young
Fiction writers are always trying to figure out what makes a cop tick. What makes cops run toward danger rather than fleeing from danger? Are there any psychological motivations and stresses that might make a law enforcement officer crack or cross the line between law abider and law breaker? How far can their characters be pushed in the novel until their world collapses?
|Dr. Ellen Kirschman|
There are a few writers who have been granted a rare glimpse into the cop culture—their motivations, their fears, and their worst nightmares. Police Psychologist Ellen Kirschmen is one of those unique individuals who has gained access to police culture for more than thirty years.
Ellen wrote about cops in her doctorate dissertation titled Wounded Heroes. Her first book, titled I Love A Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, was motivated by her desire to help law enforcement families cope with the stresses of the job. Later, Ellen wrote Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know to help mental health professionals and others to know how to relate to cops. Several months ago, Ellen came out with her first mystery novel, Burying Ben, a story about a female police psychologist trying to survive the police culture as a civilian, a woman, and a political liberal. The world of main character Dot Meyerhoff is turned upside down when a rookie cop by the name of Ben—whom she is counseling—unexpectantly commits suicide and leaves behind a note blaming Dot for his death.
MARK: Ellen, welcome to Hook’em and Book’em. I would personally like to thank you for helping those in law enforcement face the psychological challenges of the job. In my career, I have witnessed the damage the job has done to these officers and I know the barriers you must have faced during your career. Thank you!
That being said, I also must add that I know that in some cases harm has been inflicted on officers when psychologists did not understand the police culture, they violated confidences, or when police departments used these psychologists as a means of discipline to force the cop off the job.
I imagine it is a fine line you must tread when trying to help these officers and their families. Before we get into this subject more deeply, please explain to our readers how you became a police psychologist and what are the goals of this unique professional?
ELLEN: I was working as a clinical social worker in a psychiatric clinic. Several of my clients were married
to cops (this was a long time ago when there were few women officers) and the stories they told about their home lives were quite distressing. When I asked my clients to invite their husbands to a session, not only did the husbands never show up, their wives quit therapy soon after. All this piqued my interest: what was it about the job that created such problems for families? More out of enthusiasm than experience, I put together a class called "I Love a Cop" at my local community college. The first session was filled to capacity and there were 40+ women on the waiting list. I had stumbled into an unfilled need.
There are approximately 250 police psychologists in the US. By that I mean those whose practices are primarily devoted to public safety and who belong to recognized police psychology organizations such as the police psychological services section (PPSS) of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Over the past several years, the profession has received recognition as a specialty by the American Board of Professional Psychology. In brief, the goal of the profession has been to apply behavioral science principles that are ethically and empirically based to problems facing law enforcement at both the individual and organizational level. The four basic domains of police psychology practice are assessment, organizational consultation, intervention, and operational assistance. Many, if not most, police psychologists have assessment practices. My background is in the consultation and intervention domains.
MARK: The police culture is very guarded for obvious reasons—public scrutiny, possible civil or criminal sanctions, and fear for the safety of their families to name a few. It would seem your success in helping officers might depend upon how they got to your office—voluntarily seeking counseling or department-mandated Fitness For Duty (FFD) evaluations. Please define the differences between the goals of voluntary counseling and FFD evaluations?
ELLEN: My practice has always been voluntary. In fact, I spent twenty-five years consulting to one agency where my office was located on the flight path between the briefing room and the locker room. This was an unusual decision made by the officer-led task force who hired me. They wanted to normalize counseling and make it part of healthy self-care. Officers had the option to see me in a private location as well. I did a lot of counseling "on the hoof." Apparently, standing up and talking while leaning on the doorsill doesn't count as therapy. Neither does talking in patrol cars or in the locker room.
There are two major differences between voluntary counseling and FFD evaluations. 1) In an FFD the client is the agency who requests the FFD, not the officer; and 2) There is no confidentiality for the officer in an FFD. In voluntary counseling a clinician could lose his or her license for violating confidentiality. The only exceptions are when the client is a danger to self or others, abusing a child or an elderly person, or incapable of caring for self.
MARK: Under what conditions are FFDs ordered by the police departments?
ELLEN: FFDs have never been my speciality. Your readers are best served by checking out the FFD Evaluation Guidelines published by the PPSS. According to those guidelines the purpose of an FFD is to determine whether the employee is able to safely and effectively perform his or her essential job functions. A FFD is considered when there is an objective, reasonable basis, founded on direct observation, credible third party report, or other reliable evidence, that the employee's ability to work safely and effectively is in question. An FFD should never be used as discipline. Nor, for that matter, should mental health providers ever be used as stand-ins for decent supervision.
MARK: Let’s switch gears for a moment. You have just released your first novel titled Burying Ben. What is the gist of this novel?
ELLEN: Dr. Dot Meyer has barely settled into her new job as department psychologist for the Kenilworth Police when Ben Gomez, a troubled young rookie that she tries to counsel kills himself. Overnight, her promising new start becomes a nightmare. At stake is her job, her reputation, her license to practice, and her already battered sense of self-worth. Dot resolves to find out not just what led Ben to kill himself, but why her psychologist ex-husband, the man she most wants to avoid, recommended that Ben be hired in the first place. Ben’s surviving family and everyone else connected to him are determined to keep Ben’s story a secret, by any means necessary. Even Ben, from the grave, has secrets to keep. By the time she uncovers the real reasons behind Ben’s suicide and brings the people responsible to justice, Dot has not only resurrected belief in herself, she has also acquired some surprisingly useful new skills: impersonating a public official, burglary, and assault with a deadly weapon.
MARK: What motivated you to write this story?
ELLEN: I was delusional. After writing two non-fiction books, I actually thought it would be easier to make things up. It isn't. I've always worried that a client of mine would kill him or herself and I've wondered how I would cope with the guilt. Writing Burying Ben gave me a chance to work this out on paper. Writing fiction is payback time. I get to take pot shots at cops, at my fellow psychologists, at my ex-husbands, and myself. Lastly, and most importantly, it is time to talk about police suicide and the fact that officers are two, perhaps three, times as likely to kill themselves as they are to be killed in the line of duty.
MARK: You found switching from non-fiction to fiction to be challenging but I suspect you are having fun. Am I right?
ELLEN: Very challenging but a lot more fun. Writing non-fiction is a journalistic endeavor. The challenge is to get your facts right and present them in an understandable, readable package. Fiction requires the writer to capture the reader's imagination so that he or she is locked into the story, cares about the characters and wants to know how the whole thing turns out. Non-fiction readers can pick up a book and put it down again at will. A good novel should have the reader baring her teeth at anyone or anything that interrupts her before she finishes the story.
MARK: Just prior to the release of Burying Ben, you and two other colleagues released a non-fiction book Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know. Is this strictly targeted toward clinicians, or would others—like fiction authors—find this book of value in understanding cops?
ELLEN: Several mystery writers have told me that they own dog-eared copies of I Love a Cop that they use for inspiration. I think Counseling Cops could be equally helpful. The book is targeted toward anyone who counsels law enforcement officers; in addition to mental health providers that would include chaplains, medical doctors, and peer supporters.
MARK: What was the purpose behind writing Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know? Can you provide us an example as to why this book is necessary?
ELLEN: The purpose of writing Counseling Cops was to create culturally competent clinicians. My two co-authors are both retired officers as well as psychologists. Their experiences on-and-off the job make this a much richer book than had I written it myself. As you know, cops find it very difficult to ask for help. They're supposed to solve problems, not have them. To a cop, having problems equals being weak. So when pressure mounts and an officer finally reaches out for help, he or she deserves to see a provider who understands cops and the culture in which they work. Here are two examples from the book of how things can go wrong:
"Tracy was looking for a therapist. The first therapist he consulted teared up and didn’t think she could bear listening to the kinds of challenges he encountered at work. The second therapist reassured Tracy that he understood the impact of carrying great responsibility because many of his clients were CEOs of large organizations. Tracy responded in anger. 'When a CEO makes a mistake, the company loses money. When I make a mistake someone dies.'" The therapist Tracy finally chose was a combat veteran who knew firsthand what it meant to put your life on the line and the costs of doing it year after year." P. 6.
"Bill had been in two shootings that resulted in his killing two suspects. He was having nightmares and seriously considering quitting police work in order to avoid the possibility of a third deadly encounter. His department EAP referred him to a local clinician who had a lot of experience, none of which involved law enforcement. This was Bill’s first-ever counseling session. The therapist listened to Bill’s story carefully. When Bill was finished talking the therapist asked him “So, are you ready to stop killing people?” Bill left the session very upset. It wasn’t until he talked to some of his friends who had been in therapy that he learned how inappropriate and un-therapeutic this question was and accepted another referral to someone familiar with the police culture." P.8
MARK: What are some of the more prevalent issues you deal with when a law enforcement officers walks through your door?
ELLEN: As you said earlier, trust and confidentiality are probably the biggest hurdles to forming a therapeutic alliance. In terms of clinical issues, or common problems, cops probably don't vary greatly from their civilian counterparts. I don't know of a scientific answer to your question, but I'd say family problems probably top the list. The issues we cover in Counseling Cops are alcoholism, substance abuse and addiction, depression and suicide, trauma, organizational stress and betrayal, family issues, growing old on the job, sleep deprivation and shift work, and something we call the Emergency Responder's Exhaustion Syndrome which is a combination of depression, exhaustion, isolation, and anger.
MARK: A lot has changed in the law enforcement community in the last 30 years—including the way stress-related issues are understood and handled by officers and police departments. What are some of the positive changes you have witnessed that might help these officers survive?
ELLEN: Critical incident debriefings are common these days. They vary, of course, in effectiveness, but they are way more helpful than choir practice. Large urban departments and many smaller ones now routinely provide access to low cost confidential counseling as well as police chaplains. In my opinion, one of the best changes is having well-trained and well-managed peer support teams. Cops like talking to other cops, if they can be trusted.
MARK: What are some of the areas that law enforcement might do a better job in helping these officers cope?
ELLEN: I would like to see every agency, big and small, have a confidential peer support program including family members, family orientations at first hire and again every five years, a chaplaincy program, supervisors who are knowledgeable about spotting mental health issues and compassionate when talking to their officers, and easy access for officers and their families to culturally competent, confidential, low cost counseling. I'd like to see police academies devote more time to teaching officers how to manage stress and develop resilience, and I'd like to see field training programs incorporate behavioral science principles and promote wellness, both physical and psychological.
MARK: What suggestions would you give authors trying to create plausible and realistic cop characters? What sources of information would you suggest?
ELLEN: You mean after reading my books? Go on a ride-along. After all these years I still learn something new every time I do. Attend a citizens' academy. You'll learn a lot and have an opportunity to interact with officers. Volunteer at your local police department. Whatever you do, don't watch cop shows on television.
MARK: Any other suggestions as to how these authors might obtain a better understanding of this closed culture?
ELLEN: Learn about guns. Practice on the range. Try your hand at a firearms training simulator (FATS). If you're qualified and have the time to invest, consider becoming a reserve officer or putting yourself through a police academy.
MARK: Are you still a practicing police psychologist or are you pursuing other goals at this point in your life?
ELLEN: I no longer have a private practice. I do continue to teach peer support, self-care for cops, give workshops for public safety families, and for clinicians who want to work with first responders. My biggest commitment is to the West Coast Post Trauma Retreat (WCPR) for first responders with post traumatic stress injuries (PTSI). I volunteer to do four six-day retreats a year. If any of your readers and their spouses or significant others are suffering with symptoms of PTSI, I encourage them to find out more about this amazingly effective, all volunteer, peer driven, clinically guided program at www.wcpr2001.org.
MARK: What is ahead in your writing career? More fiction? More non-fiction?
ELLEN: More fiction. I've just completed the first draft of the second Dot Meyerhoff mystery and I can't wait to start revising.
MARK: What would be one thing you’d like to share with new police officers just starting out in their career?
ELLEN: Remember, this is a job, not an identity (nobody wants to hear that, especially not rookies). Work hard to find some balance in life. Police work entails a lot of negativity. Negativity is contagious. Try not to catch it. Remember that all you can control in life is your professionalism and your integrity. Don't waste time trying to change anyone else. Keep your expectations realistic. You may love the job, but it won't love you back. Most importantly, know the difference between your work family and your real family. Your work family can (and will) be fickle. If you treat your real family with respect, they'll be there when the job isn't.
Thanks for giving me this opportunity.
MARK: Ellen, thank you for joining us here on Hook’em & Book’em.
Author and writer, Ellen Kirschman, MSW, PhD, has been a police and public safety psychologist for over 30 years. Ellen’s work with first responders has taken her to four countries and 22 states. After giving up her private practice, Ellen spends her time writing, teaching, and volunteering as a clinician at the West Cost Post Trauma Retreat for first responders. Her first book, I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, has sold more than 100,000 copies. Her next book, I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know was penned after the tragic events of 9/11. Her next non-fiction book, published this year, was Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know, the third in the ‘Need to Know’ series. Just released, Burying Ben, is her first foray into the fiction world of writing.
Ellen lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, a photographer and a retired remodeling contractor. In their spare time, Ellen and her husband enjoy hiking, traveling, and cooking. Find out more about Ellen at her web site at www.ellenkirschman.com.