Oh, darlins, I've been reading SO much lately. I've been on a reading bender, overdosing on books.
There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by…Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading–that is a good life. — Annie Dillard, The Writing Life.
I picked up that book in 2007. I know because my Kindle told me not to buy it again last week (thanks!). I vaguely remembered starting it, and not connecting with her language, with her level of intensity. Dillard takes her job as writer very seriously, and that scared me. This time through? I'm highlighting sentences on every page. I love this book. I finished it earlier this week, hit the home button, and started it again from the beginning. I'm not sure I've ever done that before.
Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein. Recommended by just about everyone around me, this book gripped me from the very start. Female pilots in World War Two! The Gestapo! Spies! Don't read any of the blurbs — just jump in and read, blind, like I did. I have never cried so much while reading a book, maybe ever. (That is not a spoiler. When I heard that before I started reading it, I thought Dang, I didn't want to know that! But trust me, it's not really a spoiler.) I couldn't put this down — one of those books you can't wait to get back to.
Speaking of books you can't wait to get back to, I'd love to introduce you to Vanessa Kier! She's an exciting writer I was lucky enough to beta-read for, and she writes romantic thrillers. Who doesn't love a thriller? Vanessa writes what I like — spicy hot alpha males and women who are even stronger. She gave me an interview, and she'll be giving away a copy of Vengeance – The Surgical Strike Unit Trilogy Book 1 in hard copy or e-version to a lucky commenter!
Hi, Vanessa! First of all, I love where he's carrying that gun. Next, What comes first for you, characters or plot? How do you marry the two?
Character usually comes first for me. For example, with Vengeance the first thing I knew about the story was that it revolved around an emotionally wounded heroine, Jenna. I knew that she’d survived a horrific attack that killed her parents and her younger siblings, and that trauma and survivor’s guilt pushed her in a direction no one who knew her up to that point would have expected. After that, I had to actually get into the writing before I even discovered who the hero was. Mark Tonelli was the original hero, until he met Jenna and was such a jerk I realized he was a secondary villain. Niko appeared to me shortly after that.
Betrayal worked slightly differently, because the plot and many of the characters flowed from Vengeance. So I already knew the hero, some of the villains and that the heroine was the daughter of the villainous Dr. Nevsky. From the moment I started thinking about Betrayal I knew that the heroine was going to be either an archaeologist or anthropologist. Susana Dias appeared very shortly after that and was a blast to write!
The plot usually flows from the characters. I often know a few key plot points and maybe the ending, but for the most part, when writing the rough draft I let the characters dictate the action.
What draws you to fast-paced suspense?
The simple answer is probably that I’m just hard-wired that way. I get bored if I'm not writing mayhem! :D After I finished my first full-length manuscript, a romantic suspense that took me five years to write, I was so burned out I thought I’d try to write a light contemporary romance about a woman who meets a man while on vacation. But before long there are dead bodies, her Army brother goes missing in action over seas, and the heroine becomes involved in an investigation that uncovers corruption in the army command. Then Jenna’s story popped into my head and completely overrode the other plot. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll go back and write that as a suspense, not a contemporary romance!
The more complex answer is twofold. First, I’m fascinated by the idea that if you put a character in a life or death situation, you’ll quickly see their true essence.
Second, I’m a worrier. I think that it's cathartic for me to write down some of the worst situations I can think of, then maneuver the plot to result in a happy ending. In my books I can make sure the good guys win, which is very satisfying emotionally and something that doesn’t always happen in real life.
What's your favorite part of the writing process?
The organic process of putting emotion and action on the page is my favorite part. I like sitting down to a blank page and not knowing what's going to come out as my fingers fly over the keyboard. I also love discovering new details while interviewing one of my characters.
What's your least favorite?
Trying to organize all the messy scenes into a coherent whole! I’ve learned that I’m no good at following an outline. I outlined Vengeance, but as I wrote, the characters deviated so far from my outline there was no going back! After the rough draft is done I really drill down and make sure that the characters’ motivations and goals are clear and that the actions they take are logical. Sometimes I end up having to completely alter the plot because of this, which ends up in a lot of work. However, my muse is happier if there's not too much structure when I'm writing the first draft.
Also, keeping the timeline straight for the SSU trilogy was horrible, particularly since Retribution (Book 3) starts chronologically before Betrayal (Book 2). It took several iterations of tracking events on an erasable wall calendar with multiple colors of markers to make sure that the characters weren’t in two places at the same time!
What's on your plate now?
I’m revising the first book in a new romantic thriller series. The series takes place in Africa and I’m drawing on my time spent living there to add authentic details. The first book is about Jane Gardiner, an international aid worker nicknamed Calamity Jane, because no matter where she goes natural disaster, disease or strife seems to strike. If this was a paranormal, she’d behaunted by the Four Horsemen! The hero isRio Martinez, an ex-Marine. Rio is Jane's former lover and the man she was forced to betray several years earlier, ending up in his imprisonment and torture. Rio has become part of a secret African organization that is part special operations, part Robin Hood’s Merry Men, with a goal of preventing violent rebel groups from throwing the region into chaos. Jane and Rio are forced to work together to locate a disk that contains data that can prevent a series of attacks against foreign embassies. There arerebels and traitors and some pretty gritty action scenes. You know, the usual fun and games!
Thanks so much for having me here!
One lucky commenter will win a copy of Vengeance! Say whatever you'd like in your comment, but as always, it's fun if you share the latest great book you read with everyone else. – R
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