IT’S TELEVISION TUESDAY
How to Sell More Books Through Reader Engagement
Geoff Symon is a 20-year Federal Forensic Investigator and Polygraph Examiner. His participation in high-profile cases includes the attacks on September 11, 2001, the War in Iraq, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, the 2002 bombings in Bali and the Chandra Levy investigation, among countless other cases.
He has direct, first-hand experience investigating cases including murder (of all types), suicide, arson, kidnapping, bombings, sexual assault, child exploitation, theft and financial crimes. He has specified and certified training in the collection and preservation of evidence, blood-spatter analysis, autopsies and laboratory techniques. You can reach him at GeoffSymon.com.
Want to add an autopsy that won’t kill your story? Death swings its scythe in every genre, from family funerals to crime scenes to creatures that won’t stay buried. This user-friendly, illustrated reference digs into all things posthumous and postmortem.
Presented as a research manual for the experienced writer, this “Forensics for Fiction” title offers practical approaches and realistic details by covering:
¤ Terms and techniques used during autopsy procedures
¤ Different postmortem professionals and their specialties
¤ The stages of decomposition in different environments
¤ Methods used to estimate the time of death
¤ Case studies in which autopsies cracked the crime
¤ Examples of how to use autopsies in any popular genre
Whether you’re writing about dissection or resurrection, this guidebook covers it all from cadaver to slab as an easy-to-understand resource for dead-on storytelling.
How did you get interested in history?
My interest must have begun in college, when a professor made history more interesting by telling stories which made past heroes real. Since then, I’ve learned that “truth is stranger than fiction”, and am regularly surprised by the limitless things that can happen in life. I also feel that great people of the past deserve to be remembered, and that we can learn from their lessons and mistakes. History is our connection with our ancestors, a continuation of life from our beginnings to our present to our future.
What fascinates you about the history of Ireland?
Ireland is one of the lesser-known, yet most fascinating places in the world. My interest began when I discovered my Irish ancestry, and with my first trip to Ireland I was so hooked, I felt more at home than in New York. Irish history is culturally rich, and archeologists are discovering sites and artifacts older and more advanced than the pyramids.
What’s your creative approach to writing a novel?
I never know where inspiration will come from. I was planning my first book to be about German immigrants in NYC, but on a bus tour in Dublin, our plans were changed from seeing Dublin Castle to seeing Christchurch Cathedral. That day changed my life. Visiting a place as old as the Vikings, feeling medieval tiles beneath my feet, and exploring the underground crypt gave me my first connection with ancient times. From then on, I decided to write about Ireland. I have been inspired by the most unexpected things, like fishing villages, plants, abandoned islands, and even an insane asylum in Wales (which I frequented as a visitor, I might add).
How has your writing process changed over the years?
I used to write from the seat of my pants, but found that subsequent editing required too many drafts, and plot and character fixing. Now I take my time—months–developing an inspiring idea, drawing an outline and doing research until I feel I really know my story and characters. That way, there are no major snags in the plot. Planning definitely shows in the development of the story, and the reader can tell.
How do you write the historical tone of Ireland into your writing?
Historical wording is something I’ve experimented with in various ways for the past few years. At first, I wanted the language to be as modern as possible, as I was addressing a modern reader, and wanted more than just historical readers to enjoy my books. Then I went more literary, striving for heightened language, but found the readers weren’t as fond of that. Now I’m returning to simpler language (with occasionally sprinkled historical words) with a more engaging plot. As far as historical Irish elements, I generally try to make the characters speak with the grammar and vernacular of the culture, as well as using cultural items and situations of the time.
What’s the historical context of Dingle Ireland, 1579?
Ireland of the sixteenth century was under the rule of Elizabeth I, who was fighting a war with Spain. Therefore, Dingle, a busy port, was subject to British rule, Spanish interference, and smuggling, as well as destruction by local Irish warriors fighting against Elizabeth and among themselves. My book talks about the struggle of Ireland’s “Black Earl”, who fought Elizabeth and his relatives to maintain the estate which had been in his family for centuries, a fight which resulted in Dingle being burned a few times.
What are some fun facts from your research that aren’t in the book.
Studying about Dingle revealed interesting facts about struggles from other time periods as well, such as the potato famine’s effect on the town, which brought the establishment of the notorious workhouses, as well as the battle at Smerwick Harbour, where Irish soldiers were decimated by the English. The most fun part of research is always the travel. Dingle is the most magical place in the world. A road winds along cliff-laden coasts where one can catch unexpected views of ancient ringforts, famine cottages, Celtic runes, and the abandoned Blasket Islands. There are few untouched places in the world, but because of an Irish tradition to respect what remains, old sites are not taken down.
Who is Englishwoman Norma Le Blanc and what is she dealing with?
Norma is a fictional character who believes her religiousness makes her superior to everyone, but a carefree, Spanish smuggler who arrives poses the greatest challenge to her ideas. Norma is lonely without her family, who live in England, and finds companionship in Vicente, despite their differences, until she realizes she’s in love. They both have something to learn from one another, as Vicente struggles with his mother’s wish to maintain faith in a God, when it seems as if God has failed him. Through their relationship, Norma learns humility, while Vicente regains his ability to believe.
What did you enjoy most in writing The Smuggler’s visit?
Finishing it? Ha! I always enjoy writing, and every book is different, but the first draft was most enjoyable with this one. Because my outline was established, I went off to a cabin in upstate NY and typed away to my heart’s content, finishing the first draft in two weeks. The editing process took much longer.
What were the most challenging aspects?
Finding detailed information about Dingle’s history was a challenge. Irish history isn’t as well-published as in other countries, and much of the Dingle info was in books or documents in their local library. Thanks to a local historian, I was able to get what I needed.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I collect them and have so many! But I came across this the other day, by Einstein: “Failure is just success in progress.” I think that’s a good thing for us to remember, every time we challenge ourselves to do better.
How do you introduce your story?
I always begin my books with a catastrophic event in the prologue that directly affects both the protagonist’s internal conflict and the entire plot. For Example, in my upcoming novel: The Born Weapons, my protagonist is the first “natural-born” of his kind and his birth is an act of Rebellion against “the Maker.” The Maker makes a deal with my protagonist’s mother that if she kills the Rebel Leader, who is her honorary brother, than her baby can live.
What’s your process of creating characters?
I base my characters off a theme such as truth or innocence. There after, I build their backstory, psychology, personality, appearance, and quirks. The themes I choose correspond to the plot work. For example, my protagonist is based on truth and the catalyst to the climax is the event in which he tells humanity the truth about why his kind was created.
How do you introduce the main conflict?
I design the main conflict and my protagonist’s identity to be symbiotic. In my current novel, the main conflict is that the ‘Alma’ (a type of cyborg) are subject to the oppression of their Makers and Humanity. Since my protagonist is an Alma, he and the conflict are introduced simultaneously.
How do you approach writing the first Act, or 25% of the book?
I love to hit the ground running. I believe that characterization and world building are best shown and not told, so I throw my MC into peril from the first chapter and introduce settings, characters, etc… in pace with the plot.
Do you use a certain number of scenes per Act?
Nope! I actually don’t pay attention to anything regarding quantity such as pages, scenes, or acts until I am revising. I only concern myself with following my outline to ensure I cover all my plot points, sub plot points, character development milestones, ect….
What’s the hardest part of developing the setup?
I assume that by ‘setup’ you mean world building and primary conflict. I often struggle to include world building details while drafting because I tend to focus on plot and character development. I’ve learned to let these details go and add them in while revising.
What has helped you develop your writing skills?
I have to say that the process of trial and error has been most helpful. I’ve been writing books since I was eight years old. Also, reading has helped improve my writing voice over the years.
What’s your creative approach to writing?
I treat it like a job, these days. It may sound unromantic, but writing one or two novels a year takes discipline. I tend to research, write and edit for eight hours, every week day.
Outlining or pantsing?
I like to outline, but always veer away from my plan! I wish I could stick to my blueprint, but I get distracted by better ideas, or juicier characters, so my plans are constantly changing.
When you write crime fiction what comes first? The crime, character, idea?
First the location, then the theme. I fell in love with the Isles of Scilly as a child, for their wild remoteness and knew I had to set a series there.
How do you get to know your characters?
I write detailed profiles, so I know all of their quirks.
What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Lack of confidence. It doesn’t matter how many books I write, I always reach a point, midway through the writing when my belief takes a nosedive. It takes one heck of a lot of stamina and a robust ego to stay in the writing game.
How has your writing process changed over the years and books written?
I began life as a poet, writing longhand, but now use my computer for pretty much everything. With poetry you have to agonise over every word because the form is so precise, but prose is much more discursive.
Did you write poetry before novels?
I surely did. Two collections, Reversal and The Alice Trap, both published by wonderful London press, Enitharmon.
What do you enjoy most about poetry?
Its impact. If a poem is doing its job well, it can be like a bullet of truth, straight to the heart.
Can you share one of your poems?
Not right now, I’m afraid, I’m deep in the middle of a crime novel, but my poems are floating around on the net if you go looking for them.
What next for you?
Two more books in my Hell Bay series, published by Simon and Schuster, which I’m enjoying enormously.
KATE RHODES is a full-time crime writer, living in Cambridge with her husband, a writer and film maker. Kate used to be an English teacher and has published two award winning collections of poetry. In 2015 she won the Ruth Rendell short story prize. Kate is the author of the acclaimed ALICE QUENTIN series, with the fifth book, BLOOD SYMMETRY published in 2016.
In January 2018 Kate will publish the first novel in a new series, HELL BAY, a crime novel set on the remote Cornish island of Bryher, featuring DI Ben Kitto.
Jerry Bruce Jenkins is an American novelist and biographer. He is best known as co-author of the Left Behind series of books with Tim LaHaye. Jenkins has written over 185 books, including mysteries, historical fiction, biblical fiction, cop thrillers, international spy thrillers, and children’s adventures, as well as non-fiction. His works usually feature Christians as protagonists. In 2005, Jenkins and LaHaye ranked 9th in Amazon.com’s10th Anniversary list of Hall of Fame authors based on books sold at Amazon.com during its first 10 years. Jenkins now teaches writers to become authors here at his website. He and his wife Dianna have three sons and eight grandchildren.
*Your dream from a young age has been to put your imagination into words. Is it as easy as you thought it would be?
Dreaming? Definitely! Putting them into words? Not so much, hahaha. I have stories enough (they are piling up like a TBR list on my laptop), and simply not enough time to write them (yet). I still have a full-time job, so I write, do marketing, editing, and everything else book related after hours and weekends. It is like having a second and third job… but I love every moment of it.
This year I will be branching out into dystopian fantasy, as well as starting a new dragon series. I will also release another one of my Elemental short stories, and partake in an Anthology. My word target for this year is just over half a million words. This is about 3-4 books, plus the short story and anthology. Once I can write full-time, and have someone that can handle more of the marketing for me, I will aim for a word target of one million words, just to catch up with the number of books that are already outlined and ready to write on my laptop.
Otherwise, I may still be writing by the time I turn 100!
*Describe the decision to follow your dream after being diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis.
The first thing the doctors do when someone is diagnosed with an incurable disease is, prescribe anti-depressants. I took them for a whole 3 days and then took them back to my doctor. I thought there must be something more to life than pills. My family saw me through that very tough first year and it was because of them that I had the courage to say, hey, let’s try something new. Being unable to function like a healthy person; and deteriorating steadily; makes you think about the future a lot. I do not want to be a burden to my husband and children by the time I am unable to go to work any more. So, what is it that I love almost as much as my family? BOOKS! One day I just picked up a pen and a notepad and I started writing. All those stories and dreams I had had from when I was young just poured out and Elemental Rising happened. It felt liberating.
*What makes a great fantasy book?
Benjamin, that is a terribly broad question, lol. In my eyes… DRAGONS! But, no, there are a number of things that can drive a good fantasy story. A fantasy book can be character driven, or plot driven, or even both. Either way, for me, what makes a good fantasy book is how involved you become when you read the story. Do the characters, or does the plot, draw you in? Are you invested in their actions? I do like the dragons and strange creatures of fantasy, but if the characters and the plot leave me cold, then the book soon ends up on DNF (did not finish) pile.
*How do you approach writing? Structure, pantsing, or both?
Hmm… that is a very difficult question to answer because I think I may be neither. I thought I was a plotter (structure) but then caught myself pantsing, until Sian B. Claven (we work together) pointed out that what I was doing wasn’t really pantsing either. I do A LOT of research before I start writing. Often even while I am writing. I make notes on all the research, character names, character description, setting, animals, and so forth. Then, I usually do a “word vomit”. This is where I write the entire story out in short sentences over a space of 2-6 A4 pages. By hand usually. This will then form the skeleton, or the backbone, of my story.
From this backbone, I devise a rough timeline. (This is especially important for me as I write on a large scale and I have seasonal changes that I need to take into account, as well as numerous plot lines that need to tie up at various points of the story.)
And then, I write. I write slowly and methodically. I put in paragraph breaks. Dot my i’s, cross my t’s. I pretty much edit as I write. As I write it, it usually goes straight to my editor without me having to do rewrites. It is a slower writing process but takes less editing time.
I have yet to meet someone else that write like I do, lol.
*Who is Maia,
Elf princess of Elveron, and why does she want to become a Prime Elemental?
When I first dreamed up Maia, I was still very young. I wanted to be just like her. Young, strong, beautiful, powerful, yet humble, protective, and innocent. It turned out to be quite difficult to write a character that is that strong and has that much power to be humble as well. And, Maia does not want to be a Prime. She was born a Prime. But, you know the saying: With great power comes great responsibility? So, a Prime isn’t given her power all at once. She has to learn to wield it first and as she grows stronger, the more magic grows within her. She meets another Prime during the telling of the trilogy. Primes are rare and it usually spells disaster when two meet. She is Life, he is Death. He is fully trained, she is not. The power struggle is real, so is the threat. Maia has to look deep within herself to unlock the magic to save them all.
*How do you craft and develop your characters?
People have history. They are shaped, made into what they are today, by what has happened to them in the past. If you know their history, you know them as a person. So first, I try to set up their past. It usually goes hand in hand with world building. Let’s say I create a city. Within the city, there are 1000 households. I then make a list of all the professions that make an appearance in my novel… princess, servant, blacksmith, hunter, etc. … and then create a family for each of these, giving them a background and history. Then, when I write, the character has depth, and isn’t simply a name and placeholder. (In the Elemental Trilogy, there are close to 70 professions)
*What have you learned from creating settings for your books?
Don’t. Forget. To. Write. The. Book!
I absolutely LOVE world building. I could spend hours on just setting up the perfect mountainside hideaway, with a cabin, a lake, tall pine, a waterfall, … see, lost already. But, saying that, settings do set the tone. You can have wonderful characters and a great plot, but if they hover in this constant grey cloud of nothingness, the story will eventually get boring. I have learned that finding a happy medium between overwhelming the reader with information, and not telling him anything is pretty much where you want to be. I like to show the reader my world but leave just enough for the imagination for the reader to make the world his own.
*If we were to travel to Elveron what would it be like?
All 11 Life Planets of the Milky Way have similarities to Earth. Some more so than others but, they all have an atmosphere, water, landmasses, people, and animals. Elveron is slightly smaller than Earth. It has no oceans, only lakes. Three of these lakes are salt lakes. The climate is similar to Earth, but the vegetation, the people, and the animals are all slightly different. The people, for instance, differ from Humans by 1 chromosome or so, making them Elves. I started with the story about Maia and Elveron because it is the place where I would like to live. It is pure, untouched by pollution, industry, overpopulation, and all the things that we are making Earth endure.
*What bearing does the nation of Grildor have on the story?
Maia is still very young, only 122 years old. Due to some misunderstandings early in her life, she assumed that it was expected of her to become a Prime as soon as possible. (The average age for the initiation ceremony is 250 years old). So, when she returns from her final test, she takes her ceremony to become a Prime. But, young and inexperienced as she is, when they are suddenly threatened her angst is overwhelming. She believes she is not strong enough, not good enough, not powerful enough. Only the love for her people, the nation of Grildor, drives her forward. Through all her trials and tribulations, it is what keeps her going time and again.
*What’s are the hardest things about writing fantasy?
You got me there… I think it must be answering interview questions, hahaha.
I don’t know, Benjamin. I love writing fantasy. Love every aspect of it. With every book I write, I get better at it. I cannot see myself doing anything else.
*Name some good fantasy books you’ve read recently.
Bentwhistle the Dragon – by Paul Cude
Requiem: Song of Dragons – by Daniel Arenson
The Rain Wild Chronicles – by Robin Hobb
The Rhenwars Saga – by M.L. Spencer
*What’s next for you?
2019 – on paper, it looks to be an exciting year.
Up next: LUKE – book 4 of the Elemental short stories
Then: The submission to the anthology (cannot say much about it yet… shhh)
And: DRAGONLORE: MASTER OF LEGENDS – book 1
Followed by: RESILIENT – my first dystopian fantasy novel
After that, we will see how much there is left of the year. I will either release another of the Elemental short stories, another Dragonlore, or, if time lets me, the first book of my new Trilogy set in the Milky Way – this time on the planet Pud.
Born in Germany in 1976, Toni Cox moved to South Africa in 1991. Although she has spent much of her working career in the timber wholesale business, she is also an accomplished horse rider, has a diploma in project management, photography, and nutrition, and has a passion for books and all things fantasy.
From a young age, her dream had always been to put her imagination into words – give the stories life. When she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2013, she decided life is too short not to follow her dream. So, with the support of her husband and three children, she began writing book 1 of the Elemental Trilogy in January 2015.
Toni Cox writes: Epic Fantasy – The Milky Way Chronicles (including The Elemental Trilogy), Young Adult Fantasy – (including The Elemental Short Stories), Sci-Fi Fantasy – The Andromeda Saga, Fantasy – The Dragonlore Series, Dystopian Fantasy – these are set on Earth, the first one (Resilient) will be released in 2019.
Reviewing young adult, new adult, and romance since 2013.
Author of the psychological thriller series, Incalculable
Author of the Commune Series
Blog posts from writers of authentic crime fiction.
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New York Times-bestselling author
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