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Weldon Writes ... Almost a Blog

For Action-Oriented Female Characters, You Can't Beat DV Berkom

DV Berkom loves strong, intelligent, smart-ass, and kick-ass female characters. So, it's not surprising that the USA Today best-selling author of two action-packed thriller series features impressive female leads: Kate Jones and Leine Basso. Her drive to create such women stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers— and longing to find the female equivalent within those pages.


After a lifetime of moving to places people typically like to visit on vacation, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do. Her most recent books include Dakota Burn, Absolution, Dark Return, The Last Deception, Vigilante Dead, A Killing Truth, and Cargo. She's currently working on her next thriller.

DV was happy to entertain some questions from us. If you enjoy reading (and perhaps writing) thrillers, you just might find her experiences and advice enlightening.

 

Thanks for playing along with us! Let's start with the obvious questions. What do you find most appealing about writing series? Do you think series are easier to write and market than stand-alone novels?

 

Other than short stories, I've only ever written a series—I really love them. The form gives me the ability to explore the main character much more in-depth than a stand-alone novel. Plus, I get to concentrate on the story, the setting, and the secondary characters since I'm familiar with the MC and don't have to build her from scratch. But easy to write? I'd have to say writing, in general, is about as easy as balancing on top of a unicycle in the middle of the I-5 during a Seattle rush hour, while sipping a cocktail and having a conversation with my editor.

 

As for marketing, I think having a series is definitely easier than writing one-offs. There are so many more entry points for a reader and, if they love a character, many will burn through the entire series, which helps tremendously.

 

When creating a series character like Leine Basso or Kate Jones, is the character growth and maturation planned or a natural progression?

 

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Alan Orloff: From Mechanical Engineering to Engineering Thriller, Mystery, and Horror Fiction

Alan Orloff has had a diversified career during his lifetime, far more than most folks. Lucky for us, he's now settled into writing awarding-winning novels and short stories. His debut mystery, Diamonds for the Dead, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His novel, Pray for the Innocent, won the 2019 ITW Thriller Award in the Best E-Book Original category.

 

Alan's short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and other publications, including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Noir at the Salad Bar, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and many others.  His story, "Rule Number One" was selected for the 2018 edition of The Best American Mystery Stories anthology. His story, "Happy Birthday" (published on Shotgun Honey), was a 2018 Derringer Award Finalist in the Flash Fiction category. And his story, "Dying in Dokesville" (published in Mystery Most Geographical) won the 2019 Derringer Award in the Short Story category.

 

Alan is always willing to chat with readers and fellow writers. So, it was no surprise when he agreed—without hesitation—to talk with us for Suspense Magazine.

 


Alan, thanks for chatting with us. You come from a diverse background. A degree in mechanical engineering, an MBA. You've worked on nuclear submarines, at a marketing research firm, and have even driven a forklift, among many other things. Now you're a full-time writer. How in the world did that happen?

A very good question, one that my wife asks me all the time. I wish I had a better answer, but one day I just decided to give writing a try. While I never (never!) had taken a creative writing class (or shown any desire to do so), I'd always been a big reader. I guess I finally got fed up reading other people's stories and wanted to write my own! I started slow, with a proof of concept. Could I write a short story? I did, it didn't stink (too bad), so I took a few workshops, then a few more, and kept at it. Still doing it, too.

 

 

Tell us about your thriller, Pray for the Innocent.

 

 

Don't hate me, but I woke up at 4 am with the premise for this novel fully formed in my head. I recommend this method very highly! (Although, every morning since, when I wake up WITHOUT a great idea in my idea, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed.) The book kicks off with a slight sci-fi twist and then it's off to the races. (It was fortunate enough to win the ITW Thriller Award for Best E-Book Original.) Here's a brief description:

 

In the shadow of the Pentagon, a secret DoD brain research experiment goes terribly wrong, and an ex-Special Ops soldier escapes, believing he is Viktor Dragunov, the Russian operative from the 80's thriller novel, Attack on America. To capture him, the Feds turn to the person uniquely qualified to predict his next moves, the man who created the fictional character, best-selling author Mathias King.

Now a reclusive English professor, King is reluctant to get involved, having sworn off the culture of violence after a deranged fan murdered his wife. But when innocent people start dying, King is thrust back into that dark world. With help from his enthusiastic graduate assistant Emily Phan, King must outsmart his own creation--while outmaneuvering the cover-up-loving Feds--before Dragunov succeeds in his hell-bent mission.

To destroy America.

 

 

Your first novel, Diamonds for the Dead, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. What was your inspiration for that book?

 

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The Glorious Fountain Pen: A Friend to Every Writer

Unfortunately, it's becoming a rarity to see handwritten anything these days, our society is so inundated with technology and driven by word-processing systems. Many deem handwriting inefficient. Why write longhand when you can pound away at a keyboard and watch your work magically appear on a computer screen?

 

Good question.

 

I work on computers, desktop and laptop, every day. My regular job as an editor and writer demands that I sit in front of a computer screen and churn out words. However, as a freelance author, I write my first drafts, fiction and nonfiction, using my favorite writing instrument, a fountain pen. Let me tell you why. 

 

I have many notebooks filled with potential story ideas, snippets of dialogue, random plot points, research—anything that can be put to paper. In fact, what you are reading now started as ink on paper. I find the fountain pen to be more fluid and less stressful on the hand than other pens, especially ballpoint pens that require more pressure on paper when writing. With a fountain pen, the thoughts stream from the brain straight to the page. It greases the "writing" gears.

 

I'm sure many of you have a similar process. From brain to pen to paper seems more creative and natural than pounding on a keyboard and watching digitized letters appear on a monitor. Don't you agree? Maybe I'm just old school and younger writers approach the creative process differently. But I think using a fountain pen is the better way to go. Hey, if ink on paper was good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for me.

 

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Chris Bauer Shares His Thoughts on Horror/Thriller Fiction

Chris Bauer is a Philly guy. It's ingrained in his nature and, not surprisingly, in his writing. Growing up in northeast Philadelphia—playing sports on blacktop and concrete, grappling with neighborhood kids, and enduring twelve years of Catholic education—flavors much of his work. His horror/thriller novels include Hiding Among the Dead, Scars on the Face of God, and Jane's Baby.

 

Chris took some time from his busy schedule to share some insights about his fiction, his writing strategies, and his thoughts about publishing in general.

 

Thanks for talking with us today, Chris. Tell us about your latest novel, Hiding Among the Dead.  What's it about?

 

So, this Navy SEAL named Philo Trout retires from the military and buys a small Philly business that specializes in commercial crime scene cleaning. He runs smack-dab into a local crime syndicate of unlikely pedigree: the Hawaiian mob. Thought to be eradicated in Hawaii, the mob family has resurrected itself in the unlikely confines of Philadelphia, its business model now including organ trafficking, preying on desperate immigrants for their raw materials.

 

Add to this, Philo is also a retired, undefeated, illegal bare-knuckles boxing champ. Plus, one of his employees is an amnesiac. Another employee, the former owner, a woman, needs a lung transplant from all the toxic cleaning chemicals and two packs of Camel cigarettes she's inhaled each day.

 

Great conflict, plenty of action, and a bit of gore—'cause, after all, they're crime scene cleaners, and some crime scenes have been known to make even the toughest of cops and EMTs lose their meals.

 

Yep, crime scenes can be nasty. How much and what kinds of research were required?

 

I followed a certain Australian crime scene cleaner named Sandra Pankhurst whose personal struggles have been chronicled by Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster (St. Martin's). I also did extensive research on grain elevator explosions in stevedore environments like in Philadelphia, where a few pivotal scenes are set in an abandoned grain elevator. I even researched Smokin' Joe Frazier's Gym, now a Philly landmark on the National Trust for Historic Preservation list. But the real question is, have I personally visited any bona fide gruesome crime scenes that needed remediation?

 

The answer is… drum roll please…

 

Nope. I pulled up pictures of many a crime scene online. I also looked online at what meth operations and hoarding can do to a private residence and checked into the cost of remedying murders and messy suicides and other destructive events. Plus, I looked into the illegal organ trafficking market to price some organs. Wanna buy a bowel?

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