October 24, 2016

My Interview with David Alan Binder–Full of Writing Tips

DSC_0003_4x6Joan Curtis interview with David Alan Binder

Joan’s Bio from her website (shortened):  Joan is an award-winning writer who has published 7 books and numerous stories. In her mystery/suspense novel, The Clock Strikes Midnight, we meet Janie Knox, a tormented young woman who escaped her home and family after a jury convicted her stepfather of killing her mother. Her second mystery e-Murderer is the first in a series, starring Jenna Scali, a fairly normal young woman who happens to run into dead bodies. Again, this book captures the imagination of readers with all its twists and turns. The second in the Jenna Scali mystery series, Murder on Moonshine Hill, features Jenna and her friends at a quiet wedding in the mountains of North Carolina. All goes well until everything turns deadly with the discovery of a corpse.

Joan’s books have won awards. The Clock Strikes Midnight won FIRST PLACE in Royal Palm Literary awards for Mainstream/Literary fiction and the Silver Medal in the Global eBooks Awards for 2015. The e-Murderer won FIRST PLACE in the Malice Domestic Grants Competition for new writers and the GOLD for mystery in the Global eBook Awards for 2016.

http://joancurtis.com/ (website)

http://joancurtis.com/blog-radio-appearances/ (blog)

Goodreads Author’s page

Amazon Author’s page

Twitter page https://twitter.com/JoanCurtis

Facebook Author page  https://www.facebook.com/joanccurtisauthor/

MuseItUp Publishing Author page

1.  Where are you currently living (at least the state or if outside US then Country)?

I live in Athens Georgia—A university town.

2.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

There is little that’s predictable. My stories unfold as I write them. The    publishing process changes daily. Writers must be flexible and persistent.

 3.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk? 

My mind goes faster than my fingers on the keyboard. So, when I re-read what I’ve written, I’ve often left out words or written something that totally doesn’t make sense.

4.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

[Tweet “I appreciate the support of a publisher #authorinterview” David Alan Binder] In my view if you’ve written a book     that is worth publishing, you can find a publisher. It’s not easy and the big name publishers are very hard to break into as a new writer, but the small   publishers offer a good alternative. I would only suggest self-publishing if the purpose of your book is marketing a business. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they? My fiction publisher is MuseItUp Publishing, Pierrefonds, Que. Canada. My nonfiction publisher is Praeger Press, Santa Barbara, California

5.     Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing? 

All my fiction books came out first as e-books and were later published in print. My publisher holds the rights to do that. The problem with having just e-books is that they cannot be signed. Often I want to do giveaways of signed copies or book signings. Clearly print books are necessary. The problem with just having a print book and no e-book is the cost. Most people do not want to pay print book prices for an unknown author. Some people only read on print and others only by e-book. It’s best to have both!

6.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?   

The first bit of advice is something you’ll hear from many writers. [Tweet “Keep sending the book out even in the face of multiple rejections #authorinterview” David Alan Binder] That doesn’t mean writers do not pay attention to rejections and the comments made. Revising all the time is critical. But, we must continue to persevere in the face of rejection.

I also suggest going to the small publishers. Researching them and finding         one that fits your genre. Skip going to an agent. Agents are as difficult to     snare as the large publishing houses. And, in this day with the internet giving   writers access to so much information, agents are becoming less and less important.

7.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

I don’t have an agent, and I really do not see the need for one. My publisher is very generous with her authors. I read the contract myself and understand the terms. Most intelligent writers can do that. If you happen to write a blockbuster, the agents will come looking for you.

8.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?  

. I give it away on my website for signing up. (http://www.joancurtis.com)

Generally, though, my first suggestion to new fiction writers is to finish the book. There is no use looking for publishers or agents until the book is finished. If you are writing a nonfiction book, you must write a very  complete book proposal before you explore publishers or agents. (Agents are really unnecessary for nonfiction writers).

My second suggestion is to spend a lot of time re-writing your book. Put together a group of Beta readers who can give you honest feedback (not your spouse or your kids). You may have to pay some of these readers. It’s worth it. Once you get the feedback, go back and re-write. The manuscript must be polished and honed as best you can get it before you send it out.

My third suggestion is once you get your book published, you must take responsibility for getting the word out. You cannot count on your agent or publisher to do that for you. If you can afford to hire a publicist, great, but most of us cannot. You must build a platform through blogging and tweeting   and then tell that platform about your books. I didn’t do that with my first          nonfiction book. I expected the publisher to market it for me. I needn’t tell you, it didn’t sell too many copies!

9.     What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

For nonfiction, I found the writing less inspiring. I wrote facts and conveyed information almost as if I were teaching a class. There was little opportunity for creativity—nonetheless I did create examples to spice up my books.

I’m what is called a pantser fiction writer. That means, I do not rely     heavily on an outline. I learned early on that if I let my mind go, almost in a trance-like state, characters will emerge, take on personalities and sometimes take over the story. This is quite surprising when it happens, but it’s also    wonderful. Writers cannot force this and some writers never experience this process. I am fortunate that I experienced it early in my writing.

10.  How many books have you written?

I have written and published 4 nonfiction books, all published by Praeger Press out of California. I have also written and published 3 mysteries. I have a new one that will go      to the publisher in January 2017. Each of these have been published by   MuseItUp Publishing.  I spend my time now writing fiction.

11.   Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)? 

Notice what you like to read and what works for you. The more you read the better writer you’ll become. But beyond this, writers must learn the craft of writing. Learn how to write dialogue. How to create scenes. How to develop a worldview. I have a number of tips and suggestions for writing suspense and mystery on my blog, http://www.joancurtis.com/blog. But, I also suggest that writers find blogs that help them improve their skills. There is much more to writing than simply putting a pen to paper.

12.    Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story? 

This is a very tough question. All my books have unique twists and turns. My best response to this question is to let your imagination go. Because I don’t write from an outline (in fiction writing), my characters will come up with interesting twists that even I hadn’t thought about. But, I do know that for me, the best thing is to put the book aside and to do something else. For example, with The Clock Strikes Midnight, I had reached a place that felt like a wall. Something had to happen but I didn’t know what. I put the book aside and went for a swim. While swimming, the answer came to me. Many times the answer comes at night while sleeping or on a walk. Getting away from the work is the best way to allow your subconscious to play with ideas and come up with amazing twists.

Let me add one caution. Don’t write twists just to write twists. Your twists must feel natural to the reader. Otherwise the reader feels betrayed. I recently read a book where it became clear to me the author simply        wanted to surprise the reader. As a reader, it felt contrived.

13. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd? 

In The Clock Strikes Midnight (a stand alone mystery/suspense), the main characters are two sisters. Their interaction as well as their bond is what make the story different. Furthermore, there is a southern charm to the book that many readers have enjoyed.

The mystery series (e-Murderer and Murder on Moonshine Hill) debut two characters—Jenna, the main amateur sleuth, and her sidekick, Quentin. The two play off each other in a unique and fun way. Readers not only enjoy the suspense and the inherent mystery, but they also enjoy the humor and the realistic portrayal of these characters.

All my books are set in the south with southern speaking characters. This isn’t necessarily unique, but it adds a certain charm to the pages.

14.  What are some ways in which you promote your work? 

I have promoted my work through the social media in the following ways: 1) Blog tours where reviews and excerpts appear on blogs for a period of time 2) Tweeting daily about my books and about other books of a similar genre 3) Facebook groups and a Facebook author’s page.

I’ve entered contests and gone to conferences to receive rewards for my books. The Clock Strikes Midnight has won three major awards    including First place Royal Palm Literary Award and e-Murderer won the GOLD for the global e-book awards.

In more traditional ways, I’ve appeared at book festivals for book signings. The Decatur Book Festival is one of the largest in the country. I appeared there last year. I’ve also appeared in small bookstores for book signings.

15.  What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why? 

I spent a lot of money on promoting my first fiction release. I regret two things I did: Join NetGalley and hire a publicist. Both of these things cost a lot of money and were not worth the expense. NetGalley produced some reviews, but not enough to justify the cost. The publicist did a lot for my book, but not enough to make up for the cost.

Another place where I spent too much on the first book was the creation of a book trailer. I made the mistake to contract with real actors. The cost was extremely high even though I produced a very professional book trailer. For the second book I created a book trailer more cheaply, using standard images off the Web. Overall, I’m not sure readers look at book trailers, nor if     they have any impact on sales. For my third book, I decided not to create a  trailer.

Be careful to pick and chose how you spend money on promoting your   book. You will have to spend some (blog tours), but I learned that the less    spent the better.

16. What saying or mantra do you live by? 

If you set your mind to something, give it all you’ve got, concentrate on it and you will succeed!

17. Anything else you would like to say? 

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to these questions. I hope my answers help some writers, and I hope some of your readers will join me on my blog and become part of my community.

Books on Amazon:


Clock Strikes Midnight

e-Murderer: Jenna Scali Mystery Book 1

Murder on Moonshine Hill: Jenna Scali Mystery Book 2


Hire Smart and Keep ‘em

The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media

Managing Sticky Situations at Work

Strategic Interviewing: Skills and Tactics for Savvy Interviewers

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My #Review of a Book Full of Twists–4 Stars


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It doesn’t describe the story and instead misleads the reader. Otherwise the book was a fun read. I enjoyed the characters. Many reviewers didn’t like the main character because she was so unreliable. But, unreliable characters are becoming the thing. I realized right away that she was not trustworthy because her choices seemed way off. But, later as things became clearer, her reliability increased.

It’s hard not to give too much away in this book. First, it’s a mystery. Something terrible happens in the beginning which sets off the chain of events. There is not a dead body in the room. That means it’s not a typical mystery. Nonetheless, the reader is constantly wondering what is going on. The police are on a chase for the perpetrator and their frustrations become the reader’s.

Second, I found myself rooting for Ray, the main policeman. But, when he nearly strayed, he became less likable. Integrity is something I like in the main law enforcement characters, whether it’s a policeman or a detective. I didn’t feel as if Ray had much integrity.

The author shifts from first person with the protagonist and antagonist to the third person with the police. That shift helped me know who was talking. But, I wondered about writing the entire book in the third person. Personally, it was creepy being in the mind of the antagonist.

There’s a lot of suspense in this book. [Tweet “If I hadn’t spent lots of money getting manicures, I’d have bitten my nails to the quick” @claremackint0sh] As it was, I nibbled on my cheek and kept turning pages. The reader isn’t terribly surprised by the bad guy, but what keeps us in suspense is what will happen to the protagonist. I can’t tell more without spoiling the suspense.

My only complaint and the only reason I would give this book 4 instead of 5 stars is that the ending seemed strange. Was the author trying to keep the suspense going or creating a backdrop for a future book. Either way, it didn’t work.

And if you do read it, share your views here with me. I’d love to hear what you think.

Wanna read another book full of twists with an unreliable narrator? Try this one.

Tips for Writing Animals into Your Stories

Whether the pet is a dog or cat, I enjoy reading about the interaction of the character with the pet. Pet owners have unique responsibilities that writers should not take lightly. My protagonist in the Jenna Scali mystery series owns two cats. Those cats depend on her for their food, affection, and care. She goes about her day, but not forgetting to feed the cats or empty their litter box. Dog owners must add walking the dog or letting the animal out at certain intervals during the day. All these activities add to the main character’s personality. Does your main character enjoy walking her dog or does she feel it’s an imposition? Often in mysteries, cats and dogs can sniff out the bad guy. Their ears go back or they growl. Paying attention to these details is the job of the writer.

Here are some tips for writing animals into your stories:

Tip #1: The animal must behave like an animal. I do not enjoy books where the cat solves the mystery, that is, figures everything out and does very un-catlike things. Instead, the challenge of the writer is to allow the cat to do normal cat things but the way they do them give rise to questions that might lead to solving the mystery. Dogs might dig something up that had been hidden. Animals have many behaviors that are typical of that animal but can create suspense in thd4c191a5d9cf8cbf52138415bc2ba374e story.

Tip #2: Don’t forget about the animal. If you character has been kidnapped, that character might worry about her life and whether or not she’ll get out of the mess she’s in, but she will still worry about her dog. Who will let him out? Will he think I abandoned him? Is he hungry?

Tips #3: If the animal is threatened, make sure you’ve got good reason for it. In the e-Murderer one of Jenna’s cats is cat-napped. The killer did this because he knew how it would affect Jenna. She has a strong attachment to her cats. But, the cat escaped. Killing an animal to show the viciousness of a killer is cheap. That viciousness can be shown in other ways.

Tip #4: Animals can show a different side of a human’s behavior. You may have created an assassin who never gives killing another person a second thought. Perhaps that assassin sees a hungry dog and feeds it. Perhaps that dog follows the assassin home. Our villains, just like our heroes, are multidimensional. Animals can help show the other side of a person.

Tip #5: Please don’t ask the animal to talk or do other anthropomorphic behaviors. There are exceptions to this rule. In the book The Art of Racing in the Rain, the dog narrates the entire book. But, he’s still a dog. He thinks like us as he narrates, but he’s interested in food, in smells and in the mood of his human caretaker. The author does an amazing job of putting us in the dog’s head.

Guest Post: Murder Within An Extended Family

What a treat we have in store for you today!

Her delightful personality shines through in her many award-winning books. I consider her an inspiration. She agreed to visit us today and talk a bit about the extended family featured in her murder mystery series. Enjoy!

The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries–Heather HavenHeather300dpi copy

As the author, you have to make sure the humor comes across but doesn’t get in the way of the all-important mystery. When Murder is a Family Business won the Single Titles Reviewers’ Choice Award 2011, I hoped I was onto something. When A Wedding to Die For, the second of the Alvarez Family series, became a finalist in both the EPIC and Global Awards 2012, I cheered. When Death Runs in the Family, the third offering, won the Global Gold for Best eBook Mystery Fiction 2013, I was thrilled and went on writing. DEAD….If Only, Book four, won the Silver Global in 2015, and now there’s The CEO Came DOA. I’m beginning to think there is an appeal for a quirky family filling different roles in the family-owned detective agency, Discretionary Inquiries, a detective agency which investigates software, hardware, and Intellectual Property theft. Murder is just not part of their job description.

Lee Alvarez, the protagonist, is a reluctant PI who wanted to be a ballerina, but is a mediocre dancer, at best. As a ferret, however, she’s aces. Lee is aided in the job by her brother, Richard, a computer genius sans social skills, who runs the IT department. These two are kept under the beautifully manicured thumb of their never-had-a-bad-hair-day CEO and mother, Lila Hamilton Alvarez, she who has been known to chill chardonnay at a single glance. Keeping the home fires burning is Tío, uncle and retired head chef, offering unconditional love and tortilla soup. Love interest, Gurn Hanson, listed in the yellow pages as a CPA, is also an ex-Navy SEAL. He comes in handy now and then. Add to this group a white and orange cat named Rum Tum Tugger and you have the cast of characters.

The series starts two years after the unexpected death from an aneurysm of the patriarch, Roberto Alvarez. His death causes the realignment of familial positions, not an unusual occurrence after so big a loss. Did I mention this series is humorous? But you have to start off in a serious place in order for humor to work. Really, really. Just ask Milton Berle.

Anyway, these unmatched souls do their darnedest to be positive, supportive, and loving of one another, no matter how annoying the other’s behavior. Lee Alvarez sometimes becomes overwhelmed, but always tries to be a B&BP (bigger and better person), even while chasing the bad guy over rooftops, ruining her Bruno Magli’s.

All in all, I wanted the series to be warm and funny yet real, with on-going characters you wouldn’t mind hanging out with, although blueblood and matriarch Lila Hamilton Alvarez does not ‘hang’ unless she’s moving her Monet closer to the baby grand. I’ve been lucky that so many readers and reviewers get what I’ve been attempting to do with this odd little family i.e., let’s have fun while solving a crackerjack mystery!

Another important issue for me is to show blended families. The Italian half of my ancestors came to the States in the early twentieth century, when it was difficult to be Italian. But they worked hard to integrate and became useful members of society. I decided to write about new immigrants working hard and succeeding now, today. The series revolves around a half-Latino, half-Palo Alto blueblood family that has managed to capture the American dream through perseverance, hard work, familial love, and oh yes, with a trust fund. Money never hurts, folks.

Check out Heather’s newest release: 

Click to order on Amazon

Click to order on Amazon

The CEO Came DOA,

Book Five

The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries

Someone is trying to sabotage the Initial Public Offering of ‘Read-Out’, a small Silicon Valley start-up, and Lee Alvarez has been hired to find the culprit. Meanwhile, the first Alvarez grandchild is about to be born while Lee is planning her very own Christmas wedding; or rather letting her mother plan it. When Lee finds the CEO hanging by the neck in his boardroom wearing nothing but baby blue boxer shorts, she has to ask herself, was it suicide? Or was it murder? If so, was the saboteur responsible, one of his business partners, or even his famous rock star ex-wife? There are too many suspects and the bodies start piling up just in time for Christmas. Ho, ho, ho

You can find all of Heather’s books on her Amazon page or her website: http://www.heatherhavenstories.com/


A Mystery with a Bad Good-Guy

Corporate Guy Has A Moral Dilemma.I’m reading a mystery, Jo Nesbo’s The Son, with a bad good guy. I find myself cheering for him when he kills worse bad guys. But, he tends to kill them in the same way they’ve killed others, which isn’t pretty.

Usually we are cheering for the hero. We want them to get to whatever goal they have in the story–whether it’s to get the girl or boy or to find the killer or to escape alive. Nesbo created a wonderful bad guy who brought back memories of TV series Breaking Bad. Most viewers recognized our two heroes, Walter White and Jesse, as very bad. But, if you were like me, I didn’t want them to get caught. The tension in the series was to see if our heroes/villains would escape the law. The same is true in Nesbo’s book. But Nesbo also turns the table in another way. The good guys–the top police–are very bad. So the bad guy is the good guy and the good guy is the bad guy.

Do I have you totally confused?

What creates suspense? Here are some tips I learned as I read The Son.

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Click to order

You can believe the motives even if you wouldn’t use the same methods. If the character is too good or too bad, he/she becomes boring and predictable.

Often these even worse bad guys have enormous power that reaches beyond borders. Your bad character might be doing bad things for the best of reasons, but your antagonists are doing bad things for greed, money, more power.

When he’s up against the minor bad guys, the reader knows he’ll be okay. If the reader has to worry about him at every turn, the tension is lessened when it really matters. It reminds me of when Zubin Mehta, the famous conductor, talked about Ravel’s Bolero. He said, “The same bars are played throughout the piece, over and over. But, the orchestra must hold some back so that when it erupts in the end, it is magnificent.”

Most readers don’t mind being in the mind of a bad guy–even a good bad guy–so long as it’s temporary. Furthermore, you need to show the really bad guys who are scheming against your character. If your guy knows what they’re doing, the suspense lessens. Alternating or various third person views create that kind of tension. But, by all means, don’t try and write in the omnipresent!

These are the ideas about creating tension and a good read when the good guy is really bad. What suggestions do you have?

PS. I just thought of another good bad guy book: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo… Agree?

He Said–She Said: Tips for Tagging

They believe the reader must be told who is speaking at all times. When I first began writing fiction, I made the same errors. I committed a number of the mistakes I’m going to list below. Now, I’m a more savvy writer–I’ve spent time learning more about the craft. Seasoned writers at conferences or through editorial feedback helped me see the error of my tagging ways. Happy young couple talking over chalkboard background with drawn

I will share some tips for tagging in this post. Perhaps it will clarify some questions you as a new or seasoned writer wonder about.

Tip #1: If two people are talking, the reader knows who said what without constant tagging. Writers let them know with punctuation. Each speaker’s dialogue is in quotation marks. A new speaker with new dialogue has a new paragraph with quotes around their spoken words. If the same speaker continues in a different paragraph, quotes are left off at the end of the previous paragraph to alert the reader. For the most part, writers need not tag each statement. Here’s an example.

Mary walked into the room with an armload of groceries. “Please help me unload this,” she asked Tim.

“Sure.” He rose from the chair with his eyes still glued to the football game.

“I forgot to get the tomatoes you asked for. But, I’ll pick some up tomorrow.”

“That’s fine.”

“Did you manage to fix the sink in the bathroom?”

Tim slapped his head. “Oops, sorry. Not yet.”

“Look. We need to get that fixed before next week. Everyone is coming to the house and we can’t have a leaky sink.

“By the way, are your sisters coming, too?” Mary continued (optional)

Notice in this example the conversation shifted from Mary to Tim but we only used one tag in the beginning and maybe one at the end. In the last interchange, Mary spoke twice.  The writer could add “Mary continued,” to help out the reader, but that is optional.

Tip #2: Do not use verbs that show action as a tag. This is such a common mistake that I will venture to say it’s one both new and seasoned writers commit.

The reader reads over them without noticing. When we give the tag more than its purpose, we are in error. For example, “What in the world did you do with my slippers?” Mary demanded. Or “How could you leave without telling me,” Tim hissed. I particularly dislike “hissed.”

And, even if they did, they’d have to have some s’s in the dialogue. Please don’t have your characters hissing. If Mary demands, show her doing it. Example: Mary said with hands on hips.

Tip #3: Not enough tags. Okay, this seems contrary to number 1, but seasoned writers tend to string along pages of dialogue and expect readers to keep up with who is speaking. Jonathan Kellerman does this a lot. As a reader, I have to go back and trace the conversation to figure out who said what. Sometimes the dialogue itself will tell you. The speaker uses a name or a phrase that betrays who they are. But other times, it’s just plain hard. So, please, stick in an occasional tag, Mr. Kellerman, to help us out!

Tip #4: There’s nothing wrong with ‘said.’ For some reason writers get tired of writing ‘said.’ In truth, ‘said’ is the best tag. After all aren’t we pointing out what’s been ‘said’? So, please don’t worry about using said. The other tags that can be freely used are, although not as often as said are: continued and asked. Just remember tags are supposed to be invisible. Don’t make your readers notice them!

These are some tips for tagging that all writers, new and seasoned might find helpful. BTW, I’ve stopped reading some books where the writer continues to make these mistakes.

What tips do you have for tagging?


What in the World are People Thinking?

As you walk down the hall at work or through the aisles in the grocery store, do you imagine thoughts in other people’s heads? Are they thinking about how much their feet hurt or wondering what their spouse will get them for Christmas or thinking about a friend who might be in the hospital? All of us have very busy minds. We are thinking all the time. But, I’d venture to say that you’re too busy thinking about you to wonder what others are thinking. UNLESS you’re a writer.

73af806b7ef840091923ee678ea4c0efIn fact, if you see a writer in the grocery store or at work, they are probably wondering what you are thinking. One of our jobs is to get in the minds of our characters. We think our character’s thoughts. Sometimes they are clear thoughts and other times they are snippets of thought or fragments.

Here are some tips for getting into your character’s head:

  1. Don’t write every thought. Otherwise you’ll drive your readers nuts.
  2. Imagine that character and what might be going on with them. Imagine their unique personality. For example if your character us obsessive compulsive, they might get off on something small–some little noticed tidbit they can’t let go. This might be just the thing that solves a case.
  3. Make sure the thoughts are relevant to the story. Random thoughts are what people have all the time, but as writers we must ferret out the ones that matter to the story we’re telling.
  4. Don’t spend too much time in the character’s mind. Too much internal dialogue can drive readers to put your book down and never pick it up again.

So, what are you thinking about? Can you give us a few of your usual thoughts? We might use them the next time we enter the mind of our characters. Why not? Share your thoughts with us.

Thriller Writer, Matthew Peters, Talks about Researching his Novel

Most people believe everything in fiction is made up. Readers, however, demand much more than that of writers. They demand credibility and genuineness. So when Matthew Peters began working on his suspense thriller, The Brothers’ Keepers, he had to immerse himself in quite a bit of research. The main character uncovers remote truths about Christianity that powerful forces want to remain hidden. Much of what you will read in the The Brothers’ Keepers is historically accurate. Matt agreed to join us today to share how he created such a credible tale full of twists and turns that not only entertain but also educate.



How I Researched My Thriller Novel

I’ve been asked how I researched The Brothers’ Keepers, and how I decided how much information to include without it sounding too much like a lecture. I’ve also been asked how I came to link the Bible with writing a suspense novel.

Realizing this is truly half the battle.

Developing/researching the story took as much time as writing the book.

I began with a very general idea, involving a religious document found in the aftermath of a murder. Next, I thought about the kind of people that would populate my story world. I wanted the protagonist to be smart, and I knew the Jesuits were among the best educated orders in the Church. But that was about all I knew. So I researched the Jesuits and eventually became fascinated by them. One book led to another and before long I had settled on the idea that the murder case should be linked to a treasure.

Next, I determined if my idea had been done before. I searched for my proposed topic on Amazon using the qualifier “fiction,” to see what novels were out there. Once I felt sure the idea hadn’t been done to death, I searched through relevant non-fiction sources. Again, Amazon was helpful in this regard. Through extensive research I laid flesh on the bones of the argument. I can’t emphasize enough how important research was to the development of my story.


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That’s how I developed the story’s overall structure.

While amassing information through research is a good thing, the issue ultimately arises as to how to use it without sounding too much like a lecture. As a former college professor, I’ve written lots of lectures, so I had to be extra careful. There is also a natural tendency to want to use every iota of information gleaned through hours of research.

The way I solved this was to write the first draft in such a way that I got out all the historical information necessary to the story. Subsequent drafts parsed this info to its bare essentials. Later drafts focused on incorporating the info as smoothly as possible—and only the information crucial to the storyline. This was done with the help of several readers, who were kind enough to take time out of their busy schedules to offer feedback.

The Brothers’ Keepers is no different in this respect.

In terms of linking the Bible with suspense, I believe that regardless of your religious views, the Bible is one of the most interesting books of all time. Combining history, poetry, music, narrative, epistles, and parables, it practically contains something for everyone.

At some point, however, I think many readers of the Bible reach a point where they ask themselves, “How much of what I’m reading is fact, and how much is fiction?”

As a child I stood in awe of the familiar Bible stories: the fall from grace of Adam and Eve, Noah and the destruction of the flood, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath. I was especially captivated by the Gospels and the central role Jesus played in bringing about salvation to humankind. I was always mystified by the concept of the Holy Trinity: how three could be one and one three.

As I got older I began to question certain aspects of my Catholic faith. Was there really a heavenly afterlife? Did the priest’s incantation over the bread and wine really change them into the body and blood of Christ? Was a virgin birth conceivable? Had Jesus walked on water, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, and raised the dead?

To me suspense is inherent in the very issues it raises. What could be more suspenseful than answers to questions like, Is there a God, and, if so, what type of God is He/She? Did Jesus rise from the dead, and was he truly the son of God? Is there an afterlife?

Unlike other fictionalized suspense, I wanted to place something “real” at the center of my novel, something that, if true, carried enormous consequences. To me,

The Brothers’ Keepers asks fundamental questions and proposes answers to them. While a novel, the questions and issues raised aren’t fictitious. They impact nearly every facet of our lives, from the social to the political, to the type of human being we are and strive to become. Moreover, the historical puzzle around which the novel revolves is real, and I think that brings the greatest element of suspense.

I hope you find The Brothers’ Keepers among the most suspenseful books you’ve ever read!

You can find Matthew Peters at his website. Or, the Melange Publishing site, on Amazon’s author’s page, on Twitter or on Facebook.

And, check out my review of The Brothers’ Keepers.


What is the Bane of Your Writing Existence?

The things that make them want to pull their hair out and wish for another career. Instead, they’ll say what fun it is to create worlds and people and stories. And, yes, that’s fun. But there are things that might be called the bane of a writer’s existence. Otherwise wouldn’t even more people be writing books?

So, what is the bane of your writing existence?

Here are some things that I’ve found more troublesome:Man Looking At Computer In Desperation

First and foremost the marketing that goes with writing and producing a book. Talk about bane of existence! It’s not only frustrating but it can be very expensive. A publicist could cost as much as $8000 a month! Imagine that for books that sell for $2.99 or less.

Second is hearing your friends say something like, “Did you notice on page 29 you left out ‘and’?” or “I wrote down all the typos I found for you.” Geez. Can anyone possibly think this kind of feedback is helpful? If you are a Beta reader and  asked to pick out errors, yes. But, after the book is out there either in print or as an ebook, please do not tell me about the errors you found.

Third is writing the full scene when the characters want to go off and do something else. This happens more frequently than readers might imagine. We are not finished with a scene, but the characters are done. Writers must pull the characters back and force them to finish that scene before we move to the next. For me, this seems stiff and it’s hard.

Those are three things I find troubling as a writer.

4 Common Mistakes in Punctuation

Part of writing is understanding punctuation. We all know what a period means, but do we understand the meaning of commas, semicolons, ellipses, dashes? As writers, we use punctuation to help us “express” what is on the written page. For that punctuation to work, we must all understand it.Confused Business Man

Most publishers use a traditional convention for punctuation. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style was the bible for most journalists. Academicians use the California Manual of Styles. Fiction publishers use their own conventions, most adhering to the California manual. Why do we need conventions? The main reason is so we’ll all be reading on the same page. In other words, if you see a comma, you read in a certain way. That sentence contained a comma before the word comma and after the adverbial clause beginning with “if.” You probably didn’t notice the comma because of tradition or convention. Without convention, we’d all be reading sentences in different ways. That would not bode well for writers.

Here are some typical punctuation mistakes:

Here’s and example:

I went to the ballgame, but Jane decided not to go. The comma is there because of the noun, Jane, and the verb, decided. Another example: I went to the ballgame but not before you left. No comma because no noun and verb combination.

A semicolon is used in the place of a full sentence not separating series. (There is an exception which we’ll look at later). Here’s an example. I went to the ballgame; Jane decided not to go. The semicolon replaces the conjunction (and or but). You can use a semicolon to separate a series when each part of the series is very long and commas might confuse the reader. Here’s an example: Whenever I have a job to do, I tend to walk the dog for an hour before the job is scheduled to begin; to call my mom before I go for the walk and before I do the job because she’ll call me while I’m out; and to remind my neighbor that I’m going out because he might worry about me.

Semicolons are rarely used in fiction.

Ellipses are those three little dots. My editor is always correcting me. Here’s my take on it. When there is more to say or the sentence runs off. For example, “I couldn’t tell him how much he hurt me because…” The reader understands that there’s more to say. Something is left out. The reader intuits what that something is, but…

There are two uses for dashes. The most common one in fiction writing is for an interruption in speech. Here’s an example: First speaker: “I can’t come to your wedding because–” Second speaker: “You’re mad me for stealing your fiancé.” Notice how the second speaker interrupted the first. The dashes tell us that. We don’t have to say, “Second speaker interrupted her.” The reader knows this by use of punctuation.

The second use for dashes is to set off a series, particularly when that series is long. But it could be to emphasize something. Example:He pulled everything out of his pockets–loose change, a theatre ticket, his cell, my photo– and threw them on the table.

These are just a few of the mistakes in punctuation that many writers make. What mistakes do you make the most? What punctuation issues drive you the nuttiest?