Chatting with the Pros: Interview with bestselling mystery author Gilly Macmillon

chatting with the pros

My “Chatting with the Pros” author guest this month is a New York Times bestselling mystery author with books translated in over twenty languages. Her success as a writer may have come as a surprise, but I’ll let her tell you about that. She currently has five published mystery/suspense novels, and is working on the sixth, I believe. Let’s see what she has to say on the writing of mysteries. Please help me welcome UK author Gilly Macmillan.

 

© Céline Nieszawer/Leextra

© Céline Nieszawer/Leextra


Kaye: Can you tell me about your author’s journey? How did you get to where you are today?

Gilly: I started to write when I was over 40 and I challenged myself to do 1000 words a day until I had finished an entire book. I faithfully recorded my word count each day until it was done. I polished the first three chapters and send them to a few agents. Two rejections followed swiftly, one agent didn’t reply but the fourth one I sent it to was interested enough to offer me representation. She and I worked on the book together for a year before she submitted it to publishers, and we were lucky enough to sell it very rapidly and in over 20 territories! The rest has followed from there. I write a book a year and try to keep things fresh, compelling and thrilling for myself and my readers.

Kaye: When did you know that you wanted to be an author?

Gilly: For many years I didn’t have a burning desire to write, I think because I was busy doing other things and life got in the way, but once my youngest son started school full time I wanted to see if I could challenge myself to write a novel. The idea sort of came out of the blue but perhaps it wasn’t that surprising because at that point I had been an obsessive reader for 35 years. I had a small window of opportunity before having to get a proper job, so I took it.

Kaye: Why do you write mystery? Why not romance, or western, or horror?

Gilly: I read very widely, but mystery books have always been a favorite, so I write what I would like to read.

Kaye: What element do you think is the most important in a mystery story? Why?

Gilly: That it creates an impulse in the reader to turn pages. This can come from great characters, a thrilling set up, tons of action or an intriguing plot, but it must be there.

Kaye: What is one thing your readers would never guess about you?

Gilly: I have no idea! I’m a fairly straightforward person so there’s probably not much they couldn’t guess.

Kaye: (So, there’s no mystery to the mystery author? Hmmm.) What is the biggest challenge in writing mystery for you? Why?

Gilly: Plot. I don’t plan ahead when I write and creating a well-paced, complex and intriguing plot is always my biggest challenge, especially as I like to keep things within the realms of believability.

Kaye: What is the most fun part of writing mystery? Why?

Gilly: I love creating new characters and devising a challenging scenario for them. It intrigues me to explore how ‘regular’ people might behave if placed in extreme situations and pushed to their limits.

Kaye: Your most recent release is The Nanny. What can you tell me about it?

81ul8HE96pL.SR160,240_BG243,243,243Gilly: When her beloved nanny, Hannah, left without a trace in the summer of 1988, seven-year-old Jocelyn Holt was devastated. Haunted by the loss, Jo grew up bitter and distant, and eventually left her parents and Lake Hall, their faded aristocratic home, behind.

Thirty years later, Jo returns to the house and is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her mother. But when human remains are accidentally uncovered in a lake on the estate, Jo begins to question everything she thought she knew.

Then an unexpected visitor knocks on the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again. Desperate to piece together the gaping holes in her memory, Jo must uncover who her nanny really was, why she left, and if she can trust her own mother…

Kaye: What is your biggest accomplishment to date in your writing career?

Gilly: Making bestsellers lists! It’s a dream come true!!

Kaye: Of all of your books, which one is your favorite? Why?

What She KnewGilly: I love them all for different reasons, but I think my favorite is my debut, What She Knew, because that was the book that launched my career and I put a lot of heart into it.

Kaye: How do you keep tension and suspense in your stories, so that readers will keep the pages turning?

Gilly: I work hard to come up with characters that I hope will be relatable and intriguing and then place them in a compelling situation, which subsequently evolves in a threatening, challenging or terrifying way. At the end of every day of work, I ask myself: will this turn pages? If the answer is ‘no’, I start over and do it again until I’m happy that both tension and suspense are maximised.

Kaye: Is there a common theme running through your books?

Gilly: I like to take a person or people who are in a relatable situation and make something very dramatic or difficult happen to them. A mother with a missing child, for example, or a teenager who has made a fatal mistake in her past which threatens to derail the new life her mother has carefully reconstructed for her, or perhaps a little girl whose nanny disappeared overnight without trace or explanation and reappears thirty years later in very mysterious circumstances. I love to explore dynamics within families, especially the parent child bond.

Kaye: What are you working on now? What is next for Gilly Macmillan?

Gilly: I’m working on a novel that feels like a journey into psychological horror. The main character is a female crime writer. That’s about all I can say for now!


I want to thank Gilly for sharing her craft today. I think it is fascinating that she can plot as she writes. When I try and do that, I find myself exploring avenues that lead to dead ends and have to backtrack a lot. You can learn more about Gilly Macmillan and her books on her website and Amazon Author page.


You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2019, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress.


“Death Among Us”: A collection of short fiction mysteries

Death Among Us

Death Among Us – An Anthology of Murder Mystery Short Stories, compiled and edited by Stephen Bentley is a curious collection of stories, indeed. As I’ve mentioned before, the problem with short fiction lies in telling a complete story in a condensed form, with beginning, middle and end, and it’s one of my peeves when I walk away from a short story and it doesn’t feel complete, or it feels as if it ended too abruptly, as if the author was in a hurry to wrap things up. Some of the stories in this collection are like that, and some were more telling than showing. A few I didn’t feel really fell into the category of murder mystery at all, but for the most part each one kept me engaged despite all that. (That’s another thing about short fiction; you don’t have to keep your reader engaged for a long period of time, but that also means that you have less time to hook them and reel them in.) And there were some stories in this collection, which I’ll talk about in a minute, that were really well written and I was able to immerse myself in from start to finish.

Of particular note, Michael Spinelli’s No Man’s Land is the tale of a desert manhunt for a gruesome serial killer. It’s well-crafted, and built tension and suspense all the way up to the surprise ending. The two stories by L. Lee Kane, A Deadly Lady and Stop Me If You Can, are really two parts of one tale of abuse and revenge, crafted so that the first part offers the motive for what happens in the second. And Justin Bauer kept me fully engaged clear through Sales Meeting, although I felt the ending was tied up a little too neatly. This is not to say that the other shorts in this collection weren’t good, but these three are the ones that stick out in my mind the most.

I will also mention that there are three stories included by Writing to be Read team member, Robbie Cheadle, in this murder mystery collection: Justice is Never Served, An Eye for an Eye, and The Murder of the Monk. Robbie’s stories are each inspired by factual historic events that have to make one wonder and tell the tales the way she imagines them to have happened.

Overall, this anthology was entertaining, (and, after all, isn’t that the point?). I give Death Among Us four quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


July: On the hunt for crime fiction

Crime Fiction Theme

The crime fiction genre covers a lot of ground. By definition, crime fiction involves mystery to be solved, usually who the killer is, or a quest to figure out some type of diabolical plot. Crime fiction stories involve pretty high stakes, and therefore a lot of suspense. Often there is a ticking clock to ratchet the tension even higher. And of course, there is always a crime of some sort to be solved, or prevented; some sort of wrong to be righted.

Crime fiction is a broad term which includes many sub-genres, which focus on the investigation of a crime and the apprehension of a suspect, either by law enforcement agents, as in The Numbers Killer, by my “Chatting with the Pros” author guest, Jenifer Ruff or by a tough guy P.I., as in hardboiled crime fiction such as Jim Nesbitt writes, with his tough guy P.I., Ed Earl Burch in The Best Lousy Choice and the two previous books in that series.

Hardboiled heroes are memorable. Who doesn’t know of Sam Spade or Mike Hammer and their cynical tough-guy images?  They are usually down on their luck, or at least between clients. They are often heavily flawed, often self-destructive, but a ladies man none-the-less, with a love them and leave them attitude and the snappy dialog of the 1920’s. Hardboiled fiction was birthed by Carrolle John Daly and Dashielle Hammett in the 20’s, and carried on by authors such as Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane.

In noir crime fiction, the protagonist is usually an extremely flawed, average guy. He’s usually down and out, or perhaps on a downward spiral in a situation that seems bleak and hopeless. He’s a self-destructive hero, who ends up going against all odds to fight corruption and injustice, not because it is his job, but for strictly personal motivations, which are usually not in his own best interests. An excellent example of this is found in Rose City, by Michael Pool (See my interview with Michael next Monday, the 29th).

And of course, the classic crime fiction is pulp, such as Quintin Peterson writes in Awesome Tales #10 . From pulp, we get our classic heroes and fiendish evil villains. It’s from pulp that comic book super heroes and super villains arose, which is yet, another sub-genre of crime fiction, which has expanded with a life of its own to super colossal proportions.

We went on a hunt for crime fiction, and we found quite a bit. I learned a lot and I hope you did to. Now, I’m looking forward to August in a quest for mysteries and mystery authors. My “Chatting with the Pros” guest will be New York Times bestselling author, Gilly Macmillan. I’ll also be interviewing mystery author Gerald Darnell. And I’ll be reviewing a mystery anthology, Death Among Us, as well as a search and rescue mystery, Murder on the Horizon, by M.L. Rowland, and a paranormal cozy, Broomsticks and Burials, by Lilly Webb. I hope you’ll join me.


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Chatting with the Pros: Interview with suspense thriller novelist John Nicholl

chatting with the pros

It’s my pleasure to have as my guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” bestselling suspense thriller author John Nicholl. His works draw from his own true life experiences as a law enforcement officer and child welfare social worker in Wales. John has written seven thrillers and every one of them has seen the bestseller list. Please help me welcome him now. Maybe we can learn some of his secrets to becoming a bestselling author.

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Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?

John: I self-published initially. When that went better than expected, I partnered with a literary agent and signed a publishing deal. Further books followed from there.

Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?

John: The hook is crucial. I try to capture the reader’s attention from the very first page.

Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?

John: I write in the morning. It’s when I’m at my most creative.

Kaye: What is the biggest challenge in writing psychological thrillers for you?

John: My books sometimes engender memories that were, perhaps, best left in the past.

Kaye: What elements of storytelling do you feel are specific to the thriller genre? Are there particular elements that are specific to psychological thrillers?

John: Psychological thrillers explore the extremes of human behaviour.

Kaye: Anonymity is described as intense and terrifying; White is the Coldest Color as violent and brutal; Portraits of the Dead as disturbing and compelling; The Girl in Red as haunting and unsettling. Where do you get ideas for your stories?

John: I began my working life as a young police officer, and subsequently trained as a social worker. I worked in child protection for about twenty years after qualifying. My writing draws heavily on those experiences.

Kaye: Thrillers are action-packed and filled with conflict and tension. What techniques do you use to keep the story moving, the readers on the edges of their seats, and the pages turning?

John: I try to keep the stories as fast paced as possible, without too much padding. Quality is more important than length!

Kaye: How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the process for you?

John: Inspiration comes from different places. The title of White is the Coldest Colour, for example, came to me when listening to A Whiter Shade of Pale on Radio 2.

Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?

John: The words come into my head as if channelled from somewhere else entirely.

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Kaye: Your latest release was The Girl in Red, which came out in March. Would you like to tell me a little about this book?

John: The Girl in Red is a dark tale of domestic violence, and the extreme lengths that one woman goes to, to escape her tormentor.

 

Kaye: Every one of your books has been an Amazon bestseller. What’s your secret?

John: I’ve had a lot of luck. And the book blogging community has been wonderfully supportive. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Kaye: Are there any particular thriller authors that you fashioned your writing style after as you approached writing in the thriller genre?

John: I mostly read historical biography and stories of real-life experiences that are out of the ordinary· Castaway by Lucy Irvine is a particular favourite. I’ve read it three times over the years.

Kaye: What are you working on now? What’s next for John Nicholl?

John: My next thriller, The Girl in White, will be published by Bloodhound Books this year. The release date has just been bumped up to September 4. It’s the story of a secret, quasi-religious cult hidden deep in the beautiful West Wales countryside. Hopefully, readers will like it. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

I want to thank John for joining me here and sharing with us today. You can learn more about John and his bestselling thriller novels on his website, on his Amazon Author page. or on his Goodreads Author page. Join me on the third Monday in July, when we’ll be celebrating crime fiction and my “Chatting with the Pros” author guest will be Jenifer Ruff.


You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2019, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress.


“The Gamma Sequence”: Non-stop Action and Suspense

The Gamma Sequence

The Gamma Sequence, by Dan Alatorre is a non-stop action, futuristic medical thriller. The suspense begins to build on the very first page and keeps on ratcheting up the tension from there, with twists and turns that will keep readers on their toes.

Hamilton DeShear is a private detective and former cop, who isn’t looking for a mystery to solve. But when the mysterious Lanaya Kim arrives on the scene claiming to need his help, how can he refuse? There’s no turning back once his apartment goes up in flames and the game turns personal.  Soon enough people are shooting at them, the stakes are raised and it will take all of DeShear’s skill and expertise to keep them alive. Genetic research is the name of the game, but not everyone is playing by the same rules. Things aren’t always what they seem, and this certainly appears to be the case here. There’s a killer on the loose, who is targeting the scientists who worked on a secretive project which Lanaya was involved with, but can DeShear unravel the mystery and figure out what is going on before he and Lanaya are taken out of the game?

The Gamma Sequence will be available next month as a part of the Do No Harm medical thriller box set. You can preorder now.

Nail biting suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The Gamma Sequence does everything a good thriller should. I give it five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Interview with International bestselling author Dan Alatorre

 

I”m chatting with International bestselling author, Dan Alatorre. He has written in several genres, including humor, science fiction time travel, and even children’s books. With his most recent book, The Gamma Sequence, Dan delves into the world of medical thrillers. This isn’t the first time Dan has dabbled in the thriller realm though.  You can see my review of Dan’s suspense thriller, Double Blind, here: https://wp.me/pVw40-3Li. Today, he’s going to share his perspective on the thriller genre, and medical thrillers in particular.

Kaye: You are a multi-genre author, but your most recent release is a medical thriller, The Gamma Sequence, which is featured in a collection of medical thrillers, Do No Harm, that will release in July. Why have you chosen to delve into medical thrillers?

Dan: I got invited to participate in a box set with a bunch of New York Times best-selling authors and USA today bestselling selling authors, and I thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. It’s like being invited by a bunch of major-league baseball players to come play on the All-Star team. So I jumped at the chance. That experience was a lot of fun, but when they asked me again to participate in a medical thriller, I initially said I didn’t think I should because I wasn’t really known for that and I wasn’t an expert in that. My friend Jenifer Ruff disagreed and said that a lot of my stuff had the basic elements; I just needed to kind of paint with a different color. I looked into what readers of that genre expect from their stories, and she was right. Writing a medical thriller was a lot of fun and people really are going to enjoy The Gamma Sequence, because there are just surprises you’re just never going to anticipate. It has a great villain. It has conflicted good guys. There’s a lot to like on a lot of layers.

Kaye: How do medical thrillers differ from other types of thriller?

Dan: A typical murder mystery is: a murder happens and the detective goes about solving it. With a medical thriller, you take those basic elements and you set them in a medical scenario but often the person doing the detecting is not a cop or a detective but somebody from the sciences, or the victims are from the medical sciences, or it has a general medical background setting that is going to be part of the solution. If murder mysteries are typically painted in blue, then this is painted in purple because it’s those things with some shades of other things.

Kaye: What was the biggest challenge in writing thrillers for you?

Dan: I needed to learn what readers of the genre expect in their stories so they wouldn’t be disappointed. I needed to lay out a decent outline so I could hit the points I needed to hit, and I had an extremely short deadline. Most books like this take the author a year to write. I had this completed in about 1/4 of that time – by necessity. And it literally went almost right up to – the day I had to submit it, I was still getting some feedback from beta readers and making a few tweaks. But it’s really, really good. People are really going to enjoy it. The early reviews are tremendous.

Kaye: Can you briefly tell readers about The Gamma Sequence?

Dan: Geneticist Lanaya Kim must do what authorities haven’t—tie together the “accidental” deaths of several prominent scientists around the country to show they were actually murdered. Over the past two years, geneticists have died in what appear to be accidents, but Lanaya knows otherwise. If she tells her secrets to the authorities, she risks becoming a suspect or revealing herself to the killer and becoming an open target. Hiring private investigator Hamilton DeShear may help her expose the truth, but time is running out. The murders are happening faster, and Lanaya’s name may be next on the killer’s list. But when Lanaya and DeShear start probing, what they discover is far more horrifying than anyone could ever have imagined.

The more they look, the more they find – and the bigger the problems get. In the meantime, they’re getting shot at and having to run for their lives because people are trying to kill them!

Kaye: What elements of storytelling do you feel are specific to the thriller genre?

Dan: For me, it is a fast pace that goes from one interesting thing to the next without slowing down. Now, that sounds like any good movie or book, and that’s the challenge. You really don’t have time to slow down and get distracted but you still need red herrings and false leads and multiple suspects. So at the same time you’re hitting the accelerator, you have to be looking down the side roads, too. Here’s the key: what’s interesting? How fast can you get to it? What’s the next interesting thing? How fast can you get to that? Each chapter has to ask another question and add to the mystery while it’s answering something early from earlier. The reader can’t put it down. I’ve had people tell me they missed their stop on the train because they were so engrossed in The Gamma Sequence!

Kaye: Do you feel thrillers require a faster pace to keep the adrenaline flowing?

Dan: I think most stories should have a fast pace. Some should not but most should. Thrillers definitely should. Murder mysteries definitely should. Comedies definitely should. But you can see how romances might really benefit from taking a slow pace, and there are certain dramatic stories that definitely want to dive deep. But thrillers need to be a roller coaster ride, and The Gamma Sequence definitely is that. It has beautiful settings and a terrific villain, and a pace that keeps it moving, nonstop.

Kaye: Thrillers are action packed and filled with conflict and tension. What techniques do you use to keep the story moving, the readers on the edges of their seats, and the pages turning?

Dan: Conflict and tension. Internal dilemmas. Stuff a reader would relate to – in a good guy and a bad guy. You have to have likable characters and multi-dimensional characters. You have to have an interesting villain with a compelling reason for doing what he’s doing. I prefer if the villain does not see himself as a bad guy but sees himself as having different goals than the good guy, and their goals happen to be in conflict with each other. And a fast pace is definitely helpful.

Kaye: Are there any particular thriller authors that you fashioned your writing style after as you approached writing in the medical thriller genre?

Dan: I can’t say I styled myself after any particular author in the genre, but I have been compared very favorably to Robin Cook and Michael Crichton. A few others. That’s good company.

Kaye: You have also written, horror, murder mystery, sci-fi time travel, and humor. What are the differences in writing a thriller from the other genres you’ve written in?

Dan: The broad strokes are still the same: What’s interesting and how quickly can you get to it? So, if it’s a horror story, I get to the scary as fast as possible, but I horror you build lots of tension and suspense. In a murder mystery, you have to make it be exciting and move along quickly while really baiting the hook each and every chapter, building to the big reveal at the end. A medical thriller is very similar to that because it all keeps building until it reaches a critical mass and then you finish with a bang. So far, nobody has seen the surprise ending coming in The Gamma Sequence. I love that. I get emails: I did NOT see that coming! That’s fun.

Kaye: As you prepare to write in a genre that is new to you, what kind of pre-writing preparations do you make?

Dan: I talk to fans of the genre to find out what types of books or movies are their favorites, and what they liked about them. I try to make interesting characters including the villain. I want to have a fast pace because a good story feels like it has a fast pace, regardless. The fact is, it’s a lot of work to make a story appear effortless. And I definitely sit down with some trusted advisors to hammer out an outline that is going to fulfill the expectations of what readers of the genre have. Then I have my boundaries drawn and I go crazy and have a lot of fun inside those lines, occasionally straying a little here and there outside the lines, because you have to push the envelope, but always delivering intensity on every page. The Gamma Sequence does that.

Kaye: What is your favorite genre to write in? Why?

Dan: Comedy. It’s so much fun! Making people laugh is a lot of fun. Scaring them in a horror story is a lot of fun, too. And taking them on a roller coaster ride in a thriller is a lot of fun, too!

Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?

Dan: Probably what’s most unusual is that I’m not afraid to try something new, and then I kick ass to make it amazing. A lot of authors develop something and stay with it, and that’s great. I do that, too – but I’m not afraid to jump over into something new.

I want to thank Dan for joining us today. You can read my review of The Gamma Sequence this Friday. You can pre-order the box set Do No Harm here: https://www.amazon.com/Do-No-Harm-Seventeen-Thrillers-ebook/dp/B07RFSSQZ4/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=Do+No+Harm&qid=1559140737&s=books&sr=1-2

Learn more about Dan Alatorre and his books at the following links:

Blog and Website: https://danalatorre.com/

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_6?author-follow=B00EUX7HEU& 

 


Double the mystery, double the suspense with “Double Blind”

Double Blind

Double Blind, by Dan Alatorre is a riveting suspense thriller that will keep the pages turning. I didn’t want to put it down. I was forced to stop in the middle of a climactic scene because I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer and my brain was muddling the words. But, I was back at it first thing the next morning because I had to find out what happened. And you will, too.

There’s a brutal serial killer on the loose, but when he strikes two members of the same family on the same night, it sends police looking for connections that don’t seem to be there, and the killer seems to always be one step ahead, and brings in Johnny Tyree, a P.I. and friend of the family right into the thick of things. When the two detectives working the case, Carly Sanderson and Sergio Martin, become the targets, it sends police reeling in yet another direction.

Dan Alatorre does a marvelous job of weaving the subplots together without revealing the surprise twist at the end in this well-crafted crime novel. I give Double Blind five quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.