As the Shark Writes wasn’t among the mourners when Joan Rivers died. I barely recognized this iteration of her face, and I didn’t think her brand of comedy particularly funny. Other than another celeb death gone-wrong, the event barely flickered my needle. But the outpouring of emotion over her death and life intrigued me. She was a female pioneer in the field, and for that alone she merited a footnote in the comedic annals. But people were genuinely moved by her passing. Hmmh. So, I did some reading.

She was an artist who took her craft seriously. After deciding that she’d never make it as an actress, she chose to be a comedian. And from that moment forward, her every aim was to make people laugh. Her mantra: live like a shark. Either swim forward or sink and die.

Good advice. Even for writers. So I’ve taken that mantra for myself. I’ve already published three thrillers with some success, but I’m not satisfied. So I made a hit-list of ways to swim forward.

3lies6X8-1Outline better. I tend to outline a general architecture when I start a novel and fill in the details as I progress. But it’s not enough. I need to think through the details of the entire novel before I begin to write. A good outline helps me weave the complex threads of action beforehand, making for a tidier process as I write. If the story line is part of a series, this becomes vital to continuity between the volumes. And personally, it’s security, a tether on my wandering sanity.

Write a series. My current WIP is a sequel to my bestselling thriller, 3 LIES, but I plan to write a series to complement my second novel, DARK POOL. I’ve found that I enjoy seeing the next adventure in a character’s life. A human isn’t limited to one growth arc in a lifetime and neither are my characters. As with their author, they still have lots to learn. And a bonus takeaway to a beloved series is sales. I’ve watched my son buy book after book from his favorite authors. So, cheers. I hoist my goblet in honor of my new watchword: series.

Write more.   More words. More chapters. More stories. More books. Just more. There isn’t a shortage of ideas to write, so write them. When I have time. When I don’t have time. When I can’t wait to pour into a page. When the monitor stares at me and blinks. When my butt is numb from sitting, stand, sit on the bouncy ball, or write at the treadmill. Whatevs. Just. Write.

OceanOfFear6x8Write faster. I’ve taken to writing with a timer. Exactly how many words can I slam out in twenty minutes? Is it 300? 500? 1000? I keep track of my personal best, see if I can improve on it each time I caress QWERTY. Caffeine helps. Music with lyrics does not. If it helps, fine. If it hinders, ignore it. Life will never be perfect. Which only gives me more to write about.

Treasure my time. Time is the one resource we cannot replenish. I feel it at my back. There are things I must do and things I want to do. Everything else is optional. Choosing with care is difficult but necessary. The writerly groups one can frequent are endless. We just got a Roku, and I could watch new movies and television until the end of my days. And books. The queue on my reader is scary. I need to say no when I have to and yes when I can. I think I used that same logic in parenting my kid. Figures.

Try new things. Comfort zones are an amorphous entity. I’m stretching mine. No marquees in Times Square just yet, but I’m not ruling out the idea. There are a zIllion ways to reach readers in both the real and virtual realms.   If I haven’t tried it, I might. If it didn’t work before, I might try it again. Even unmitigated disasters are better than inertia. And if it doesn’t kill me, it may end up being a good thread for my next thriller.

So, thanks, Joan. Even if I didn’t laugh at your jokes, even if I didn’t shed a tear, even if I couldn’t pick you out of a line-up, I wish you well. Your sixty years of swimming forward have inspired me.

Me_rounded-500Bestselling Kindle author Helen Hanson writes thrillers about desperate people with a high-tech bent.  Hackers.  The CIA. Industry titans.  Guys on sailboats.  Mobsters. Their personal maelstroms pit them against unrelenting forces willing to kill.  Throughout the journey, they try to find some truth, a little humor, and their humanity — from either end of the trigger. Visit Helen at her website, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads.

Get to Know Toby Neal

TobyPressRecently I had an opportunity to chat with Toby about her passion for writing, our common interest in creating strong female protagonists, and the joyof living and writing in a beautiful part of our country. You’ll find the Q&A below.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

Toby: I dictated my first stories to my mom before I could read or write! My first novel, involving a horse with a striking resemblance to the Black Stallion, was written in longhand when I was nine.

You live on the beautiful island of Maui. How do your surroundings influence your writing?

Toby: Hawaii is a character in my books, and each island is like a sister to the others–very distinct, with her own personality and unique features. I love moving the books from island to island to share that with readers. Hawaii is a place that gets hold of your heart and, for some people (like our family for three generations) won’t let go.

Your stories have engaging female characters; some with kick-ass strength or clever minds. Do you think it’s important to have strongfemale protagonists in your books?

Toby: It never occurred to me to write from a male perspective because there are so many male characters in the police procedural/crime novel/mystery field. I wanted to show the exterior and interior life of a damaged but brave and overcoming woman cop through my series. I do something unique for the genre, by showing my protagonist’s recovery from childhood sexual abuse across a series of books–she gets measurably better from PTSD symptoms in each book. Recently (last 3 books) I began including the male perspective of her love interest, Michael Stevens, and having the tension of their shared versions of events has deepened and enriched the overall story.

You’re the author of the bestselling Lei Crime Series which involves intriguing and at times heartwarming stories. How do you go about the research for your stories?

Fire beach smallToby: I try to do my research before I start a book because I write fast and hard once I get going and don’t want to slow down for research. In Fire Beach, my most recent, I found a retired fireman/fire marshal and sat down for an intensive tutorial on firefighting/fire inspection/arson. He sent me research articles. I developed my profile of the criminal and ran it by him. Also the main crime. Then, at the end, he read the whole manuscript and made corrections. This is basically how I do all the books: obtain expert, research, write, have expert read and correct. Readers have come to count on learning something new in my books so in a way, I’ve set a high bar for myself! But it adds to the appeal of the series and is worth the extra effort.

We both recently released the latest book in our series. Now that you have released Fire Beach, what’s up next for you?

Toby: I’m already hard at work on Rip Tides, Lei Crime #9, and then I’m planning a new series with a side character, an MMA-fighting FBI tech agent, my Hawaiian version of a Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. I’m psyched to do something new! I love writing multicultural characters, and setting a spotlight on the many races and ethnicities we have in Hawaii. Lei Texeira, the Lei Crime Series protagonist, is Hawaiian/Portuguese/Japanese. Sophie Ang, the new protagonist I’m developing for the Wired series, is half Thai and half Black. Her father was an American diplomat who married a Thai socialite, and she’s escaped her debutante background and early abusive marriage by joining the FBI. Can you tell I’m eager to get started? Sophie appears in the Lei Crime Series from #4, Broken Ferns as a friend of Lei’s.

If you are interested in connecting with Toby you can do so on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Google+. You can get to know Toby by visiting her website.

BLOODORCHIDS_225x336Please leave a comment by midnight EST on Wednesday, October 22nd to receive a copy of Blood Orchids, the first novel in Toby’s bestselling Lei Crime series.

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