Stories have arcs. Characters have arcs. Writers have arcs. We write, we get better at our craft. We read, we get better at our craft. We interact with other writers and our readers, we get better at our craft. Whether you are a professional writer or just starting out. Hobby or career. We are all in this together. Welcome.

Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Author Alexia Gordon: Balancing a Medical Career with a Writing Career, and Picking up a Lefty Award Along the Way

This week I got to hang out with ITW Debut Author Alexia Gordon. Here's Alexia in her own words...

A writer since childhood, I put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. Medical career established, I returned to writing fiction. I completed SMU's Writer’s Path program in Dallas, Texas. Henery Press published my first novel, Murder in G Major, book one of the Gethsemane Brown mysteries, in September 2016. Book two, Death in D Minor, releases July 11, 2017. 

Murder in G Major won the Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best New Novel, and was selected one of Suspense Magazine's Best Debuts.

I listen to classical music, drink whiskey, and blog at www.missdemeanors.com, voted one of Writers' Digest magazine's 101 best websites for writers.

You are a medical doctor and now a novelist, how do those two careers intersect?
I keep my medical and writing careers separate. As a family physician in full-time clinical practice I was too close to medicine to write about it. I'd go off on rants about the frustrations of primary care instead of telling a story. However, now that I've transitioned from the clinical side of the house to the administrative side, I may try again to write about medicine. I'm out of the trenches and the distance helps me maintain perspective. Giving up clinical practice also provided me with regular hours and a more predictable schedule so I'm able to juggle two jobs. I don't write novels while I'm at my day job (the Feds frown on doing non-government work on government time) but my day has a set end-time and I don't work weekends or holidays so I can plan my writing. Mysteries and medicine do share a commonality for me. My love of solving puzzles and fixing problems drew me toward both.

You have had a lot of critical success with your first novel, how has that impacted you?
Critical success with my first novel created a lot of anxiety about my second. I suffered a major case of Imposter Syndrome—I don't really belong here, I don't really deserve these accolades, I can't really do this, etc. Self-doubt and fears about failing to live up to expectations moved in and resisted eviction. The bar seemed so high for book 2, I struggled to write it. But, with the help of my editors (Thanks, Rachel and Erin) I managed to finish book 2. Book 3 was much easier to write. 

You've lived around the US and love to travel, but what made you choose to set your series in a small town in Ireland?
I describe myself as a Hibernophile. I love Irish music, history, whiskey, sports, accents, culture, geography. But I didn't consciously choose to set my story in Ireland. My story chose the setting. When the idea came into my head, Ireland was a part of it. English village mysteries, like Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple, influenced the small town setting. Small towns seem innocuous on the surface, charming and warm and Normal Rockwell-ish. But the bright and shiny veneer often hides some pretty twisted stuff.

Your protagonist, Gesthemane Brown, has a very unusual sidekick, a rather debonair ghost. What draws you to ghost stories, and what do you believe happens to us after we die?
I've always loved ghost stories and horror stories, even as a kid. Maybe because scary things contained within the covers of a book or the edges of a screen aren't really that scary. They're reduced to a manageable size. They're controllable. And they're not real. Close the book, turn off the TV, turn up the lights, the boogeyman's gone and it's safe to go home. Unlike real life where you can't control or predict the action and the boogeyman looks like the guy next door. What happens when we die? No comment, other than to say I'm a confirmed Episcopalian. 

Music is important to you and your characters. Did you grow up in a musical household? Are you a musician yourself?
No, I didn't grow up in a musical household. I grew up with a mom who never got to take piano lessons as a kid which meant I got to take them from elementary school all the way through high school. I learned technical things, like how to read notes, but I don't have any real musical talent. In addition to the piano, I played the saxophone and violin for a little while but, because I was a kid and music was just something to try, not a calling, I didn't stick with it. Looking back, I wish I'd appreciated the music lessons more than I did but I can say that about a lot of things that my mother swore were "good for me" but seemed like chores more than fun. These days, I call myself a "music patron". Someone has to buy the concert tickets, right? I'm a symphony season subscriber. I also donate to musical organizations, like the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra's Musica Nova program. They raise money to commission or co-commission a new orchestral work every year.

What are you working on now?
I am editing Gethsemane Brown book 3, A Killing in C Sharp.

Final Words of Wisdom:

Finish the manuscript. Even if it's crap, it's a start. You have nothing to edit or submit if you have no manuscript.

Jennifer Soosar, Debut Author Finds Suspense in the Classroom

Introducing ITW Debut Author Jennifer Soosar. She's joining me this week to talk about her experiences writing her first novel. 

Jennifer Soosar watched too much 'America's Most Wanted' growing up and has been writing about shady characters ever since. She was born and raised in Toronto and has a degree in anthropology from York University. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. 

She is a member of International Thriller Writers, the Crime Writers of Canada, and Sisters in Crime.

For more information about Jennifer, you can find her online at:

Tell us about the road you took to write and publish your first novel, Parent Teacher Association.

Since childhood, I had written a lot of screenplays and short stories, but never a novel. A novel always seemed like such a daunting project. “I’ll get around to it one day,” I told myself. Once my kids were older, I discovered I had more free time so it seemed like the best opportunity to finally give it a try. The first idea that popped into my head was “why not set the story in an elementary school?” I outlined a basic story with conflict between two characters—a parent and a teacher. The whole thing grew as my imagination took the concept to a much darker place than your typical school environment, but I think that’s what makes it fun. I can admit, I was a bit of a ‘helicopter mom’ (like my parent character Naomi) when my kids were little. I had some fears letting them go out into the world. Writing the novel allowed me to purge a lot of that.

While hammering out the first draft during the late summer of 2014, I was excited to learn about the annual ThrillerFest conference in New York. One of the best things about it was PitchFest, an opportunity to pitch your novel to literary agents. I quickly signed up for the next one in July 2015 because I wanted to give myself a hard deadline. I now had nine months to produce an 80,000 word manuscript I could sit across from agents and pitch. There was no going back now. I had to finish this book…and it had to be good!

The deadline weighed constantly on me. Between mini-panic attacks of “what have I done?” to doubts that I could deliver, the deadline ended up being the best favor I could have done for myself. There was absolutely no way out (well, technically, I could have cancelled the whole thing and gotten my money back but that would’ve sucked). I had to ignore the negative, skeptical thoughts and just keep pounding the novel out. Months went by and it started to take shape. By late June 2015, I finished what was probably the fifth or sixth draft of it. It was finally ready. It was time to head down to New York City.

ThrillerFest was an amazing, positive experience and I learned so much. I ended up pitching Parent Teacher Association to ten different agents and nine of them asked to see more. While I didn’t end up landing an agent, I did meet a fellow author who was published at Black Opal Books.  Later in the fall, I queried a few publishers, including Black Opal. Five months later, in March 2016, the acquisitions editor at Black Opal said she was delighted with Parent Teacher Association and wanted to publish it. I got a contract in the mail a few days later.

To return to ThrillerFest in 2017 as a Debut Author is an amazing, satisfying feeling. Every bit of hard work, sweat, and tears was worth it to get here. It’s also great to be on the other side of the project, stepping into a brand new world as an official, published author.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a crime novella called Cayo Cuba. It’s a noir-suspense set on the tiny island of Cayo Guillermo on Cuba’s north shore. I’ve travelled there four times and was inspired by the resort workers and the fact that Ernest Hemingway had spent time on the island. In fact, Cuba’s best beach, located on the tip of Cayo Guillermo, and is named after Hemingway’s boat, Pilar.
The tagline: ‘A mysterious blonde manipulates a restless dancer to perform a dirty deed in exchange for freedom.’ 

I realize it’s an uphill battle for a new author to find readers and fans so I’m writing Cayo Cuba as a promotional giveaway for Parent Teacher Association (with an excerpt and buy link at the end!) I plan to have this novella ready for Bouchercon which takes place this coming October in my hometown of Toronto.

Final words of wisdom?

Inspiration for stories is everywhere, and ideas come in little scraps. You gather up these scraps, combine them and your imagination turns them into a bigger idea. Since there’s no predicting when a scrap of an idea will come, you always carry a small notebook with you. I love mixing unrelated scraps of ideas because the outcome can be something you never would have thought of.