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

The Debutona 500: ITW Debut Author Program

International Thriller Writers is thrilled to announce that as of this summer, more than five hundred writers have been through the Debut Author Program. This year's Debut Author program chair, Elena Hartwell sat down (well, virtually anyway) in conversation with our first Debut Author and our five hundredth Debut Author, to find out a little bit about where we started and where we’re headed. Co-hosted this week by The Thrill Begins.


The First ITW Debut Author: Matt Bronleewe is a Grammy-nominated songwriter, producer, and author. His name has appeared on over 500 records, amassing sales of over 25 million. His songs have been used by The Walking Dead, Orange Is The New Black, as well as various other tv shows, movies and video games. A founding member of the band Jars of Clay, his credits include producer of the Sinfonia line of digital instruments, owner of Unsecret Music, and co-writer of the current country radio hit “Flatliner” with Cole Swindell & Dierks Bentley. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three children.

For more info on Matt, click on his photo or the links below:

Twitter: @mattbronleewe   

Instagram: @mattbronleewe

Facebook:  /mbronleewe  &   /mattbronleewe

The 500th Debut Author: Lisanne Harrington:  Eleven years ago, I left the legal world behind forever so I could pander to my muse, a sarcastic little so-and-so. Only copious amounts of Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper and hamburgers will get him to fill my head with stories of serial killers, werewolves, and the things that live under your bed. 

I love to watch reruns of Gilmore Girls, horror movies like Sharknado and Fido, and true crime shows. I like scary clowns, coffee with flavored creamer, and French fries. Lots and lots of French fries.

I live in SoCal with my husband and always-has-to-have-the-last-word Miniature Pinscher, Fiona.

For more information on Lisanne, click on her photo or the links below:

Twitter: @LisaneHarington

Amazon: Author Page


Matt: I love the idea of shooting questions back and forth. Lisanne, how did you get started? And what led to the release of your debut novel?

Lisanne: Well, let's see ... I was a paralegal for nearly twenty years, until the day an attorney threw a stapler at my head. I knew then it was time to move on. My aim is a lot better than his.... 

I can't remember a time when I didn't write stories, but it wasn't until 2006 that I decided to get serious about it. And Moonspell was formed. 

Elena: Tell us about Moonspell

Lisanne: Moonspellis the first of the Wolf Creek Mysteries. When townspeople are murdered during the full moon, James Manarro is confronted by his cousin with her suspicions about the identity of the killer—a werewolf. At first, James just laughs it off, but with each vicious murder, he’s forced to admit that she may be right…and one of them might be its next victim.

The others in the trilogy are called Moon Watch and Moon Shadows. I'm also under contract with Black Opal Books for a stand-alone murder mystery called Murder in the Family

Elena: What about you, Matt? How did you get started?

Matt: My journey started about fifteen years ago. I’d been doing music for around five years—give or take—and I was feeling the itch to explore new creative places. Poetry was the first thing that struck me. Writing poetry was a natural step from writing songs, but while my songs were succeeding, my poetry was not. 

After amassing a battalion of poems—all publishable in my mind—my manager arranged a meeting with an author who lived here in Nashville.

He declared my poetry a waste of time, and told me to abandon it before it distracted me from the thing I did best—write and produce songs. His words were sharp, but he honestly wasn’t trying to do me harm. Looking back, I’m glad he wasn’t more tactful, because it quickly made me change my angle. But not in the way he thought. 

I began writing fiction in earnest. Every night I tried to crank out a few pages. I had no idea where the story was going, but it felt SO GREAT to write. So I just kept writing until one day I realized I’d completed what amounted to a book. A bit slim, but still, it was more words than I’d ever dreamed of stringing together.

I was flummoxed at what to do next. I knew I wasn’t going to go back to the author I’d met with previously. To have him squash me down again would be unbearable, so I reached out to someone else, another producer/songwriter who had also authored a few books. This time around, the meeting went much differently than the time before. This new mentor was encouraging, even to the point of connecting me with his publisher.

The publisher left his position at the publishing company and became my agent, with his unbridled enthusiasm and help, he managed to land a multi book deal.

My first book, Illuminated, was the book that got me into ITW. It was followed by a sequel, House of Wolves, before I decided to take a hiatus from the series in order to focus on some other creative goals I had in mind. 

Elena: What a journey you’ve been on, Matt. I see your third novel in the series is Man of Action. Congratulations on a trilogy! What else would you like to ask Lisanne?

Matt: I'm excited to dig into Moonspell, and it makes me curious about research habits… What places, whether online or in the real world, are strongholds for you in terms of information? Do you like to interview people? Dig through old volumes and libraries? Sift through endless websites? All of the above? I ask because my stories are often birthed from research.

Lisanne: I have a touch of social anxiety, so interviewing people is fairly difficult for me. What I did for Moonspell was to visit places where teens congregate: MickeyD's, Starbucks, the Mall, *shudders* to listen for current slang terms and issues. I did online research on werewolf legends, including the first recorded appearance. Research also included serial killers (their mindset, nurture vs. nature, etc.), the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths (one uses charm and normally has above-average intelligence while the other tends to be uneducated, highly volatile and easily agitated.)

I do rely heavily on the internet for my research, although sometimes, it can be very satisfying to go old school and go to the library to pour through actual books.

I have a few friends in law enforcement, so I did contact them with certain questions on police procedures, weapons, cruisers, and such.

The way I work, a character usually appears to me and we chat until they feel comfortable enough to tell me their story. That's when I start my research. I can't start before that because I don't know what the story elements might be.

Matt: So interesting to hear your story and your writing methodology. The way you described your conversation with your character, getting comfortable enough for them to tell their story, is fascinating. My encounters with my characters are more “observational,” if I had to try and describe it. Rather than interacting with them in some imagined way, I tend to daydream in “scenes,” seeing my character in action, whether he or she is escaping a burning building or talking his or her way out of a sticky situation. This is probably rooted in my love of movies, and I’ve often been told that my chapters feel quite cinematic—which I’ve taken as a complement ;-)

Elena: I love hearing about both your processes. What about space, do either of you have dedicated writing spots?

Lisanne: I normally sit in a big recliner in front of the TV. That seems to work best for me when writing or researching. When cleaning up the manuscripts, though, I hide in my room at my desk (TV still blaring!), door closed, with strict instructions to the rest of the house to not bother me unless they are on fire. Everyone but Fiona, my rowdy min pin, respects this. But even though I have a dog bed right next to my desk for her, which she sometimes lays in when she's looking out the slider and surveying her Fifedom, most of the time she either wants to play ball or sit in my lap. Not always the easiest thing to have a 12-pound fireball sitting in your lap as you're trying to write...

Are you a pantser or do you outline?

Matt: I’m usually somewhere in-between. Outlining, or at least just sitting down and beginning to write ABOUT the story, helps me think through the tale in greater detail. I usually discover some stumbling blocks during that process, which helps me avoid them during the actual writing. (Of course, other problems crop up later haha!) Inevitably, even when I’ve sketched out a point-by-point outline, I somehow loose control of the characters once I sit down to write. Characters don’t behave! (Do you find this to be true?) I think this is something we as creatives understand that is difficult to relate to those who aren’t active in the arts: YOU DON’T HAVE FULL CONTROL. I don’t know if I’ve found a worthy analogy—riding a wild horse, etc.—but it’s certainly not a mechanical exercise. Have you found that to be true for yourself?

Lisanne: I NEVER have control over them. They just won't let me!

Elena: (Laughing because she knows just how these two feel...) I think we have space for one more question from each of you. What are you working on now?

Lisanne: I’m actually working on two stories at the same time. One is a paranormal mystery called Gravelings, and the other is a murder mystery, as yet untitled, that is the first in the Robbie Macfarlane Mysteries. Gravelings is about critters who terrorize a young girl with anxiety and depression issues. Because she is on medication, no one believes her until it is too late.

The Robbie Macfarlane story is about a writer and her son, who suffers from OCD, who move into a new house in a new town and soon find the body of their next-door neighbor. Everything points to Robbie as the killer. She and her son set about trying to solve the murder.

I also have ideas for six or eight other stories clamoring to be told. Sometimes my brain really hurts!

Matt: On the music side, I’m continuing to write and produce music for artists in just about every category. From the outside that might seem unfocused, but I’ve discovered that underneath all the genre differences, there’s a thread running through it all – STORY. Whether that story is represented by a musical theme, or literally described in the lyrics of a three-minute song, it cuts through everything else and grabs the listener’s attention. Writing fiction was a HUGE HELP in discovering that, and I believe it’s given me a unique point of view in the music world.

On the writing side, I’ve just finished a tv pilot script called PILGRIM – think “Mad Max” meets “Lost.” We’re still in the pitching phase, but my co-writer and I are excited about the momentum the project is gaining, and we’re planning to develop the concept into a book series too! Speaking of books, I’m finally writing the first draft for a new August Adams thriller called THE SHAKESPEARE CIPHER. This story focuses on a centuries-old literary mystery – the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy. The stakes are global, the secrets are deadly … needless to say I’m having a ton of fun! I’m planning to self-publish, but I’m still open to talking with agents and publishers (wink wink!)

Elena: So much creativity in both your lives, it's been great chatting with you about your careers. I'm looking forward to staying in touch. Thanks for being members of ITW Debut Authors Program!

Collaboration in Writing: JT Rogers and the Debut Novel "In From The Cold"

If two heads are better than one (not to be confused with Two Heads are Deader Than One) then two writers should be better too! This week I'm thrilled to include a crime writing duo, ITW Debut author J.T. Rogers is actually S.T. Pelletier and Amanda Schuckman. Here they are as my guests, talking about their process and their first novel,  In From The Cold


S.T. Pelletier is a recent graduate living in Canada. Amanda Schuckman is a writer and voice actor living in SoCal. Together they are J.T. Rogers, who grew up wanting to be either a superhero or a spy—but rather than pick one over the other, chose to become a writer instead so she could be both in her spare time. Her fiction reflects her childhood obsessions, blending together the distrustful, cloak-and-dagger world of spies with the high-octane action and camaraderie of her favorite superheroes.
The product of a bilingual education and an alumna of a handful of universities, J.T.’s passions include history, comic books, and Shakespeare. She has lived all over North America and loves to weave threads of authentic local color into her stories. Just ask her about Lucy the Elephant.
Currently, she’s living the dream of being overworked and underpaid. She writes to stay sane—or that’s the story she likes to tell, at least.

Learn more about J.T. Rogers:

Tumblr: http://jtrogersfiction.tumblr.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jtrogersfic
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jtrogersfiction
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jtrogersfiction/


They say two heads are better than one, but that well-worn bit of folksy common sense isn’t typically thought to apply to the world of novel-form storytelling. As a writing team, we’ve encountered a lot of curiosity from our peersparticularly since we share a nom de plum. When we were invited to do a guest spot for today’s lead-up to ThrillerFest, we thought this post was an obvious opportunity to discuss some of the advantages of cowriting.

S.T. Pelletier: For me, I think the biggest advantage to having a cowriter is having a built-in sounding board for ideas. I never have to worry about getting stuck. Amanda and I have similar interests but different strengths when it comes to writing, and when we hit our rhythm, it’s amazing how much we can accomplish in a couple of hours. I’m reminded of one of the earliest editing passes for In from theCold: Our editor asked to see more from our secondary point-of-view character, Wes, and we were under a tight deadline to deliver a revised manuscript. In the space of a Sunday afternoon, we wrote 4,000 words of new materiala feat I doubt I’d ever have been able to accomplish on my own. I’m a relatively slow writer, but having a writing partner lights a fire under my ass. With an immediate audience to please, for lack of a better word, I’m less concerned about getting the phrasing right so much as I’m eager to get the phrasing down. First and foremost, the story is for us. We get to tell the story to each other first.

A. Schuckman: That’s an excellent way of putting it. When I’m writing alone, I will get hung up on how to move into the next moment of a scene for months, or be stymied by a passage that doesn’t lead where I want it to. Having Sarah at the ready to suggest something or even remind me of something we’d discussed previously, it keeps me from getting stuck. There’s also a wonderful security in knowing a writing partner’s process and strengths, or even just how they think, because I can leave things blank and not panic about doing so, knowing that Sarah will get what I’m aiming at and be able to help me fill that blank in. I will literally put placeholder text in brackets describing what needs to go there and move along to keep up momentum, something I haven’t managed to trick myself into doing in solo work.

There’s also the added benefit of having to think things through and be able to explain them to another person before you can dive in. If I have an idea or the spark of something I really like, but haven’t followed that through to any kind of end point, I can get mired in detail and character and increasingly elaborate justifications for those things, long before I figure out the idea just doesn’t work the way I wanted it to. When we have to walk each other through those ideas, it makes the process of adjusting them, fixing them, making them better and making them work much faster and less painful.

S.T. Pelletier: As a writing team, our most frequently asked questions are usually about our process. I’m not really sure how other writing teams collaborate, but our process relies heavily on technology because we don’t even live in the same country, let alone the same time zone. (At time of writing, we have only actually met in person once, about six years ago, for under six hours.) We always start with a conversation, usually over instant message. One of us will have an idea, and that idea quickly becomes a game of ‘Yes, and…’, with each of us taking up characters on the fly as we craft the rough beats of a story. Because we’re huge nerds, we pretty much do this every day, but when we’re particularly taken with an idea, I’ll copy and paste the chat transcript into a Google Doc. From there, we’ll create a skeleton of the storybasically a barebones outline to get us from start to the finish. After that, the story gets broken down chapter by chapter. Our outline for In from the Cold was about 20 or so pages. Each chapter then receives its own document in a shared file. We’ll copy and paste the relevant notes from the outline, and then write out the full chapter. Sometimes we stay very close to the outline. Other times we ad lib an entirely new subplot.

A. Schuckman: I don’t know how other writing partners do it, but this system has proved incredibly fruitful for us. It allows us to track how ideas evolve, to shelve and catalog obsolete versions of things that we can then mine for good language later, and it allows for incredible flexibility. We write until we’re stuck or satisfied and then shoot each other a quick ‘tag!’, tapping in and out as each chapter progresses. The final work is, as a result, deeply collaborative. Our styles of writing are quite different, but with In from the Cold especially, using pulp thrillers as a guidepost, the close back and forth of the process helped us match and blend our voices.

S.T. Pelletier: We each tend to favour certain charactersAmanda wrote all of Flynn’s dialogue, for example, while I wrote all of Wes’sbut other than that, there are no hard and fast distinctions. Amanda’s better at spatial descriptions than I am, so I usually leave a placeholder for her to fill when she’s online, but I love writing action scenes, so I take care of those. Once the first draft is complete, we start piecing together the entire story in one single document. I work as a freelance editor, so I do the first pass, and then Amanda follows with her notes and adjustments. Then I do one final pass and ship it off to the editors!

A. Schuckman: We were pretty thrilled with the minimal grammatical notes we got back. Having another set of eyes constantly reading and rereading your writing as you write means a lot of typos and oddities get caughtand fixedinstantly. It’s also a lot less daunting to go through notes when you have backup right there, someone to divide and conquer the feedback with.

S.T. Pelletier: Ultimately, the thing I like best about cowriting is that it takes a traditionally solitary activity and turns it into one I can share with a friend. Time zones and technology can get tricky sometimes, but the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.

A. Schuckman: There is something fundamentally important about sharing stories, and having a partner means you’re doing that, for a receptive audience, constantly. It also means you are being the given the gift of someone else’s storytelling with that same frequency. Every time Sarah taps me to jump back into the document we’re working on, I’m excited to see what’s there, what’s new, how she’s moved the story along, and am inspired to do the same, in turn.

Such an interesting process. Thank you both for letting us get a glimpse inside J.T. Rogers. 

Lots of big things this week! Don't miss my interview with our first and 500th ITW Debut Author (posting July 12) and my posts from ThrillerFest in NYC next weekend. 
See you all soon!