Welcome

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

Hollie Overton: From Television Writer to Novelist

I'm thrilled to have Hollie Overton as my guest blogger this week. In addition to being a member of the ITW Debut Author classHollie Overton is a TV writer and producer. She has written for Shadowhunters, Cold Case, and The Client List, Hollie's debut thriller, BABY DOLL is an international bestseller and was published in eleven countries.  Her 2nd novel, THE WALLS will be released Aug. 2017. An identical twin, Hollie grew up in Kingsville, Texas but now resides in LA with her husband and rescue dog.

For more information about Hollie, you can visit her on social media. Click on the links below:
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THE BLOG POST

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with telling stories. From my elementary school days, scribbling in my floral colored journals to my teen years spent writing terrible poetry and experimental fiction, writing became my therapy. But my dream was to become an actress. I moved to New York City to study acting but kept writing, too insecure to show anything. It wasn’t until I moved to LA that I began to try my hand at screenwriting and found the courage to put my work out there. I wrote several terrible scripts before one landed me a coveted spot in the Warner Brothers TV writing workshop.  Since then I’ve worked on Cold Case, The Client List and Shadowhunters.

It was during an extended period of unemployment (an unfortunate side effect of pursuing a career in showbiz) that I began to consider writing fiction. Reading was always a passion. From an early age, I’d devour three or four books a week, but writing a novel seemed daunting. How could I possibly compete with the greats? I guess that’s why when I originally started writing prose, I didn’t set out to write a novel. I had an idea and a character and I just kept writing. Before I knew it, I had written ninety pages of my debut novel, BABY DOLL. Since then I’ve completed my second novel, THE WALLS which will be published later this summer.  Of course writing a novel requires a different process and set of muscles. It wasn’t always easy translating my skills from TV to fiction but I learned four important lessons along the way.

THE HEART OF THE STORY
One of the major similarities with writing screenplays versus novels is that character is everything.  In order to connect with a reader or a viewer, you must create unique and interesting characters.  As the story unfolds, each character must have specific wants and desires and be in constant pursuit of a goal. I want the reader or viewer to connect with the characters, to find themselves swept away. It’s what I strive for in everything I write. 

FILLING IN THE BLANKS
One of the pivotal differences with writing TV versus novels is that in television, scripts are blueprints. They’re unfinished until they go through the process of production and editing.  You need actors, directors, costume designers, and editors to bring a TV show to life. But in fiction, you are all of those things rolled rolled into one. It’s your job to create the world, the look, the characters and evoke those same feelings with nothing but words on a page. While I was writing Baby Doll, I took a fiction workshop with Eduardo Santiago, a novelist and creating writing instructor. He was crucial in developing my writing process. In an early draft, I wrote that a character was devastated. Eduardo reminded me I wouldn’t have an actor showing the reader what devastated looked like. It was my job to really explore what devastated looks like. What was character’s facial expression? Their body language? The setting where the character experienced that emotion. Now when I write fiction, I’m constantly asking myself is this a place where I need to dig deeper and paint the picture more clearly.  

BUILDING A FOUNDATION
When I began writing TV, the mantra from every teacher and mentor I had was outline, outline, outline. In TV and film, you have a limited page count, so knowing exactly where you’re going and how you plan to tell your story is critical. I can’t imagine writing a script without a blueprint. But because I started writing my first novel without an outline, that’s what feels natural. There are times when I end up having to cut things or rework the novel because it needed to move faster or make cuts because a certain character’s storyline was weighing down the book but I like being surprised when I’m writing fiction. In some ways, it’s much more freeing than when I’m writing TV.

THE FINISHED PRODUCT
As a TV writer on a staff, your job is to assist the showrunner in bringing their vision to life. Unless you’re the creator, you’re not in control of the finished product. When you’re writing a novel, it’s the exact opposite. A book is your baby from start to finish, for better or worse.  There’s pressure that comes with being solely responsible but there’s also a huge sense of pride that comes with completing a book, that joyful moment when you type THE END.




Debut Novelist Micki Browning Chats about Law Enforcement, Diving, and Conflict Resolution

This week, I'm thrilled to interview ITW Debut Author Micki Browning. 

An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki Browning worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a division commander – wonderful fodder for her current career as a full-time writer. 

Her mystery, Adrift, set in the Florida Keys, won the 2015 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Royal Palm Literary Award for best unpublished mystery and unpublished book of the year. It was published January 2017 by Alibi-Random House.

Micki resides in Southern Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment. She’s currently working on Beached, the second in the Mer Cavallo Mysteries.

To learn more about Micki - visit her on social media.

The Website
Facebook
Twitter

THE INTERVIEW

Since retiring from the police force, you’ve earned your professional divemaster rating and diving plays a huge role in your first novel Adrift. Tell us about an exciting dive experience.

I find every dive exciting. I’ve had the pleasure of diving with giant Manta rays in Hawaii, Goliath groupers in the Keys, and exotic reef fishes and sharks in the Caribbean. I’ve dived in caves, caverns, and kelp. I’ve even been diving with Mickey Mouse at Epcot. Of all my experiences, I have to say I enjoy exploring wrecks the most. Swimming along the bones of sunken vessels spurs my imagination into high gear as I imagine the stories left behind. (The photo shows Micki about to enter the USS Spiegel Grove, the ship in Adrift).

Your background in law enforcement makes you very well suited for understanding both crime investigation and insights into criminal behavior. We often hear about how authors relate to the good guys in their novels - how do you relate to the bad guys? Are they based on real people or incidents?

My background certainly informs my writing. I’ve learned that not all criminals are bad people and not all victims are angels. Life is messy. Complicated. A cop’s most crucial skill is communication, the ability to build rapport. I’ve discussed Chaucer with an arrestee on the way to jail, and learned how to juggle from a traumatized seven-year-old. Everyone wants to be heard. Listen long enough and everyone can find common ground. The people I’ve met in life are inspirational, but their stories are theirs to tell. I write fiction. It’s the humanity I try to get right. (By the way, Micki, I'm stealing this line).

You've lived on both coasts, Santa Barbara to the west and the Florida Keys to the east. You've also lived high in the mountains in Durango, Colorado. How much are you impacted by environment as a writer? Place takes a central role in Adrift, can we anticipate Mer Cavallo traveling outside the Keys? Or future books or series taking place in the mountains? 

I find setting to be as integral to the story as character. I want to experience what the character is experiencing. Is it humid or icy? Does she hear a raptor or a seagull? What does he see that makes an impression? What childhood memories are evoked by the location’s scents? I love when non-divers tell me how much they enjoyed my underwater scenes. They’ve never worn a tank but I’ve introduced them to diving. Mer will never be landlocked, but considering seventy percent of the earth is covered by water there are many places she can explore—above and below the surface.

As to future books? Mer’s next adventure is all wrapped up and I’m currently working on a story that takes place in the mountains during the dead of winter. The mood is very different. (To see more photos of the Florida Keys and locations used in Adrift, visit Micki's blog by clicking HERE)

As a police officer, you've done a lot of conflict resolution, everything from pulling someone over for a traffic violation and needing them to agree with your request for their license to working as a crisis negotiator. Tell us about a situation where you expected a violent reaction, but you were able to talk someone down.

One busy weekend night, I was dispatched solo to a man suspected of being high on PCP and creating a disturbance. This is not a good call to have to go to on your own, as a person on PCP is impervious to pain and highly excitable. When I approached, I saw he was seated on a bus bench, rocking back and forth, his hands fisting and unclenching. And he was BIG.

I lowered my voice and introduced myself. “It looks like you want to hurt someone.”
He rocked faster. “Yeah. I do.”
Great. “Do you want to hurt me?”
“I don’t want to, I might though, yeah.”
Wonderful. I began second-guessing my career choice. “Would it make you feel better if I handcuffed you?”
His rocking stopped. I steeled myself.
“Yeah.” He turned around and put his hands behind his back.

Moral of the story? Know how to speed-cuff and always be prepared to offer alternatives to the obvious.

What made you decide to create an amateur investigator rather than either a police detective or a private investigator with a police background?

I enjoyed being a police officer, but after 22 years, I wanted to focus on something else. My husband and I relocated to the Keys so we could dive and figure out what we wanted to do next. Enter a bit of serendipity. He became a scuba instructor, and I became a divemaster with a writing itch. My favorite wreck dive is the USS Spiegel Grove in Key Largo. A documentary crew was filming a night dive on the ship when one of their divers suffered a medical emergency at depth. Happily, the diver recovered, but the event sparked a whole bevy of what ifs that eventually became my novel, Adrift.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a police procedural. It’s time to put all that training and experience into action.

Final words of wisdom:


The best bit of writing advice ever given to me was simple: plot from the point of view of the antagonist and write from the perspective of the protagonist. A character can’t solve a crime if the author doesn’t know how it was committed.