What Makes a Good Action Scene?

What Makes a Good Action Scene?
Terry Odell

Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

We don’t go out to movies anymore, and don’t watch too many on TV, either. But one thing I know is that prolonged “action” scenes, be they gunfights, fistfights, or car chases, have me thinking one thing … “the scriptwriters ran out of dialogue, so they’re filling in much needed minutes of screen time with bells and whistles.” Worse for me is when they come at the beginning of a movie and the viewer has no idea who’s who, or what the stakes are.

Who’s the good guy? Do I care yet? Probably not. Opening books with battle scenes isn’t a good idea, either.

“Action” doesn’t mean people have to be killing each other.

I’m not a violent person (coming of age in the 60’s—make love, not war), but I frequently have to include action scenes in my books, especially the Blackthorne, Inc., covert ops series. I’ve opened a good number of the books in that series with an action scene that may or may not be closely attached to the plot. My daughter calls them my “MacGyver Opening Gambits.” My little secret—because I’m not fond of writing violence, these gambits more often than not result in a character being called on the carpet and assigned to non-combat type duty, which gets me back into my comfort zone.

What elements are needed to make a good action scene? My search for “action scenes” resulted in link after link to “fight scenes.” Fight scenes might be action scenes, but are all action scenes fight scenes? I think not. I kept digging.

According to The Writing Cooperative, “An action scene is any scene where physical events flow at a rapid clip.

Janice Hardy, in  her Fiction University site, gives these elements for writing effective action scenes:

  1. Get in a Character’s Head – show some thoughts and feelings of the character to connect the reader.
  2. Let it Get Personal – what are the stakes?
  3. Add a Surprise or Revelation – if the outcome is predictable, why read on? Even if it is, reveal something about the character, or something that affects the plot
  4. Pace Yourself – short sentences, smooth flowing text.

You don’t want to write an action scene that is nothing more than a blow-by-blow (no pun intended) description of each move—Sue had an excellent post about writing a dance scene. Just including the individual steps makes for a yawner. Add the character’s thoughts. A bit of dialogue.

How does this scene (can I call it a ‘classic’ at this point?) fit Hardy’s elements?

Would it have been nearly as effective if it had been the opening scene of the movie? Would the scene have been as effective without the cutaways? Without the dialogue?

What about this? (From Rooted in Danger)

Setup: Fozzie and his covert ops team are in the company’s private jet en route to rescue a teammate.

Fozzie snapped awake when he heard a loud boom, followed by equally loud, “Oh shit,” from the pilot over the PA.

He had his seatbelt unfastened before he heard Hotshot call, “Fozzie, up front. Now.”

“On it.” Fozzie rushed forward. The right side of the sky glowed through the porthole. The plane tipped in that direction, and he grabbed the nearest seatback to keep his balance. He felt the plane losing airspeed.

“Bad Thing. Number two engine,” Cheese said. “Need some help.”

Fozzie slid into the second seat and slapped on a headset. The plane yawed more toward the right. The red master warning light came on. In too-rapid succession, the displays showed systems shutting down.

“We’re flying heavy,” Cheese said. “We need both engines or we’ll have to go down.”

Ditching was definitely not an option. Fozzie knew they carried extra fuel to cover the distance. Any delays might cost Grinch his life. But now, Fozzie was more focused on his own.

“Shut off the damn buzzers,” Cheese said. “Can you get a visual on the engine? See anything?”

Fozzie glanced out of the cockpit seeing individual blades where there should have been a blur of propellers. “No obvious damage.”

Cheese’s hand grabbed the lever beside the throttle. Fozzie watched the angle of the propeller blades shift as Cheese feathered them to reduce drag.

“Trying a restart,” Cheese said.

“No worries,” Fozzie said, sweat filming his palms.

Cheese flipped the starter switch. Nothing.

Lots of worries.

“Okay, let’s go to plan B,” Cheese said. “Restart protocol. Book’s behind my seat.”

Fozzie snagged the notebook. Quickly flipped to the emergency section. Read each step aloud. Focused on Cheese’s “Rogers.”

“Need more airspeed,” Cheese said. “Watch the N1 indicator and tell me as soon as it hits twelve.”

Fozzie glued his gaze to the small circular gauge. Instead of a healthy ninety-five, the needle hovered at the four percent mark.

“Hang tight,” Cheese announced. “We’re going to play roller coaster. The E-ticket kind.”

Fozzie tightened his harness as Cheese tilted the plane’s nose down. He concentrated on keeping his breathing steady as his stomach plunged. He watched the needle creep across the dial. Six. Eight. Ten. Eleven.
“Now,” he said as soon as it hit twelve.

Cheese pushed up on the fuel condition lever.

Fozzie heard the engine whine as it came back to life. Outside, the propellers shifted angle and picked up speed. He fought the increasing g-forces and his stomach did a reverse trip as Cheese pulled out of the dive and brought the plane to altitude.

After several reverent moments contemplating the familiar sounds and vibrations of normal flight, Fozzie turned to Cheese and slipped the notebook back into its pocket. “Good onya, mate.”

“Would rather not have to do it again,” Cheese said, rubbing his thigh. “Man, keeping her steady is a bitch on the quads.” Sweat trickled down his face. He ran his fingers over the instrument panel as if stroking a lover. “That’s my girl.”

Can you share “non-fight” action scenes that have been done well?

And, on another note, I recently had my website completely overhauled. I’d say it’s 98.7% done (although they’re never really done. What do you think?


How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Available now.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

It’s Valentine’s Day. Can Mysteries Contain Romance?

It’s Valentine’s Day. Can Mysteries Contain Romance?
Terry Odell

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

It’s Valentine’s Day, which probably brings to mind flowers and chocolate, not murder and mayhem. Is there room for romance in a mystery novel? As a writer of romantic suspense as well as mysteries, I say yes, but it’s handled differently.

Note: I’m saying romance, not sex. And it has to belong, not as my high school English teacher said back in the day when banned in Boston guaranteed book sales, “Just open the manuscript, throw in a sex scene, and then get back to what you were writing.”

In a romantic suspense, which falls under the umbrella of the romance genre, things move quickly. Hero and heroine are brought together and must reach their Happily Ever After, or at least the promise of one by the end of the book, all the while dealing with the mystery, suspense, or whatever challenge the author throws at them. I say “promise” of a HEA, because the mystery/suspense/challenge is probably reaching its conclusion in a matter of days. Maybe a week or two, tops. That’s very fast to get to the white picket fence, kids and a dog stage. Not being fond of epilogues, I prefer to go the “promise” route in my books.

In series mysteries, the author has a lot more time to allow characters to develop a relationship. Things can grow slowly. They can change. Partners can split up, one can die, another can show up. They may never get to the HEA, or even the promise, but there can still be the elements of romance in the book. My preference in both reading and writing is to show the characters dealing with the mystery outside of work as well.

In my first version of Deadly Secrets, I included a brief—very brief—foreplay scene. Mystery readers hit the roof, screaming Porn! This was an indie-published book, so I could remove that scene and republish. I’d shopped it around to traditional publishers, and none had mentioned that scene as being the kiss of death, but I wonder whether an editor would have nixed it, had it gotten that far. For the record, my narrator was disappointed that I’d cut that scene, which he’d already seen.

Romantic elements can be subtle—and at first, they should be. In fact, when I started writing, I thought I was writing a mystery. I showed chapters to my daughters, and both said, “Mom, it’s a romance.” Huh? I’d never read a romance so how could I be writing one? Both of them pointed to the same paragraph. Later, after Finding Sarah, my first novel, was published, a reviewer for Orlando Magazine pointed to the same paragraph.

That paragraph? Setup: Shopkeeper Sarah has been robbed at gunpoint. The detective who comes to investigate takes her to the nearby diner while the crime scene tech does his work in the shop.

Sarah swallowed a morsel of the sweet muffin. Suddenly ravenous, she relished the rest of it. She looked up into those deep brown eyes again, glimpsing flecks of hazel this time.

And here I thought I was writing description, not an entirely different genre.

What sorts of not-in-your-face elements can work their way into a mystery?

Sharing a meal. Going to one of their favorite places. Doing small favors. Giving gifts.

Swiss army knife open to show many different bladesOne of the most ‘romantic’ Valentine’s Day gifts I received from the Hubster was a Swiss Army knife. Why?

Back story. I was a huge MacGyver fan, and my tv watching place was a swivel chair near the tv. Hubster sat farther back on the couch, so my back was to him. As I was watching MacGyver work his magic with his knife, I muttered to myself, “Why don’t I have one of those?” Why was I surprised to get one? Because it showed me he listened.

Another year, I got an electronic tire pressure gauge. (Along with flowers and chocolates, so he was covering his bets.) Why was that special? He’s a guy, and guys are hard-wired to be protectors, and he wanted me safe. Since I understood that this was his way of showing affection, I accepted the gift with pleasure. It didn’t hurt that he was the one who checked my tires more often than I did. Much more often.

Cozy mysteries often have strong elements of romance building across a series. I don’t write/read cozies, you say. Ah, but cozies aren’t the only mysteries with romantic elements.

To name just a few: CJ Box’s Joe Picket series. Faye Kellerman’s Peter and Rina series. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware. Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody. Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell. The list goes on. John Sandford. Harlan Coben. Sue Grafton (who might have one of the most romantic scenes I’d read in a long time.)

Attraction has been building. Kinsey and her romantic interest are at dinner, and “shall we go to my place?” comes up. She says, “Tell me you didn’t put clean sheets on the bed.” He says, “For you, I bought new.”

All right, TKZers, the heart’s in your court. Any romantic gestures to share? Romance/romantic elements in mysteries? Your thoughts? Add to my list.


How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Ebook Available for preorder now. Paperback available now.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Sleep in Your Guestroom and Other Random Thoughts for Authors

Sleep in Your Guestroom and Other Random Thoughts for Authors
Terry Odell

Jane Friedman addressed this topic in her Electric Speed Newsletter a short time ago, and I thought it was an area of the business side of writing that many of us might neglect. I’m one of them

Her article started off with the subject, “Sleep in Your Spare Bedroom.” We may think that if we put clean sheets on the bed and clean towels in the bathroom, maybe add some toiletries we’ve brought home from hotels, that it’s ready for guests. But are you sure? One of her guests pointed out that the shower didn’t drain, something she hadn’t thought to check when she readied the room. Embarrassing, and not the best impression.

How does this relate to authors? Our online presence is our guest room, and we might have a lot of them. When’s the last time you looked at your website as a guest? Or your social media pages. You have to log out in order to see what the public sees, although Facebook has a ‘view as a guest’ option. Or, you can recruit a friend to test everything—but it’s better if you see exactly what your “guests” are seeing.

I’m in the process of updating my website. It was functional, looked pretty good, but was outdated. Not only that, but the ‘under the hood’ aspects hadn’t been cleaned out in many, many years, which created some conflicts.

Does your bio need updating? Are all your books on your site, with properly working buy links? Are there broken links to anything? Do your social media buttons go where they’re supposed to? Have you added social media platforms? Eliminated any? Are you optimizing your SEO? (Do you know what SEO is, or why you should care?)

What about your contact form? Does it work? Send yourself a message. Does your newsletter signup follow the right steps? Do new signups get your reader magnet? When’s the last time you changed it?

Whether you do your own site maintenance and updating or hire out, it’s important to keep things current.

Have you looked at your author pages on all the sales channel sites? Or your individual book pages? (More on that later.)

And speaking of book pages…

If you’re an indie author, you can track sales and estimated royalties any time you want to. (Hint: Don’t “want to” very often or you’ll get sucked into the maelstrom.) You can adjust pricing as well.

BUT … did you know Amazon reserves the right to charge whatever it darn pleases for your books? I noticed this about a month ago.

I’d decided that my books were worth a dollar more than I’d been charging, at least the newer ones, so I adjusted the prices accordingly. Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple (via Draft2Digital) accepted them, no problems, and my royalties inched up a tad.

But something smelled fishy at Amazon when I looked at my royalty reports on my KDP dashboard.

The Zon had listed my new pricing, BUT they’d put their little slash through that price and were still selling a lot of my newly priced books at the old price. And, what was worse? One of my books was listed at less than half of my set price.

Now, if you’re aware of this and want to make some lemonade, you can let your readers know that for an unknown period of time, they can grab your book at a deep discount. But you have to notice it first.

I’d like to also point out that Amazon pays royalties at their list price, so the authors take the hit when they lower prices.

The easiest way to check your prices is to go to your public Amazon author page where they list all your books with prices. Saves checking 35 pages. Here’s mine.

(Note: Amazon likes to make readers think they’re getting a bargain, so they’ll often list the print price with that strikethough and show the ebook price, so you have to know the price for each of your formats.)

Another tip I’ve discovered. I had issues with my book descriptions refusing to include paragraph breaks. Editing them in Author Central is much easlier than dealing with Amazon, where they’re likely to add some new hoops to jump through. If that’s all you’re updating, definitely do it via Author Central.

What about you, TKZers? Any tips for authors—either as an author or a reader? Likes? Dislikes?


How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Available for preorder now.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

What Would Your Characters Do?

What Would Your Characters Do?
Terry Odell

In my last post, I talked about some of the mishaps on our recent European trip, and how a writer might use them. “Only Trouble Is Interesting.”

What do your characters do when things don’t go the way they want them to? You don’t need to be writing about travel. Stuff happens anywhere and anytime.

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Take our neighborhood. We live in a rural area, in a housing development established back in the 70s. It was designed for weekend getaways. Time marched on, and more and more people decided this was a great place to live. Now, almost everyone lives here all the time, which puts a strain on the water system. Pipes from the 70s are wearing out, developing leaks. Cutting to the chase, there was a major leak that drained the entire system. We have people in charge of this, and they haul water as needed, but between how much water was needed, and the freezing temperatures and snow, we had no water for about five days. The loss showed up late on Christmas afternoon, and I feel for the people who were left with the aftermath of a Christmas dinner and no way to wash the dishes.

Most of us take it for granted that when we turn a tap, water will come out. That toilets will do what they’re designed for. Take all that away, couple it with a community Facebook page, and people’s true colors are waved for all to see.

There were those who said, “This is what rural mountain life is like. The people in charge are working long hours in miserable weather searching for the leak. They will find it, and all this will pass.

In a show of community, nearby RV parks, even though closed for the winter, opened up their showers. Places like Walmart donated cases of water.

Was this enough for some? There were those who demanded minute-by-minute updates. Wanted immediate solutions. “Threatened” to put their homes up for sale. (Good riddance, IMHO). Ranted and raved about how nobody was doing their jobs (they’re all volunteers, btw) and they should be replaced. These were probably the people who made no efforts to conserve water year round, I’ll bet.

Image by César Mota from Pixabay

Other colors were waved when one company’s trash pickup didn’t happen on schedule because of extreme weather (the first time they’ve missed since we moved here 13 years ago), posted their fury and immediately changed trash companies.

Regensburg

An example from our recent cruise. Because of a lot of recent rain and snowmelt, the Danube waters rose to the point that the riverboats couldn’t get under the bridges, even though they had wheelhouses that could be lowered to some extent. The authorities closed the river.

(You can click on the images to enlarge them)

Our ship couldn’t get to its next stop. A sister ship was coming the other direction and faced the same problem. Our cruise director—who probably had very little sleep for several days—and the other ship’s crew coordinated a swap. All our passengers would be bussed to the sister ship, and vice versa.

Yes, it was an inconvenience. We had to pack, but the cruise line took care of transporting our luggage. We got to our scheduled cities, but it required longer bus rides. The ships were in canals now, not in the Danube proper.

I’m glad to say that most of the passengers accepted this as something nobody could have predicted, and praised the crews of both ships for their efficient handling of the unexpected swap.

Historische Wurstküche

The cruise line did offer compensation. They gave us vouchers for lunch at a landmark restaurant. The next day, as we disembarked for the buses to the Nuremburg Christmas Market, they gave everyone thirty euros in cash. And, they refunded everyone the equivalent of 25% of one day’s travel, which was realistically about the only time we lost.

Yet there were some passengers who thought the cruise line should have known about the river rising and should have refunded everyone’s money for the entire trip.

Melk Abbey Courtyard

And then there are the rule breakers. We toured the Melk Abbey, and taking pictures inside was prohibited. Yet there were two people in our group who felt that this rule didn’t apply to them, because … they were photographers with expensive cameras? The guide was very polite, and said, “Please, no photography” but did nothing to stop them. Part of me thought she should have demanded their memory cards (or taken their cameras until the end of the tour), but she let it go.

What about your characters—or people you know—TKZers? Can you use the way they respond to “times of trouble” or “rules” in your stories? What about how other characters react to them? Have you already done so? Have you read books where this was handled well? Or not?

And two more things, totally unrelated to this post. Character naming caveats. Don’t name a character Al. I’ve read two books recently with this name, and my brain insists on reading it as AI, as in Artificial Intelligence. Depending on the font, the reader might not be able to tell the difference. At least if that reader is me.

And don’t give your male character a last name that’s a female name if you’re going to refer to him by last name. If you call Bob Patricia ‘Patricia”, you’re likely to give your reader the hiccups until they adjust. At least if that reader is me.


How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Available for preorder now.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

A Fond Farewell to 2023

A Farewell to 2023
Terry Odell

Let me be the third poster to ring in 2024, TKZers. Kay and Debbie covered the goals/resolutions topic very well, so I’m not going there.

Someone, somewhere, sometime determined that the transition between December 31st and January 1st was more significant than any other turning of the days. Whatever, I hope your 2024 brings you more than your 2023. And I’m hoping for peace.

In my last post of 2023, I said if all went according to plan, I’d be in Prague the day it posted. Did all go according to plan? Well, I was in Prague, so the short answer is yes. But not everything went as smoothly as I’d hoped. If it seems I’m dwelling on the negative, please understand I had a wonderful time. But I’m a writer, and only trouble is interesting.

Hiccup number one. After boarding the plane in Denver, bound for Frankfurt, settling in our seats, we waited. And waited. Finally, the captain announced that there would be a delay because one passenger decided he didn’t want to make the trip. It’s not as simple as letting him leave, of course. His baggage has to be located in the belly of the aircraft. Another wait, and we were told said passenger had decided he’d join us after all.

My son, in talking with a flight attendant, discovered the passenger didn’t like that his headrest moved up and down and wanted off. Another passenger in a seat without a movable headrest offered to switch, and that solved the problem. We were now an hour or so behind schedule.

Our connection to Prague had enough time so we didn’t miss that flight, although we definitely got our steps in for the day. Have you ever been to the Frankfurt airport? Coming in to the Z gates and having to get to the A gates (with a stop at passport control) isn’t a walk in the park. But we found our gate. Which changed to another gate. Which changed to a third gate. And then we waited. And waited. The weather forecasts hadn’t mentioned the snow rolling in. Flights were delayed, and then, once we finally boarded, we had the pleasure of waiting in line for our plane to be de-iced before we could take off.

We arrived in Prague a mere two hours late. Our luggage had made it. Yay! Our driver hadn’t. Boo! The company was supposed to follow the arrival times and make sure we were met, but our driver gave up when he found out how late we were, and there was another 45 minute wait for a replacement. Dare I mention we were now smack dab in the middle of rush hour traffic?

But we arrived at the hotel, found the rest of our group already libating at the bar, and called it a positive outcome. After all, we were in Prague, and on the date we were supposed to get there.

My plan for this trip, aside from the sights and photography, was to gather fodder for a novel. Would the events of Day One be worth including? Not without adding some stakes, I would think. Like, what would happen if a character didn’t get to where they were supposed to be on time because a passenger didn’t want an adjustable headrest? Would readers believe it?

Overall, the trip was fantastic despite the rocky start. After three days in Prague (two actually, since this Day One was a write-off), we took a train to Vienna. More writing fodder there. After two days there, we set sail on a cruise along the Danube headed for Nuremberg, stopping at Christmas markets. Did you know that they can close a river to boat traffic? But that’s a story for another time.

Glad to be home, even though we arrived with Covid. Vaccinations and boosters probably kept symptoms relatively minimal, although the cough lingers on.

On the writing front, Deadly Adversaries is on schedule for it’s February 22nd release date. (You can pre-order it now.) I’d turned in my edits before I left, so the Covid brain fog and overall meh feeling didn’t mess with my schedule.

Have I started the new book? Not beyond coming up with some basic premises. Indie author here. No guilt, no deadline yet.

If you’ve read this far, how about some of the pictures I took on the trip? I’ll be working on processing the images for a while, but here’s a start.

So, TKZers, are you looking at a fresh start for 2024, or are you (like me), just going to plug along and hope for the best? Every day is a new beginning no matter what the calendar says.


How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Available for preorder now.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Marketing Outside the Box

Marketing Outside the Box
Terry Odell

This is my last post before TKZ takes its annual holiday hiatus, and I’d like to wish everyone a happy whatever you celebrate. If things have gone according to plan, I’m in Prague on my way to Vienna to embark on a Danube river cruise. I’m not likely to be around to respond to comments immediately, but I’ll do my best to check in.

In a happenstance of diversity, we’ll be observing Hanukkah on board while stopping at numerous Christmas markets. Another event we’re planning to participate in  while in Prague is Krampusnacht, which celebrates the Norse God of the underworld, although it’s become associated with Christmas. Works for me. Of course, I’ll have trip recaps and pictures when I’m back. And, I hope, notes for a new book.

Speaking of new books, Deadly Adversaries is moving along the pipeline, and it’s time to think more seriously about the (to me) dreaded marketing. As long as I’m here, I’d like to point out that Deadly Adversaries is now available for preorder.)

Even if you’re traditionally published, you’re expected to bear some of the load. Inundating the interwebs with “buy my book” proclamations isn’t my thing. Remember, too, that social media platforms should emphasize “Social.”

Say “Marketing” and people assume you’re talking about running ads. That can be part of it, and depending on the platform, can be very effective, but there are other low-to-no-cost options to build buzz for the book.

What have I been doing?

Creating images that help call attention to the book. Between Canva and MockUp Shots, I’ve made half a dozen or so, using quotes from the book, such as the ones below.

Instead of making everything “buy, buy, buy”, I like to give readers something in return. I’ve been writing vignettes, scenes, and short stories that are companions to the books. These take two forms. For some, I interact on a personal level with my characters, giving readers a chance to peek behind the curtain. Here’s an example showing when Randy Detweiler, of my Pine Hills Police romantic suspense series showed up at my office.

When Randy Interrupted

“Come in, Randy,” I say. We’ve been working together on Finding Sarah for a couple of months now, but I still can’t get used to how tall he is. I’ve written him as six-six, but I have a hunch he’s even taller. But he’s comfortable with his height, walks with an easy grace across my office and settles himself on the couch.

I remember his awkwardness at our initial interview. Like he was afraid it was a stereotypical casting couch, and he might have to ‘buy’ his way into the job, or I was going to make sure he could handle the sex scenes.

“What can I do for you?” I ask.

His lips curve up in a shy smile, and he shoves a lock of hair off his forehead. “I…um…I had a suggestion. For my character.”

I give him my full attention now. He’s never demanded—heck, he’s never even suggested anything. Maybe he’s nervous. We’re about to get into his first real sex scene with Sarah. It’s not like he’s naïve or anything, but I know how characters can get self-conscious when they’re actually asked to perform on cue. At least he’s not one of the cocky ones, no pun intended, who thinks he can take over the scene.

“Well, I was looking at the pages. You know how, afterward, we’re sitting around eating pizza. I’m watching a basketball game, and Sarah’s trying not to be bored. I thought maybe you’d let me play piano for her.”

My jaw drops. I search my memory for his initial interview. “Piano? You play the piano?”

He ducks his head and nods. “Yeah. I haven’t played in a while—long story, old memories. But after working with Sarah on this book thing, well, she’s made me a lot more comfortable with my past, and I’d like to get back into it. I thought it might work for the story.”

“You can really play the piano?” I ask, sounding too much like a babbling idiot than a writer in control of the manuscript.

“Would you like to hear?” he asks.

“No, that won’t be necessary. I believe you. What’s your preference?”

He shrugs. “Doesn’t matter. I play it all. Classical, rock, jazz. I worked my way through college playing in lounges.”

Okay, so now I’m scribbling notes. “You can do Simon and Garfunkel?”

He grins. “Piece of cake.”

“What about something melancholy? One of those things that make the world stop?”

“I can handle that. Beethoven’s Pathetique should work.”

I stand and walk around the desk. He remains seated, not because he’s rude, but because he knows our eyes will be level. I shake his hand. “Take a couple of hours off while I rewrite. See you at three.”

“Will do. I’ll go home and practice.” He stands, towering above me. I study his hands and understand why I described them the way I did on page 26.

I watch him leave, wondering if he’ll like the scene coalescing in my head. It’ll mean a bit of a rewrite. Will he be able to handle an on-scene emotional breakdown, or will I have to write it in Sarah’s POV? I turn back to my computer and open a new document. I hear him whistling Bridge Over Troubled Water as he walks away.

Others works provide back story that doesn’t really have a place in the books themselves. This is my newest one, When Titch Met Gordon, featuring a secondary character who showed up in book 2 fully formed. I thought readers might like to get a closer look at his history. It’s a little too long to include here, but if you’re interested, you can downnload When Titch Met Gordon here. Consider it my holiday gift to you.

What do I do with them?

The images go into my newsletter and onto my blog and Facebook pages.

Randy’s story was offered to my newsletter subscribers as a simple ‘thanks for being here.’

When Titch Met Gordon is going to be a reader magnet, a gift to new subscribers.

How do I get it to them?

BookFunnel is an easy way to distribute works. I have Draft2Digital do the formatting, then upload them to BookFunnel. D2D doesn’t require you put works on sale, so it’s an easy way to use them as gifts or magnets. You also have a choice of collecting emails or not, or having them sign up for your newsletter. For this one, I’ve gone the ‘no string’ route for now. If it’s a reader magnet, they people will have to sign up for the newsletter to get the story, so there’s no point in making them sign up again. BookFunnel will let you make separate landing pages, so you could have one that requires a newsletter signup as well.

What about you? What marketing techniques beyond taking out ads have your found effective?


How can he solve crimes if he’s not allowed to investigate?

Gordon Hepler, Mapleton’s Chief of Police, has his hands full. A murder, followed by several assaults. Are they related to the expansion of the community center? Or could it be the upcoming election? Gordon and mayor wannabe Nelson Manning have never seen eye to eye. Gordon’s frustrations build as the crimes cover numerous jurisdictions, effectively tying his hands.
Available for preorder now.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

A Very Happy Thanksgiving
Terry Odell

Thanksgiving turkeyTomorrow is Thanksgiving. In our household, most of the traditions have revolved around the food. For us, this year will be different. Not quite as different as the pandemic made it, but our son is going to spend the holiday with his girlfriend’s family. Daughter #1 lives in Northern Ireland and she’ll do her own thing with friends there. She’s been teaching them a lot about our traditions. Daughter #2 opted to go back to school in North Carolina for her doctorate (two masters degrees weren’t enough, apparently), and will be celebrating with her husband’s kids and their kids, who live nearby.

Which leaves me, the Hubster, and our son-in-law. What will we do? What we do any year there aren’t enough people around. We eat out. The food’s great (it’s our backup plan restaurant), there’s no prep or cleanup. No leftovers, either, but we can work around that. We’re leaving the country in ten days, so that’s all right with us. Some “off” years, I’ve picked up a turkey on the ‘day after Thanksgiving sales’ and cooked that just to have it. Not this year, I don’t think.

If you are cooking the traditional bird, here’s a turkey tip from my chef brother that’s served us well for decades. No matter your “recipe” for the bird (unless you deep fry), start the cooking at 450 degrees (or 425 if it’s 16 pounds or more). After 30 minutes, lower the temp to 350 (or 325). Continue to cycle the temp up and down like that every 30 minutes. This moves the juices up and down inside the turkey, and even the leftovers are juicy.

A tradition of ours is listening to “Alice’s Restaurant.”

And here’s an interesting article – Arlo Guthrie’s thoughts on the 50 year anniversary tour of Alice’s Restaurant.

We’re in the midst of some tough times. Let’s hope for peace on this day of giving thanks. We should all take a moment to find something to give thanks for.


Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Head Shots

Head Shots
Terry Odell

Never mind that we’re a group focused on writing mysteries, which many people assume will be murder mysteries. This isn’t a post about snipers or ways to take out a bad guy.

A few years back, a writing buddy and I attended a conference headlined by a best-selling mystery author. When she took her place behind the lectern to deliver her speech, my friend and I exchanged dumbfounded glances. No way was this the person whose picture adorned the program.

But yes, it was. At least ten years and twice as many pounds ago.

If you’re going to be making public appearances, be they at conferences, book signings, zoom meetings, webinars, etc.—you should be recognizable. You’re your brand. Nothing like sitting at a table and having people walk on by because they’re looking for the person they’ve seen on your book covers or your Facebook page, website, or wherever.

Now, if your publisher puts your picture on your book jacket, you’re going to be stuck with that image for years to come. No getting around it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your website and your social media presence current. If you’re an indie author, you can change the author photos in books without much trouble, especially for ebooks.

What goes into getting a decent head shot?

When I had my first contract (for “Words”, a short story then with The Wild Rose Press,) they told me I needed a blog and a website. Which meant I needed a picture of myself. I had the Hubster take one.This was back in 2006, I think. We sent it to my photographer son, and he pointed out (vocally) the mistakes. And, because he knows his way around post-processing software, he fixed them. Those software programs have come a long way since 2006, and are easier for the lay person to use. If you’re going the DIY route, you should consider learning to use one, at least to do things like resizing for site specifications.

My son’s a nature/travel photographer by choice, but because I’m The Mom, he makes an exception now and does my portraits. Another perk is that he gives me a selection of poses which I can use in different places, or change them out from time to time, which is something you should try to get, too. These are examples of shots he’s done over the years.

Facebook has separate sites for profiles (my personal stuff) and pages (my Author stuff), it’s nice—for me at least—to glance at my picture and know which site I’m on. Also, I can use candid shots on my profile, which I change out more often.

 

Where does/should your image show up? Your website, of course. Your social media pages. And yes, it can be different depending on your audience. There’s your Gravatar, which will show up when you comment on WordPress sites. There’s probably a way to add an image to other blog sites, but I haven’t run into enough of them to dig into where to set it. What about your book pages at sales channels? Amazon/Author Central includes your photo. So does Books2Read. When was the last time you checked your pages?

Things to consider when setting up a shooting session.

Keep clothing simple. No wild patterns, no flashy jewelry.

Likewise, no distracting backgrounds. For my most recent session, my son had moved to a new home and no longer had studio space. No more different colored backdrops. No more studio lighting. So, he came up to my place in the mountains. We had nice weather, and the lighting was good on the deck, so we shot some out there and some in my office with my bookshelves in the background.

Be aware that the background should be In The Background, and not call attention away from you. Your photographer should know how to deal with this. Had the leaves been in focus, they’d have created a busy image. Same with the books.

Your head shot should say “I’m an author.” If possible, it should reflect your genre, your books, or something about you. If you write in multiple genres, consider different looks for each.

Bottom line. Your author photos should look like YOU. And they should look like you NOW. Is your hair totally different? Length, color, style? Do you still have hair? What about facial hair? Did you add/subtract a trademark mustache? I avoided redoing head shots when I was going through a royal blue hair phase because I knew it was for fun, and wouldn’t last.

I got into this writing gig about 20 years ago. Much as it pains me to see that older person looking out from the screen, that’s who I am. Might as well embrace it.

How do you handle your online image?
Any authors who do it well? How?


Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Writing Things Right

Writing Things Right
Terry Odell

My second cataract surgery was yesterday, and if everything went as smoothly as the first one did, I should be around to respond to comments.

I’m not a fan of the old “Write What You Know,” mostly because if I followed that guideline, I’d bore my readers (and myself) to death. “Write What You Can Learn” always made more sense to me.

The problem arises when you’re clueless that you don’t know something and merrily write along, enjoying the story.

Hint: Readers don’t like inaccuracies.

In Finding Sarah, I needed a way to keep her from doing the obvious—taking the bad guy’s car keys and driving away after she bonked him on the head. I gave the car a manual transmission, and parked it headed against a tree. Pretty clever, right?  A wise critique partner told me that the Highlander I’d chosen for the vehicle (inside nod to my writing beginnings) didn’t come with a manual transmission. I had no idea you couldn’t get every car in whatever configuration you wanted.

Then there are the gun people.

Robert Crais made the unforgiveable “thumbed the safety off the Glock” error in a book, and I asked him if readers gave him flak about it. His response? “Every. Damn. Day.”

John Sandford had the same issue once when he’d been using the term “pistol” and decided he wanted to get specific, so he changed it to a Glock, not realizing he’d already had a character releasing the safety. His response? “It was an after-market addition.”

I know darn well I’m clueless about weaponry, so I do my homework before arming my characters.

What about other areas? The current manuscript, Deadly Adversaries, seemed to be throwing roadblocks every time I wrote a scene. Wanting to make sure what I’d written was at least plausible, I asked my specialist sources.

***Note. It’s important to rely on reliable sources if you want to get things right. As Dr. Doug Lyle said in a webinar: Google something you know a lot about, and see how many different explanations you get. The internet can be helpful, but don’t take it as gospel.

Sometimes solutions are easy. If I have a fight scene, I give my martial arts daughter the basics, letting her know who’s fighting, who’s supposed to win, if anyone’s injured, etc. She comes back with the basic choreography and I put it into prose.

Sometimes solutions are not quite so easy. I had a great scenario for immobilizing my victims. I ran it by my medical consultant, and he said, Nothing is impossible but this is as close as it gets. The drug would have to absorb through the skin in very small doses and very quickly. Cyanide and sodium azide can do that but they are both deadly—very quickly. I’d find another way to incapacitate your character.

Back to the drawing board.

In my Blackthorne, Inc. series, which center around a totally made up high-end security and covert ops company, I can give my characters technology, equipment, and just about anything else they need. In and out like the wind is their motto. The scope of plausibility is wide.

Not so with my Mapleton books. They’re contemporary police procedurals at heart, and I want them to be as accurate as possible. To this end, I ran a couple of scenes by my cop consultant. He told me my headlight fragments probably weren’t going to help the cops identify the vehicle involved. Okay, I could work around that.

The next question was about my cops questioning someone in jail. Eye opener here. After some what if this’s and what about that’’? the bottom line: usually what you get at the time of the arrest is the last bite at the apple. So, the information I needed my cops to discover had to come from someone else instead of going to the jail to interview him after he was arrested.

Back to the drawing board again.

The biggest—and most troublesome—stumbling block in this book was that the story played out in numerous jurisdictions. I couldn’t have my cops go to their suspects, or even witnesses, without a local LEO along, or at least notified.

Once they knock on the character’s door, they’re just civilians. Outside of their jurisdiction, they’re not cops. What I’d written was just plain wrong and my decent, play by the rules Mapleton cops would never have done it. If they had, they could have been charged with false imprisonment.

So much for my exciting climactic scene! It would be nothing but paperwork and judges and extraditions. Nothing edge-of-the-seat in those scenarios.

As my cop friend put it, Funny how most people don’t get how complicated the laws make everything.

I went back to the drawing board a lot on these scenes.

By the time we’d had dozens of back-and-forths, and I’d reached a plausible, “that could work” resolution, he said:

I’m laughing. You try to do it right. See how boring Hollywood would have been it they had to keep within that pesky Constitution. It stood in my way many times.

What about you, TKZers? How do you make sure you get things right? Have you ever not realized you thought you knew something and then found out you didn’t? Do you write first, fix later, or research first? Or ignore the issue altogether–it’s fiction, after all.


Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

A Different Conference Experience

A Different Conference Experience
Terry Odell

If all has gone well, when you’re reading this, I should have had my first cataract surgery yesterday, so forgive me if I don’t respond to comments. Surgery went very well, so I’m back at the computer.

I attended the Flathead River Writers Conference, where I had the pleasure of meeting fellow TKZ blogger, Debbie Burke. In her post yesterday, she said I’d have pictures to share, so here are a few to start.

Middle Ford of the Flathead River flowing through Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald

I’ll stick in a few more throughout the post.

This was a very different kind of conference for me. My decision to attend was to get away for a few days, meet some new people, and, most importantly, recharge the batteries. I’ve always attended genre-based conferences, and most have been much larger. This one (under 100 attendees) didn’t hit my overload button. Also, to fulfill the battery recharging goal, I arrived two days prior to the opening session. Debbie was generous enough to play tour guide, so I got to see a lot of the area. Including, I must add, places Debbie used in her books. An added perk: she knows where the best rest stops are.

A few highlights for me from the sessions. (Let me point out, this was not a ‘business networking venture’ for me.) John Gilstrap swears that all of the business takes place at the bar. He’d have been disappointed here, because the conference hotel didn’t have a bar. Or a restaurant.

Trail in Glacier Park

McDonald Falls

One of the “speakers” Dr. Erika Putnam, a chiropractor/yoga instructor, had everyone participating in stretches and poses designed to counteract the “all day in front of a keyboard” neck, shoulder, and back stiffness. Another was the Montana Poet Laureate, Chris La Tray, a member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians, who gave poignant yet very entertaining talks.

Another highlight was when the two agents in attendance, Zach Honey and Julie Stevenson did cold reads of the first page of anonymously submitted manuscripts. (Sound familiar?) The submissions were read aloud by conference staff, although the agents had hard copies so they could read along.

Honey focuses on representing thrillers, and Stevenson wants literary fiction. Most of the submissions leaned toward the literary end of the spectrum, and I was left cold. I could hear JSB saying “Nothing’s Happening!” Pretty Prose doesn’t do it for me. Their comments were kept short and superficial, but there were one or two submissions they thought they’d want to see more of. I’m sure those authors were thrilled.

Totem at Lake McDonald Lodge

Author Mark Sullivan’s talk on day one about his path to success was interesting, but it was his talk on day two that gave me my biggest takeaway. He spoke of the connection between the body and the mind. He suggested that if you’re having trouble finding the emotional center of your character, picture what that character’s body position would be, then get into it yourself. Something to try, for sure.

He did something else I’ve never seen at any other conferences, which was to lead the group in a meditation session. Sue Coletta talked about breathing, and we did similar  exercises. He also addressed something that resonated with me. “Too much to do” anxiety. Sullivan pointed out there’s no point in getting upset about something that happened in the past. It’s over and done. Likewise, you can’t fret about what’s in the future. You can only live in the “now.” Do one thing at a time, and wipe out the rest. Looking at a ‘to do’ list of 20 items is daunting. Don’t think about the 20, deal with the one.

This suggestion came in handy when I arrived home and considered everything I had to do. There were the household tasks, the ‘catch up’ tasks, and the ‘get everything done before my cataract surgery’ tasks. Instead of freaking out, I was able to focus on one thing at a time, and the usual knotted stomach wasn’t an issue.

He left us with these words: The universe is in a state of expansion. If you’re in a state of retraction, you’re fighting the universe. Don’t get involved with yourself.

Playing with Textures – Glacier Park

What about you, TKZers? Do you ever need to get away and do something a little different? Was it worth it?


Cover image of Deadly Relations by Terry OdellAvailable Now
Deadly Relations.
Nothing Ever Happens in Mapleton … Until it Does
Gordon Hepler, Mapleton, Colorado’s Police Chief, is called away from a quiet Sunday with his wife to an emergency situation at the home he’s planning to sell. A man has chained himself to the front porch, threatening to set off an explosive.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”