Villains Don’t Have to be Evil

Guest Post from: L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

As my guest today, I have mystery thriller author L. J. Sellers writing about one of my favorite topics: Villains. LJ shares her thoughts and asks you to share your favorite villains at the end of her post. And be sure to check out the great giveaway contests below. Take it away, LJ!

The villains in thrillers are often extraordinary human beings. Super smart, physically indestructible, and/or incredibly powerful because of their money and influence. As a reader/consumer, those characters are fun for me too, especially in a visual medium where we get to watch them be amazing. But as an author, I like to write about antagonists who are everyday people—either caught up in extraordinary circumstances or so wedded to their own belief system and needs that they become delusional in how they see the world.
 
In my Detective Jackson stories, I rarely write from the POV of the antagonists. That would spoil the mystery! But in my thrillers, I get inside those characters’ heads so my readers can get to know them and fully understand their motives. I’ve heard readers complain about being subjected to the “bad guy POV,” but that’s typically when the antagonist is a serial killer or pure evil in some other way.
 
I share their pain. I don’t enjoy the serial-killer POV reading experience either. But when the villain in the story is a fully realized human being, who has good qualities as well as bad, and who’s suffered some type of victimization, and/or has great intentions, then I like see and feel all of that. And I think most readers do too.

Sellers The Trigger_med
In The Trigger, the antagonists are brothers, Spencer and Randall Clayton, founders of an isolated community of survivalists, or preppers, as they’re called today. As with most real-life isolationists/cult leaders, they are intelligent, successful professionals—with a vision for a better society. But these everyday characters decide to mold the world to suit their own objectives and see themselves as saviors—becoming villains in the process.


From a writer’s perspective, they were challenging to craft—likeable and believable enough for readers to identify with, yet edgy enough to be threatening on a grand scale. On the other hand, my protagonist Jamie Dallas, an FBI agent who specializes in undercover work, was such a joy to write that I’m launching a new series based on her.

The first book, The Trigger, releases January 1 in print and ebook formats, with an audiobook coming soon after. To celebrate the new series, the ebook will be on sale for $.99 on launch day. Everyone who buys a copy (print or digital) and forwards their Amazon receipt to lj@ljsellers.com will be entered to win a trip to Left Coast Crime 2015. For more details, check my website.
 
If that weren’t enough, I’m also giving away ten $50 Amazon gift certificates. So there’s a good chance of winning something. But the contest is only valid for January 1 purchases.
 
Who are your favorite villains? Supermen types? Everyday delusionals? Or something else?
 
Sellers LJSellers medL.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery series—a two-time Readers Favorite Award winner—as well as provocative standalone thrillers. Her novels have been highly praised by reviewers, and her Jackson books are the highest-rated crime fiction on Amazon. L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where most of her novels are set and is an award-winning journalist who earned the Grand Neal. When not plotting murders, she enjoys standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
 
Other social media links for LJ: Website, Blog, Facebook

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Do Giveaways Work?

by Michelle Gagnon

Figment.com has just announced a contest to celebrate the release of my YA debut DON’T TURN AROUND. In keeping with the theme of the book, they’re asking for a story about teen rebels with a cause, in 1,200 words or less. The winner will receive a 13 inch MacBook Pro (a computer that features prominently in the storyline, since it’s sort of a “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for teens”), and a signed copy of the book.

I’m really excited about this (especially since, for a refreshing change, this time I won’t be the one paying for the grand prize!) However, I wonder…do giveaways really lead to more copies sold?

For my second book, BONEYARD, I held a Kindle contest. Anyone who signed up for my newsletter got their name thrown into the hat (mind you, this was for the Kindle 1, which as a brand spanking new device retailed for $450).
That was, to date, my bestselling novel.
But I was hesitant about repeating that particular contest-after all, signing up for my newsletter didn’t necessarily translate to purchasing the book; and many might simply unsubscribe as soon as the contest ended. (For the record, I didn’t experience an unusually high dip in subscribers in the aftermath). Plus, it was a lot of money to spend without a quantifiable return.

So for my third thriller, THE GATEKEEPER, I decided to take it up a notch. I offered a MacBook (paid for out of my own advance) to anyone who could answer two easy questions about the book.
I received a decent number of entries; certainly not as many as with the previous contest, but a respectable amount. To enter, a reader needed to provide the names of two specific characters, in response to a fairly simple question for anyone who had read the book.

But some people literally sent a full roster of every character in every single one of my novels. One woman emailed me directly twenty times over the course of a day, listing two characters at a time (a few of whom weren’t even from any of my books), asking repeatedly, “These two names? What about these two?”
When I gently pointed out that randomly throwing names at me wasn’t really keeping in the spirit of the contest, she got huffy and fired off a nasty email about how spoiled authors were, and how this was the only way she could get a new computer. Plus, she wasn’t a big reader in general, and found it unfair that she be asked to read something in order to enter a giveaway.

*Sigh. The entire experience ended up leaving a bad taste in my mouth (not to mention a dent in my wallet). So for my fourth book, I skipped contests entirely.

I had no idea that Figment was going to be running this contest until it posted; I love the idea behind it, though. Especially since Figment serves as a virtual writing community. And I’m terribly flattered that they’re offering such an amazing, generous prize.

But will it translate into sales? Hard to say. I know the old 50% marketing adage (half of what you do will work, but chances are you’ll never know which half). But it’s a source of perpetual frustration for every author–where do you concentrate your marketing time and money, especially now that there’s such a huge array of options? Hemingway never had to deal with Twitter (although I suspect he would have been fantastic at it, with his knack for sparse prose).

So what do you think? Has a giveaway ever persuaded you to purchase a novel you never would have picked up otherwise?


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The Results Are In…

by Michelle Gagnon

Thanks so much to everyone for helping The Kill Zone celebrate our one year anniversary with such enthusiasm! We’re looking forward to many more…

…And I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Here are the answers to last week’s “Liar’s Club” quiz:

1: What’s the most “outrageous truth” about yourself, one few people would ever guess?

Clare was lying. Although she was clearly a shoe-in for Miss Melbourne, she refused to take part in such a competition, mainly because of her extreme aversion to self-tanner.

2: What’s the most “outrageous truth” about yourself, one few people would ever guess?

John Ramsey Miller. Yes, this question was a bit flubbed with an erroneous date stamp. For the record, John does have a stalker, but she only pursued him to four cities out of eleven.

3: What’s the craziest/most dangerous thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?

I was lying. I mean, really, people- have you so little faith in me? Volunteering to be tasered? That requires a neglect for self-preservation that is truly rare to behold. Unless, of course, you happen to be Rick Sanchez.

4: What’s the worst line you’ve ever read in a review or rejection of your work?

James was lying. I recommend going back and reading all of those other brutal reviews if you ever receive a bad one yourself. We’ve all been there, clearly. There were even more that I didn’t use…

AND the winner is…drum roll puh-lease….

J.J.COOPER!!!!!

J.J. was the only reader to guess three out of four correctly, so bravo! Send me your mailing address off list, and I’ll make sure all of our latest releases make their way to your mailbox.

Because the truths piqued some interest, we’ve decided to elaborate a bit on the things that really have happened to us…

John Gilstrap and John Wayne: “Contrary to what you might read on IMDB, John Wayne’s last recorded performance was as guest star on como Perry Como’s 1978 Christmas special, “An Early American Christmas,” which was shot in Williamsburg, Virginia. I was a junior at the College of William and Mary at the time, and a member of the William and Mary Choir as well as the Botetourt Chamber Singers. To my knowledge, it’s one of only two performances in which Duke sings (part of a verse of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”). Anyway, the William and Mary Choir is featured throughout the show, but there’s one scene in particular, shot in Chowning’s Tavern, where I’m on screen a lot. I’m the fit, good-looking guy with the luxurious long hair and beard (I haven’t changed a bit) wearing the white poofy shirt and red vest. For what it’s worth, Perry Como insisted that all the flagons be filled with real ale, so by the end of 8 or 10 takes, starting at six in the morning, we were all pretty looped.”

James, our very own nobleman: “My grandfather did a big family tree for us that takes us back through the first Duke of Wellington. I therefore have never suffered from a Napoleonic complex.”

Me and Maury: “I was invited to participate in a Maury Pauvich show focusing on the best bartenders in Manhattan. I didn’t realize until I arrived on set that they wanted me to lie down and have someone from the audience do jello shots off my stomach. I politely declined, and was promptly replaced. My fifteen minutes, therefore, turned out to be more like two.”

Kathryn stalks Ted Kennedy: “When I was a senior at Wellesley College, I worked as an intern for a very demanding Political Editor of a Boston TV station. My job was to maintain his schedule, attend meetings, and keep track of politicians. At one point he sent me off to Ted Kennedy’s house to see if he was there. The editor told me to make sure he was there, and so of course, I started creeping up the driveway, trying to see something. I think I heard a dog bark at one point, or maybe a cop car came by, so I dove into the bushes.”

Clare and the piranha-infested waters: “My husband and I traveled down the Orinoco River a few years ago – and our experiences there formed at least part of the idea for my first book, Consequences of Sin. After hours in a tiny boat in lashing rain we came to our ‘hotel’ perched on the banks of the Orinoco opposite the mission San Francisco. It was close to the delta and all around were hundreds of tributaries canoesnaking their way through the dense jungle. One day we went out in the dugout canoes the local Indians (called Warao) use. At one point our lunatic guide grabbed a piranha from the water and opened its jaws with a pocket knife just to impress us. He then warned us not to trail our hands in the water or (for the guys I assume) pee in the river as there were also electric eels whose charge can apparently traveled quickly back up a stream of urine…(who knew?!)…When we visited shore we also managed to disturb some horrible waspy insect nest which caused even the local Warao guide to go running and when we returned to the canoes we were warned to watch out for jaguars…Not a bad adventure in the name of ‘research’ for a wuss like me. It inspired me to wonder about the early British explorers to the region who (undoubtedly) would have gone mad…”

John Gilstrap and the Big House: “When I was writing NATHAN’S RUN, I lived only a few miles from the now-defunct Lorton Reformatory in Lorton, Virginia. During the author photo shoot, the photographer thought it would be a good idea to use the prison as a backdrop. The place was surrounded by multiple ranks of razor wire-topped chain link fence. Just for grins, I thought I’d pose as if climbing the outermost fence, telling the photographer that it will be interesting to see how long it takes for guards to respond. Answer: Not long at all, and when they arrive, they’re not happy.”nazi youth

John Ramsey Miller and the KKK: If you missed John’s excellent post last week on his hate group photo exhibit, “What Evil Lurks,” check it out here.

James and Chuck pump iron: “A couple years ago I was hired to write a script for Chuck Norris’s company and worked on it at his California home, where he has a room of Total Gyms. I have one, so I asked him to show me his workout. He did. The man uses what he sells and is in absolutely amazing shape. Don’t ever doubt that. You would be wise to remember that there is no theory of evolution–only a list of creatures Chuck Norris has allowed to live.”

Kathryn and the best revenge: “That patronizing rejection came from an agent who’d insisted on an exclusive. I quickly got a much better agent, plus a publishing contract. Success is the best revenge!”

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The Liar’s Club

by Michelle Gagnon

Pinocchio_3ak

No really, you shouldn’t have. I mean, sure, it is our…

ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY!

What do you mean, you forgot? Yes, it was just a year ago today that I wrote the inaugural post for The Kill Zone. And to celebrate a year of rants, raves, and other miscellany, my fellow bloggers and I decided to do what we do best- make stuff up. Below is a series of questions. One of the answers to each question is an outright, baldfaced lie. Your job is to guess who’s fibbing.

For each correct guess, your name will be entered in a drawing for signed editions of each of our latest releases (including my coffee table book on macrame. It’s not just about macrame, it’s MADE of macrame. Patent pending).

Because after all, what anniversary would be complete without fabulous gifts?

Note: despite the outrageous nature of some of these responses, there is only one liar per question. Hard to believe, but true. The winner will be announced in my post next Thursday.

So good luck, and thanks for making this an amazing year!

1. What’s the most “outrageous truth” about yourself, one few people would ever guess?shootist

Kathryn: I once hid in the bushes outside Ted Kennedy’s home, spying on him for a Boston TV station.

John Gilstrap: I was featured in John Wayne’s last filmed performance.

Clare: I was runner up in the 1989 “Miss Melbourne” beauty pageant.

James: I’m a descendant of the Duke of Wellington

Michelle: I was a featured guest on the Maury Pauvich show.


2. What’s the strangest interaction you’ve ever had with a fan or reader?

James: A man approached me at a conference and said God told him I was chosen to write his story. I told him I didn’t get the memo.

Clare: During an radio interview for Consequences of Sin, the host claimed he had predicted 9/11.

Michelle: At a conference, a Ted Kaczynski look-alike handed me a manila envelope filled with xeroxed diary pages outlining ominous apocalyptic predictions.

John Gilstrap: After giving 20 minutes of advice to a young writer at a signing, he walked away saying, “Huh. Well, I don’t read shit like you write.”

John Ramsey Miller: In 1997 I had a stalker who followed me on a book tour to 5 cities out of 11. She changed her appearance each time and asked me to sign a book to whatever name she was disguised as.

Kathryn: During a radio interview for DYING TO BE THIN, one caller claimed there is a conspiracy to keep America fat. I said thank goodness for that, otherwise I’d have to blame my sweet tooth.


3. What’s the craziest/most dangerous thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?


John Gilstrap: I intentionally leaned against a prison fence and walked around the perimeter to see how long it would take for a guard to respond.

John Ramsey Miller: In the mid to late eighties I set up a formal portrait studio at a series of KKK rallies across the south and at the Annual Celebration of the Founding of the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski Tennessee.

chuck norrisKathryn: I logged onto wild and wooly web sites that gave my computer a nasty virus.

Michelle: I volunteered to be tased to see what it felt like.

James: I asked Chuck Norris to show me his Total Gym workout

Clare: I navigated piranha infested waters in a dugout canoe.

4. What’s the worst line you’ve ever read in a review or rejection of your work?

John Gilstrap: An agent offered to represent NATHAN’S RUN if I would change the protagonist from a 12-year-old boy to a divorced woman.

Joe Moore: “Weak and simple plot, unbelievable and boring characters, and poor writing make this book difficult to finish.”

James: Dear Mr. Bell: Enclosed are two rejection letters; one for this book, and one for your next book.

Kathryn: Agent rejection: “I really wanted to like your story. But I just didn’t like the voice. Or the main character. I just didn’t like anything about it at all.”

Clare: “It’s painful to read more than one or two pages at a time.”

I have to say, I was impressed with my fellow bloggers’ ability to lie with aplomb. Since I could only choose one lie per question, I was forced to omit some real humdingers. Next week I’ll include outtakes/elaborations in the post.

On a side note, Clare just officially became a US citizen (and that’s the truth). Welcome and congratulations!

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Clutter Hound

by Michelle Gagnon

I want to start by apologizing for my missing post last week–especially since, as many of you know, there was a Flort on the line. Any and all complaints should be directed to customer service at Astound.net, thanks to their annoying habit of lying repeatedly about sending a cable installation team to my house when no such team ever materialized (and rest assured, I sat on the porch and waited for hours at a stretch). It is truly astounding how bad their customer service is, which I’m guessing was the inspiration for their brand name.

But that’s all in the past, and I’m pleased to announce that not only am I back online and able to follow critical breaking news such as the Michael Jackson memorial service and the Palin resignation, we also have a Flort winner!
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Congratulations to Basil, whose used the IKEA product “UPPTACKA” as the inspiration for his coming of age story about a boy and his llama (the mountains are not as lonely as they seem).
I still laugh every time I read that, which makes it worth the cost of shipping a Flort to Alaska.
Honorable mentions are in order for James Scott Bell, Rob, Sue Ann Jaffarian- heck, you all did me proud, that was a fun exercise.

This week I’m still recovering from a truly brutal move, with highlights ranging from my husband coming down with norovirus, a painter nearly taking a header off my roof, my contractor losing my car keys (who puts a set of keys on the roof of a car, then drives off?) and other assorted dramas.

One thing that struck me, as I sifted through a drawer I haven’t looked at in years, is the amount of clutter I’ve managed to accumulate. I have stacks of notebooks filled with notes from conference panels, classes, and the worst: page after page filled with ideas. After hearing Annie Lamott admonish an audience of writers once to “always carry a notebook, otherwise you’ll forget all of your good ideas,” I got in the habit of keeping a steno pad in my purse. And yes, I diligently jot down things that occur to me, whether they be seemingly brilliant three AM inspirations or something that struck me in line at Walgreens.

But the truth is, not once have I glanced back at and/or used any of those ideas.

So what do I do with these books? Are they worth saving, on the off chance that someday my idea pool dries up? Will I find anything worth using? Or will all these books just continue to sit in a drawer gathering dust? I’m wondering if I’m the only clutter hound out there…

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